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.