About a year and a half ago, I needed a picture for a children’s sermon of the women who waited at the cross of Jesus. I couldn’t find the one I wanted so I decided to paint one. I had lots of art supplies, always wanting to be able to draw the illustrations of life, but had quickly given up on each of my attempts throughout the years.
For whatever reason, the one I painted of the women at the cross worked. It was what I needed for the sermon and it was what I needed for the place in which I found myself—a place where I had run out of words.
I read a little here and there and listened to music, trying to get verbally inspired, but while thoughts and interpretations all entered my mind, they ran into the emotions of life events, depression, anxiety and said, “No, I don’t think we want to stay here.” Who would want to stay there? And so words and especially well-placed words left.
I turned to the watercolor. I found the movement of the color with just very little water to be comforting. There were no lines to stay within, and there was no commitment to a shape. If a bird needed to be a little longer or fuller, I could just gently push it with a brush and a drop of water into a more pleasing posture. With watercolor, I painted landscapes of places that I wanted to be. I used colors for emotions and words. The paintings became the completed sentences that I could not form. My computer stayed closed and my canvas pads stayed open.
And then, whereas prayers might be the things I gave to loved ones, the paintings instead let me share my love and thoughts with those around me. As I worked in the hospital and visited children whose parents could not be present, I began to leave little paintings behind with the notation of my presence on the back for their caregivers to find.
As my words have begun to heal and find their way back, I encountered, as we all have encountered, the year 2020. A new foe for which we will find a vaccine and and ancient foe for which there will be no vaccine spread and their reach has been worldwide.
I have had few words again, but this time it is not because legible thoughts are not forming in my mind, it’s because I simply have not had any words that seem adequate or authentic or meaningful. Many people have had many words to say; mine have only seemed that they might add to the cacophony.
Thomas Merton’s prayer has kept running through my brain with some amended words: “My sisters and brothers, I have no idea where I’m going or what to say, but I believe (and do hope) that the desire of my heart (which is to offer gratitude and sorrow and solidarity) is heard by you regardless of the incompleteness of my words.”
My canvas pad became the media to which I turned.
Before I started putting color on the page, I envisioned trees being able to breathe again because of the cessation of human errand and work. But I also saw lungs supported by machines.
And then I heard a man say, “I can’t breathe.” And though I was not the man, the Black man, I could feel the tightness of his human chest in my human. I could feel the gasping for air. I could feel his fear and I could hear his last song.
So I paint and do also pray:
Hear the confessions of my heart, Oh Lord,
I judge; I idolize.
I envy; I boast.
I speak over; I suffocate.
I struggle to stay true to the compassion imbedded in equality when the pull is strong to walk within the tiered structure of pity.
Forgive me and reconcile me to the earth and to my neighbor. Blind my eyes to type. Open my eyes to pollution. May all of creation have the chance to catch our breath so that we can, bound together in love, establish healthier systems for generations planted, tended, and yet to come.