Psalm of the Artist – Guest Post from Irene Fridsma

Grateful to my friend Irene Fridsma for sharing her beautiful poetry and art with us here today. She’s a beautiful, talented and amazing woman, and I’m so glad to call her a friend. Paint to the Lord colors of joy colors of sadness Paint to the Lord Bold blocks of color tentative brush strokes strong ...

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Grateful to my friend Irene Fridsma for sharing her beautiful poetry and art with us here today. She’s a beautiful, talented and amazing woman, and I’m so glad to call her a friend.

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Paint to the Lord
colors of joy
colors of sadness
Paint to the Lord

Bold blocks of color
tentative brush strokes
strong sweeps of color
Paint to the Lord

Prayer on the canvas
display the true colors
integrity, honesty
Paint to the Lord

Tints, shades and hues
splash on the canvas
color life joyously
Paint to the Lord

~Irene Fridsma

Irene was the winner of the 2011 and 2012 Michigan Dyer-Ives poetry contests and is the author of several self-published chapbooks which are a mix of poetry, prose, photos and original artwork. Her current hobby list includes photography, knitting socks, writing and painting. Past list includes some obscure crafts like lamp shade construction, macrame, felting, card making, jewelry, and handmade paper. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband of nearly 50 years. He supports all of her explorations into the world of creative expression. They have 4 grown children, 16 grandchildren, a dog named Penny and 9 grand-dogs.

Salt crystals, or leaving your mark

Watercolor is, as its name implies, a wet medium. You can’t apply the pigment without water, and a good watercolorist takes advantage of the inherent properties of the paints. Rob O’Dell, an amazingly talented artist who just happens to be my dad (you would know that if you’d ever seen our freckled calves side by ...

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painting

Watercolor is, as its name implies, a wet medium. You can’t apply the pigment without water, and a good watercolorist takes advantage of the inherent properties of the paints. Rob O’Dell, an amazingly talented artist who just happens to be my dad (you would know that if you’d ever seen our freckled calves side by side), painted this painting. One of his techniques involves sprinkling ordinary table salt onto the damp paint. The salt soaks up the water, and with it, some of the pigment. Once it’s fully dry, Dad gently brushes off the dried salt, leaving behind a delicate lacy white pattern — in this painting, it looks like the tops of weeds, or little wildflowers, or dappled sunlight filtering through the trees.

This technique doesn’t work if the paint is too wet. Or if it’s too dry. Over years, Dad’s learned just the right moment to apply it for maximum effect — so that the salt leaves the desired mark.

Day after day, we encounter situations and people that need God. When there’s trouble or pain or heartbreak or fear, we think we have all the answers, and we want to share them. We want to talk about how God changed our lives. About how they, too, can depend on Him for help. It’s the Great Commission from Matthew 28 — it’s our duty to spread the good news. I agree. It’s true. But I also know that timing is everything. Some people are too angry to hear it. Some people have been too hurt. Some people resent the fact that you think they are lacking or that they need what you have. Some people haven’t actually seen you living out your faith, only preaching it, and they won’t trust your words.

When a friend is in crisis, what they need the most is your presence. A listening ear, a comforting shoulder. Not a preacher.

In painting, if Dad tried to brush the salt away before it was dry, it wouldn’t leave the right mark, just an ugly smear. If he applies the salt too late, or too early, it doesn’t do what it’s meant to do.

But if you sprinkle carefully, and wait patiently, the salt leaves a permanent mark and the finished piece is changed. There will be no doubt that you were there. That God was there.

Because of the beauty left behind.

Color me confused

Modern art scares a lot of people. What is the blue square supposed to mean? The squiggly lines? The warped, misshapen body? I don’t always know, but there are some pieces that I like, just because I do. On a gut level, judging solely by emotion, something in them resonates with me. But some pieces ...

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Modern art scares a lot of people. What is the blue square supposed to mean? The squiggly lines? The warped, misshapen body? I don’t always know, but there are some pieces that I like, just because I do. On a gut level, judging solely by emotion, something in them resonates with me.

But some pieces — well, it takes me back to my college honors humanities class, you know, the one at 1:00 in the afternoon during winter quarter, right after lunch, when the warm classroom and full stomach and last night’s all-nighter would catch up with me and I didn’t stand a chance. But on the rare occasion when I could stay awake, I was frustrated. How am I supposed to know that this author wrote his satirical essay in response to the politics of the day or that he composed this poem in response to the loss of his entire family to the plague? Why does a red hat have to mean anything besides that it’s a red hat? Did the author intend for all the symbolism we’re now studying, or is it just something made up by literature teachers everywhere?

In other words, I sure could’ve used a translator in that class. And that’s what I think occasionally as I stare at a piece of art, wondering what on earth qualified it to be placed in a museum. If you’re right there with me, don’t feel bad for your confusion or uncertainty. The art is simply speaking a language we don’t understand.

Language is designed to help us communicate, but sometimes it has the opposite effect. Look back, all the way to the Tower of Babel, when God used language to separate us. In today’s high-tech society, global communication issues have been more or less solved, but in our towns, communities, schools, churches, and even on Facebook, language can be a giant barrier. Words of judgment, division, separation, accusation — of course those things push people away. But so do many innocuous-seeming words used by well-meaning, sincere believers.

On my walk… we must die daily… I’m broken… covered by the blood… I crucified my old man and put on my new man… feeding on the word… born again… I’ve been delivered… God has brought me to the Promised Land… I’ve been to the mountaintop… victory march… is she showing any fruit?

I confess, I’ve used Christianese myself. Sometimes the jargon just seems easier — it’s the shorthand we use among others who share our beliefs, simple phrases that communicate profound meanings. But here’s the danger: it can make other people feel like they’re not in the club. It becomes a tool for exclusion, not inclusion. Instead of sharing your testimony, you may have created a stumbling block, another way for someone to doubt their faith (I don’t know what she’s talking about; I’ve never felt that before; my faith must not be real or right; who are you to decide if I’m ‘saved’?).

As believers, we’re all looking at the same things: The same Bible. The same miracle-working God. The same Savior. But we’ve had different experiences. Different expectations. Different issues and prejudices and hurts and lives. Because of this, the same words won’t work for everyone — the one telling the story or the one listening. By all means, use whatever words you have to tell people about the wonderful God you serve. I’m not suggesting that you stop. But watch for eyes glazing over, people shifting in their chairs, glancing at their watches. What people want — in art, in relationships, in their faith — is authenticity. Understanding. Connection. Something that will draw them in, not push them away. Something real, something true, something that will resonate with them at a gut level, way beyond intellectual understanding but with deep emotion. Something they can understand without a translator.

Jesus … said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Mark 5:19

Beyond the velvet ropes

“I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: “Go down again — I dwell among the people.”  John Henry Newman I love art museums, but there’s something a little intimidating about them. It might be the elegance of the soft lighting, shiny floors and heavy gilt frames. ...

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Red museum

“I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: “Go down again — I dwell among the people.”  John Henry Newman

I love art museums, but there’s something a little intimidating about them. It might be the elegance of the soft lighting, shiny floors and heavy gilt frames. Maybe it’s because everyone’s voices are hushed, whispering, communicating reverence and awe. Or maybe it’s the pesky velvet ropes that clearly tell me to keep my distance.

As I walk through, I move more quickly than you might expect, scanning the paintings until I find one that grabs me. And then I slow down. Soak it in. Stare, feeling the colors and textures and light and shadows envelop me. As I’m drawn into the artwork intellectually, emotionally, physically, I lean forward, wanting to get closer — to step over the rope. Touch it. Experience it. Maybe even step up and disappear inside it, just to experience the beauty of it surrounding me on all sides. I’d be careful, I promise.

But there are rules limiting how close I can get. Little signs of warning on the walls. Security guards in each gallery. Observation cameras with little flashing lights. Sometimes there are lines on the floors subliminally telling you where you can stand. And occasionally an alarm might sound if you cross the magical, invisible barrier.

I understand that the works of art on the wall are precious. One of a kind. But art is a form of communication between the artist and the audience, a type of sharing. Its purpose is to establish a strong emotional connection — to affect the viewer — while a rope is designed to keep us at a safe distance from the very thing we came to see.

Many of us want to put God up on a pedestal — and oh, is He ever worthy of being up there. But what God offers us — each of us, every day — is a relationship, and that can only happen if He doesn’t hold Himself at a distance. When we come before Him, full of admiration and awe, humbled by His magnificence, free of the conviction that we don’t belong there — then the barriers drop away. Then we will experience Him. And then we will feel Him drawing us ever closer until we are surrounded on all sides by His beauty, until we live fully within His world — with no ropes anywhere in sight.

Palette of possibilities

But he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. Luke 18:27 ASV I started looking at this photo and could barely pull my eyes away. Look at it a minute, really look. Let your eyes wander across the colors, dwelling on the ones that catch your eye. Notice the watery mixes and ...

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But he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. Luke 18:27 ASV

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I started looking at this photo and could barely pull my eyes away. Look at it a minute, really look. Let your eyes wander across the colors, dwelling on the ones that catch your eye. Notice the watery mixes and the one empty white square.

Do you see what I see? Yep, you got it: Possibility. Potential. Old and new, pure and tainted, bright and dark, viscous and dried, vivid and dull. I see experimentation, someone playing with how the colors will mix, creating something new from the limited materials provided. As much as I appreciate the raw materials, though, that’s really all they are. What captivates me is not what I see, but what I imagine it could become. There’s no way to predict that ahead of time, though — oh, we could study the artist’s previous work, her subject matter, and her sketches. But even then, the best we could do is make a vague guess. Even if we know her plan, she may have to react to happy accidents (or unfortunate mistakes), taking the painting in a very different direction than planned.

One person, with the best of intentions and lots of passion, still might fall very, very short. This artist might create something bold, graphic and contemporary; that one a delicate, carefully rendered, lifelike portrait. The next person might manage, in a few careful strokes, to evoke the stormy sea at night or a field of wildflowers or a dense, rich wash of color so beautiful we wish we could dive into the page, into the beauty, letting it surround us on all sides, overwhelming our senses.

It all depends on the abilities, vision, and talent of the one doing the painting.

But put this palette in a skilled master’s hands, those of a competent craftsman, one who can see the potential, who can imagine things we cannot — and these simple colors will be transformed into beauty, transparency, dimension, delicacy, boldness. Symbolism, representation, accuracy, truth. Depth and nuance, shadows and light.

Like prayer — endless possibility. Go ahead, study the palette again, but this time view it through this lens. Hope and promise, beckoning to us — ready and waiting for what could be.

It’s all about the artist. Put the watercolors into God’s capable hands, and let Him figure out the best way to put them all together. The exact mixes, the ideal placement on the page, the contrast between elements, how much water and pigment are needed and how the colors blend — it’s all up to Him. The best part? We’ve already seen His work. We can relax knowing He doesn’t make mistakes, and trust in His abilities and His vision.

We just need to yield the brush.

Experimenting

Is this art, or is it just play? This particular image was made by melting crayons and letting them run across the page in different directions. (And then they turned it upside down — what a great idea.) Sounds like play to me. But it’s also a kind of art. Maybe it doesn’t require extraordinary ...

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160136122Is this art, or is it just play? This particular image was made by melting crayons and letting them run across the page in different directions. (And then they turned it upside down — what a great idea.) Sounds like play to me. But it’s also a kind of art. Maybe it doesn’t require extraordinary skill, and possibly you have no interest in making an attempt to copy it. I certainly can’t profess that I am dying to melt crayons in the name of art.

But what I do like is that someone wasn’t afraid to try something different. They used a common drawing tool in a completely new way.

As adults, I think we overthink things, and we’re afraid to look stupid. But give a group of young kids in an art studio or classroom, and you probably won’t see them freeze when you hand them a blank piece of paper. Probably they’ll grab it out of your hand, quick. So they can start experimenting.

What happens when I put a blob of yellow paint on top of the blue square I already painted? What happens if I tilt my paper? Hold my brush like this? Push it instead of pull it? Dip this sponge in it and randomly blot parts of the paper? Swipe through it with my finger? My whole hand? What happens when I paint over paint that’s already dry? Does the paint run down the page if I use too much water? What if I don’t rinse my brush out between colors? What if I paint with the wrong end of the brush?

Everything I know about prayer has come from experimenting — and observing. When a friend told me she’d prayed for two hours one night, I turned around and went to God and said, I don’t get it. What is there to pray about? Don’t you know everything? And then one day I tried it. And two hours flew by. I wouldn’t have believed that until I tried it. (I’ve also had times when five minutes seemed to last forever.)

I’ve watched people dance in the aisles. Kneel at the altar, sobbing — or laughing. Genuflect as they duck into a pew. Bow silently in the back row of a church. Circle round a hurting friend in her living room. I’ve squeezed the hand next to me in circle prayers, signaling that I’m done and the next person can pray, and I’ve prayed alone in the shower, and while driving, and in line at the grocery (though those prayers tend to be ones asking for patience so I don’t strangle the person in front of me who’s paying with five different types of payment and has three separate orders and the cashier is going off duty so she has to count out her change before the next one logs in and I have to be somewhere in five minutes).

OK, so I digress. And I’ve now proven to you just how desperately I need prayer.

I’ve recited The Lord’s Prayer. Read Scripture, aloud and silently. Written my own prayers. Read those written by others. Cried great big heaving wordless sobs. And closed my eyes tighter when I’ve gotten uncomfortable with the way someone else is praying — which is when my prayers switch to “Help me understand. Forgive me for judging.”

The point is, I’ve given myself permission to play around. It doesn’t mean I don’t take prayer seriously, and it doesn’t mean I’m holier than you or anyone else. It just means I believe it’s OK to experiment. And it’s acceptable to have fun. It’s fine if one type of prayer doesn’t really fit you, or if the way you pray doesn’t match that of anyone else that you know. It’s all right to learn from watching someone else or to try something you’ve never seen or heard before.

Don’t worry if you have doubts about the effectiveness or veracity of a particular approach. After all, everything created on a canvas is not art. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth experimenting a little. You’ll never really know what you’re able to do until you try.

So won’t you? Try something new? Meditate on a prayer, poem, or Bible verse. Try writing out your prayers, in a journal or as a list — and consider sending a friend the prayer you prayed for her. Talk out loud if you’re normally silent. Kneel in silence if you’re normally vocal. Recite a liturgical prayer if that’s not your usual style. Listen to gospel music, or contemporary rock, or whatever it is you don’t normally listen to. Stay home one Sunday to pray alone if you’re usually busy and distracted at church, or if your faith is more private, consider attending a new church. Visit a church that worships differently from yours. Pray for each friend and family member as you scroll through your phone contacts. Just try to keep an open mind.

The beauty of it is, you can’t mess this up. From God’s point of view, any attempt you make is a beautiful, courageous thing.

A genuine work of art.

I’d love to hear from you about your experiment. What did you do? How did it make you feel? Did you learn something new? Please leave a comment, even if it’s anonymous.

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