When I was commissioned to design a pair of stained glass windows to be installed in the Ray I. Riley Alumni Center at SWBTS in Fort Worth, Texas, I knew they would have one of the most brilliant sources of light possible—the Texas sun. I knew both windows would be octagonal, composed of 8 large panels, and that they would be suspended from the glass ceiling of two main entrances to the building.
The theme I was asked to visually interpret—Touch the World, Impact Eternity—hinted at two realms: the physical world we all call home, and the spiritual realm that exists beyond time and space. I decided to let each window represent one of these realms, but to link them together with shared symbolism suggesting these two worlds mingle in mysterious, wonderful ways. The border of interlocking fish is consistent between the two windows. It is a visual allusion to Jesus’ promise to make his followers fishers of men. The color of the fish shifts between the two windows from blue to golden—a subtle chromatic clue designating the distinction between the world and eternity.
Jesus’ parables lend themselves so readily to visual interpretation. When I thought of the earthly realm, Jesus’ earthy story of the sower and the seed immediately came to mind (Luke 8:4-15). The seed thrown by the sower represents the word of God. The sower doesn’t touch the world directly—he is not the creator of the seed, the source of its growth or the cause of the harvest. His job is simply to sow the seed of the word generously, even extravagantly, without any concern for where the seed lands.
Some of the seed falls on the path, where it is stolen by birds before it can sprout and grow. Some of the seed lands on rocky soil and withers in the heat of the sun, representing those who hear and receive the word with joy but have no firm root. They believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. Some of the seed begins to grow, but is strangled by thorns, illustrating those who have heard the word, but are so weighed down by worries and riches and pleasures of this life that their faith never matures. Finally some of the seed puts down roots in good soil, representing those who hear the word with “an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit.”
Illustrating the parable of the sower and the seed required six panels. To fill the other two, I decided to draw from Jesus’ exhortation to his followers to look to the fields that are white and ready for harvest. It is as if Jesus is calling the sower back to finish the job that began with distributing the seed. One panel shows the laborers who have come to reap the harvest and the other shows the ripe harvest field waiting for workers to arrive.
The wheat represents those who allow the word of God to take root in their lives and bear fruit. The wheat becomes a visual metaphor for the redeemed who appear as worshipers before the throne of grace, the subject of the second window in the series.