Prayer, Creativity & Faith

Dwelling in his sanctuary

“The one thing I ask of the LORD—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections 
and meditating in his Temple. For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary.He will place me out of reach on a high rock.” Psalm 27:4-5

When Dad was in treatment for cancer the first time around, he told me about a meditation class he attended at the cancer center. The instructor asked them to close their eyes and picture the most beautiful mansion they could imagine. She then guided them through the rest of the scene—notice the peak of the mountain in the distance behind it. Look at the sky. And so on.
Afterwards, she said, “Rob, you’re creative. This should be right up your alley. Tell us what you thought about.”
He said, “Well, I started with Downton Abbey. It’s the most beautiful house I can imagine. But then you said mountain and there are no mountains there so you lost me.”
She said, “You should have just gone with that. It’s OK.”
And he said, “Well, I did. I pictured one of my barns, you know, like I like to paint. With the patina of the wood and all that. Because it’s like a sanctuary to me. When I paint it feels like that. I’m just there. My mind isn’t anywhere else. So I pictured that instead.”
That, to me, sums up the beauty in creating art. Finding that place inside, the place where you can quiet your mind and open your heart and breathe. A place where you can dwell, delighting in what you’ve found. A place of safety and of peace.
Here’s the thing. You don’t have to paint to find that. I think it’s available for all of us—whether we’re artists or not—when we do the things we were made to do. Maybe that thing is being an attentive mom, listening with care to an especially long story, even if the phone is ringing. Perhaps it’s wiping down countertops after spreading peanut butter on bread, content because your family is fed and you find satisfaction in caring for them. Maybe it’s what you feel at the front of a boardroom, when all the managers present are focused solely on you. You might find this peace in the middle of a chaotic classroom as you try to retain control of a math lesson. Or possibly you find that moment with headphones on, typing away at your keyboard as the novel you always wanted to write begins to come to life.
The Bible tells us that God came to dwell with us, that we are His holy temples. I believe that when we do the things God made us to do—as hard as it is sometimes to figure out what that is—we’re essentially abiding with Him. Delighting in the Lord, meditating in His Temple. It’s where He wants us to be, safe and protected from the cares of the world. Fully alive. Completely in touch with Him.
It’s a language of prayer that only you can speak, that no one else will understand or interpret exactly like you do. My dad wasn’t a religious man, but I think he communed with the Divine in a way many of us never will.
I’ve always said I write in order to determine what I think. When I’m lost, troubled, confused, having a hard time making a decision, I sit down with a journal (or computer) and write. I pour it all out—logical or not—and in the process I come to find answers. Maybe they were in there all along and it’s just the process by which I bring them out. I don’t know. But I know that this kind of writing brings solutions, ideas, answers that actually satisfy. Clarity. Contentment.
In a similar way, when I travel, I take hundreds of photos. Not kidding—900 or 1000 in every new location. It’s almost as if I will not remember it, I cannot truly see it, and I didn’t experience it if I don’t capture it through a lens. It allows me to feel like I’ve tamed it and made my mark on it. It becomes mine in the process.
I wonder if that’s why Dad painted. As I drove to the studio this morning, I noticed an area of landscape that reminded me of one of his paintings. Nothing spectacular or even worth mentioning, honestly. The painting is a kind of drab, grayish-green scene with a watery gray sky. We found it in a drawer and framed it, hoping that would dress it up enough that someone would like it, but two years later, it still hangs on the studio wall with a sale sign. It’s just a very gentle undulation of some fields, dissected by low, rough lines of trees and weeds. Plain and, truthfully, boring. But when I saw this particular section of fields today, I recognized what he saw—if you pull back, it’s kind of simple and graphic overview, a bunch of lines dividing these square fields. Geometry, pattern, distorted slightly by the slight roll of the hills beneath it. A representation of man’s imprint upon and attempt to tame nature.
As I stare at this painting now, which is propped on the church pew across from my desk, it occurs to me that, just as I use writing to help me see my world clearly, perhaps that’s how Dad used his painting. It helped him make sense of the world. Not just as a way of capturing or controlling it, but as a way of being part of it. Connecting to it, and to the viewer who responds in some unexplainable way to what he painted.
An offering, what he gave the world of himself.
Oh how I miss that self.

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