Last year, 2017, dawned hopeful. At long last, I stood before a faint but visible trail in the forest. After years of scrambling in the brambles, I set off down the path.
I stumbled on the trail-head in a gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District of Denver. Late in 2016, I responded to a call for entries; and one of my pieces was accepted. On a cold December night, my husband David and I ducked through the doorway into golden warmth, and my spirit pirouetted. Everything about the space felt like home: old multi-pane windows, worn wood floor, art displayed. After entering other shows where I felt like a stylistic aberration, the pieces on these walls read like a familiar language.
I joined other artists milling about until the juror called for attention. She gave a brief presentation about her criteria for selection: soul, message. Her words resonated.
I swallowed my pride and held my little candle up to her blazing flame. “Tell me,” I asked, “how do I jump into this flow of cultural impact?”
“Keep entering shows,” she said, “until people recognize your work and your name.”
For four years I focused on just painting: diving into God’s creative flow, content to contribute my little invisible droplets. But then I acknowledged a restlessness, always there but more insistent. I admitted a dual motivation. Yes, I am driven by the joy of creating, but I also desire to add enough to the river to impact the flow, to make it stronger and more powerful, to change the surrounding landscape: to impact culture.
I am as prone as anyone else to lose my way in human lust for recognition and affirmation. But when I read these verses in Isaiah, I recognized that perhaps a holy residue swirled deep beneath the muddy waters:
Isaiah 65:17-18 “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
I saw myself reflected in the Creator’s dual purpose: to create, and also for people to find gladness, joy, delight in what He creates.
Art, a full circle, given and received.
I set out immediately in early 2017 on the path pointed out by the juror. I responded to a call for entries for a gallery just a block down Santa Fe Drive, a show with the theme of “religion.” No topic makes my heart beat quicker. This one, of all, I most long to speak into. I chose pieces I hoped pressed beyond human constructs and whispered of relationship.
The pieces were rejected.
With a little tenderness from people close to me, I picked myself up and took another step. I entered another show in my own city with a similar theme.
This time the bruises took longer to heal. Finally, I grasped the brushes and tried again. I entered another show, a generic theme not as close to my heart, not as vulnerable.
The doors out of my little room of personal passion slammed shut, and the windows into broader cultural impact seemed to close, shuttered from the outside.
I asked the Lord what He thinks. I went to my favorite place to listen, a chapel. Workmen hammered at the front of the sanctuary. Disappointed, I went outside. A lawn mower roared. I tried to concentrate through the clamor without success. I went back inside, hoping the laborers might take a break. They were gone. With relief, I settled in the choir loft. A few moments of quiet, then a tour guide bustled down the center aisle below, ushering a chattering group. Resigned there would be no peace that day, I slumped in the pew. The group left.
Then, a lone figure approached the altar area, settled at the piano, and, with lilting glorious notes, carried me away to a place beyond words.
That evening, I asked my husband what he thought the parable meant. He said, “It’s simple. The Lord loves art.”
Honestly, I’m still not sure if I ever want to paint again. My brushes are gathering dust. I stand at a crossroads: can I find peace and joy in creating, seen primarily by God? Or, like Peter in Luke 5, will the Lord direct me to push out, reluctantly, into those same old waters, but find a most unexpected glorious catch, a lake where personal passion contributes to cultural impact? Or, is there some other way?
I’m not sure. So instead of goals and resolutions, I’m kneeling here at the altar. I’m quiet. I’m listening.
11 thoughts on “Art on the Altar”
❤ I loved your husband's response. So true. ❤
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Not sure what I’d do without his support! I certainly wouldn’t have the guts to keep painting.
LOVED this so much, Colleen. I find myself entering this year in a similar posture. I find God reframing my goals and drive… but still struggling to understand who God planted desires factor in to motivations and trajectory.
I am sending a book proposal in this week, entering the stage of ‘putting myself out there.’ It’s such a vulnerable place to be.
Praying for light for each step forward and courage to follow the Lord’s leading regardless of external response. xoxo
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Thank you for praying my dear friend. I’m here praying for you and your beautiful heart, and also for your book venture! Yes the cross section of dreams and longings with the leading of the Lord can be a confusing place. I read John O’Donohue’s poem “Longing” yesterday and it spoke deeply to me. A prayer for you for this New Year.
Do what you love and have a wonderful 2018!
Keep up your work! Keep it up! You have in you what you need to keep up your work. Keep going until you want to stop because you have nothing more to say. Until then, keep working!
Very best to you in this and for your life in total! Sarah Abraham
Thank you so much Sarah! Your encouragement means so much. I am praying and waiting – a strange season. Bless you for taking the time to encourage me!
(This is a long comment; feel free to leave it in moderation or to shorten it!)
…Sometimes the road – or path/trail – is clear, and sometimes we navigate by instinct… there are times when we second or even third guess our decisions… when others factor into our decisions, it becomes even more difficult, though those ‘others’ are there in loving support, which is so very important…
There were times, long long ago, when I entered shows when I lived in the states.. it was interesting that one painting might be totally ‘ignored’ in one show and then win ‘best in show’ in another.. it all boils down to what others like/ or don’t like, a bit like one person liking broccoli while another preferred lettuce…. after that, i no longer cared what the judges or the public thought, what was important is that i felt good about what i created.
Since then, with age, I realize that my art connects me with others, one person at a time. Sometimes it’s via one group at a time.. others ‘light their candles’ from mine as I share the joys of sketching/drawing/applying paint and then watch as the ‘ducklings’ swim away with new-found skills. I ponder that it’s God’s way of allowing me to make the world slightly happier, and ‘through my art’ seems to be that key…
Perhaps you could try giving drawing lessons to older adults? That was always my favorite class, when someone walked up and stated, ‘i’ve never drawn or painted in my life but would like to try.’ Ah, to watch them gain self esteem thru their work, but more important, i realized, was connecting to some of them via the human touch as well as a soul connection – a pat on the back or shoulders while saying, ‘good work!’ – perhaps i was not there to teach art, but to provide unconditional love to a few of those dear students…
You might enjoy the story of how I ‘found’ my new place to live; I’d decided not to repair the house after the earthquake; i also realized how blessed i was – so many had lost ‘all’ and had no skills or options for bouncing back. they lived in donated tents and ate from ‘charity’ outdoor kitchens. it was sobering yet empowering that i had many options, while they had few.
For me, moving on – in this country – depended on renewal of my visa (to work in the arts) After receiving two more years’ worth of visa, it was time to look for a new place to live…
Criteria included ‘must be green’ with lots of natural forest. clean air and a good source of pure water, preferring a natural spring untainted by cattle or other pollution… quiet was also important, but not so far off the map that it became difficult to stay in touch with the rest of the world. safety was important, as i wean into my 60’s – i won’t always be able to get around as well as i can now, and i don’t want to be an easy target for thieves aka: ‘the gringa that lives alone in the woods’ – came to mind…
a ‘lead’ sent me in a new direction, about four hours from where i’d lived on the coast, and seven from where i was ‘hibernating’ in the cloud forest…
the first stop was ‘close’ but not what i needed…it felt wrong. i drove out of that area, reached an intersection, looked toward the empty passenger seat and said, ‘OK Angels. it’s time to find home.’ I had the same ‘little sheep a bit lost’ feeling as you did in the church.
About an hour later, there it was…. the angels were probably wondering, ‘What took you so long to make that request?’
I am writing offline and think/hope that this video link will be the one that tells this exceptionally-talented girl’s story…Akiane — it might give you comfort:
if your desire to paint comes from your soul – and not your intellect – then by all means, stick with it… perhaps your future direction is still incubating…. Good luck on your journey and with your decisions..
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Thank you for your heartfelt thoughts and encouragement, Lisa. It meant the world to me when I first read it, and now I return to soak in it a little. Truly, from the heart, I am most grateful.