In the past week, I have been finishing a mixed media painting for a friend. I had started work on it more than two and a half years ago, and then set it aside after working on it for some months. I had long claimed that I was “too busy,” but I think the truth is that I was too scared. I didn’t want to give my friend something that was less than “my best work,” and I was not in love with the painting.
But the reality is, this is the first time I have ever attempted something on this scale. So of course I hope that it is not my best work in the scope of my lifetime. I hope that as I learn and experiment, my later work will be better. But this is something better than my best work – it is my first work – the first time I was moved to attempt such a piece. It is inspired by my friend and her life, and every brushstroke and every found scrap of paper and other bits of collage are links in a chain of prayer for her, starting when she and her husband first separated and continuing through her return to work, her daughter entering kindergarten, the continued unraveling of the marriage and the certainty of divorce.
She has found her feet – she does not perhaps need the affirmation of change and new life that the painting represents. And perhaps this is why I have been able to pick it up again – because it can now be a celebration of arriving at the other side of all she has endured. Or perhaps I just ran out of excuses to leave it on the shelf. Or perhaps I finally understood that my perfectionism was holding me back, and remembered that my friend loves me too much to desire perfection from me – and that she has known me too long to expect it. Only those who the law would recognize as kin to me have seen me as bad off as she has seen me.
Am I giving her a canvas that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will be interested in acquiring from her? No, I am giving her my prayers for her – my prayers of September 2009-February 2010, and my prayers of this summer. I am concretizing my love for her to the best of my ability at the moment. Maybe that is the best work any of us can do for one another after all.
I just started reading The House of the Seven Gables about a week ago. I hadn’t read any Hawthorne since I was fifteen, and it seems I was well overdue. The book is lovely, and I find myself putting my bookmark in the evening not at the place where I stopped, but at the part I most want to re-read. This is what I bookmarked last night:
Man’s own youth is the world’s youth; at least, he feels as if it were, and imagine’s that the earth’s granite substance is something not yet hardened, and which he can mold into whatever shape he likes. So it was with Holgrave. He could talk sagely about the world’s old age, but never actually believed what he said; he was a young man still, and therefore looked upon the world – that gray-bearded and wrinkled profligate, decrepit without being vulnerable – as a tender stripling, capable of being improved into all that it ought to be, but scarcely yet had shown the remotest promise of becoming. He had that sense, or inward prophesy – which a young man had better never have been born than not to have, and a mature man had better die at once than utterly to relinquish – that we are not doomed to creep on forever in the old bad way, but that, this very now, there are the harbingers abroad of a golden era, to be accomplished in his own lifetime…
… And when, with the years settling down more weightily upon him, his early faith should be modified by inevitable experience, it would be with no harsh and sudden revolution of his sentiments. He would still have faith in man’s brightening destiny, and perhaps love him all the better, as he should recognize his helplessness in his own behalf;and the haughty faith, with which he began life, would be well bartered for a far humbler one at its close, in discerning that man’s best-directed effort accomplishes a kind of dream, while God is the sole worker of realities.
It may well be that the next book I read after The House of the Seven Gables will be The House of the Seven Gables. It is as dense as a poem in places!
UPDATE: 15 June 2015 – The Affirming Christianity site is no longer accessible, so I have republished this story here on Jerusalem to Jericho.
I do indeed intend to publish more original content here, but I have had a number of ideas recently that have been so well suited for the new group blog Affirming Christianity that I have been spending more time over there! I’ll be back soon.
In the meantime, here is my latest on how I first came to care about the issue of gay marriage in the context of Church policy: When gay men marry… women