While on silent retreat in mid-December, I visited an art gallery. Yes, the convent/working farm/dairy/retreat center is also home to an art gallery. The second story viewing space proudly displays the work of Sister Jeanne who tells stories through metal, wood and resin, oil paints, and clay.
I don’t remember the last time I was in an art gallery. But, I can tell you the last time I was moved to tears in an art gallery: never. This should be surprising. I’m an unapologetic cryer. I cry if you cry; I cry when the music swells; I especially cry when the Spirit is moving. But visual art has never moved me. Until Wednesday, December 12, 2018.
I was walking slowly through a showroom lit only by a weak winter sun. I turned to my right. At the top of two wooden steps, collapsed where it fell, was a piece of tree trunk that looked as if it had imploded. Its insides were out and its outsides were peeling away. I was drawn to it right away, the colors were rich and warm with the familiar but always unique wood grain pattern. I didn’t even know what I was looking at. As I got closer I could see that the face and arms of a man and woman had been formed out of resin and placed at the ends of the decimated tree. From where they were attached to the piece, it was clear that they could not know the other was there. Yet, they both reached out, faces pained and arms stretching. For each other? For God?
The longing for connection yet the reality of utter isolation expressed in the art captured so much of how I’d been feeling. I may have wept. I did. I did weep. The way we all weep when, in our perceived isolation, we realize that we are not actually alone.
The piece seemed to capture visually the theory about Striving I’m rumbling* with. Etched into the created faces was the effort and pain associated with striving as I’ve come to know it. For me, striving is all about working to please others and working from your own well of strength. It’s about always knowing how you’re doing in relation to others. It’s about proving your worth: to God, to others, to yourself.
I seek to combat striving by cultivating times Obedient-Inaction which is intentionally seeking direction from the Spirit through sensitivity cultivated by Scripture and prayer in quiet spaces. I’m trying to figure out how to recognize and respond to the Spirit’s urging. I’m trying to figure out how to move from inaction to action and keep the obedience and sensitivity. As a recovering task-oriented, control freak, it’s a daunting task. I’m afraid of getting too tired, too busy, too calloused and losing the connection.
However, since returning to Kenya, I’ve had a bit of a break-through with this theory. You see, I’ve entered into another big transition year which begins with me teaching 4th and 5th grade. I’m teaching the Kenyan curriculum to Kenyan children. I’ve worked ten-hour days since January 2nd and I’m absolutely energized.
How can this be? I’m not striving. I’m not working for the approval of my organization, boss, or coworkers. I’m not trying to do this on my own power. I’m responding to obedient-inaction. It’s what God has asked me to do today, this moment, this season. I’m doing it in his power not mine.
It’s easy to get caught up in Striving. It’s what many cultures demand. But Christ has offered freedom from culture and freedom from ourselves. He invites us to leave ourselves and in only his Spirit to live, move, and have our being. For me, practicing Obedient-Inaction is one way to do that.
*In her book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown uses the word “rumbling” to mean wrestling with, sitting with, or engaging with an uncomfortable or challenging idea, feeling, or concept. I totally stole the usage.