A Story About God & Art

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Last weekend, for our first time, Mollie and I attended the Resound conference in Boulder, Colorado. For us the experience was very rich, but I want to tell you about one incident in particular having to do with God, art, and community.

The Resound website describes the conference as a “gathering designed for worshippers, artisans, creatives, and God lovers.” As a worship conference emphasizing the arts, there were opportunities for expressive worshippers to participate in outside-of-the-box ways. Mollie and I both had artwork in the gallery, and there were people painting up front throughout worship sets the entire weekend. And lots of spontaneous dancing!

On the second night, I noticed something new.

Organizers had set up a couple of tables at a station in back, with sketch pads and art supplies, and there was a sign that said that people were welcome to create art. My heart and head were very excited about some ideas that had gelled for me that day and I really felt the urge to try to express them. In particular, that morning, a couple by the name of Tim and Laurie Thornton had vividly amplified the concept of slavery versus sonship, regarding our relationship to God. Initially I wanted to create an image from the Prodigal Son parable, but then felt compelled to do an image that would include a woman. I finally decided to do a version of a composition I had worked out last year, but had never painted.

The gospel of Luke describes an incident where Jesus heals a woman who had a sickness that had caused her to be bent over for eighteen years, unable to straighten up. I love the idea of this woman looking up, into the face of Jesus for the first time; of Him gently lifting her head.

When the music began, no one was at the art tables, so I took a seat and started sketching. The problem was, the light was so dim that I couldn’t really make out the colors of the pastels and pencils. I kept holding up pencils, squinting and comparing them. I was pretty sure I had a couple of dark browns, which was what I wanted, so I set to work. At least I could get the values (darks and lights) right. I didn’t like the smooth texture of the paper in the sketchbook, so I used the back of the sketchbook cover, which was heavier and had a pretty pronounced texture. I set to work as the first band played their worship set, and then I worked through the entire teaching.

Eventually, I started to feel a bit out of place, but I was too into my drawing to stop. A couple of moms had brought several small children to the other table to make art. This was a great idea as it gave them something fun to do; I just wondered if I should vacate my spot. A couple of kids started watching me so I asked them what they thought was going on in my picture.  (I seek the unpretentious feedback of children about my art whenever possible. I generally care less what adults think.) I whispered to a boy, pointing at the figure of Jesus, and asked, “do you think he looks angry?” He looked shocked that I would ask, and shook his head “no.” Score. Now I liked my drawing better. I made friends with a ridiculously cute little girl next to me with a smear of paint on her cheek. I finished my drawing and left it on the table, surrounded by several pieces of drying children’s art, and went off to worship for the second worship set, which eventually grew into a big party. Like a message in a bottle, my picture would now belong to someone else.

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This is a black and white rough of the drawing I made at the conference,
a painting I had conceived for Beggars’ Gate, but never executed.

 

At the end of the night I walked by the table and noticed that the picture was gone.

As everyone was packing up their stuff, a lovely young lady came up to me. She asked my name, and when I told her, she thanked me for leaving my drawing out on the table. She said that earlier that morning, during the worship time she had been praying and crying, bowed down under the weight of some things which she left unexplained to me. Then she told me that she felt like God had come to her, His daughter, and lifted up her head. Exactly like in my picture.

“…But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain…” (Psalm 3:3,4.)

In her hand I recognized the front cover of the sketchbook. The house lights were now up, so I asked her if I could see the drawing as I was curious to see how the colors had come out. I had to smile at the picture she showed me. The colors I had thought were dark browns, earth tones, and black were actually vibrant purples, pinks, oranges, and magentas – colors I had eventually looked for, but simply could not find in the dim light. And had I known they were there, I would not have used them in the way that I did.

Don’t we often have to feel our way along in this dim half-light? We have to choose, so we do the best we can with what we have been given. If our lives are an offering to our heavenly Father, I’m guessing that at the end, when the houselights come up, we may all be pleasantly surprised by the colors we were working with all along.

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10 comments on “A Story About God & Art

  1. Gary Alsum says:

    You, my friend, are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing this story and the surprise at the end. But now I want to go paint something instead of working on my Ruth commission: My clay is only one color.

  2. Thanks Gary,
    Have you tried using Sculpey?
    (Just kidding.) Of course I was thinking of color in a metaphorical way in that last sentence. In fact, it’s interesting – I’ve noticed that, personally, I usually find the addition of color to figurative sculpture to be really annoying. It rarely seems to add to a piece in a positive way for me.

    (For those of you looking in, Gary and I live in Loveland, Colorado, the representational figurative sculpture capitol of America…)

  3. Sue Kemnitz says:

    Oh my. How stunning and beautiful! I hope you finally paint it one day. The emotions are so perfect. “The Lifter of our head…”

  4. Rod says:

    There is a lot of deep theology captured by your drawing.I dig that the circumstances limited reliance on your gifts and abilities. That in itself seems to bridge part of the historical context; the physical limitations evident in the event, matching up with the darkened setting in which you worked. The result was an image which captures the ‘tones’ of that event. I think we tend to overcomplicate a lot, bent by expectations, frustration, the opinions of others, and excessive uneasiness about life. This is a good reminder that what we do is impacted by what He has done, even if we don’t realise it at the time. Nothing authentically done in His name, by His word and through His Spirit is ever wasted.

  5. Rod,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts; insightful, as always. I received a nice email from the mom of some of the kids who were with me the art station. A lot of things were going on that I wasn’t aware of. In fact, the only reason there is a story to tell here at all is because someone chose to let me know how she was touched. It motivates me to let others know when God has used them in my life.

    I’ve been meaning to ask you if you consider yourself to be an artist in any measure. I ask because your profile pic seems to be a drawing – perhaps a self-portrait?

    • Rod says:

      Thanks. I think I have more the heart of an artist, than the abilities of one. I can draw, have done some painting, but am much more musical 🙂 So I listen and play more than I paint, write more than I draw, and read all the textbooks I can find related to my theological journey. Lately, with what limited time there is, I have been playing around with some photography, using image convertor software to create word-art images – the profile pic was one result of experimenting with that. Peace be with you mate.

  6. Marsha says:

    I love the story, the writing, the art. Lovely. What struck me was that you left the picture behind, walked away. I’m de-cluttering years of heartfelt beautiful things, and finding it hard to do, but I want a spare space now. Hard to find good places for them, to just walk away from them. Just recently I decided it’s time for somebody else to enjoy the things, to enjoy them, just as you left your gift behind.

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