There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousand truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.”
~ Henry Ward Beecher
In 1995, with nary a hint or a nudge from me, my husband presented me with an unusual and wonderful gift. On Christmas morning, I found beneath the tree an easel, an empty canvas, a painter’s bucket filled with brushes and paints, and a note telling me when and where my first oil painting class would be held. Such a move would never have crossed my own mind, but my husband knew that. And he knew I needed an outlet at that particular time of my life.
I loved his gift. I adored everything about painting: the smell of the linseed oil, the sensual swirls of color blending into one another under my palette knife, the soft whisper of my brush as it conjured a sky across a pristine canvas. And the names of those colors! Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Indigo, Moss and Ochre. A previously hidden world sprang to life before my startled gaze, just like all those secret Magic Eye pictures of a decade ago. I could suddenly seewhat had been there all along. My hearing altered, too. Words that had drifted silently past my ears in my former life suddenly rooted in my conscience and bore meaning. The newborn, artsy me began to understand concepts once foreign–concepts of foreshortening and shadowing, perspective and contrast.
Shortly after I began lessons, we took a family vacation to Phoenix to visit our friends, Dan and Lisa. I hadn’t been to Arizona since the sixth grade, but the memories that lingered from that previous trip weren’t pleasant. I recalled that everything was brown and dead and hot, and that I’d spent half our trip throwing up from heat stroke. I’m not a big fan of blistering heat or scorpions or treeless hills, so I wasn’t sure what to expect this go-round.
I must confess that Arizona’s beauty won me over this time. It’s a different sort of beauty from the blue and green variety that wakes me every morning in the Pacific Northwest, but it was there. It’s a world of hovering pinks and salmons and warm terra cotta hues. I appreciated the uniformity of all those earth tones, right down to the agreed-upon roof tiles of my friend’s housing development. Those earthy pastels billowed and rolled in a soothing tile sea from one end of her street to the other.
Early one morning, while sipping iced tea and reading the Phoenix morning paper, I glanced up and noticed the way the rising sun struck the tiles of the neighbor’s roof. From my perch, I had a clear view of the sharp contrast between the lit and shadowed sides of the tile. As I sat there, I experienced a sudden flash of understanding. My instructor had tried–unsuccessfully–to explain the impact of light source on a subject and how the brightness of that source affects color. I hadn’t been able to track with him in class, but I got it now. I saw in 3-D what his words had been unable to paint for me. And I also saw, in my mind’s eye, the exact proportion of white I’d add to my base color to duplicate the left side of those tiles, were I to try to paint them.
Lisa walked into the kitchen, looked at me looking out the window, joined me in staring for a second or two, and then said, “What? Is the cat on the roof again?” She wasn’t quite as taken with the color variation on the tiles as I was. We may have looked at the same thing, but we didn’t see the same thing.
That’s a writer’s reality, too. We can be in a gathering of some sort, surrounded by normal-looking, two-eared people, and somehow manage to be the only one in the room who hears the whisper. A truth will rise from the conversation, drift overhead in slow, lazy circles, and choose to settle itself in our eager ears. No one else notices, no one else hears. Perhaps that’s because no one else listens.
I’ve often felt that our job as writers–most definitely as Christian writers–is to hear and interpret and share truth with a world that for whatever reason, doesn’t stop to hear those truths for themselves. We’ve been called by God to be His scribes to this generation. He’s equipped us to minister in this way–with an ability to arrange words in a pleasing pattern, with a knack for communicating, and with spanking-new ears.
Hone your earing. Cock your head to one side, if that helps; aim your ear toward heaven and invite the sound. Wait. It won’t take long. From a distant place, but closer with every step, you’ll begin to hear the heartbeat of God. And when you have it, when you can not only hear but feel the very timbre of His pulse, gather your words and paint a picture.
God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.
Their words aren’t heard,
Their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth:
Unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
—Psalm 19:1-4 (The Message)