Tenderly Sown

Red Bud

The Gardener

I haven’t talked to you about004
a dark space I dug up.

Clods and rocks I can pick out of soil,
blue veined clay I can nourish,
weeds yank up, shade, cut back.

But this
hollow where no seed is meant to grow
astounds. I go back to basics,
trusting my hands to find the dirt
as it always was, humid and maternal,
easily worked to hatch seeds,

But thisfigure detail M
breach of earth voids every breathing
speck so that the spade of my hand weighs
more than death and the leaves that
I touch are still born. Tell me,
must I keep tending, must I

turn this
blank into myself and vanish
or is the hole the entrance
into some new ground that is yet
familiar, tilled and fertile,
vast as my loss, tenderly sown with this?

by Suzanne Rhodes

My friend Suzanne’s poetry continues to inspire my work. I began this particular painting over a year ago, envisioning a field of holes. As I enlarged this arranged grid of holes for a 3′ x 4′ painting, a figure emerged unplanned! A bowing head broke the horizon line (Greek horizo: the line separating heaven and earth). These holes “tenderly sown” evidenced a gardener. Incarnation (the word became flesh) happened. The Gardener appeared to bring heaven and earth together. I was reminded again of the words in Michael O’Brien’s poem in my first post, “. . . the eye ever-yearning for shapes to give form and place to the word . . . . “

 I sketched this figure, first in charcoal, then in oils (see below). It was a work in process. The sky (heavens) was covered with gold-leaf and then painted over with oil paint only revealing a sliver of gold around the top of The Gardener’s head.

The Gardener 2

Kimberly, an art student, interned with me for several weeks in the summer as I was working on this piece. She later called to ask if she could write a paper about this painting.
Her paper adds a bit to the length but I was blessed by her observations.

Art Senior Seminar      Journal 1
“This piece of art is not yet finished, but I have been privileged to see it in the process of being painted in the studio of Carol Bomer. The strokes of her oil brush were quick and gestural, moving with great skill at every swipe. You can see the beginnings of a figure in the forefront, crouched close to the dirt, bent low to plod the soil with his hands. The figure is a dark silhouette, kind in nature, and uncloaked with his back to its audience. He seems modest and very concentrated, captured by the precision of his work. The ground is covered with holes. Holes. Holes as far as you can see that vanish into the distance. In your mind you may picture the random assortment of holes dashed here and there in the surface, but there is something different about the arrangement. And I say arrangement with purpose. Yes, the holes have been placed there. The figure is the Gardener, stooping over the holes, tenderly shaping and carving out each abyss with a bare hand. But they are not in a cluster, nor do they vary in size. He moves steadily across the page of the story, evenly spread, tracing the most precise of lines back further and further into the distance. The color courses over every inch: blues, rich reds, and a mundane, muted brown, intertwined with the life of a vibrant yellow, still a little muddied from the hardness of the clay in the picture.   

“This is a beautiful rendition of the holes in our lives. It seems to us sometimes that there are holes everywhere. They feel random and purposeless.  We are confused and refuse to see the order of each one. He places them, bent over and careful to make each one just the right size and in just the right place. There is no such thing as random. Our Maker continues to model and shape the holes of our lives to continue the work of sanctification. This painting was left up on the gallery wall to contemplate and consider if it was a finished product .

“As I read this aloud at the ‘breakfast kidney’ in Kyper this morning, one of my roommates commented, ‘I tend to think about how you have to dig a hole in order to plant something.’ What a great observation. I had not thought of it that way. I mean, It’s not until we are willing to surrender and are broken before God  that He can work, right? That is His specialty, working with broken people. He needs a hole to work with so He can fill it.

“I have been trying to sort through the holes in my life, whether that has been a relationship for the past few years, or the recent realization that I can’t student teach at RVA next semester. I thought each of these things was ‘meant to be.’  You know? You work really hard at something and then ‘wham,’ it’s not what you were fighting for. I am afraid that this will give me an apathetic way of dealing with something I wanted so badly but then have a fear of fighting for, hesitant to engross myself in someone or something only to see it collapse. Why does He allow that? Why so many emails? Why so many meetings, conversations, and questions? Why this passion for Africa? Why so much heartache? Why tears and misunderstanding? Why feelings and convictions? Do they have to collide like this? What on earth was the purpose of that hole? Isn’t it deep enough already?

“Then I step back and realize just how pig-headed I have been, how stubborn I have been to open my eyes. He loves me and if it takes these things to refine me to be more and more who He created me to be then it’s worth every gouge in my heart in order to fill it with a seed that is worth growing. ‘So Lord, continue to dig. Take out the rocky soil that I so desperately want to cling to. To me it looks good enough. But you don’t settle for good enough, not for your dearly beloved. Give me Your eyes to see the rocks that so desperately need to be plucked out. You have purpose in the placement of every hole. Maybe you will come back to this hole, or that one in a little while, but continue to dig deeper and deeper so that it hurts. Make my life a fertile soil and fill the hole as only You can. Be the Keeper of the holes, the Gardener of my heart.'”

Thank you for sharing your journal with me, Kimberly. I am praying that you are blessing your growing garden of art students this year at your first job.

Creatio Series Tree of Life Yes, God is The Gardener. At the beginning of time, He planted the first garden. “The Lord God planted a garden towards the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil   . . . . The Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it” (Genesis 2:8ff). But man  disobeyed God’s warning: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of  the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” Man was expelled from the garden–The Expulsion to a cursed earth longing for redemption.

My painting to the right is called Tree of Life/Creation Series  24″ x 48″ oil on panel. It also began abstractly. The circular shape became figurative . . . another incarnational moment!

In the early 90s, I asked God to “show me His glory” in my life and in my work as an artist. I had been reading about Moses who had a “face to face” (Exodus 33:11) relationship with God and asked God to show him His glory. I was also taking a graduate-level art course at WCU and Robert Godfrey was trying to break me of my dependence on and my ability to paint the visible world. My assignment to do sketches “from my head” . . . eyes closed and using my other hand as truly “eye-opening,” especially for someone longing to paint the invisible world, the unseen as well as the seen!

Below is one of these sketches enlarged into a 48″ x 48″ painting. It is called Show Me Your Glory. Around its perimeter are the words to a poem by written by a friend, Barbara Knuckles, after she and I had together visited the same piece of artwork with gold-leaf glory!

We children of God are gold,
hammered flat into burnished scribblings,
from oblique angles we appear earth-ochre dark
devouring light,
yet turned full front,
illumined by the One who makes us what we shall become,
we are filled with brilliance,
flashes of glory,
etched and defined by the colors of our sorrows

Show Me Your Glory S 150My painting was done in the colors of straw and ashes, but when the light catches it, the straw begins to look like gold and glory.

Yesterday my daughter-in-law, Katie, took me for lunch to Doc Cheys. Our table marker tag was “glory.” Coincidently? I Googled “glory” this morning and believe this is a very thoughtful and biblical description of this beautiful word: http://www.gotquestions.org/glory-of-God.html

Like our Creator, I must tend my garden! We are no longer in Eden. I need to plant,  prune, and pull weeds today. Spring is here! My tulips and redbuds (photo above) are blooming.

DSC04545                      Tulips

The fullness of the earth is his glory.
Isaiah 6:3
Soli Deo Gloria!

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