My mother had a print of a painting in her house and I said I liked it, so of course she bought me one. It’s called ‘Celebration Song’, by Tim Steward, and it seems to depict in streaks of earth tones a Heavenly scene of thirteen spirits rejoicing together. It’s a bit abstract, but to me, it looks like a choir, with a conductor holding a baton, and a chorus of praise, with arms lifted. I love this piece of art, and it feels joyful to me, but at the same time, something has always bothered me about it. For years I felt certain I was missing something.
I’ve looked at ‘Celebration Song’ for minutes at a time, from various angles. I’ve counted the figures and tried to construe meaning. I’ve researched the artist and ruminated on the meaning of his name. ‘Tim(othy)’ means ‘ honoring God’, by the way, and a ‘steward’ cares for another’s property. And if you think I don’t google the meaning and history of words and names all the time, I would guess we’ve never met in person, but when we do, consider yourself meditated-on. It’s just the way my brain works, processing what I take in and finding meaning where I can. But there was something here I couldn’t decode, something I could not yet see, and it bugged me. I’ve had the print in my home for probably eight or ten years now, and when I try to figure it out, I always walk away frustrated.
I am moving through a particularly hard season in my life right now, one that requires trust I do not naturally feel and belief in the upside-down ways in which God works. Last week, I wrote in ‘Red’ (https://kerrycampbell.org/2017/11/01/red/) about my need to get things my way, and then a few days later, I wrote in ‘Trust’ (https://kerrycampbell.org/2017/11/05/trust/) about how I knew God was calling me toward humility, submission, and acceptance. Yesterday, I was face down in my carpet, feeling completely abandoned and unseen, and crying out to the Lord to help me. It’s been quite a week, as you can imagine.
While I was down there on my face amidst the dog-hair and dust, my phone buzzed. It was my friend, Nancy, telling me how much she liked something I had written, and saying she was praying for me. Soon after, I received a notification about a repost of an article, and then, a much-needed, comforting message from a family member. In those three small interactions, God was telling me He saw my faith, He saw my vocation, and He saw my family. I got up off of the ground.
Today, I was getting my lunch together and was preparing to say grace when I felt compelled to say it on my knees. This seemed odd to me. If any of you ever asked me about the need to pray in any particular physical posture, I would reply that it was your spiritual position that mattered. Still, there I was in my empty kitchen on my knees. I am learning obedience, I suppose. And there, as I looked up at ‘Celebration Song’, I saw it as clear as day. There, in the center of the piece, was a side view of a woman with a veil, tending to a central figure in white who was wearing a red stole. Christian ministers of all denominations wear stoles, the kind of long scarf-like vestment worn on the shoulders, and the colors are significant. In my mind, it weirdly calls back to the rhythm sticks-on-your-shoulders I wrote about in ‘Red’ (https://kerrycampbell.org/2017/11/01/red/) a few days ago, but red is highly significant. This color is worn on feasts of the Passion, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and feasts for the Martyrs. You might say red signifies blood. But red is also worn on feasts of the Holy Spirit, like Confirmation and Pentecost, the days when the Spirit is given to people. I feel both death and the possibility of new, scary, unchartered life in these days. In my faith, they go together.
So as I look at ‘Celebration Song’ now, I see it in a different way, but I still have questions. The woman I see sure seems like a mother tending to a child who is being prepared, purified, and changed. But is it Mary and Jesus? Or my mother and me? Or me and my child? I’m not sure. But now I see that the other figures are certainly celebrating what is happening at the center. New life from death. Resurrection from pain. The love of a mother for a child. It doesn’t always make sense, and we can’t always see it, but this upside-down plan of God is good. Maybe it’s something only visible from our knees, but it goes on, and it is worthy of singing.