Canvas of Dots

~~I might have studied art history or something similarly unemployable if I had been born into a wealthy family. I have a bourgeois love affair with art and I confess to being a clichéd devotee of the Impressionists - Monet and Seurat among my favorites. Some of my son’s earliest “field-trips” were to the art museum in St. Louis. (There is no better way to pass a rainy day with a toddler!) In my enthusiasm, I often breach the gallery line over which you are not to step or reach. I mind the rules about my hands and feet, but I will bend as far forward as possible without falling over to get my nose right up to the canvas to see exactly what color that smudge or that dot is. It fascinates me how those minute details make up the whole. When taken in isolation, they seem meaningless, but add them to the one above it, below it, beside it, and you have created something significant.   

In my last post, I told you about sitting with my friend at the hospital while she waited for the final word about her husband’s chances of recovery, and silently charted her course in the event that there was none. We said goodbye to Mike on Saturday in a service that was a funny and poignant testimony to a life well lived. Stories were told. Tears were shed. Laughs were shared. And I sat there thinking that at the end of a man’s life, what’s left is the minutia: the memories of moments. The dots and smears of Mike’s life painted a picture of a man who loved well. And was well-loved.

The dots matter. I began this post thinking the opposite – prepared to write the opposite – but as I wrestled with the passing of Mike’s life from this earth, I realized that, to his family and friends, the dots matter the most. It will be the same when others give the testimony of our lives, and though at that point the canvas will be complete, the stories told will be about the dots that made up the whole. Those small daily encounters, the simple words with which we bless or spear each other, the touch or lack of it, laughing, crying, driving to and fro, buying groceries and getting a meal on the table, playing jokes, doing homework, mowing the lawn, singing and dancing…living in the minutia matters. Life is where our moments butt up against someone else’s moments and create something more than each moment would be alone. It’s where we become more than we would be alone, and where our lives become something more than they would be alone. Putting our dots next to another’s matters, but in our myopic focus we miss the opportunity to seize a moment and fill it with substance.

See, not only are the dots important, but having a vision of the big picture is too, and painting toward that purpose. Otherwise, we end up with Jackson Pollack’s random tangle “No.5”, and not Seurat’s “Sunday Morning”, in which every smudge intentionally contributes to a purposeful whole. Life is about choosing our landscape and setting up our easel and making every brush stroke deliberate toward an end. The goal is not for our creation to be a series of unconnected, random, isolated and pointless stokes of color, but for each stroke to be a complement to the greater meaning and to contribute to an intentional outcome.

Maybe I wax abstractly philosophical. Let me clarify. Last night my teenaged son and his friends drove themselves to a movie and then played like little children at the McDonald’s Play Place. They posted Instagrams, and they laughed and goofed and acted like…teenagers-acting-like-children. And on the way home, one of my son’s friends drove his SUV into a tree. (He’s OK.) But every moment leading up to that was an effort to squeeze the life’s blood out of an hour of time. Teenagers are not mindful of producing a discernable picture from their moments, but they surely leave every drop of paint on the canvas, smeared into a cacophony of color as their dots blend with the dots of their friends. Had those been his last dots, they would have painted a picture of a life well and truly spent. (Thanks be to our merciful God that they were NOT his last dots!!)

Now, I’m not saying that we should all live in the wanton disregard for reality that is a teenager’s mind, but what if we decided – decided – to live the ordinary moments of our life like they really matter. What if we expended ourselves completely to what now seems like randomness. What if we became resolute to actually “do all to the glory of God”? Still too theoretical?  The glory of God is nothing more surreal than the beauty and vibrancy of God’s character made manifest and tangible on this earth – in our lives and in the effect that our lives have on the lives of others. (See Galatians 5:22-23) If it looks like God…it is His Glory! If it sounds like God…Glory! If it feels like God…Glory! Dot. Dot. Dot. Across the canvas, an image begins to emerge as we take the Glory of God by the hand and drag it into each moment, seizing that moment for eternity, redeeming it to God’s purpose, and putting the dot of that moment next to another one filled with equal purpose until the whole Glory of God materializes on the canvas of our lives. It doesn’t happen by accident; it happens because we have a clear vision of what we want to recreate, and we set about copying that image onto our own canvas one dot, one smear, one stroke, one moment at a time. Finally then, at the end of the days in which we focused on our subject, what will hang in the gallery is a completed image of a holy and loving God that was created by the dots of our moments recounted and relieved by those we chose to smudge up next to. This is our goal. This is our purpose. This is our epitaph. Dot. Dot. Dot.