Eternity in Our Hearts
Carol had an inoperable brain tumor. The neurologists believed she had a year before she would regress into a catatonic state. However, only a few days later, her husband woke to find her seated in the living room, staring aimlessly at the floor, completely unresponsive to his attempts to engage her.
From that moment on, Carol wouldn’t eat. She stopped talking. She stopped walking. When they returned to the hospital, the MRI showed no acute changes to her scan. This was outside of the neurologists realm; a sickness of the mind brought on by depression over her terminal diagnosis.
I met Carol on the Psych ward where I was training as a nurse. At that point, she was simply existing with no indication of emotion, or motivation. It was an unsettling sight. Nothing seemed able to break her from her stupor. So, imagine my surprise when the art therapist requested I bring her to that morning’s sessions. If meds and procedures couldn’t cure her, how could this?
The art therapist explained that she’d discovered from Carol's husband that she had been an avid gardener before her brain tumor, and had loved sketching those flowers on summer afternoons. It took three of us to transfer Carol from her wheelchair to the chair at the art table for that morning’s session. The art therapist selected a coloring page of a grouping of sunflowers in a vase, similar to the Van Gogh piece. I chose an assortment of crayons and set them in front of Carol. For a good twenty minutes she continued to stare, and not even at the coloring page before her.
Growing a bit discouraged, I took her hand in my own and placed a purple crayon into her palm. Carol still didn’t respond. I took her hand and began to color one of the sunflowers on the page. Still nothing.
And then, she blinked. Her head bent down to gaze at the crayon. Her eyes moved over the picture. She dropped the purple crayon, reached for the yellow, and began to color over the purple we had placed on the page. At first her hand easily strayed out of the clearly defined boundary of the petals. But the longer she colored, the more intentional her movements became. She even switched crayon colors multiple times during the session. When the art session was over, Carol was able to take a few intentional steps before slumping, exhausted, into her wheelchair.
Regardless of whether you consider yourself an artist, an innate trait in all humans is to create a sense of order and understanding in our lives. Creating is a way of engaging our world. And as we saw, when a person ceases to engage their world, or when the drive to create is replaced with acts of destruction, society responds with medical treatment, psychological intervention, or in certain situations, a correctional facility.
So from where is it that this drive to create comes? Solomon tells us that God "has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). I believe that our ache of dissatisfaction in life is often the ache of eternity in our souls. We long to experience that eternity, to possess it and express its goodness and beauty.
One way man combats his finite life is by creating something that might live on longer than his body. This is both a natural response to the curse of sin, and a worthy pursuit as an artist. However, as Christian artists, our art isn’t simply an act of self-expression, or self-preservation. If our creating is an expression of our experiences, then it is now motivated by something greater. We've been awakened. Our eyes have been opened to the Source of the ache in our hearts. We have a message living inside that will not be satisfied until it shines light into the darkness. As Paul explains to the Corinthian church, "Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away…. And we all who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:16,18). We behold creation with new eyes and with that have been given insight into the mystery and wonder of creation that the unbelieving world has not yet seen. Through this we have been enabled by the Spirit of God with the beautiful freedom to express that mystery as it sanctifies us.
Our loving Father knows the weak, desperate state of our being. He knew before the beginning of time that, left to ourselves in the wake of the fall, we would be hopelessly lost, and the “eternity” in our hearts would sour into suffering. So the eternal Son was incarnated into a message we could understand, and he walked among us. He endured our painful temptations and trials and created a new path by which we might experience the mysteries and wonders of God once again. Now, in grace he has taken the crayon, placed it into our feeble hands, and is reminding us what it means to live. Our hearts are alive. The ways of aimless wandering are gone. The act of creating expresses the nature of man in likeness to God, but when that act flows from a soul reconciled to God through faith in Christ, its message becomes transcendent in reflection of the glory of its Creator.