Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blanking on the Seventh Day?

Recently I have been dashing off paintings in a watercolor journal as a spiritual practice. I generally read through the coming Sunday's lectionary passages each morning, and a few weeks ago the first selection was the first chapter of Genesis. I'd been contemplating the biblical creation account recently, and the timing of the lectionary text struck me as significant, somehow. I decided to spend a little more time with it, to consider its poetry, to let it sink in rather than grappling with it intellectually. So I pulled out my cheap-cheap Crayola watercolors and started a painting a day, most days of the week.

I am not a visual artist. I loved drawing as a child, but I'm not very good with representational art. The rules for this recent spiritual practice, thus, have been that I'm not allowed to over-think it, or plan out my 4x6 page, or agonize, or even draw ahead of time. I've been trying to let go, to explore how washes of color overlaid with the ancient words represented the truths of the story. The movement of brush to jam jar of water to dried paint to page--the seep and spread of blues and browns and greens--the careful strokes to form letters--have begun to bring me great joy. I've been praying differently. I look forward to mornings.
Over two weeks, I completed six paintings. I walked past them as these days progressed, drying on the dining room table. I grew accustomed to filling my jam jar while I made my tea, dipped a brush in coffee once instead of water, laughed at my pitiful attempts at a grizzly bear on day six.

And then I came to the end. Day seven. God rested.

I filled my jar, opened my plastic watercolor palette, spread my journal flat, took up my brush. I re-read the passage in Genesis:
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.  (Genesis 2:1-3, TNIV)
I stared at my small rectangle of white, its thick quiet presence a welcome to my paint. I drank my tea. I slouched in my chair. I ate my breakfast. I stood.

The jam jar of water sat on the table all day, the journal open next to it, the little cakes of paint waiting. Come evening, the jar remained, its water clear as morning and only slightly diminished by evaporation. I could have taken up that jar to drink. Before going to bed, I poured it out.

How am I to paint God resting?

Light and dark, sky and sea, land and water, trees and grasses, sun and moon and stars, creatures to fly and swim, creatures to crawl and walk--all these things I can imagine. For all these creations I can splash paint onto a page, drag its tones to the very corners of the paper, set down language and colors together. I can flip through these dried depictions, smile at the rather cheerful moon, delight in the fade of yellow to orange, the mystery of blue sky and blue sea. I can see that, yes, indeed, it was very good.

But what does rest look like? What color is it? What shape? What does it mean for God to rest? For a day to be holy?

What does it mean for work to be finished? What does it mean for something to be fully completed and fully good? How does one represent the act and the feeling of stepping back and simply relishing what has been done?

My page is still blank, leaving me with something to think about. And how would you fill it?

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