Recently I was asked by my local Catholic newspaper to cover a painting class at St. John the Baptist in East Brookfield, MA. It was not the usual “Paint with a Twist” class where there is wine served in a party atmosphere. Instead, we would be praying with words, song, brush and paint.
The teacher had to cajole me to participate as I was concerned about covering the story and taking photographs.
I had not painted since high school and had long since forgotten how to create art in that fashion. My memories consisted mainly of my frustration at painting because I micromanaged the process rather than allowing that process to direct my brush strokes. By the end of high school I had given up on it.
As I found myself in front of that blank, black canvas, I wondered how I could ever be able to paint again. In the end, the distraction of covering the story proved to be a blessing.
Kathy Jordan was the teacher. A former art student turned hairdresser and salon owner, she rediscovered painting a few years ago while going through a difficult trial in her life. Taking out her paints and brushes, she allowed the inspiration to pour forth bringing her healing and a new life. She created forty paintings in four months which resulted in a book, Decolores God, and these “Paint and Pray” classes.
Starting with the same small black canvas, she began to paint Christ’s cross against the backdrop of a dramatic sky in front of the class, giving general instruction as to what we should paint and teaching us simple techniques. The directive was clear: this was to be our own painting. It would only resemble what she did; we were not to try and make an exact copy. Prayer would help us to overcome any inhibition and allow the Holy Spirit to take over our painting.
After a time of prayer we began, aided by the soft strains of familiar religious music. Picking up the brush I began with slow and tentative strokes. Distracted with thoughts of the story I forgot about my need to control the process. Thus the brush worked by itself, filling the canvas with lovely shades of purple and blue, pink and white, creating a cosmic sky. Kathy showed us how to make stars using the end of the brush and soon my sky was punctuated with them. A further splattering of white created a small constellation.
My hand moved the brush with sweeping strokes and the sky seemed to be in motion. I had no conscious thought. I wasn’t deliberately praying or painting; it just happened.
Kathy came by to see how we were progressing and remarked on the motion of my strokes and how my sky had dimension. I didn’t see what she saw until I stepped back from the painting and I was amazed at how it looked.
Stepping away from my own painting, I took my camera and photographed the other participants as they worked. Our class was small, just the five of us and Kathy; two of the budding artists were men including the associate pastor, Father Don.
[tweet "We all painted the same scene but each work bore the mark of our individuality. By @susanbailey"]
I was immediately struck by the difference in the paintings. We all painted the same scene and yet each work bore the mark of our individuality. The young woman next to me painted entirely with her fingers, her canvas filled with brilliant color. I marveled at her ability to allow herself to be covered with paint in order to pour out her creativity onto that canvas.
At the end of the class we sat for a group photo, holding our masterpieces.
I now have a cherished souvenir of God’s infinite creativity poured out in our individual and unique personhood.
I also have the memory of a first-time experience, of allowing the process of creativity to take over. It was freeing and it filled me with a peaceful joy. The experience shone a spotlight on my life, revealing my bondage at needing to be in control.
A few years ago I bought a set of watercolor pencils and paper; it’s all there, ready to be used. It’s time to open that box and continue to paint, a reminder that it’s only when God is in control that great things happen.
My feature story on the "Paint and Pray" class I attended was published in The Catholic Free Press.
Copyright 2017 Susan W. Bailey
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.