pssssttt… hi. good morning and happy monday dear friends + readers. remember when, together, we walked back to Bethlehem and imagined what hearts felt like at the scene of Christ’s birth? well, this week your Hopers are putting their imaginative caps back on – this time we’re going to wonder-out-loud what it would be like if God was our college professor. grab your backpack and get going pals – don’t wanna be late for class!
“WHAT AM I DOING? First of all, why am I spending so much student loan money on a class I’ll never ‘use’ and secondly, why did I think I’d be any good at this?!”
Yup, that’s the bumblebee that buzzed the loudest in my hive of thoughts as I fumbled through the tin can of paintbrushes on our big communal desk. The dozen other students, most of which were taking this class because they actually knew how to paint, were already halfway through the shadowing on the fruitbowl painting that was almost too generic for me to believe this was what I was asked to do in college. College! Shouldn’t I be carving Michelangelo or something instead? Ugh, fumble fumble, smoothing of smock, staring at every other canvas besides the blank one in front of my face…
A low warm chuckle crept over my shoulder and my neck snapped around to stare straight at my dental-white empty assignment, almost glowing in it’s nothingness.
“Need help choosing a brush?”
The one asking was the same one standing behind me with eyes full of laughter, though not laughing at me like I’d assumed… “Let’s take a walk Ms. Martin”
Oh no, here we go.
Can they kick a student out of an elective course only a few weeks in!?
Professor E.M. Manuel was a legend on our campus, well, farther than that. It was a stroke of great luck that I’d even landed a spot in one of His classes, and I knew it. I’d assumed that “Art 101” would be easy, or that I’d at least be able to fake it… but I was wrong on both accounts and now He’d caught me red-handed.
I spun off my stool and walked with Him to the supplies shelf towards the front of His classroom and out of earshot from the other students, they were still-laser focused on their fruit bowls, so hopefully they wouldn’t notice my being reprimanded or at least called out for being talentless.
“Kate, why are you in my class?”
No condescension in His tone, solely simple curiosity.
“I love art.”
Ooooh, the eloquence of my response. Insert hand-to-forehead emoji.
He smiled, waiting for more.
“Well, ummm, you see my mother was a fashion designer and my brothers are all incredible painters and illustrators and well, my dad and I have no real artistic ability, I mean, well, I guess that’s not true, my dad’s an amazing surgeon and that definitely takes skill, so I guess it’s just me. I don’t know, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know I can’t sketch or paint or even draw a banana that doesn’t look like a telephone, but, you see… well…”
I was dying there waiting for him to interject and put me out of my misery.
Nope. He kept smiling.
“Well Professor, I guess I don’t think of art as only painting.”
He nodded. “And Ms. Martin, have you heard me say otherwise?”
“Well, no sir. Umm, no, I haven’t.”
“And you never will. As an artist, I see beauty everywhere and I desire to inject beauty everywhere, much of that can’t be done with a brush and tube of acrylic.”
“Yes sir, I guess, well, I was hoping you’d talk to us more about that and that there would be less… ummm, well, okay, well, I guess I’m just disappointed that our class time today is being spent painting a fruitbowl.”
At that comment, which I was desperately hoping didn’t sound disrespectful, He BURST out in uprorious laughter. Reaching out to put a hand on an easel to stay steady, He laughed and laughed until he had to catch his breath.
“Oh Ms. Martin – ME TOO!”
My forehead scrunched up in obvious confusion…
“When you came to class this morning, what did I ask of you all?”
“You asked us to get started.”
“Okay, and at what point did I tell you all to start painting a fruitbowl?”
His breath was still short and cheeks flushed.
“I guess you didn’t come to think of it. But there were brushes on the table and a bowl with a banana and an orange and some grapes sitting in the middle of our table, and…” my voice trailed off.
“Ms. Martin did it ever occur to you that the brushes were just one of many tools in this room and that that rather generic bowl with only three pieces of fruit was my breakfast?”
Now I was the one with flushed cheeks!
“Kate, you’re right – art is so much more than painting, but like many of the things I’m passionate about, students don’t yet have a wide enough lens to really see, they are limited to what they expect. They are limited by what they look, or don’t look for.
If you had glanced around the room you would see that I lifted the windows that face out to the courtyard because with the weather warming up they turned the fountains back on this morning. And I had the rusty screws on the skylights replaced so that they could be opened with ease, isn’t everything so much brighter? Did you notice? I filled that cabinet of old cameras over there with new rolls of film and stockpiled wood for carving in the corner. I meticulously laid out at least a thousand colored beads for jewelry making and wetted the clay in case someone wanted to spin the pottery wheel around. And I’ve been hoping most of all that someone would notice the piano’s been tuned.”
My embarrassment was replaced with His contagious sparkle. Truth be told I hadn’t noticed any of that. Because I wasn’t looking for it.
“If I’d decided that this world would function in all black, white, and gray – it would’ve. Maybe my students don’t ‘need’ the scent of lilacs coming in with each breeze or that teensy bit of dew left on the leaves that glistened like prisms on your walk to class an hour ago, but my dear pupil – I decided. I decided that beauty was worth it and that I would splash it everywhere. Just like I decided with love and humor and music. And I don’t want you to think, even for a moment, that just because you can’t paint a replica of my breakfast that means that you aren’t an artist. You see, everyone in my class will start to see what I see, if only I can get them to start looking.”
He was right!
This man in the splattered apron and muscled forearms that lifted mammoth sculptures with ease, He was right!
My experience of learning could have been a syllabus of facts and figures, my notebooks filled with equations and grammar. But this Creator of every single good and beautiful thing my eyes had every laid upon – and every star or wave or child’s face I’d never seen – He was passionate about creativity and He wanted me to be too. Whether with a poem or a song or a vase of poppies, if it added joy, He loved it!
Without saying a word, I reached for one of the cameras on the shelf beside us, unscrewing the lens cap my eyes crinkled in revelation and I peered up to see His crinkled the same. Before I strolled outside to take a few dozen photos of the glory all around – I looked over my shoulder at the students sitting still intently painting that bunch of concord grapes. I looked back at Him and caught a drift of sadness over His face. That made sense, they were missing it – all of it! They just had to ask! They had to want to see! But almost in the exact same moment as His sadness, though that sounds impossible, He looked back at me with the excited eye-crinkle again – that glimmer seemed to be a secret between the two of us.
I swung the camera strap around my neck and grabbed the door handle.
“Ms. Martin, you’re going to want to go around the corner and to the right side of the benches – that magnolia tree has buds that were going to bloom two minutes ago, but I told them to wait for you. Don’t miss it.”
I flung the door open and ran!
Just as He’d said, the One who hung the moon and told the tides how far to roll in, as I stepped underneath the wide branches of that tree by the benches, a hundred fragrant blooms uncurled and I could hardly breathe for the beauty of it.
Maybe I should be an art major.”
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors,
When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
9 When I made the clouds its garment,
And thick darkness its swaddling band;
10 When I fixed My limit for it,
And set bars and doors;
11 When I said,
‘This far you may come, but no farther,
And here your proud waves must stop!’
“Have you entered the treasury of snow,
Or have you seen the treasury of hail,
23 Which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
For the day of battle and war?
24 By what way is light diffused,
Or the east wind scattered over the earth?
25 “Who has divided a channel for the overflowing water,
Or a path for the thunderbolt,
26 To cause it to rain on a land where there is no one,
A wilderness in which there is no man;
27 To satisfy the desolate waste,
And cause to spring forth the growth of tender grass?
28 Has the rain a father?
Or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
And the frost of heaven, who gives it birth?
30 The waters harden like stone,
And the surface of the deep is frozen.
Can you send out lightnings, that they may go,
And say to you, ‘Here we are!’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the mind?
Or who has given understanding to the heart?