“…he who has pity on them will lead them and by springs of water will guide them.” ~~ Isaiah 49:10
Last spring I was painting at an organic vegetable farm near Hot Springs. The owner’s dream is to grow food to help heal the world while taking care for the earth itself.
I took my old student easel, a 3 X 4 foot canvas and a lawn chair for my paint palette “table.” I set up beside the river to paint. The day was overcast until nearly 2 pm, but I had been there on brighter days, so I remembered how the light played across the water and the meadows beyond. I knew how the distant hills and trees caught the light.
The longer I stood and painted, the more the actual landscape began to resemble the painting I was creating before me. The sun was burning through the clouds and by the time it became fully bright, we were in sync. The play of light on the natural world reflected the light I had imagined on my canvas, my vision of the world to come. As the two came together, I began to paint the river in a rainbow of colors as it ran alongside the dirt riverbank. The rocky river shore of the left bank, which was a jumble of dull white, beige, and brown rocks, became a collection of jewels spilled beside the waters, as if the rainbow had shattered into its separate pieces and was lying there, waiting to be picked up.
So my painting is a combination of “realism” and “visionary,” rather like a prophecy issued by Isaiah of old, or another of God’s chosen voices. When I was younger, and painting abstract works, I called my style “metaphysical realism,” because I was painting about truths of being and existence that could only be intuited or felt, rather than scientifically proven. At the time I wasn’t a believer in God, but I was searching for a divine being or higher power.
When the owner came back later, I was still painting. In six hours I had nearly completed this large canvas! “Wow!” was all he could say. I asked, “are you amazed that I could get this much paint on it in this little time?” His reply, “And make it look so good.” I laughed, “Well, it’s not brain surgery. I don’t hold someone’s life in my hands. It’s only a painting. If I don’t like it, I paint over it or throw it away and start over. I just put the paint on it. If it works, good. If not, oh well, I’ve learned what doesn’t work.”
That confidence and assurance when faced with a blank canvas comes from trusting God’s hand upon your own. The blank canvas is like a bare height for some artists, just like the blank page is a sheer cliff for scaling for a poet or a writer. It is a challenge because of its emptiness. Making the first mark changes the whole tone of the surface. This is why I first sketch very lightly, either in pencil or in light yellow wash. Only then do I begin to paint in the deeper colors, making sure to work from the center outward to the edges of my canvas.
In our spiritual lives, we are called to work from our centers out toward our edges. Our centering begins with our placing our trust in the one who guides us besides streams of water and provides food along the bare heights (Isaiah 49:9-10). This is where we gather strength for our labor in the world of our families, our neighborhoods, our faith communities, and our world. We can have a long ministry, hold someone’s life in our hands, and care for their immortal soul because God has placed his Spirit of caring and consolation in our hearts. If we want to find the beautiful rainbow that we call God, we need to seek the one who loved us first. “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us; and his love is perfect in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:12-13).
To practice centering ourselves this week, choose one word that is most meaningful for you. It can be one of these: holy, one, peace, love, joy, hope, or another that you choose. Sit in a quiet place and get comfortable. As you breathe in for a count of 5, think the word and imagine it filling you completely as you inhale deeply. As you exhale to the count of 5, imagine that same word going out into the world. Breathe in and out again, repeating this for five minutes morning and evening on the first day. The second day, do for 7 minutes. Gradually increase until you can do 20 minutes morning and evening. This is a centering prayer/meditation that brings us closer to God. The deeper breathing also relieves stress, which is a good thing! Joy and peace to you this week!