I have become increasingly busy over the last few weeks, finding myself bound to my desk, books and laptop. It seems the endless paperwork has become a sort of manacle seemingly keeping me from my work in the world beyond my office door. From my window, I can see the grass and plants, the trees through which is the road acting as an artery ferrying people back and forth. I can hear the world buzzing with the songs of our feathered friends and the noise of the traffic providing a gentle white noise for fear of any true silence breaking out. While it has been cold, so cold it snowed, so much snow we could build a snowman – I want to be out in the world with all its brimming possibilities. As much as I love my books I found my heart was not in the reading as my eyes eventually drew up to the window to gaze out upon the squirrel scampering up the tree or the birds arguing over who’s branch it was. Life had started to seem drab, monochrome, void of the sparkle we would want it to have. Think, Wizzard of Oz and the moment it goes from glorious technicolour into black and white.
Today I was encouraged to pray using pastels. This is something I have done before, with mixed results. I often end up becoming too focused on the end result, rather than being in the moment and allowing myself to relax and notice God. I took a suggestion, to write my name with the pastels and be attentive to what God might be saying to me through the process. I looked down having completed my name in what was akin to a Celtic knot and… nothing, just me in a room, in the silence, staring at my name and my name staring back at me. Not pious, not holy, not praying. Knowing I still had more time I adopted one of the suggestions offered, to use the less dominant hand. I began making marks on the page and every fibre inside me cringed as the pastels made unskilled, sloppy, irregular marks. However, in the letting go of control, I let go of the destination and at that moment was liberated, though it was not a joyous liberation more an awkward stumbling and staggering. I looked on as the image around my name took shape with different colours and shapes. It was a cornucopia of colours, shapes and textures and while part of me was deeply frustrated with the lack of artistic direction I had created and completed something – prayerfully.
I looked down at my hands as I placed the pastel back into the box and noted my hands were now a dull grey-purple colour. My first reaction was, ‘Great, now I’ll have to go wash my hands, what a faff.’ Yet, before I stood up I remembered an extract from Hebridean Altars.
“Seven times a day, as I work upon this hungry farm, I say to thee, ‘Lord, why am I here? What is there here to stir my gifts to growth? What great thing can I do for others – I who am captive to this dreary toil?’
And seven times a day Thou Answerest, ‘I cannot do without thee. Once did My Son live thy life, and by His faithfulness did show My mind, My Kindness, and My truth to men. But now he is come to My side, and thou must take his place.'”
I realised as I looked through the gaps between my grey-purple fingers I could see a blaze of colour, a variety of shapes. In a sense, life was exploding across the page of pastel marks. I realised at that moment, my toil on the hungry farm was so others may know the mind of God, know the kindness of God and know the truth of God. While I had been putting services together, looking at rotas and working on the Lent course I had been preparing the ground for those encounters, preparing the way for others to encounter Christ. The fruit of some of this was on the Lent course, with the sharing of ‘coming to faith stories’ where I heard how God had impacted the lives of the others. As they spoke their stories these were the rainbow moments, the brightly coloured pastels reaching awkwardly across the page, but in full technicolour. The stories were emotional, evocative, attractive and struck me deeply as I stood with my dirty purple-grey hands before the groups.
I have come to see again, the toil on the hungry farm may not be exciting and seemingly important but through it, God brings about amazing moments of beauty and grace. We can see these moments if we lift our eyes from our dirty hands and look to the canvas upon which the most amazing work is being wrought in loving detail and care.