Every writer knows the value of a good, well-placed quotation. Consider this:
We must offer ourselves to God like a clean, smooth canvas and
not worry ourselves about what God may choose to paint on it,
but at each moment, feel only the stroke of His brush.
— Jean Pierre de Caussade
I had unusual parents.
Most kids think their parents unusual. As in weird, clueless and hopelessly behind the curve. Any curve.
That is not what I mean. I mean they defied others’ definitions, being unyieldingly tough where necessary while retaining their own unique senses of humor and appreciation for whatever life brought their way.
I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me, then, that when I entered high school my mother would decide to attend night art classes. I really needed this. I needed my mother, bless her heart, to be regularly walking the same halls I did.
I am the youngest of five. I was born on my mother’s 43rd birthday. Daddy was in his early 50s when I made my first curtain call. What I’m saying is that my mother wasn’t a young’un. She was of retirement age; weary of making lunches for Daddy, picking up after yet another “wonderful blessing” and coming to appreciate more and more her rocking chair. This was the time in her life to spend leisurely mornings over coffee or tea enjoying the birds and slowing down a little. It was Mother’s time to retire, too.
Somebody forgot to tell Mother.
She didn’t even consult me. She just had Daddy take her, I guess; as I said, she never consulted me. Old school, you know? When kids didn’t tell their parents what to do? Mm-hmm. Like that. She just registered, paid her money and sat herself down in Mr. Hempel’s art class that met once a week at night.
At my high school. I don’t remember what night of the week.
Oh, it gets worse. Much worse.
She made me go with her. Gasp. . . Do you KNOW how impossible it is to look or sound like your wiring’s up to code when you are accompanying YOUR 50-SOMETHING MOTHER anywhere?
Please, Lord, spare me. I’ll eat lima beans and liver. Really. Just don’t make me do this thing. It’s above and beyond the call, and besides, doesn’t Romans 12 talk about reasonable service? This. Is. Not. Reasonable.
In those ancient days before ADHD had been invented we were just labeled ‘curious and inquisitive.’ Imperious in my year or so of architectural drafting, nothing could make me stoop so low as to. . . to paint. That was reserved for people who cut off their own ears or created ‘works of art’ one could hang sideways and it would still look the same. Or better.
What I’m saying is that since I had to sit–quietly–and observe everyone in the class, I did sit and watch. I noticed many styles, different perspectives and personalities coming out in greater or lesser color on each canvas. I also noticed that as Mr. Hempel showed that evening art class how to do different things on canvas, it became apparent that one doesn’t just watch someone else paint.
One also hears it.
Here’s where Jean Pierre de Whomever comes in. I was just watching the ones doing the painting: their preparation of the canvas, laying down background colors, adding depth and defining details. Reading this quote, it occured to me I could enrich my store of understanding by looking at things from the perspective of the canvas.
Think about it.
Stretched and stapled, taut like the hide of a gutted buffalo. Rubbed, scrubbed and treated. Never asked a preference as to what it would like to display. Just jabbed, poked, abrased and bristled. Ah, the life of a humble canvas.
I took a close look at some of those brushes. Some were so soft and pleasant to the touch, with fine hair that seemed to effortlessly, benevolently transfer the artist’s ideas onto the canvas. Others were sort of stiff and uncomfortable, calling for a little harder force to get the paint where it needed to go. Then there were others that were almost rigid and bristly. Those were the ones onlookers could hear hitting that canvas.
I’d have never chosen “brutal” as an adjective to describe painting. Nor do I accuse God of being uncaring and cruel in the way He’s been creating His masterpiece on me. I have, however, whined at the force God’s occasionally used to transfer some of His richest blends of color onto the canvas of my body, mind and spirit.
So have you.
Looking at art class from the canvas’s perspective puts a whole new light on things. And looking at God as the Master Artist brings up some interesting thoughts. . .
- I am the canvas. It is not mine to choose what the Master wishes others to see in and on me. It is mine to display whatever it is with as much grace and nobility as I can. I need to be stretched and prepared, no matter what I may think of my own readiness to be used. The better I allow myself to be stretched and prepared, the less force will be necessary for the Master to produce in and on me a work of art worthy of His signature.
- I am one canvas. Deriding myself because my picture doesn’t resemble yours is as unreasonable as disliking a Renoir because it doesn’t look like a Picasso. God is the Artist; the choice in what He paints, and with which colors, is His.
We survived that class, Mother and I. And a few of her paintings remain, though the one I had somehow escaped during one move or another. It may have gone looking for Mr. Hempel, wanting a surcharge for his having to put up with me lurking, asking questions and getting in everyone’s light. He could just as easily sought a rebate. I wasn’t that big a problem, though. I was soon bored with painting and began watching the potter work with clay.
But that’s for another story.
The challenge? It’s not a hard, pointy one unless it needs to be. I don’t know what God’s mixing on the palette of your life; what masterpiece He has in mind to display through you. Whatever it is, focus on releasing control of what you think ought to be on your heart, mind and body.
Focus on feeling at each moment the stroke of His brush.
Be at peace, knowing the Master is producing in and on you a true Masterpiece–if you’ll let Him.
© February 2008, May 2013