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Faces on Faith: Ultimate power and hope in small things

By Staff | Oct 19, 2012

Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan

While on vacation last year, my husband and I decided to go and see the paintings of Andrew Wyeth in Rockland, Maine. I regret that we had not done it sooner.

I remember in years past leafing through Wyeth’s books, often reflecting on a painting for long spaces of time and marveling at his stunning ability to capture the real essence of his friendships and the environment around him.

As I meandered through the quiet gallery, I realized I’d missed Andrew Wyeth. I also realized I’d forgotten some of the deeper, more subtle and poignant aspects of his creations – paintings with titles that seemingly had little to do with much of what one saw on the canvas.

It hit me again when I was standing still and drinking in a painting of a stormy sky, dilapidated tool shed, and enormous spruce tree in the foreground. I marveled at Wyeth’s ability to capture the small needles of the tree, the aging, blistered shingles on the shed, and the ominous cloud formations in the distance. I looked down at the title of the painting and saw the word “Puddle.” And there for the first time I saw it! Right in the foreground was a minuscule, grayish puddle of water – seemingly insignificant – but the only part of the painting that told the story that a storm had just passed by. I’d almost missed it.

I continued to walk around, gazing at Wyeth’s works, and was struck over and over again by some subtlety that, until I read the title, was passing me by. Another canvas of an ancient, weathered shed was there, with yet another immense pine towering in front of it. It was entitled “Geranium.” Yes, there inside the window of the little abandoned building was a small, red glow – a struggling geranium blossom responding to the scant sunlight peeking into the shed. I’d almost missed it.

Even Wyeth’s paintings of his friends and neighbors – Christina, Walt, and Helga – possessed elements of the same simplicity yet powerfulness of the subject. One of Christina, a neighbor of Wyeth’s disabled by polio, depicted her in a vast sea of tall grass. Indeed, the grass almost covered the canvas. Yet, even as Christina lies in the field moving slowly toward her home so far in the distance, her small figure is not at all diminished by the ocean of grass. Wyeth captures her strength and power, as her head is held high and her arms strong and moving forward. Instead of focusing on her plight, I saw her strength and power and hope. But … I’d almost missed it.

Wherever you may be on your spiritual/faith journey, take stock of the smaller, perhaps unseen people and daily events in your lives – things that don’t make the headlines but are filled with potential power and hope. It’s clearly a challenge, especially at this time where the larger issues of violence, greed, hatred, and intolerance are the lead actors on the world stage.

Of course, our eyes and ears are naturally drawn to these larger issues. However, close your eyes once in awhile and let your hearts and souls “rule” what is really important in life, even as the front page news might dictate otherwise. Transform your hearts and minds to a place where you hear the smaller powerful voices, discover hope in the midst of so much global anxiety and fear, and see the abundance of simple gestures and compassionate deeds around you.

In the struggling geraniums and the messy puddles of life, visualize how you also might be a power-filled part of building up the whole community of God’s people in a radically “small” way!