“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?”
~~ Isaiah 43:18-19
My favorite time in Vacation Bible School was the plaster handprint. When I was a child in the 1950’s, we were given our choice of one color to paint “our hand to serve Jesus.” When my daughter went to VBS in the early 80’s, her little hand had a rainbow of colors exploding all over it!
Those ladies are the unsung heroes in every generation, for they mixed and poured plaster into recycled pie pans and let all of us children put our hands into that goop so we could bring our “helping hands” home to our parents. They also cleaned us up afterward.
One summer Art in the Park teacher brought some real turquoise and real silver wire to a bunch of hot and sweaty kids sitting at a picnic table. My 10-year old hands make a piece of “jewelry,” which I still sometimes wear. My Saturday art teacher took me under her wing as soon as I was able to write my name in cursive. I also have to thank my Mom for driving me all over town so I could do what I love the most.
Each one of those teachers stretched me as a child, but none stretched me more than two of my teachers at Georgia State University: Mr. Sitton and Mr. Perrin. One week the head of the department would stop by and ask, “Are you working for me or Mr. Sitton?” Each time I would only reply, “I’m working.” Not letting that noncommittal answer go by, Mr. Perrin would keep asking until I had had enough of being interrupted and I burst out, “Neither of you! I’m working for myself!” It was the answer he was waiting to hear.
I do remember how these two pushed me to strive beyond myself and to grow as an artist. They encouraged me to find my own voice, my own style, and to not be an imitator of others. I could learn from others and study them, but to become an artist, I had to discover my own true vision. So I had to press on to the new thing as yet unseen, and let the old fall pieces away behind me.
This is easier said than done. It’s much more comfortable to repeat a form than to move onward to the next one. The old one feels safe because it is known; the new one has risks because it is as yet unbirthed and unseen. It may arrive still born, and the work will seem as if for nothing. However the effort expended isn’t wasted, since the artist now knows that this path is a dead end and can try another with more confidence.
So, why is it we spiritual people have a hard time living this new and different life once we make our profession of faith in Christ? The world calls us “hypocrites” because we seem to live the same old lives as we once did before we knew Christ. There seems to be no outward transformation to match our inward change of heart and relationship. We do not become magically and radically different, but instead progress slowly into a newer and more perfect life in love. No wonder we have a hard time attracting the unsaved into our new way of life or into our congregations. They don’t see a visible witness that our faith in Christ has made a difference in the person we are or in what we do. We might “steal a church member from another congregation,” because they already know the drill: show up, go through the motions, and maybe one day, I’ll change into a better person. People of faith are afflicted with chronic optimism, for we “walk by faith, not sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
Now if “going onto perfection in love” really operated in this manner, I could just go to the gym and laze around, anticipating that one day my body would magically become buff and lean. Having spent the better part of two years on a mandatory lifestyle change that has included giving up junk food, processed foods, lattes, double dip ice cream cones, large pizzas, and learning how to cook from scratch, I can say that there is no magic Twinkie Dust for weight loss. Going to the gym means sweating, not standing around posing and looking nice. I’m not very pretty when I leave, but I now understand the meaning of “working out your own salvation” (Phil 2:12).
Our bodies do not magically transform themselves anymore than we become perfect Christians by a mere profession of faith. We need spiritual guides, just as I have a trainer and a physician who help me through the rough spots of my remaking of my health and my life. If I want to lose more than the 50 pounds and the 6 dress sizes I’ve already lost, my dietitian friend says I have to cut my calories to 1500 per day because of my age and medical needs. This will require discipline, persistence, courage, faith, and suffering. It is a biblical model: “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).
This might be a fun week to try out a new craft or a new theme in your art. You could try praying with the holy icons. I have an ICONS photo album on my Facebook page ARTANDICON that you can view on the computer or smart phone (they are for sale also). Spring is the time for renewing the Spirit!