Thursday, January 31, 2008

In the Spotlight

In the late 80's and early 90's, I was studying fine art at a community college; painting, drawing, sculpture and design. I loved it, and I often reflect on how I could just lose myself in an abstract watercolor or in the brushstrokes that leapt like flame from a canvas of sunflowers or a field of wheat by Van Gogh. It was always incredible to watch something come to life, so to speak, from my own paint-spattered or clay covered hands... to see it start to fill in and fill out of the void of a bleached canvas or a lump of clay.

I remember one project in particular; we were each commissioned to make a copy of the work of an old master. I chose a painting of Carravaggio's called The Lute Player. A great way to learn, in the way of art, music or for that matter the spiritual life, is to mimic the art of the masters, to trace the outlines of their marks and movements, and by habit to acquire some of their gift. We catch the sparks from the fire of their creative genius and carry it back to the kindling in our own souls.

As my work was coming along, I could see the hints and possibilities, a resemblance coming to light. After a week or so off, coming back to get my canvas from the art room closet where we stored them, I was "impressed" at my own work! Not too shabby, I thought. But that was cloaked in shadow. I pulled it from the dimly lit closet and out into the studio. Hmm....

Time away from things can clear the head and the heart, giving us a fresh look. I noticed some things needed serious reworking; brush hairs were stuck in certain spots, colors I thought had matched the original were a shade or three off. And those flesh tones... oiy. The guy looked sickly.

"The eyes of the LORD, ten thousand times brighter than the sun, observe every step a man takes and peer into hidden corners."
- Sirach 23:19

When I was young and new to the walk of faith, a line like this one from Sirach would, in layman's terms, "freak me out." This Master Painter wanted to be too close to us, it seemed to me. His Light was too bright. I had a sense of Him breathing down my back, my imperfections simmering their in the white-hot light of His Studio of Sanctity. I wondered if He really could see everything. Was the canvas of my heart and mind that open to Him? Could He see all the little smudges and mistakes, the haste and the waste I put down, sometimes merely out of obligation, just to get the grade? Sheesh... talk about pressure.

Today's Gospel from Mark 4 has Jesus speaking of this light, this blazing, penetrating beam of brightness that just will not leave us alone... “For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”

Now I'm older. I look back and I see more clearly. I think there are two kinds of light. One is
man-made, like the light of flash bulbs from paparazzi; those annoying money-hungry celebrity photographers who are forever hovering over Hollywood and endlessly snapping shots of the famous and the vulnerable. And the other light is the light of God. It is claritas, lux mundi, the Morning Star and the Sun of Righteousness. The man-made light is merely a flash. It intrudes, grasps, glares, and exposes weakness for the sake of gossip, mockery, or transference. Or it beams on the beautiful for their moment in the sun, splashing a false light, a dream decoy to us in an effort to sell something.

God doesn't do that with His Light. His Light is simply reality. It is Truth.... and "in His Light we see Light." We see ourselves, the world, other people in the correct sense, and in the clarity of that Light, we let the Master's Hand enter in, touch the clay, shape the heart, move the brush and color the mind with the image of His Son.
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