The expression “a picture speaks a thousand words” is particularly apt for the culture in which we live. Image-intensive social media platforms promote sharing through memes, stories, and snippets of information that go viral. For young people, images are not a distraction from the central message but constitute the message itself. Authenticity and thoughtful imaging of the Christian message are particularly important for us as a Church. For those who are in a pre-evangelization stage of their faith—that is, people who have not yet had a significant encounter with Christ that has led to a conscious decision to follow Christ—images can be a powerful but gentle way to bring them more deeply into the Gospel.
When we engage the senses of our learners, we “speak” to the human heart far more deeply than words alone can penetrate. Here are a few ways that you can incorporate visuals into your classroom as a means of evangelization.
1. Set the scene.
Does your classroom have a name? From my experience, many classrooms have no names or are named for the grade levels that they serve. In such cases, rename your classroom for a patron saint, pope, or a Doctor of the Church, and then decorate accordingly. For example, in a classroom named for St. Francis of Assisi, your bulletin boards could be decorated to reference themes from his life, such as peacemaking and nature. A classroom named for St. Pope John Paul II could be decorated with images from his life such as Poland, soccer, and his love for drama. Renaming your classroom is a way to remind us all that we are a part of the Communion of Saints.
2. Create sacred spaces in unusual places.
Using images in unusual places can be especially powerful. A sticker with a Scripture verse such as, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) placed on the bathroom mirrors can be an important reminder for young people of their dignity and worth. Often overlooked places include stairwells and the back of bathroom doors. Using art in these places is a subtle means of catechesis and evangelization.
3. Display accessible images of Jesus.
St. Patrick of Ireland teaches us the importance of presenting Jesus in a way that is relatable. When St. Patrick wanted to explain who Jesus Christ was to the people who lived in the mountains, he presented images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. To the fishermen on the coasts of Ireland, he used images of Jesus in the boat fishing with the disciples. This helped the local people to embrace Jesus by presenting him in ways that people could understand and recognize. This allowed the people to identify with him and draw close to him.
Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium that “every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the ‘way of beauty’ (via pulchritudinis). . . . Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus” (#167). There is power in beautiful imagery: it calls us out of ourselves and leads us to contemplate the depth of God’s love in rich and new ways. Beauty is a path to encounter the presence of the Risen Lord in our own lives, in the lives of others, and in the world around us. By looking with fresh eyes on our classrooms as places of encounter with Christ, we can discover ways to evangelize through the use of simple, unusual, accessible, and beautiful imagery in our classrooms.
How have you incorporated art into your classroom? What are some of your favorite images to use in your classroom?
With 25 different prints per easel, per grade, the Finding God Art Prints provide background about the artist, medium, and history and also offer activities related to the art, including art projects, music, movement, and using imagination in prayer.
Another way that I have used non-copyrighted digital images and Scripture or quotes by Pope Francis is to design my own posters and display them on the exterior of my classroom door throughout the school year. Since I keep my classroom door open, even while teaching, my students can view the poster as they are enter the classroom, during class, and when exiting the classroom. In addition, when we are not in session and the classroom door is closed, the poster on display can continue to evangelize as various events take place in our parish center where the classrooms are located along the perimeter of the gathering area.
I teach first grade and really like the “Happy Saints” (www.happysaints.com) pictures. They like finding Saints they know, either because we have talked about them or they are just popular, and asking about Saints they find interesting. I also use them to make holy cards as prizes so they can take them home as well.
These are great tips for the school environment. Any similar tips for meeting rooms where we are conducting RCIA sessions of AFF activities?
What about the tri-fold science fair boards? Easy to set up, quite a bit of room to display, and easy to take down and stuff in a closet or whatever.