Sitting by the fire on the anniversary of Steve’s death this month,
my daughter Sally and I remembered one of the ways God ministered to us in our
grief was through the story of the lamb, a story that runs throughout Scripture.
I have often told of how God led Sally to paint Aslan, just a month before Steve’s fatal diagnosis, for God was preparing to uphold us when the earth gave way.
As a little girl Sally had always loved Narnia, and the scene where the children first heard about Aslan, “the King of the whole wood,” came to mind:
“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not! I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Oooh,” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quiet safe?”
…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Sally asked God to help her paint the paradox – a Lion that was not safe, but was good.
Here is Sally, fourteen years ago, telling that story.
I have told this story so many times, but that night we talked about the “back” story, and I heard things I did not know before — especially about what Sally learned when she was at Covenant Seminary concerning the relationship between faith and art, and how that impacted what happened when she painted Aslan.
Two years before Steve’s death, Sally had come home to heal after going through a severe trauma in Krakow, Poland. Sally expressed her pain at her easel, producing painting after painting of menacing darkness, painting the sorrow that had saturated her very being. As she painted she was lamenting to God, as the psalms model for us. In time, shafts of light began to filter into Sally’s paintings and she began to find strength to express her pain verbally. Not only had she experienced personal pain, but she was now seeing that pain was everywhere in the world.
Living in Krakow had made her acutely aware of the tremendous evil in the world. She visited the death camp of Auschwitz.
She often walked through the old Jewish quarter of Krakow which, though beautiful, felt “haunted,” holding the memory of Jews that had been herded there to await being transported to the death camps.
The poor lived there now, since all the Jews had been exterminated.
Sally had also walked down the street where her grandmother Brestin had lived as a little girl. Steve’s adoptive parents, a Jewish couple, had adopted Sally’s father, a blond blue-eyed Gentile baby. Sally remembered how her Jewish grandmother had told her that her immediate family got out of Krakow and had come to America before Hitler came to power, but all of the rest of her relatives had died in the death camps of World War II.
The age-old question of a good and loving God allowing such suffering plagued Sally. Sally made the decision to go to Covenant Seminary that next year. At Covenant, in addition to Bible courses, she continued her painting, and studied the mysterious relationship between faith and art. That would turn out to be pivotal not only in impacting her as an artist, but in helping her with the hard question of suffering. We see now, how clearly God’s hand was on our child, guiding her through this storm, as only One who made her, knew her, and understood her could. He is the Wonderful Counselor.
I’m eager to tell you what Sally learned at Covenant about the relationship between faith and art. It has caused me to ponder our mysterious God.
1.What stands out to you from the above — and why?
2. How has the Lord been “not safe” but “good” to you?
3. In what areas do you often create? (Think beyond the box!)
Monday-Friday: Faith and Art
(On a personal note, I’m headed to the Texas prisons where my son is going to film me teaching on He Calls You Beautiful. I’ll be there Friday through Tuesday and would love your prayers.)
At Covenant Theological Seminary, Sally was introduced to the works of Madeleine l’Engel, the Newberry Award winner of “A Wrinkle in Time.” Madeleine was a free spirit, who loved Jesus, and often thought outside the box, challenging us all to get out of our ruts. Here’s a short clip of Madeleine to give you a taste of her heart:
4. What stands out to you from the clip, and why?
One text that impacted Sally profoundly was Madeleine l’Engle’s: Walking on Water: Poet Luci Shaw was my first editor and had a deep friendship with Madeleine. Luci told me that when she would edit Madeleine’s manuscripts they would often have heated theological discussions, but the Lord helped them come to agreement, and at the end Madeleine would say, “Now we will rise and sing the doxology!” And they would. When Luci wrote Madeleine’s obituary in Christianity Today, she told of one Advent, attending a service with Madeleine in a grand Anglican cathedral, when Madeleine suddenly stood up, and like an archangel, proclaimed: “FEAR NOT!”
Once I kept writing Madeleine to get permission to use stories Luci had told me for my book The Friendships of Women, and I didn’t hear back – until I got a Christmas card. I wouldn’t have even known who it was from, had it not been for the return address of Crosswicks. I opened it and in a flourishing script was simply:
I smiled. That was permission from Madeleine.
In Walking on Water, Madeleine talked about what she learned from Hawaiian Christians, who would sit before the Lord listening, to “breathe life” into their prayers. The non-Hawaiian Christians prayed so briefly they began to call them haoles, meaning “without breath.”
For Madeleine, meditation, listening to God, and breathing LIFE into her prayers before she wrote was vital. In the same way, we need to breathe life into our prayers before we create: a sermon, a poem, a letter to a friend, a painting, a dance, a home, a table setting, even a meal… We also need to be better listeners in general when we pray.
5. What stands out to you from the above and why?
6. Read Psalm 119:9-16
A. How quickens you from this passage?
B. Summarize the main point in a sentence.
C. How might this teaching help you to breathe breath into your prayers?
I’m not crazy about the pictures in this youtube version of Psalm 5, for pictures of Jesus are challenging. But I love the song. So listen, please:
7. Read Psalm 5:1-3
A. How do you know the emotional state of the psalmist? (verses 1-2)
B. How do you sense that the psalmist is listening as well as talking? (verse 3)
C. From this passage, how might you “breathe breath into your prayers?”
8. Action Assignment:
Imagine God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit creating the world. They did it together. The Spirit was hovering over the face of the deep. Look at the pronouns: “Let us make man in our image.” In the same way, when we, who are in His image, create, we must do it together with our Triune God. What are you going to create today? A letter? A meal with meaningful conversation? A lesson plan for Sunday School? How could you do this with God, by breathing life into your prayers? Try it — and report — I am praying for God Sightings as you, be faith, ask God to guide you.
Madeleine is controversial. I learned that when I was criticized for quoting her in The Friendships of Women. I went to Luci about Madeleine’s theology and Luci defended her fiercely as a woman who loved the Lord deeply, but often, as is true with other right-brained artists, she jolted people with her words. Luci said that was good — we need to be jolted out of our ruts. We need to exercise “sanctified imaginations.” We hold to the Word and the truth, but we also have faith in the Spirit who guides us. You may find this next story from Walking on the Water to fit in that category — but we, through the painting of Aslan, have experienced its truth. I have also experienced it as a writer — not to the same degree — but sometimes I am amazed what appears on paper and know that it was not me, but the Spirit of the living God. I think, Did I write that? And I know I wasn’t alone.
Here is the story — something that happened to Madeleine when she writing “The Arm of the Starfish.”
Her protagonist, Adam, woke up one morning after being plunged into a deep sleep, and there, sitting in a chair looking at him was Joshua. Madeleine wrote: “Adam was very surprised to see Joshua. Madeleine was even more surprised to see Joshua. There had been no Joshua in my plot at all.” But now he was there, and Madeleine had to rewrite 150 pages to accommodate him. It turned out he was a Christ-figure, and indeed, the name Joshua means Jesus. Madeleine had not intended to put a Christ-figure in – but there he was. She could have refused him into the story, but she wanted to have faith in the creative process and the God to whom she had breathed her prayers. She knew Joshua was probably going to have to die, which indeed he did. One day Madeleine was reading aloud the story to her mother and her ten-year-old son was sitting on the bed listening. Madeleine read aloud of Joshua’s death and her son became very upset and agitated.
“Change it,” he demanded.
“I can’t. That’s what happened.”
“But you’re the writer. You can change it.”
“I can’t. I didn’t want Joshua to get shot either, but that’s what happened, I couldn’t stop it.”
“But you can. You’re the writer.”
But Madeleine couldn’t nor could she help her young son understand. Though today as an adult she says: “he understands that the artist cannot change the work at whim but can only listen, look, wait, and set down what is revealed.”
Every morning when Sally was painting Aslan, she sat before the Lord, asking for wisdom, asking Him to take over, to breathe life into the painting, and into her, as the artist. She endeavored to “breathe” life into her prayers through listening, meditating on Scripture, and waiting before Him.
Sally did not even know she painted a bound lamb into her work. We are convinced God did that. For two weeks later Steve would be diagnosed with terminal cancer.
9. What stands out to you from the above, and why?
Saturday: Report on your Action Assignment if you have not already!