Child’s Play, Paper Mache

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 18:2-3

The sabbatical continued with yet the most unusual means of expression for me:  paper mache.

Isn’t this assignment child’s play, Father? 

He let me know that he enjoyed it when I was childlike.  He reminded me that I had permission to enjoy the “process” of making art.  And enjoy it, I did!

I needed a very strong base, so I filled a mason jar with weights and then added seven main branches, as I still had menorahs on my mind.  Seven is the biblical number for completion.  I used masking tape to structure the piece, then started the messy and tactile pleasing part of dipping strips of paper into goo.  I find it funny when I teach art that the boys, rather than the girls, are big wimps when it comes to getting their hands messy.  Not me — I love the sensation on my hands.

I moved to thicker, brown, grocery bag type of paper for additional coats.  I wanted to build up a head in the middle of the tree, as trees are like people with their own stories and purposes, and they produce seeds and fruits of great variety.  With each paper installation, I let it dry and get hard.  I made a paper pulp paste to enhance the details and used wire to attach further branches.  The project took weeks to complete.

As I was adding layers to my tree, my Father was removing layers from me!  I was simultaneously learning about personal deliverance, and had discovered that I had all kinds of hidden ugliness that needed to be peeled away.  It had been covered up and concealed, glamorized with shiny spray paint like my tree.  Fortunately for me, my Father is a gentlemen and tears off layers one at a time, like an onion, rather than ripping me to shreds.  In order for the process to work, I had to come to him as a trusting child and let Him do it.  Some layers were ugly, some rough, some tough.  Some peeled off easily, some took regular fasting and lots of prayer.  Just when I think I am done, I realize I am just beginning the process.  I want to be stripped to bare nothingness, so all I have is me and my God.  I am not there yet, but that is okay, as my Father is in no hurry.

Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ John 8:12

In December during my sabbatical, I was struck with Mary’s response to the angel in Luke 1:38: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to your word.” I was so moved, it became my morning prayer, usually uttered out loud while walking the dogs.  But this prayer — kind of like praying for patience — was powerful, and my next menorah assignment was the most precise and confining creatively.

I began by composing an image from my examination of the scriptures outlining the golden lampstand (also called the Lamp of God in 1 Samuel 3:3). I had noticed that my Father had been asking me to go deeper with each menorah and each medium would allow for greater details.  The first, chunky mosaic tiles, gave an outline form.  This last mosaic was reserved to show the real deal.  Though Moses had a heavenly pattern revealed to him on the mountain (Hebrews 8:5), I did not.  Lord, help me to do this.

Up to this point, I was least familiar with scratch art as a medium.  One false move and you start over.  You have to think opposite of drawing, and you scratch away to get the white, but you leave parts you want to be black.  It is like working with your brain torqued, twisted and tied up.  The instrument used is a stick with a sharp end smaller than a mechanical pencil.

My scratches had to be small and deliberate.  No wild strokes.  Self control.  My breaths were shallow.  I had to take breaks.  An old injury surfaced dating back 25 years ago.  Back then I was young and a go-getter, but also rather careless.  I had interrupted my workout to help a girl at a Marine Corps gym and pulled a pin out of a stack of weights only to have 160 lbs drop on my thumb to dislocate it.  (And, yes, it was very embarrassing to leave that gym on a stretcher with muscle bound and manly Marines looking at me.) Scratch art was painful.  My wrist ached from gripping too tight. However, I was determined not to have to do this piece three times like my gold leaf fiasco.

During the scratch, scratch, scratch, I had plenty of time to ponder.  I imagined Bezalel working on all manner of crafts while being filled with the Holy Spirit.  I thought about how my Father’s instructions were given for a reason, and how He gives beneficial instructions, even instructions for worship.  I contemplated that there really are only two kingdoms, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.  Finally, I thought about how Jesus said he was the light of the world, but he also said that we who follow him are light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Wow!

When finished, I smiled.  I think my Father did, too.  It was time to move on to a new subject and yet another medium.


Gold Leaf Menorah

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7.

Again, Lord?  Another menorah?

YHWH is a persistent teacher.  He is tireless and enduring.  He wants us to get it, no matter how long it takes.  I shook my head a little and muttered under my breath that I already knew about menorahs and we could go onto another topic, but He was resolute.

So I settled down once again and studied Exodus 25.  The golden lampstand was to be made of pure gold.  I stopped, meditated, and studied about the purification process.

The art project using liquid gold leaf did not go at all as I imagined.  The first night, I sketched it out with graphite, then carefully and with the smallest paintbrush I could buy, applied the liquid gold leaf.  You have to put the lid on the little jar and shake it from time to time, or it separates into a watery red substance with the gold settling on top.  Timing is everything. When I was almost finished with the last branch, I bumped my arm against the jar and toppled it over.  The paint splashed and poured onto my masterpiece.  I was exhausted, in pain, and sweating.  I went to bed with no sense of accomplishment.

The next night I moved the jar to a new locale — far away from my paper.  The work had to be slow, meticulous and steady.  I had to remember to shake up the gold leaf paint or I would draw red which would show up on my menorah.  But my solution was no solution at all.  About halfway through the process, I dribbled splotches onto my watercolor paper.

This was really starting to tick me off!  More garbage can fodder.

Third time is a charm.  Well, no, not exactly.  In my God’s kingdom, there is no luck.  Trickle, trickle again!  I could not believe it.  I tried to salvage it with white out, but it really shows, at least to me.

So why write about this grim experience?  It was purifying me.  I had become a “product-oriented” artist and believer, rather than a “process-oriented” artist and believer. Each morning I was studying the Word, trying to tackle it with a goal of “getting through the bible in a year” mode, rather than it getting through me.  I heard my Father say, “Just slow down.”  My mentor said, “chew, little lamb.”  Each evening I was just trying to get the art assignment done so I could go on to greener pastures.  I rushed it not relishing the time in the process.  When I worked with such carefulness, I had intense hot flashes like I had never experienced before.  It felt like a stoked and smelting furnace with a brush in my unsteady hand.

Okay, I will slow down … sheesh. 

I think my Father delights in me.  I think he even chuckled, knowing that my next assignment would be another menorah.

“To Work in Every Craft”

The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel … and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.’   Exodus 31:1-5.

I had my plans.  I was going to continue to conquer the pastel medium, earn accolades from  my pastel artist peers, and sweep the Pastel Society of America and International Association of Pastel Societies awards.  Period.  I was on my way.  I was comfortable with the medium.  It felt good.  No fears.  No stress.

But my God had his plans. His ways are higher than mine.  His thoughts are higher than mine.  (Isaiah 55:9)

So He said: “Same subject. New medium … relief carving.”

I had done a few relief carvings in the past, but was certainly not at ease with the medium.  For one thing, it is unforgiving.  If you accidentally slash a section off with the sharp carving tools, you cannot reattach it.  Like Bezalel, I needed help of the Holy Spirit because I felt like a kindergartner with fat crayons.

My God had plans for me in this exercise.  It was not to create a masterpiece for the Louvre, but to show me a few things that I did not know.  First, I have indeed been called out by name to be an artist.  Second, when I work in His strength rather than mine, He shows up.  Third, it is a blast to try new things.

My God is not dull.  He is thrilling.