Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12: 24).
When I first saw the painting, I was attracted to the vivid colors and the inquisitive little girl bent over to examine the big, fat frog on a lily pad. She looked like she was from the 1950’s—a scarf on her head, oxfords on her feet. Then, I saw the pup in the corner that looked exactly like my dog at home. Just look at those ears! But, it was what the artist, Gail Schellinger, said next that really got me. She said she had gotten the unique effect by covering an old work of hers, completely painting over the image, and then scratching through the surface. The term for it is the Italian word sgraffito, which literally means “to scratch.” It involves scratching through a layer of still-wet paint to reveal what’s underneath. “How much?” I asked. I so wanted to take it home.
I’ve always loved this painting that’s hung in my home for many years, all bright blues, greens and reds. I also loved that there’s something underneath—an image hidden, yet somewhat revealed. Even to this day, I can’t help wondering about what she covered up. Was it a painting that didn’t sell? Did she start something that she thought was a good idea, but it simply didn’t go anywhere? Maybe she needed to cover up a mistake—a blob of something, a latte spill or maybe cat tracks? Was it hard to paint over a work that she’d invested time and energy on?
Although I didn’t think to ask these questions at the time, I like to imagine what really happened. Maybe Gail, the artist, was cleaning out her studio one day or gathering paintings for a show and found an old picture at the bottom of a stack in the corner. Perhaps it was one she had done years ago, one long forgotten. In my mind’s eye, she pulled it out and took a long look at it. “Hmmmm, wonder if this one could be reworked in some way, something added here or there. After all, the colors are really nice and it’s always good to recycle a sturdy board.”
It’s at that moment she had a thought, an inspiration, a creative spark. Forgetting the cleaning she should be doing, she took the old piece to her easel and wiped off the dust. Then, she chose a blue and quickly, but carefully, painted over the entire board. When done, she paused to look at the square patch of blue. “Wow! I do love this color!” It was the sky on one of those perfect, cloudless days, a day custom-made for exploring the wonders of God’s world. As she carefully began to scratch the wet surface, colors emerged from underneath and the scene comes alive—in her mind at first and then on the board. Something new, something fresh, something beautiful is revealed.
I don’t know if it happened this way—probably not. But, surely there was a spark of divine creativity—isn’t God always involved in the creation of something good? This flight of “what if” has reminded me of something I know. It’s good to do some poking around in the corners of our lives to see what’s there, what’s been gathering dust. Surely, it doesn’t hurt just to take a look. Maybe we’ll find some old, dusty ideas, behaviors or biases that are worth a second look. Maybe we’ll find some long-forgotten (or ignored) relationships in need of our attention. And just maybe, we’ll find some things that, with God’s helpful eye and a divine spark of creativity, can be recycled, renewed, reformed into something new and fresh and beautiful.
Lent is always a good time for some spring-cleaning.