Thursday, July 25, 2013

More than words

There is something about art that speaks more deeply than words.

It's said that a photograph that speaks a thousand words, and this one speaks volumes to me.  It tells of inside jokes and stories, the feeling of being away from home for the first time, and yet finding your place.  It's the experience of being apart for years, and then coming back together and feeling like no time has been lost at all.

freshman hallmates Jessica Lin Lenkong, Amy Shelley Olson, and Jenny Frazier Call at Amy's wedding in May

I spent time yesterday wandering through the "Papercuts" exhibit at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum of art on the campus of Hollins University.  It was exquisite, and again, words can't convey the depth and the wonder it invoked.  Through the common medium of paper, the artists had created entire communities and worlds of both beauty and destruction.  One piece involved making circles of colored strips of paper and arranging them on the floor in a flower-like pattern that was actually a reconstruction of the pattern of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Another took beloved paperback Harlequin romance novels from her childhood, stitched the pages together with gold thread as one large sheet, and then cut out the "naughty" parts, revealing beautiful designs in their place.  With each display, there was a story, and a person making meaning of his or her experiences, creating beauty from a life that is not always lovely.  It was fascinating to talk with the museum's director as we shared our own connections with the pieces and I learned how others had related to the art during the exhibit.

We connect over the different layers of meaning beyond the surface, if we're willing to go deep enough to explore it.

I think this desire to find meaning and create beauty, even in the ugliest circumstances, is what draws me to religion.  There is so much in life that can't be captured in mere words.  There is too much pain to be explained, and too much joy to describe.  When I was a "scientist" (and I use that in the loosest possible since as I was a miserable and fumbling one), I wanted to seek answers and draw connections.  And yet in my experience, it was more about classifying and categorizing.  Things were broken apart instead of joined together.  I longed for community, for a shared story that would allow me to explore, even if I never found all the answers.

As a minister, I've discovered the joy of mystery, and the power of stories.  I will never have all the answers, nor would I want to.  Instead, I am a privileged witness to individual stories, that, if I'm really paying attention, I understand to be not individual at all, but part of a larger communal story.  We are all seeking our place in the story, and my great joy as a minister is sharing the message that every story matters, and every one is welcome.  As we join our stories, we begin a journey full of wonder, beauty, and mystery, that goes on forever...

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