Remember that painting I gave you so long ago as your going away present from Seminary? I remember that day well because that was when we all found out you were chief of your tribe in Cameroon. We should have known. What a kind and strong man you were. I hope you are now back with your wife and family and that you are all well. I remember you always smiling. Always walking with small gentle steps. And I remember you washing your shoes so carefully in the laundry room. Taking them out and drying them with a towel as though they were your most important possession. When ever I think of you, I think of those clean tennis shoes, clean and worn, but ready to go wherever they were asked to go, no matter how far.
It's been almost fourteen years, but I have now felt lead that it must be time to finish some of this important work I set out to do about art and faith. So I decided to remake the painting I gave you, to make it again, along with the other three paintings I wanted to go alone with it.
Here is what I wrote about it these paintings as I made them I thought about what I hoped they would represent, a process of prayer. I didn't take any courses at the seminary, but I did use the library quite a bit. I read every book on prayer and healing they had, and that many other seminaries had who allowed interlibrary loan. I hope my art will share some of those things, that you Dear Gabrial, chief of your tribe, most likely already know very very well. What I write below is how prayer tends to go, not how we say, in bright hopefullness, that it should go. I hope the paintings might help someone else to prayer. But here below I write something of my own.
Zero: You come to prayer when you are wretched. Humble. You have nothing, and you feel stretched thin. You know you don't have what it takes, and what you have is just not enough. You have the barest glint of hope that somewhere out there when you pray, you will find an answer. It is a mystery you can't understand. It starts with Jesus. Something about the blood of the lamb and your testimony. And your testimony is that you really are just about as able to hold up the world as a burlap bag... God, you are gonna have to step in.
One: In prayer you try to come up with one thing. One thing to pray. But it's hard. All you have before you is your need. And the need is great. It's all you can see. It covers over everything. You lay out that one thing before God and try to press into your mind that he is your father, your mother, your everything and that he cares for you. You know Jesus is the only reason you have a chance to be heard. And you get the feeling that God is listening, that he cares about you. That you are heard. Maybe you really are part of this family after all.
Two: In prayer you know that you've gone about it all wrong. It's not your one great need that is supposed to come first. What is it? You should think of someone besides yourself. Other people have needs. So you try to think of something else. One more thing. One more need that someone else has. Surely if God loves you, he loves your neighbor too. It's difficult. But you think of one thing. And you pray for your friend..... suddenly your heart breaks. Their need is so much greater than yours. You'd give anything for God to help them, even to forget about your needs. Let them come first. You know that Jesus promised he'd be there for us when we mention his name. You feel you have a voice and the words come. You know you don't have what it takes to present this one thing to God well, but with Jesus help, with knowing you don't really know-- maybe that will be enough. And there is peace there. A stillness that begins to come. An opening into a fresh word.
Three: In prayer you know there is more than just needs. There is praise. Isn't God good? He's so amazing. He's done so much for you. He's done so much for your friends and your family. That you are even alive today and standing as much as you are is a miracle. A kingdom based on heaven, on God's perfect joy, seems closer, warmer, and more present. You feel a ladder reach town and you can hear a message of love coming down. Sure you step on part of the ladder that you know are your weaknesses, but they all go up and up and up. And Somehow you've torn your ideas to pieces, your plans are ripped up. Your ego is pretty smashed. A curtain is open and you are in a holy place where it smells like honey and sunlight on a summer day. You know the curtain that ripped to let you in, was Jesus himself. And he begins to work on you, somehow you know that there is a new word written on you, and you have a new name. As you climb up and up, you think, but prayer was never supposed to be this exciting...