Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Palate of God

The Palate of God

There were artists here, painting different scenes of the monastery. They were here for a week. I enjoyed chatting with them and watching them as they worked. They painted portraits of the monks and the barn, the church and the cloister. The paintings are beautiful and will soon be posted on our web site.

I watched one man paint a portrait of one of the monks. The monk sat quietly and dutifully in several feet in front of the easel. I learned a little bit about technique – how consistent light is important and how a “wash” is made first. The “wash” is a generous spread of “back” color, from which and upon which the portrait slowly emerges. I found that interesting. The artist was happy to answer whatever questions I had. I could feel his patience and a joy as he went about his work. I was impressed as to how absorbed he was. He said he often painted for hours and the time passed by like so many seconds. Not many people, I thought to myself, are able to stay put like that in one place for very long.

Each artist had a different “signature” to his or her work. I suppose it is like finding one’s voice as a writer – but the voice of an artist is one of expression in color and form.

And so there was the monk and the artist and me. Taken all together, there were many things going on. Conversation, stillness, painting, posing, the desire to catch a near likeness of a person on canvas.

I looked at the artist’s palate and watched as he dipped his brush into one small glob of oil paint after another. The colors were brilliant – many shades of reds and blues, greens and browns and yellows. I suppose it took him a long time to know how to blend colors, how to keep them separate.

The artists all know each other. They are the “Plein Art Painters” and we were blessed to have them here last year, too. I sensed that they like the monastery for the many scenes of beauty that it offers. I know we enjoy having them here with us. I noticed how supportive they are of each other, giving helpful advice and support that seemed sincere and appreciated.

They all seemed happy to be creating and to have ample space to do it.

Some of them attended the services with us in the church. I heard more than once how they love our church – they were fascinated by the play of light and shadow that changes throughout the day, thanks to the artistry that went into the stained glass windows. I did not speak of religious things with any of them. The conversations touched more on art and creativity. But those things are religious, too, no?

Many years ago I read a lot on religious pluralism. I read all the great thinkers who have studied pluralism and its ramifications. I was impressed, and still am, with the many ways different thinkers tackled living in a pluralistic world. Since those days I did all the reading, pluralism has certainly come more and more to the forefront of human concern. How do we live with each other, coming as we do from different beliefs, cultures, ways of looking at the world and each other?

There is no one answer. Perhaps no such answer “exists.”

But pluralism is uncomfortable for many of us and because of that we look for an answer. We feel, see and experience vast and unsettling changes in our time. It is natural, I think, for people of high learning to seek some light from above as to the direction humanity must take. And even those who are wise among the formally unschooled are looking to their traditional beliefs in order to secure a sense of where we are going as a people.

As long as peoples were separate from each other, few if any questions arose as to the truth claims of religions. It all seemed secure and obvious. And such a way of looking at “others” brought with it a terrible price in the forms of religious wars, persecutions and intolerance. These, of course, are very much still with us.

I watched the man painting. Not far from him, his associate artists were absorbed in their own creations. Colors were blending, beauty was emerging, pure shades gave way to softer or harder spectrums of color.

I thought of creation as God’s palate. It is a vast palate, yet held in his hand and moving every now and then as he applies a bit of pressure to mix colors. It is all hidden from us as we come into being as his creation. Indeed we feel the desire to stay as we are and not to venture to far as to mix our lives and beliefs with others. But his desires are stronger and admittedly mysterious. We are taken from where we would prefer to stay and placed in new situations. The outcome of may be anybody’s guess but it is surely to be an outcome divinely inspired.

I never thought about how important the stability of light is for an artist. The man I watched hoped that the light would remain so that he could be faithful to what he saw before him.

We can hope that the Light that is God will remain as well as all that we thought to be lasting and good is raised to something new – a wondrous creation constantly being fashioned from what once was.

How patient that artist was as he fashioned the likeness of a monk.

And how patient God must be as he fashions creation to the likeness of Himself.

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