I have been exhausting myself the past few days – going to work, coming home, painting, going to bed and then starting all over again.Â I have been consumed with creating little visual prayers for various family members I will see in 6 days!!! (I can’t believe I will finally be in Hong Kong again after 4 years away!)Â I have four done, and have two more to go.Â I think I will make it.
In the past month when I began, I was mostly concerned with just making paintings, but within a few hours of starting, I realized that this in many ways was what I “really” want to do when I create: I want to create for a purpose.Â I want to create “for” someone.
I pray when I paint.Â So when I am creating an image for someone I know, their story influences me heavily.Â I am praying with words of paint, using the grammer of design.Â I am finding that each composition speaks to the unique joys and struggles that I am aware of for each of the people I am creating for.
It is what I would love to do – to be an aesthetic prayer servant.Â If there was one thing that I could do with my life, it would be to help people experience the presence of God, to know and long for intimacy with God.Â It is my firm conviction that the arts (verbal and non-verbal) would be primary channels for this to happen.Â It is my hope that my own creations each can be little pieces of the way that this can happen for people – each painting likeÂ one grain of sand that makes up the beach of the presence of God.
SoÂ IÂ am busy making art, and just praying that it will be used for the people that I am making the art for.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bible … and I love the way that words have given us insight into our history as a people of faith.Â For example, the Nestorian Tablet which is the first evidence of Chrisitainity in China, gives us this information precisely becuse the words inscribed on the tablet tell us about the “Luminous Religion” which came to China around 700AD.Â However, it really bothers me as an artist how Christians, especially Protestant Christians, have such a verbal bias when it comes to understanding and knowing God now.
It has been a few days since my last entry.Â My kidney stones have not passed, my daughter needed to be taken to the Urgent Care Center, and we are still coping with the feelings after our friend’s son took his own life.Â Our family is not in a horrible place, but we are having some moments of suffering.
As I have written about in earlier postings, my imagination is moved by images of old China.Â Maybe it is because for me as an outsider there are so many things that I appreciate about the culture that are beautiful, and yet I do not understand them completely either.Â There is a degree of mystery in these images for me.Â And yet, there is something about these images from a 6000-year old culture that speak to the present moment as well.
I often get stylistic inspiration for my work from Buddhist sculpture.Â Several years ago, I saw an exhibit in Hong Kong of a recent archeological find of centuries of ancient Buddhist sculptures which showed the way that Buddha came to lose his Indian features and become more Chinese-looking the longer Buddhism was in China.Â This was a very beautiful exhibit, and one that got me thinking about my own art in the years to come.Â Could an artist make art that had the face of Buddha and express the heart of Christ?
Tonight I was in my studio working on “laying down gold” for the backgrounds of my new “breath prayer” paintings.Â All the while I was working, I kept thinking of who would eventually look at these pieces, who would own them, what would be going on in their lives when they take time to look at these little paintings.Â I always hope that in some way my work helps remind people of the presence of God.Â Lately, I have used gold in my pieces to suggest this presence as it surroundsÂ the figures in my work.Â
I onceÂ made a painting for a friend called “CanÂ You Drink This Cup?”.Â Â Years after she put this piece up in her home, she was looking at it one evening when she could not sleep and felt that she suddenly “understood” the painting in a new way.Â I was so appreciative that she told me this, even though she did not share what it was exactly that she came to understand.Â However,Â what struck me was that she talkedÂ about this experience as an encounter with God, and that it was GodÂ who gave her this understanding.
I so hope that something like this happens for the people who eventually receive myÂ newest work, because I certainly feel a sense of being in God’s presence as I stand in front of my easel.Â I hope that there is a life for my art beyond the joy I get in creating it.Â
This morning I had the opportunity to give a talk on non-verbal connections with God to a group of seminary students who have an internship where I work (Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services).Â It was good to be able to speak as an artist, to talk about how God communicates with me visually.Â At the end of the talk, I asked the group to create pictures in response to Psalm 63.Â The results were great.Â The group became nearly silent while they reflected on God.Â During the sharing time, some people responded directly to the passage, while others let their minds wander a bit and reflected on what God was doing in their lives at this moment.Â It was a beautiful thing to experience.
Today was a good day.Â I recently have been suffering from kidney stones, as I have for the last few years.Â Since June, I have had quite a number of painful episodes that prevented me from working, painting, playing music, or about anything else that usually brings me joy.Â Last evening, I had the privilige of watching Barack Obama win the presidency of the United States of America.Â Being deeply interested in anti-racism and racial reconciliation, this was a moment that moved me deeply, as it did many people around the world.Â For the first time in years, I was proud of my country in a profound way, and I am thankful for this moment in history.Â This morning, after waking up, I passed a kidney stone (3 mm) and was without pain for about an hour, only to realize that there is at least one more which is on its way out.Â I was in a lot of pain all day, and needed to take pain-killers again, but I was happy all day because of our president-elect.
This evening, I finished the second of my four or five paintings that I need to complete before traveling to Hong Kong.Â I am making headway.Â I also am prayerful about an opportunity I have tomorrow to give a talk on art as an aid to corporate and private worship to seminary students.Â I so deeply want the church to be a place where artistic revival can be experienced … I hope that in some small way I can play a role in this.Â I would love to be an instrument in helping the church undergo a sea-change in the way people encounter God’s presence in worship through the arts the way Barack Obama has changed the nature of race-relations in America forever.
Last night my wife and I were woken at 4 am by a phone call that the son of an artist friend of mine hung himself.Â He had been struggling for a number of weeks after his girlfriend shot herself.Â I can think of little else than the sadness of my friend, the way this news affected my wife, and my own sadness as I had tried to talk with my friend last week and last night over the phone.Â
I want to just take a moment today to be quiet and think…
It will be difficult to paint tonight.
Â I get so much inspiration from looking at old photographs.Â I love to imagine what it must have beenÂ like to be the person in the picture … to be a part of the culture my wife comes from.Â Who were these people?Â In particular, the images of women intrigue me.Â Often we do not know their names, or what their lives were like.Â I try to imagine if they were happy or sad, and what could have made them feel this way.Â The way people posed for portraits long ago are so static, yet, there is something so peaceful and unbound by time in these photos.Â The simple compositions, the beautiful ornament of their clothes and beauty of these now-outdated hairstyles.Â I want to include samples of these pictures periodically on this blog as a tribute to the people and sources of my artistic inspiration.