A core part of Tabor BMin, BTh, BIS and MDiv degrees is students’ involvement in the Formation Program, which they complete throughout their course by doing various Soul Projects. Some Soul Projects involve small groups exploring classic texts; others see students meeting one on one for a year with a spiritual director, counsellor or mentor; still others involve prayerful one day retreats utilising online resources. The program aims at an integrative approach in helping students map their inner geography and attend holistically to their Christian formation as a key part of their studies.
One such Soul Project is Praying with Isaiah. Originally facilitated by OT scholar Rev Dr David Baer, this retreat invites students to join Isaiah in praying need and desperation, praying hope, and praying the divine purpose. For assessment they submit their response in the form of prose, poetry, art or music. My privilege as an educator is in not only assessing, but also being personally impacted by the wide variety of submissions. One such reflection this semester was from Bachelor of Intercultural Studies student, Lara Cooper; may it draw you into compassionate prayer and action for a broken yet resilient people through the message and images of the prophet Isaiah. I came to this retreat tired (and later I found out, sick!) so I found it great to just sit still, pray and contemplate and be refreshed. I was moved by the darker parts and invigorated by the hopeful vision. I wrote some notes down on the day.
However, the day after I did this retreat the news began to stream in about the earthquake in Nepal. I went to Kathmandu a few years ago and so have a sense of personal connection to the immense suffering of the people this disaster is causing. It is such an extremely beautiful and fragile place, so pulsing with life and chaos and poverty. Though I came to the retreat very wiped out, fixating on my own weakness and circumstances hardly seemed appropriate in the light of such overwhelming disaster. Thus, I was able to join in prayer with and for Nepal, articulated so acutely in Isaiah.
We are fragile. We are fragile and our earth is fragile. It shakes and buildings fall down and people are wiped out. Relationships are finished with one little lie. BUT, we have an enormous unshakable hope in Christ, who will fulfil the vision and bring the redeemed from all cultures and nations and ethnic group on earth, to his holy mountain (Isaiah 11:9, 56:7). The tension of living between these times is immense, but the vision itself is not fragile because the one who casts it is faithful.
In considering both the hope that we have for the fulfilment of the vision of Isaiah (Isaiah 11, 35) for our future, but also the stark reality of the present suffering in our world, I decided to bring these two elements together in a painting. I took an image from the media of a mother and young child, looking tired and scared, waiting out the aftershocks. Over this I began to impose images of crocus flowers. (Is. 35: 1). Towards the end of my contemplative painting, I saw that the blankets and garments of the mother and child had a flow that resembled water. So, I decided to turn the blankets into streams in the desert (Isaiah 35 1-7,10).
I am encouraged by the vision itself and the experience with creating the artwork. The vision itself reminds me of why I am studying Intercultural Studies. It reminds me that even though at times we stumble in weariness with the weight of life, particularly in the aftermath of such disasters and feeling helpless, there is a vision that is being fulfilled slowly, but surely. It reminds me that though sometimes I feel as if my contribution is minimal and insufficient at best, God is using my life to fulfil his vision. I am glad to see it clearly again, as lately I have felt hurried and sapped of strength, motivation and time.
The experience with the artwork was also encouraging. Normally I choose an image I have photographed and then paint it. Occasionally I ponder and create my own image. This was different…compelled by the great suffering I was seeing, and experiencing compassion for, I chose a real image (be it not my own) and grafted symbols of hope (from Isaiah) into it. I think this has helped me to put together how to paint in the future. I want to be real with my artwork, but not hung up about the depressing things. Life is hard, we are weak, and there are many situations of crisis and injustice that weigh upon people in our generation. But I can also see and communicate God’s vision, and it is beautiful. I hope this painting brings both a sense of the tension and reality of the world around us along with the immense hope we have, to those who view it. I hope it causes viewers to long for and pray for the fullness of the kingdom to come.
Bruce Hulme –Lecturer in Spirituality and Practical Theology, MTC School Academic Administrator, MTC Postgraduate Studies