Two nights ago we heard a loud crash as if something had fallen off the roof. It scared the dog. We got up and looked for anything that might have happened but found nothing amiss. The next night we again heard a similar loud noise. Again, we found nothing that might have caused it. Today when visitors came to my gallery which is in our walk-out basement, I found, in the second room, two of my largest glass framed paintings had fallen. They were the right size to make the two noises we’d heard. Though neither glass was broken and the works were not damaged, the nails that held them to the wall were on the floor having left large holes where they once secured my works.
I don’t have enough walls as it is for my art–many pieces have to be propped up on the floor because I’m a prolific painter. Now I’ve two large framed pieces, each over 3 feet wide, that cannot be nailed into walls weakened by our overwhelming recent humidity and heat; its over 90 degrees as I write and has been for the past week; need I add we do not have air conditioning here in Maine? Not only that, this is no way to show one’s work professionally. I worry that 4-foot pieces on the same wall could also fall, leaving me nowhere to hang my largest works. This is devastating. Especially because my gallery is difficult for folks to find in the first place due to the HOA not allowing me a sign at the turn-in–much needed for my home business to succeed, especially during pandemic days.
Unrelatedly, earlier in the day, I happened to look down at my hands as I began typing at my computer–and saw that a ring I’ve loved and worn daily for over six decades–gold with seven opals, my birthstone, a high school graduation gift from my parents–was missing an opal! I’d not taken the ring off in many years and it was so tight I could not get it off; my husband had to cut the thin gold band with wire cutters to get the ring off my finger. We looked everywhere for the missing opal but it never turned up.
I began to wonder why this misfortune. These recent troubling incidents are only additions to many bad things of the past three years. Certainly, my troubles are nothing compared to recent hurricane victims in Lousiana, nor to flood sufferers in NJ and NY, nor Afghans stuck at the Kabul airport, nor immigrants at our Southern Border, nor COVID patients, nor Jews in WWII, nor WWI soldiers, nor Irishmen during the 1840s potato famine! History can provide a vast list! But thinking about my particular small difficulties, I wondered if there was some lesson for me.
Am I to learn that material things don’t matter? Just keep the broken ring in a box for my Libra daughter-in-law to inherit and repair one day? Am I to learn that I ought to close my business, even though being an artist has been my very existence since first I held a pencil?! Are my hundreds of exhibitions and numerous art awards suddenly nonsense? Am I being led to move to another location where people can easily find my gallery? Or, am I merely to go to the jewelers, pay several hundred dollars to get my ring repaired, put it back on my finger, and hunt for a contractor (I’ve been looking for a year!) to enlarge my gallery and repair my walls? Still I’d have no sign at the turn-in, a hefty remodeling bill and unwarranted jewelry bill during this sparse financial time.
So what’s the message? I’ve gone to God, to prayer, to my Bible whenever I’ve needed wisdom, answers, clarity. Today I opened to Psalms, always a comforting book. I happened upon Psalm 44 which has this headline: “A complaint of present evils.” After first boasting of God’s goodness in past victories, the Psalmist grows angry with God about current conditions, even asking “Why, sleepest thou, O Lord? Awake! Do not cast us off forever!” I read on, the evils of the tragedy in Afghanistan uppermost in my thought, along with my own minor woes: “Thou has made us turn back from the foe: and our enemies have gotten spoil. Thou hast made us like sheep for the slaughter, and hast scattered us among the nations. Thou hast sold thy people for a trifle…Thou hast made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those about us. Thou hast made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock! among the people.” Researching, I learned this Psalm deals with a nation’s cry for help in a grim time of distress; it concerns the nation’s trust in God alone in spite of the contrasting conditions they face– “All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten thee, or been false to thy covenant.“
Knowing God in dark and difficult human experiences challenges our faith. But the Psalmist rises up from the dust as his song moves from lament and anger toward God, to an understanding that ends in these words: “Deliver us for the sake of thy steadfast love!” The commentary explains: “without withdrawing anything that he has hitherto said, he can still feel–and say–that there is lovingkindness at the heart of the Eternal” [my italics]. Life is redeemable because of the steadfast love of God– this was “the testimony of a faith that is somehow as inextinguishable as life itself .” (Quotations from KJV Bible and Abingdon’s Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pgs. 229-234)
This is the faith that takes us beyond loss, beyond despair, beyond rings and things, to see God’s enduring love for us. It reminds me of Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?….Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
This piece followed a glorious painting trip to Ireland. Throughout the landscape, we continued to see remnants of abandoned farms and homesteads, left by farmers who had long ago escaped the potato famine of 1845 which had devastated Ireland. I love to paint building textures, rocks, and walls that hint at meaningful human history.