My dorm room was quiet, one fluorescent bulb flickering lightly, the heater on full blast against the drudging cold rain. It was a bad semester, the worst. There were memories I didn’t want and jello-thick depression and more tears in a month than in all the rest of my life before. There were fights late at night (and me so easy-going!). There was homework unfinished (and me a straight-A student!). There was grief.
The journaling, the exercising, the fresh fruits helped a little. The friendships helped. The counseling, it helped, too. But at the end of the day, and at its beginning and middle too, I was still exhausted. My eyelids were heavy, and my limbs.
That afternoon, with the heater warming my back, I pulled out a canvas and some pencils, and an array of half-empty reds and blues and browns. I put on a podcast from a church I’d never been too. I listened to Psalms, to the sing a new songs, the deep calling to deeps, the how long, oh Lords. And I painted. An elephant, flowers, some sunsets, an inside-joke cow for a friend. It didn’t matter. I just painted.
And that dorm room became my cathedral; that concrete floor with shoddy office carpet, my sanctuary. Flickering fluorescent mimicked speckled stained-glass light. The buzz of the heater played hymns half-remembered. Prayers in each brushstroke. Paint-covered hands not raised or clasped, but communing all the same.
I am not Michelangelo, not Picasso, but those small unspecial paintings added beauty to my grayscale psyche; and quiet, unhurried, that beauty saved me. In that bright and hallowed space between the canvas and my soul, I found peace — and I found God. I believed, I knew, I embraced. The art became a rite of hope and a routine of healing. I made the time, I made the effort.
And then, slowly, I got better, and, even more slowly, I abandoned that orthodoxy. The tubes of paint remained sealed. The canvases collected dust.
* * *
I haven’t painted for more than a year. There are brushes and sketch books, watercolors and acrylics in plastic bins in my closet. They are waiting, and so am I.
I have risen from desolation but wandered into doubt. All art is God’s art, they say, and maybe I am not godly enough. My devotion too weary, my questions too loud. Art is not yours, they say, it is God’s. If I am not God’s, what is my art? If he made me artist, whose name do I sign?
There is an insistent itch for the divine. There is a steady ache for something lost. It is at my fingertips, but I have been unable to reach, to grasp, to witness.
I am afraid of the voice that speaks through color. I am afraid of blooming bushes burning in the dark. I am afraid of trampling with muddied boots on ground so holy it makes it weep. I am afraid of hearing his words but missing their meaning. I am afraid.
This is a story of a sacrament lost, yes, but I am not at its end yet. I remember that dorm room, deep calling to deep in a spectrum of sunsets and funny looking cows. I am pulling off my shoes and picking up my paintbrush. I too am a blank canvas, ready again for beauty.
This post originally appeared at the now-defunct Story Sessions blog, where we were exploring themes of ritual, routine, and sacrament. Story Sessions was an incredible community of women creatives, now under The Story Unfolding brand.