Montreat, NC; September 2018.


{Canvas board, magazine, and acrylic paint.}

I’m part of a cohort of new-ish pastors that gathers once every 8 months or so. Our retreats that are part rest, part recreation, and part learning about or processing different aspects of being in ministry. Ministry is hard and strange and beautiful, and having these people in my corner is the best.

As we prepared for our most recent retreat, one of our leaders suggested some creative reflection time. I volunteered to lead it and, naturally, me “leading” it basically involved putting paint and a bunch of magazines in the middle of the table and saying, “let’s see what happens!”

. . .Okay fine, there was a little more guidance than that. Inspired by the idea of vision boards, for which a person assembles images and affirmations that encourage their hopes or goals for the future. I suggested that each of us flip through the magazines or spend a few minutes reflecting internally, and then fill our canvas boards with whatever resonated. Some used magazines, and others used paint to represent images or verses that’ve been important to them. Here’s what I ended up with.

The night sky bit was one of the first things I picked out. Nothing reminds me how not in charge I am — in a good way — as much as looking up at a deep, dark sky splattered with stars. Frankly I picked the bird feathers because I liked the color. The more I thought about it though, the more I appreciated the contrast between the zoom extremes in this pair of images. A way-big-picture sky, and the tiny details of feathers that fly in it. Neat, huh?

The blue, green, and black paint details don’t have a particular meaning, but fun fact: I used a paper towel roll for the circle and leaf-like shapes, and the dots came from the non-bristle end of a paint brush.

If you’ve been here long, you might not be surprised to hear that I chose the gold paint as a way to represent the Holy. In no particular form, I used a bunched-up paper towel to spread the paint into a somewhat intentional but ultimately not-that-controllable cloud.

The words jumped out from their magazine pages pretty early in the process. There were a lot more words to begin with, actually, but the other ones ended up feeling superfluous. When I set aside this phrase, I hadn’t yet decided who the “us” was in that “let’s talk.” Society feels pretty broken right now, so maybe it means that my hope is for more and kinder conversation that at the very least acknowledges our shared humanity. Maybe “let’s talk more” is a God-and-me thing. If we’re being honest, I could stand to be more diligent in my own prayer practices while I spend my days working to nurture that in other folks. Or maybe “let’s talk” is a nudge to check in with myself more often. Life is busy and it’s rare that I sit down to consider what’s going well, what could be better, and all the moments that are somewhere in between. As it turns out, I think the “us” is all three.

As our cohort fell into the quiet(ish) contemplation of our work, we didn’t limit ourselves to visions or goals for the future. Forget the “rules” of vision boards (if those are a thing?). We listened with open eyes and open hearts for what the Holy Spirit and that pile of paint and pages were saying to us right then and there. Here’s to hoping those messages might carry us onward.