Westward Leading, Still Proceeding…

From Matt Whitney…

Yesterday Today Forever

Matt’s painting as of December 1

Tuesday was a slamming day for me. I stayed home in the morning to watch my baby son Grey. Once the babysitter came to relieve me, it was off to get a van, transport art to a photographer for a photo shoot, returning the van, delivering a sold painting, quick dinner at a Mexican restaurant with my family, then off to UPC. I was invited by Jon Epps to share with friends at Convergence a short witness and description of the Advent Project. I spoke to the concept of Incarnation in my work. As the Word was made Flesh, and as we were made in His Image at the Creation, I described that humans have a little bit of that inherent need to create in us, and that’s part of what makes art important in the world. I also spoke to concepts of Grace and Truth in my work, and that though we dwell in a dark world and are ourselves wholly broken, we are made wholly good by the work of Christ on our behalf. Thus, my images don’t always comfort; but they always point to Hope and Truth.

As I reflect on the season, heeding the call that Tim Snow gave during his sermon to “live awake” during Advent, my desire to see the world fully restored becomes much more acute.  I’m not going to dance around it: it’s been a dark couple of months here in Seattle. My neighborhood was plagued with arsons, a Seattle police officer was murdered, and then the horrible attack on the four police officers in Lakewood this past Sunday morning. Just senseless acts of evil that shake us to our core and make us cry out in pain and agony for the world. As Tim said, we long for Jesus to make us whole. The Advent painting is a contemplation of this longing. The painted image of the star over the city is one we cannot see but represents that ultimate truth that God is with us now, as he was 2000 years ago. The hope of the Advent star still resonates in our souls today, guiding us to that perfect light.

After the witness, I went to paint at the Inn. As I was setting up my materials, I realized I had forgotten my brushes at my studio. I can guarantee that in all the rushing back and forth between Church, Home, and Studio, I will always forget something at one of those places! So I find myself with no brushes, but I did have my palette knifes, so I painted with those. I spent some time on the stars in the painting, adding texture with heavily applied acrylic paint. Then I sat back and listened for a while. This is part of the painting process – I do some painting, stop to listen to what is happening in the artwork, and adjust. As I listened, the Inn Worship Team was singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which was being performed in an epic, haunting melody (Sufjan Stevens does an incredible version of this song).  I love when artists take a familiar song and perform it with a new voice; a new authenticity to make it relevant and real for us today. With this on my heart, I began working on the angel. I want the angel to appear a little bit terrible; a little bit haunting; there to announce Christ’s triumph over death, then now and forever.

Back to not having brushes: the knives I was using are great for creating nice textures, but are clumsy at shape and line. For the first time I can remember, I finger painted. I have an artist friend who does this; smearing and smudging with her fingers, the palm of her hand, the flat of her wrist. It is a fascinating process. I figured if she can make that work, then so can I.

I’m pleased with the progress in our first week. I was buoyed and strengthened by the encouragement I received from people while I painted. One gentleman told me he would pray for inspiration. Several others told me how excited they were to see the painting take shape and come into being. Parents helped their curious children by explaining some of the imagery and its meanings.  I’m finding that this is no longer just my painting – it belongs to the community of believers and witnesses that are all now participating in its creation. We all are experiencing the making and unfolding of the image together and are sharing in the process. This is fascinating to me and I really love this.


1 Response to “Westward Leading, Still Proceeding…”

  1. December 2, 2009 at 5:29 PM

    Matt: Your comments about the state of the world and how it makes you (and us) feel, reminded me of this Max Lucado piece that I really love. I think of it often when the world is gray:

    “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” John 18:36

    “Unhappiness on earth cultivates a hunger for heaven. By gracing us with a deep dissatisfaction, God holds our attention. The only tragedy, then, is to be satisfied prematurely. To settle for earth. To be content in a strange land….

    “We are not happy here because we are not at home here. We are not happy here because we are not supposed to be happy here. We are ‘like foreigners and strangers in this world’ (1 Pet. 2:11).

    “And you will never be completely happy on earth simply because you were not made for earth. Oh, you will have moments of joy. You will catch glimpses of light. You will know moments or even days of peace. But they simply do not compare with the happiness that lies ahead.” Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name

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