Every Turn The Centre

Last November, friends of mine unexpectedly took a trip to San Francisco. Upon their return I received a magnet from one of their day trips. It’s a simple magnet really, but often in the last six months my eyes have been drawn to the corner of my cluttered fridge.

click on picture to enlarge
click on picture to enlarge

A simple glance at a simple magnet has sent me into my day with the reminder that wherever the day will take me, I am ultimately not the trailblazer or the pathfinder; I am in better hands. Contrary to the messages that bombard me, I am not the master of my own destiny, so this providential souvenir tells me daily.

The reason I describe it as simple is that it literally bears the picture of a white maze against a purple background accompanied by a verse from the Psalms: “Show me Your ways, O Lord. Teach me your paths.” I realized one day, not too long after they gave me the magnet, that a good exercise for me would be to replicate it in a painting. After all, how hard could it be to paint such a simple little image? And it would be just right for the upcoming website edition which would contain reflections of what it meant to be on a journey. How perfect -- I would symbolize our life’s journey with an image of a labyrinth with all those circular paths mysteriously leading to a centrepoint. How beautiful and symmetrical our lives become when we turn the right corners and head in the right directions.

I should clarify, however, that perspective and exactness are not my strong suits. Little did I know that drawing circles within circles would not just be a onetime activity. In fact, this exercise in simplicity has probably taken longer than any other painting. At the end of each session, I would be left with the feeling that I wasn’t quite getting it. I guess you could say, I felt like I was lost in a maze not sure where I was or if I would reach my endpoint. On more than one occasion I felt like turning back, packing it in, finding an image to paint that would feel more familiar.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the act of painting this magnet was very much mirrored in the meaning of maze. At first glance the simplicity is deceiving – how could something so symmetrical, so effortless in its appearance cause so much confusion, so much pondering of where to continue the line of the pencil? When I saw it this way, the frustration just added to the desire to carry on, to delve deeper into the circle, enter the journey just a little more, and see what emerges at the end. I realized that the allure of taking on such a project, whether it’s the simple task of copying an image or entering a life-changing journey, is inherent in the maze. The labyrinth is a design that feels divine. These circles that neatly tuck into each other, separate and come together are born of a mind that isn’t complicated by human frailty. A mind that is scheming and conniving just couldn’t, in its wildest dreams, conjure up something that embodies such unity of purpose. Of course, we humans have played with the idea of mandelas and mazes from the beginning of time but what makes them so lasting and the reason we resonate so deeply with them is that they are ultimately a pointer back to the one true Designer of the Universe, the One who designs our path and makes all parts intersect and work together. It is an act of worship, and at the centre of it all the human hand that creates each design is merely a witness to the Creator.

The end result is far from perfect and I had to concede that somehow that was only right. There are many mistakes, many angles that don’t line up as on the magnet; when I look at it, I am reminded of a child’s drawing. Part of me thought I should hide and cover up those mistakes but I consciously didn’t. Maybe it’s partly because I harbour an undisciplined lazy streak but I realized that on my own, the maze I create, the journey of my own machinations, is always haphazard and shaky and turns that would’ve been wise to take I so often miss. I wanted my replica to confess those parts of myself that don’t heed to God’s ways and the end result is usually a mess. There are parts of the painting I do love, especially the colours – the blues and the greens play together creating a planetary effect. I love that because God’s creation in all its earthiness has an aesthetic quality – we might not see it up-close but with the eye of God, there is much more beauty than we think. There are splotches here and there, rough edges and lines that squiggle, revealing an unsteady hand yet overall, don’t detract. But more than anything I am reminded by the desire of the Psalmist – “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths” because without the guidance of the Spirit, even the most beautiful copy is missing something. I think that if I spent the rest of my life trying to master the maze I still wouldn’t get it, but maybe my part of the witness isn’t in the beauty of perspective and symmetry; maybe it is in discovering that I am lost without the Spirit. It is God in Christ who carves out our path and teaches us a new way and what so often looks like an optical illusion or dead end at the outset ends up being a plan that makes sense in our souls. God, in his infinite wisdom, compassion, and imagination is able to take our lives which are topsy turvey at best and weave them into a larger mandala. Each turn, each life, is captured in a circle that points to the centre.

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