My son stomps around the second floor to ready for work while my husband sits quietly with his morning paper at the kitchen counter. Meanwhile, I write away the hour, sitting near a window, in my lovely new PJ’s, robe and slippers my sister and aunt brought yesterday.
But it won’t be long before I head to Kara’s to finish up that last bit of painting — so that she and her husband can have their ‘home sweet home’ all to themselves — until the baby arrives anyway.
It’s been a year defined by sharing my Purdy paintbrushes with others — six months at Sis’s followed by a month now at Kara’s. My painting skills may be overrated but my price is right — it’s hard to beat free. But next week I’ll use them at home, to paint my dining room for the Nth time — at the risk of husband-teasing that I’m reducing our square footage with every stroke.
If one is inclined toward accounting, this dining room rendezvous with a paintbrush will make four times in four and a half years — if one doesn’t consider the six coats of my last go-around, in that all-out effort to get my white ‘just right.’
I have a hankering for a cinnamon-tinted dining room. Or cumin-colored perhaps. Something warm and brown for winter — yet dark and cool for summer. And then there is this: I always pray best with a paintbrush in my hand. And there’s much to pray for these days — the new baby that’s coming — Kyle’s new book on the eve of being published — my mother-in-law who’s trying a different cocktail of chemotherapy — my sister-in-law now back in AA who’s asked for prayers — my brother who will soon be marrying a woman with the same first and middle name as Mom — and the scary news for one diagnosed yesterday with breast cancer.
I fear my praying is no better than my painting: I fear it too is overrated. I do not have a hot-line to God. No more than anyone else. But when I’m asked, I do my best. Sometimes I’m bold in my petitions — specific at laying out to God exactly what my wishes and hopes are in a particular matter. But most of the time I just think the person’s name and imagine their face in my mind and let God fill in the blanks with my love and His. Where a word is involved my favorite is ‘peace’ — I pray sweet, blessed peace and good sleep so that fears and worries don’t pick people apart to make them less than who they are.
And this is, at heart, what prayer is for me: Prayer is less about hopes and wishes and dreams — and more about being who we are. So my favorite definition of prayer is this by Thomas N. Hart, which I stumbled upon in his book, The Art of Christian Listening: “Prayer is being yourself before God.”
In a year where I’ve been so preoccupied with understanding what it means to be true self, this definition of prayer becomes poignant. How appropriate that answers came this week while painting — with a stroke of a brush as I gazed beyond the light dividers of the window to the naked shivering trees — that being true self has less to do with occupation and more to do with love — stark naked love.
When I paint for love alone, I am my true self and I am in prayer. When I garden for self or others out of love (rather than obligation), I am my true self AND I am in prayer. No matter what I am doing — whether cooking or housekeeping or writing — if out of love, I am in communion with God and, therefore, in prayer.
There is much need for prayer. There is much need for us to be our true and simple selves — to express our love into the world however and whenever and wherever we can — even clumsily and even with over-rated skills. Because love and our need for it cannot be overrated.
This has the feeling of a meditative prayer itself, Janell and it beautiful in its purity and simplicity.
I need to paint this house but hate the upheaval so much I put it off; things need to go somewhere while the painting goes on and there is nowhere for things to go.
I will paint white walls that are now pumpkin, and too dark for this small house, and bring some lightness into the gloom. After Christmas anyway!!
As so often happens, I think the most profound truths can be inadvertent truths. At first, I just laughed at this: And then there is this: I always paint best with a paintbrush in my hand.
Then, after I’d stopped laughing and gotten another cup of coffee, I thought: of course. And isn’t that just our problem? Far too often we try painting with a hammer, or a screwdriver or an avocado, instead of a paintbrush. We cook with towels and dry ourselves off with garden trimmings… We just are masters at finding and using the wrong tool for the job, and then convincing ourselves we’ve found the best.
Which brings us right around to prayer. Far too often we think we have the right “tool” for communicating with God, when in fact we’re using some poor substitute. (I think here with amusement and affection of what I call the “gang up on God” theory of prayer, which postulates the more people you can get praying for the same thing, the more effective prayer will be.)
What a fun retreat discussion that could be – asking what are the right tools for prayer.
Thank you for feeling the post a prayer. Certainly, my off-line handwritten morning musings are prayer, where I don’t worry about punctuation and paragraph structure but just let words flow as they will. Sometimes they rise to direct conversation with God — “God let me… whatever.” But in the spirit of the post, and in the spirit of prayer, in my off-line journals, I’m most myself — most at home.
An as for the painting itself — there’s a nice rhythm to you painting pumpkin walls white and me painting white walls cinnamon or cumin — together we will keep the house-painting world in balance — as prayer itself keeps me so. Grounded too, even high up on an extension ladder.
Too bad we’re not closer to help each other paint!
What a fine editor you make, though this is no surprise to me.
I don’t know how many times I read this before posting, and missed the mistake. But of course it doesn’t help when the words ‘paint’ and ‘prayer’ are synonymous in my life. I say one and include the other.
So I thank you for pointing out the error in such a wonderful way — while realizing that the first sentence was equally true: How many times have I used my finger to paint, especially in tight spaces, like where the lower rail of the upper window sash rests behind the lower one. Finger-painting is never as good with a brush — the coverage never as even.
And this brings me to your words on the efficacy of prayer — the common belief (wishes and hope?) that the more pray-ers the better, knowing for sure, that strength lies in numbers. So why is it — that as I write these words — all I can think of is St. Paul’s words about strength being found in weakness…?
I like your word retreat — after so many months painting for others — I long for retreat. Until the baby comes… of course!
By the way, I’m enjoying my Advent Calendar very much.