“In the beginning there is a canvas, a brilliant white nothingness waiting to be transformed by the brushstrokes of life. Splashes of colour, unique and individual to each one of us, merge, clash, and change. As the years go by, it becomes a painting on a painting on a painting, each new stroke of the brush shaped by the last. We all have a canvas waiting to be hung, and this is mine.” Peru, 2011.
(Ben Fogle, at the beginning of his autobiographical “The Accidental Adventurer…my wilderness years”)
I’ve been on a personal ‘retreat’ to North Wales. Travelling there is an interesting experience, passing as it does near Manchester and places in North Wales where I’ve lived for a bit. It’s a bit like time travel back in time, and evokes all sorts of memories, good and bad but mostly quite strong. No wonder I’ve done a fair bit of navel gazing during the week just past.
I started to read the Ben Fogle book during my time away…I like the quote above, with which he introduces the book.
I feel as if my life, my canvas, is very small and a bit drab, restricted by my personal fears, my background, my lack of finance and the effects of a tragic, but necessary, divorce. There are some things that even your faith and progress on your Christian journey do not necessarily prepare you for, and I think my current life stage is one of those times. It struck be yesterday that even Jesus, who became human and shared so many of our life experiences, did not have the ‘luxury’ of approaching old age, with all that means.
However, as a friend reminded me when I was deeply disappointed over my failure to return to paid Christian ministry, I have an ‘impressive ability to re-invent myself’.
So what ‘painting on a painting’ will characterise my next phase of life, however long that may last?
I hope it will include the ability to re-discover a depth of relationship with God and other people. One of the things I am constantly grateful for at this phase of life is my new-found ability to strike up conversations with complete strangers…something the shy boy could never have dreamed of. Of late I feel I’ve lost my way a bit in my relationship with God…my swing back towards my ‘evangelical’ roots from my more ‘contemplative’ faith has not necessarily been good for me or anyone else.
I also hope I will have the guts and the means to do a bit more travelling…our recent trip to Paris showed up my disgraceful fear and the blessing that came when I just got on with it.
I have been surprised at the depth of feeling I still have for North Wales after my recent ‘retreat’ there, the land I once felt so completely at home in and called to…I wish I had the same feelings for the Borders…I love the landscape and the people but constantly feel like a lonely stranger there.
I also want to be around and available for my children and grandchildren as much as possible in the years I have left, and to be able to be open with them about the things that matter and will really sustain on the journey of life.
I continue to feel tensions with my church and the role I have been given there…I need help to truly be myself there, despite the somewhat dour and ‘serious’ demeanour of so many of my fellow believers there…grace and joy, grace and joy, grace and joy…
I’m sorry I’ve only painted in one small corner of the huge canvas God supplied me with…I need help me to extend the designs onto more of the available space to complete a picture that’s beautiful for God…I want my my ‘small-ness’ count for something. Maybe age and experience will help me to paint more skilfully…
“When I survey the wondrous cross
On Which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”