Read: Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24
Around Christmas I started a painting. I had a very geometric idea in mind full of color and shape. An aerial image of western Kansas inspired the idea. I don’t talk about art and painting often. Painting is something which is just for me. It offers me a “place” of solitude within my mind and heart. There is a peace which occurs in me as each stroke applies paint to the canvas or paper. I’m not a very good painter. I don’t paint to be a good painter. I paint because those brush strokes become prayers for me.
Painting, like prayer, is a rather singular activity. While there are such things as “painting parties,” painting as I practice it is singular; it’s me, a brush, paint, and a blank canvas smugly staring back at me proclaiming, “I dare you.” Prayer is like that blank canvas. Are we brave enough to open our hearts completely to the one who knows us better than we know ourselves? If we did, with what colors would we paint? What brushes would we use?
Would there be black for the sorrow we carry applied with a brush made of our fears and anxiety? Would there be blue for the hope which is deep within us applied with a brush made of risk and determination? Would there be yellow for the joy we have within us applied with a brush made of confidence and compassion? With what colors would you paint if you opened your deepest self to God? With what brushes would you apply that paint?
One of the things I like about painting is that there are no mistakes. There are no mistakes in prayer, either. I didn’t ask you to read verses 19-22 in Psalm 139. I suspect you did anyway. They aren’t the most noble of sentiments to our ears. God redeems our worst selves. If our best selves were all that God sought out to redeem, then we would have to earn our salvation. God doesn’t work that way. Rather, God redeems our very worst selves and all the rest of us. We didn’t even have to ask. Our mistakes may be numerous; God redeems each one.
Painting becomes a prayer regardless of the color with which I paint; God has redeemed them all. Painting is prayer for forgiveness when there are mistakes; It is a reminder there are no mistakes too great for God to redeem. Painting is a reminder that caring for myself is important; I can renew myself by renewing my relationship with God. Painting requires that I find the quiet, calm, center of myself; prayer enables me to find that place of quiet and calm. Painting pushes me to think in different ways; prayer empowers taking risks for the sake of the Gospel. Painting and prayer share much in common for me.
As I pause to think about my time on the front porch today, I am grateful for the larger picture in which I find myself. I am one small dash of color off in a corner. Prayer allows me to see the brilliance of the picture God is painting. God is including me in that picture. Painting then teaches its’ greatest of lessons about prayer. No painting I could ever paint, nor any of the great artists of history could paint, will ever be greater than the canvas on which God paints. Painting teaches me to pray with all humility. This is the greatest lesson of painting for me. I hear another psalmists voice, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals, that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:4, NRSV). Who am I that God is mindful of me? That is exactly the promise of Scripture and faith: God is mindful of me. God knows me more intimately than I know myself, just as Psalm 139 says. I am simply humbled by this thought: God is mindful of me. God is mindful of each of us.