Like the minute hand on a clock, the movement of time is almost imperceptible. The everyday hums of overhead lights and overheard conversations melt into quiet. I stare. Then my lips turn up a bit at the ends and familiar creases form themselves at the corners of my eyes.
I stand there looking positively idiotic, I'm sure, oblivious to everything that's not the something right in front of me.
This is what happens when I watch other artists work, painters in their studios, dancers learning choreography, musicians in rehearsal, directors on set. If there were bleachers set up in the studios of artists I'd have season tickets. I love watching makers make.
A few days ago I had the opportunity to spend a little time with a wonderfully-gifted painter friend of mine named Sarah Carter as she made something, a few moments of color and canvas and creativity.
I felt like I was seeing her in an entirely different way. My family has sat at her family's table and shared long meals and deep conversations. We've brought out little pieces of our lives, diamonds wrapped in velvet and carefully peeled back the folds until we can all get a closer look at them sparkling in the light. We've been intentional in getting to know one another, pushing past awkwardness and getting into the laughter and tears that spring from the unadorned us.
But this was new.
I've always known what bears looked like. When I was little I had a teddy bear, and rooted for Winnie the Pooh to endure his blustery day. I marveled at them at the zoo and heeded Smokey whenever he urged me to refrain from being an arsonist.
Then I saw a real bear, a real bear in the middle of the forest, a real bear in the place that is his, the place for which he is made. It was a very big bear, like a mountain in motion all instinct and strength. A bear as it is meant to be. Right then, everything I'd known of bears became the past, and the past became a crude caricature of bears as I now knew them.
This was like that. There was Sarah before, and now there was Sarah after.
I've been trying to piece together just why that moment was so profound.
Here's my try at making a little of it make sense:
So often we marvel at the results of the creative process, the finished piece, the performance. And we should. Any effort an artist has made to make the invisible visible—to make the grace of God in them somehow evident through paint on stretched canvas, or the progression of one note or lyric to the next, or the arrangement of letters and punctuation—is an act of bravery and should be applauded.
But for me the true marvel is the process because therein we see more than just our interpretation or subjective evaluation of the grace an artist has put forth, we get to see them in that sweet spot for which they are made (for which we are all made), discovering in themselves the grace that God has put there. When you peek over the shoulder of an artist going about his or her work you are seeing a seldom-glimpsed, difficult, and terribly intimate process as they engage in the work of becoming more fully themselves.
Watching Sarah work was a holy moment, glory brought to bear in resplendent streaks of color on canvas.
This is holy work.