The colored markers I took on my Santa Fe vacation turned out to be almost exactly the same colors as the landscape in the region. Maybe there was some Southwestern painter floating around my mind when I packed. Santa Fe is so beautiful I wanted to use the local colors and the geography to shape my prayer drawings. I’m not an artist, so usually when I try to pray with images of real life objects it destroys my attitude of prayer. My inner art critic goes into hyper-judgment mode. This time I warned her ahead of time to keep her mouth shut.
From an artistic perspective the results were pretty puny. A friend asked me what the tepees were for; the tepees were really mountains. I did, however, manage to pray for the people in the drawing without too much distraction or self-loathing. The shapes and colors stuck in my mind and reminded me to pray.
In general, I’m better off using the simple strokes of abstract doodles. Doodling keeps me in the now without focusing on the “success” of the end result. If you are an artist who can really draw mountains (or even if you just want to draw mountains), please feel free. Draw whatever tames your wandering mind or helps you to focus on God in prayer. Lines, arcs, dots, triangles, zigzags…seem to work best for me.
I just spent five days and nights in Santa Fe, New Mexico. To my surprise I was captivated by the stark and spare beauty of the landscape. The browns, rusts, mauves, blues, and greens formed an unusual kaleidoscope of color. Artists abound in the Southwest. They describe the unique light and spiritual aura of the region. Hundreds of galleries display their work. What caught my eye was not so much the light, but the shadows. I noticed the wonderful patterns of shadows formed by the combination of Southwestern structures and Southwestern light.
Besides their interesting appearance, shadows have mysterious implications in our thoughts and collective unconscious. Shadows can be comforting places, retreats from the sun and the heat. They provide protection. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Here the Psalmist asks God for the kind of protection a mother bird would provide her babies from predators and weather. (Psalm 17:8 NIV) I like the idea of the infinite wingspan of God surrounding and enfolding me.
But shadows can be scary and dangerous. A mouse and a rabbit would scamper in terror from the shadow of large wings. For them, the wings signify danger—a hawk or owl looking for a bit of lunch. My mother warned me about shadows from trees and buildings. Who might be lurking there to cause me harm? And then there is always the shadow of death. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2). Even with the promise of light, I can only imagine what the looming shadow of death looks like.
I enjoy contemplating the multiple meanings of the word shadow. But even more I enjoy seeing the one-of-a kind artistic creations made by the marriage of light and architecture.
Today is the fiftieth day after Easter, the day called Pentecost. I love Pentecost because it celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus. With all kinds of people praying in all kinds of strange languages, this Disneyesque, magical blast of a day became known as the birthday of the Christian Church. With so many references to fire and blood, red is the color of the day.
Here are some verbal images from the story in Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV) and some visual images from my church at the Pentecost celebration today:
Just in case you’re in the area!