I looked at the calendar and saw half the Sundays of the summer gone to travel, to family, to festivals. How do you schedule the art when you are going to be gone. I reached out to my people, my faithful artists who stand at the easel and work it out with paint and brush as the preacher works it out in words. They were busy. They were mothering, and sistering, and in the same strange sort of summer flux that I was also experiencing. And I wonder too if my unspoken reality was also theirs. We were tired.
I found a giant canvas in the room full of stuff that had been left behind. When you are in a historic building, you just never know what you might stumble upon if you go looking. (I have my eye on a card catalog but cannot yet figure out what I would do with it. The wooden wheelchair is also pretty cool.) I don’t know how we acquired it, but I knew I wanted to use it.
Before I left for a few weeks I traced a huge one-line drawing on the canvas, one that started and ended in the same place. We were studying Acts and I wanted to represent the one work of the Holy Spirit, the one never ending love of God, the one universal church. I then ordered my colors and left instructions for our congregation. Come to the front. Fill in some spaces.
I chose the colors carefully and watched over the first few weeks, it was going well. It was working. But then I left. And when I came back, it seemed that people had believed me. When I said: all are invited, the process is far more important than the product, that I wanted anyone who wanted to come take a crack at this canvas, they believed me. The people believed me. The children believed me.
I wonder sometimes what it means to come to the kingdom of God like a child, and lately I have been thinking of the little ones who heard me say they were wanted and tugged their parents to the front of the sanctuary. They mixed colors and painted through my careful lines and worshiped before their God with abandon. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, and it certainly wasn’t what I expected, but wow. It was beautiful. It was real, it was genuine. It was worship.
When I look at parts of this painting I see the kids who painted it. The careful mixing of that beautiful lavender. The bold pink streaks and the pride that accompanied them. The fierce determination of a 4 year old who was literally hanging from the stage railing to get the paint where she wanted it. The precious corner of a little boy who has not yet been told that art is for girls, it is black with green dots and it makes me cry. I love the streaks and the mixed colors and the mess that was presented humbly to our God. Our kids are re-teaching me about a life and a church that cannot be contained and I am just so grateful. I hope that I can follow these little disciples well.
I also see the faithful clean up crew. A few people just quietly filled in the gaps, redrew the painted over lines, found boundaries around the messier bits and formed it into something whole. I am more sure than I have ever been that the church is mostly made up of people who quietly go about their work. With the kids, running the slides, making the coffee, painting the building, fixing the wifi, watering the plants. I learned recently it takes over 30 volunteers to make our church go each Sunday. (That doesn’t include either the child care workers or the folks serving brunch.) That is a lot of people who just show up and do the thing that is needed, because it is needed. Who just show up and say, where are the gaps? How can I fill them? I love a church that doesn’t mind a little work and a little mess because they just want to serve well. Because they believe in a bigger picture they are participating in.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what church means, how we do it. I am headed to seminary and now attend the staff meetings. Y’all, there are a lot of beautiful ideas, gorgeous sketches in the planning stage. There are so many carefully drawn out lines. But these ideas are not meant to sit in the staff meeting. They are meant to be colored in with all the beauty and color and fierce determination of a greater church. Sometimes that means the plans are not executed exactly as originally thought. Sometimes the congregation has their own ideas. Sometimes this thing is happening in this corner and that in another and the only thing that holds it together is the line of the Holy Spirit.
Always, the picture is something more than I could ever do on my own. Always, always it is beautiful.
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