“It doesn’t look as bad as it did yesterday,” my ever-honest 12 year old tried to encourage me.
I asked my husband, “Is it really bad?”
“I like some of your other pieces better,” he conceded.
I gave it one last look, and shredded it. Every piece of artwork, for me, seems to pass through a stage of “critical care” where it teeters between death and becoming something. This one didn’t make it, despite hours and hours of painting, drawing, and re-drawing. In frustration, I shredded the smaller study for it as well. Very discouraged, I questioned if I should really continue this “art-thing” at all.
As I stared at the mound of artwork scraps in my trash can, though, I was struck by layers of pattern and texture that, separated from the dismal whole, seemed to hold potential. I rescued them and stuck them in a folder.
Some days the fragments taunted me, some days they inspired me.
Their colors reminded me of a portfolio of photos that I took during a 24 hour retreat of silence in 2011, only a few weeks after my Dad died. Autumn unfolded in full brilliance that first evening. I wandered the hills of Sedalia, trying to numb my throbbing soul by concentrating on the colors and patterns all around me.
The next morning, I woke early, bundled up, and huddled on a hill top in the hush of lingering dark. I focused on and photographed one blade of grass, waiting for the dawn as the minutes slipped by. I recorded the changes in light and color. At last aflame in morning rays, this single blade of grass gave me hope that the long night would pass for me as well.
Losing my dad was in many ways the beginning of a new “summons,” a deep wrestling of the soul, a life-altering-calling-out-to-God that eventually led me to a new season of seeking God through creative expression. Early this year, I shared a blog called “Summoned,” which in many ways I feel was His response. Four attempts preceded the final painting, two of which terminated in the afore-mentioned pieces.
Recently I pulled out a few photos from my Sedalia retreat, a couple sketches they inspired, and the artwork fragments. I began to play with them, arranging and re-arranging – ripping, gluing, painting, drawing. A collage called “Songs in the Valley” emerged.
Psalm 84:-7 reads, “As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.”
Songs in the Valley – the songs we choke out as we dig deep in a dry and weary land, clawing at the sand for water. The Valley of Baca – a desperate desert, heat shimmering through our tears. A place where suddenly we hear another Voice harmonizing with our brokenness, our sorrow, and our failure; capturing our feeble notes; re-weaving; re-composing the fragments into an altogether different song.
Like rain in a desert, the new song sustains us, strengthens us, ferries us away to a place of beauty we could never discover apart from painful seeking in the valley… Apart from being put back together in an altogether different way.