of fear and longing (at Story Sessions)

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.


One comment

  1. As a fellow literary blogger, I must say, this story is awesome. I love the scenery you paint so beautifully.

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