I painted last night. In the bathroom. Late into the night.
I had told Sara and Brodie I needed some art therapy — which was true — but I also needed privacy to work on their Christmas present. I had not expected to work in the bathroom when I decided what I wanted to give them for Christmas. What kind of gift do you give people generous enough to open their home to you? Generous enough to bear with you as job hunting stretches on month after month? To support you as body and soul heal after a couple difficult years?
I wanted to give them something special, something personal. That it would probably end up being a painting was a bit of a no-brainer. I’m an artist. What else would an artist give? I did not, however, expect to work in the bathroom late at night with artificial light. As I picked up the supplies I would need, I mentally scheduled time at the dining room table when Sara and Brodie were at work and the girls were at day care. One thing after another got in the way of executing that plan — I needed to work a different schedule for a couple weeks to cover for absent co-workers; Sara worked from home on one of my scheduled days; the girls were sick and needed to stay home with me on another. I finally realized I would have to work in the bathroom or the painting wasn’t going to happen.
This morning, as I pulled the painting out of its hiding place — I finally have a day at home alone — I was struck by the rich symphony of color I have managed to create. Normally, I speak of the way I was influenced by German Expressionists, who took the work of French Impressionists one step further. French Impressionists allowed us to see their brushstrokes and showed us how color created form. German Expressionists used even broader brushstrokes and introduced the use of arbitrary color.
But, this morning, I found myself thinking of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Yesterday was her feast day. In the 16th Century, she appeared to Juan Diego and asked that a church be built. The problem with her choice would be obvious to any 21st Century marketing exec. Juan Diego was a nobody; he had no money and no influence. When he went to the bishop with the request, even the servants in the bishop’s household tried to ignore him. But, Mary was persistent and Diego was obedient. Eventually the bishop acquiesced after Mary sent him roses and her image in Diego’s tilma, a cloak of sorts.
When I first heard of this, I was in elementary school, sitting in front of a statue of Mary. Teaching sisters from one of the convents (probably Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) had come to instruct us in matters of faith for a week. As the sister in charge of our class told the story of our Lady of Guadalupe, she passed out holy cards with a brightly colored image on it. What struck me most was the way she spoke of the brightly colored image on a cloak where previously there had been nothing.
I sometimes ask God to give me Mary’s faithfulness. A couple years ago, when I was meditating on the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), I came to understand the way she allowed God’s promise to unfold in her life with all of the messiness that entailed. She didn’t try to force things, as I have done far too many times (and, as far as that goes, as Abraham and Sara did — Genesis 16:1-4). Mary didn’t whine about things, another sin of which I am guilty (as were the Israelites in the desert after Moses led them out of Egypt). She didn’t allow herself to become distracted, as I do on occasion (and as David did with Bathsheba — 2 Samuel 11). Mary just lived with God’s promise, allowed it to grow within her, gave birth to it, nurtured it and watched it to grow until it had a life of its own. What steadfast faithfulness!
But, this morning, I was struck with a whimsical thought about Mary and her influence in my life. My desire to create, to write and paint, and my ability to do these things with a modicum of skill is undoubtedly a gift from God. What struck me this morning was the way he nurtured that gift in me from a young age. I wasn’t a child prodigy. I didn’t pick up a paintbrush until I was well into my 20s, and the skill I’ve gained over the years is a result of long hours of practice. I’m not — and never have been — one of those people who “can draw anything.” At the peak of my career, there was only a 60 or 70 percent chance that any given painting would turn out well.
This morning, I realized God had nurtured that gift within me before there was any evidence of it in my life — by inspiring my little girl’s heart with the idea of a brightly colored image appearing where previously there had been nothing. That was a miracle of which I wanted to take part. And now, I am doing exactly that — creating brightly-colored images on canvas panels which are bare when I pick up my brush.
How often does God work in our lives in this way? Of all the lessons I could have learned about Our Lady of Guadalupe, I left the church that morning with a fascination with images, and today I know that was one of the ways God nurtured in me the desire to use a gift he had given me. How marvelously subtle! How marvelously circumspect! The whisper of the Lord passing (cf.1 Kings 19:11-13).
Too often, I think, we miss God at work in our lives because we’re looking for burning bushes and angels that say, “Take note! God at work!” Because we’re looking for the wrong things, we miss his gentle touch, the way he attempts to lead us with our imaginations and our hearts. I am grateful this morning, for this small glimmer of his hand at work in my life and grateful for all the hands he has used to touch my life with his love, especially that sister whose name I don’t even remember.
God is good!