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Starting Point

Like an artist working a canvas, God won’t rest until we’re perfect


Susan Sontag once said she could always tell when a writer was in love. It’s the intensity, the passion and the joy that reveal the dizzying heights of the writer’s heart.

What Sontag found in a book, I once found in an artist.

A number of years ago a friend of mine was working on an oil painting that includes a portrait of his wife. When I visited their home one night, he offered me a sneak preview. He had progressed quite well, but he confessed a dissatisfaction, an unease with the portrait. He said that he could not quite get his wife’s face right and had gone over it many times, even having to start that part of the canvas over again.

It looked good to me, I told him, to which he said no, it wasn’t quite right yet. He said he knew he would get it right, with time and patience.

And, I thought to myself, with love.

His wife is a very pretty woman. There is a loveliness to her smile, to her face. She has deep blue eyes and radiates a sense of peace. Some deeply human qualities have found a comfortable home in her heart.

They are much in love with each other. The person that she has become is quite literally a living response to the love her husband feels for her. Her loveliness is, in great measure, a reflection of being so loved. It is really that simple and that beautiful.

I was deeply moved by the labor my friend went through, moving onto the canvas the love he feels so deeply, removing layers of oil paint, trying over and over again to capture what he sees with his heart.

If the oil paint and the canvas could speak, I am reasonably sure they would say, “Do not touch me, do not erase me.” And, of course, the canvas and the oil paint are humble, dispensable in and to the hands of the artist, until love brings them to near perfect expression. It is only through time that the image reflects the heart’s desires.

We are the oil paint and the canvas of God. We are God’s medium for the expression of God’s heart.

As we go through life and feel pain, disillusionment, when we wish things could be better, I think it is wise to trust the Artist, as he paints and moves us to his own likeness.

Life is a process of becoming. A bit of wisdom and love involves no small measure of trusting the God who is lovingly drawing us unto his own likeness.

We all are God’s work of art, in process. We are being created, day by day, with the sure brush and loving talent of the Creator Artist. We are as yet not finished.

Growth hurts at times, as does love. These bring out the finer details of the human heart.

So look at life as if you are living oil, living color and your entire life is a canvas. Trust the pains and joys of this movement that is life, and know that God will not rest until there is brought out the best, the most loved and the most beautiful that you have been destined to be.

A man is in love, and it shows.

God is in love with all that has been created, and will not rest until the fullness of that love is reflected in all that exists.

Trappist Fr. James Stephens Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga.

National Catholic Reporter, May 14, 1999