Our study of the Gospel of John began with a focus on the Spirit at our annual Fall retreat. To prepare for the retreat each of us took on a creative endeavor as a way to get our minds and hearts to soak up the Spirit. Some of us explored music, some created a center piece and as always, words were used in creative reflection. Linda and I set out to make a poster using the collage method. It's probably been years, decades really, since I've done a collage; it was a throwback to the dreaded school art-project. I had to dispense with all the resistance and the defenses that made their way to the surface.
Projects tend to throw me for a loop with all manner of insecurities bubbling up. It explains why for me art, particularly painting, has to be connected to something other than an end-product or a showpiece, and why content or study material is always helpful in bypassing the self-doubt. It gets me out of the sense that it's a performance and in touch with the bigger picture. The metaphysic/meta-narrative becomes center stage and I get to work back-stage; one of many who are committed to unveiling the gem that lies beneath - a pointer really to the truth of Christ. I'm grateful to have had a chance to discover this joy through the fun of creating a collage. What a gift.
The fall retreat sparked something and when this Spring/Summer Edition came up, I got to thinking that another collage might be the way to go … but with a twist. Photography has been a means for creative expression for several of us in community and as I looked over the many pictures that have been taken this last year, I couldn't help but think what a unique reflection of how the Spirit takes up a simple moment in time and creates a thing of beauty, which is both aesthetic and thought-provoking. Wouldn't it be neat if our pictures came together to form a collaborate unitive vision? What would seven pictures say if they came together to form one view of reality? Afterall isn't this what the Spirit does in a constant and tireless manner - connecting the disconnected.
In my mind, it became an experiment, like a kid, playing in the kitchen, who throws a bunch of stuff together, not having a clue what the end-result will look or taste like. I wanted to stay true to the idea that I don't have a clue how the Spirit works and so I asked each photographer, to give just one photo, a photo that spoke of the Spirit to them, no other criteria whatsoever. I didn't want to follow my normal way, the human way, of determining what they chose or to give guidelines. I wanted to see what would evolve - some people call it chance, the Scriptures call it the Spirit.
It's not that I didn't do anything but I wouldn't consider it in the realm of master design; again, it became play - how many ways can these pictures come together to create something new and different. Like a puzzle with many different versions. And so here it is, the collage, which I call - "Like a Fish - Never Out Of Water". Some of the images seem straight forward - a lot of water-life, which actually envelopes the whole piece and to me speaks of the fluidity of the Spirit. We are in a constant state of baptism and immersion, invited into a life that has a lot of flow and generatively, where creatures are welcome to morph and evolve and grow. I like the fact that smack in the middle is a street scene and the common telephone pole - the ground we walk on and the means of communication. It is these places where we experience the most suffering but it is also these places, walking and speaking together, that are taken up by the compassionate Spirit of Christ. Neighbourhoods can become places of discipleship and talking can be transformed by the WORD. It was neat to see the pictures that were most associated with inner-city street-life transform into the cross - the keystone of the whole picture. The hub which is ultimately the glory of Christ's resurrection.
Once again, to use the water allusion, the Spirit floods our lives. To express the above/below idea, I wanted to add some watercolor imagery where all of a sudden what was witnessed through the lens gets taken up and goes on a shape-shifting journey. I think what triggered this for me was the water-droplet picture and the sparkles on the water. Each droplet and sparkle holds its own universe, a magical place where leaves become fish, whales burst out of unexpected places, and colours of ocean and field become dance partners. It just so happened to work out that the actual below/bottom of the picture is embodied by wood and stone - the elements of the earth. Only in the Spirit can the impossible become possible. Only in the Spirit can the imagination dare to dream about community and connection beyond what society sets up. To see oneself in the water-droplet is much like being invited to be a branch that is part of the vine of Christ. Where we once thought we were separate, hardly known, we become part of something new and vibrant. I am grateful to have this life-time chance of new vision and new community and to be touched by the constant movement of the Spirit where everything our eyes see can be unified by the ultimate Seer. We are in the hands of the ultimate collage maker where all things separate come together and we are remade.