When I was falling in love with the man I eventually married, one of my favorite pastimes was watching him draw. Though not formally trained as an artist, my husband is naturally one of those “ingenious creators of beauty” addressed by St. John Paul II in his to artists.
What consistently fascinated me about watching him work was the way he always seemed to be getting it wrong. The first several layers of color never held, to my eye, any promise that they’d turn out to be anything. And for long minutes, or even several days, each added line or shade seemed to make the whole thing look worse.
More than once I’d offer a remark to that effect, only to be reassured by a wave of the hand, or an affectionate (and tolerant) half-smile. Eventually I learned to let him work, and only occasionally let my, er, slightly controlling nature take charge of my tongue.
Then it would happen. After I’d been away from his easel for awhile, I’d return to see that a beautiful depiction of his subject had taken shape. That all those seemingly false additions were perfectly intentional and designed to cast the shadow just here, or give light just there.
Now some years later, we see that one of our daughters seems to have been gifted with her dad’s talent. She’s five and her evaluation of her school day entirely depends on whether the schedule included art class. If yes, then “school was great, Mom.” If no, then it was “kinda boring.”
As I’ve been trying to spiritually collect our little brood in the Upper Room during these days, attempting to live the novena in anticipation of the Holy Spirit’s coming on Pentecost, an insight from Archbishop Luis Martinez’s The Sanctifier struck me as a perfect image for her.
The author refers to the Spirit as the Artist of souls:
“Is not sanctity the supreme art? God has only one ideal, which … encompasses all the highest forms of beauty. This ideal is Jesus. … [The Spirit’s] action is not exterior nor intermittent, but intimate and constant. He enters into the depths of our souls, penetrates the innermost recesses, and takes up his permanent dwelling there to produce later on this magnificent work.”
As my 5-year-old and I sat on her bed considering the day’s outfit, I told her, “I know why you and the Holy Spirit are great friends.”
“Because he’s an artist like you. He’s living in your soul and he’s making it look like Jesus. And if you ever do something that isn’t like Jesus, it’s like you’ve put colors in the wrong spot, or spilled a bunch of paint. But the Holy Spirit comes along and erases it, or he uses the stain and makes it become part of his picture.”
She took to the idea immediately and I could almost see the thoughts running through her mind (which the Spirit must have enjoyed hearing from his vantage point in her soul.)
It’s a good image for an artistically-minded child, but it’s also a good one for adults (even the artistically-challenged among us). The divine Artist knows what he’s about. And he’s more than capable of not only crafting the image of Jesus in our souls, but also of making up for the mistakes we make when we insist on taking the brushes and paints into our own hands.
A counselor once told me, as we reflected on some of the difficulties and struggles in my past, that a tapestry has to be woven with some dark threads. Without them, a beautiful image can’t be created.
So the invitation on this Pentecost is to let the Divine Artist do his work. To trust that what he’s crafting will eventually take shape, even if today it seems that his choices are making it worse. To give him even our mistakes, aware that he’s creative enough to incorporate them into the masterpiece.
Incidentally, The Sanctifier is full of striking ideas about the Holy Spirit. An image that has stuck with me since I first read it many years ago is this one, which Archbishop Martinez supports with citations from Aquinas:
“The Holy Spirit lives in us not only to possess us, but also to be possessed by us, to be ours. For love must possess, as well as be possessed. He is the Gift of God … Now, the gift that belonged to the giver becomes the possession of the one who receives it. The Gift of God is ours through the stupendous prodigy of love …”
“What profound and consoling truths. The Holy Spirit is ours. We can enjoy him and use his effects. It is in our power to use him; we can enjoy him when we wish.”
And that means I best use this Gift, allowing him to supply all the fortitude and patience I need to accept his sculpting in my soul without a doubt-filled desire to control his work, and some of his wisdom too, to keep my mouth shut.