Monday, July 6, 2009

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi gouache on paper 7"X9.5"

St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment. Known, and much loved for his wisdom and gentleness, he wrote the beautiful "Canticle of Brother Sun," a poem/prayer thanking God for all aspects of the natural world that He created.

During the process of making this painting I re-read the canticle several times and tried to choose a quote to express the particular aspect of St. Francis I was contemplating. Nothing was just right, and I couldn't move forward and complete the piece without it. Oddly enough the thing that brought my intentions into sharp focus was an act of hatred.

My wonderful husband, the artist Marcus Kwame Anderson, had run out on a late night trip to the store to get medicine for a sick friend who was staying with us. He stopped for gas, and on his way in to pay a woman gave him a dirty look and slammed the door on him. We live in the predominately white suburb of Clifton Park in upstate New York. My husband's long dreadlocks and brown skin frequently draw stares and at times openly hostile behavior from people who have allowed themselves to be backwards and ignorant. When he came home and told me about the incident my initial reaction was a deep, angry disgust. Though I know my husband can take care of himself, I still wanted to smack that nasty lady's face off. I fantasized about shaking her by the collar until her tiny little pea head flopped back and forth, yelling in her face, "get a clue, use your brain, read a book, and stop living like a complete asshole!" I wanted to confront her in such a swift and violent manner she would immediately be ashamed at being caught and called out for her terrible behavior. I wanted to hurl bolts of lightening at her and reduce her to a little pile of ash.

It was still on my mind the next day as I sat down to paint. I grimly tried to choose a quote but of course it just wasn't working out. Fortunately, the Dalai Llama came to my mind. Then Jesus. I reminded myself that their way would be one of detachment, compassion and prayer. I thought of how horrible it would be to actually be that lady, someone so sick, so messed up, so morally backwards and so spiritually out of touch that she would treat another person, a total stranger, my incredibly kind and compassionate husband no less, in such a way. What a terrible way to live. So I prayed for her. I asked God to help her be a better, happier, non-toxic human being, for her sake and for the sake of others. Then I prayed for my husband, that God protect him from racist shitheads, and that God help those same shitheads to take responsibility for healing themselves instead of lashing out at others. I really got a lot of peace from that. Feeling centered, I re-read the Canticle. "Happy those who endure in peace." I got that feeling of rightness in my gut. Up until that point I had been searching for St. Francis and using the painting to bring him into focus for myself. Now I felt how large and far-reaching his message is, and everything came together.

When we are at peace with ourselves we can live in peace with others, with compassion towards our fellow creatures, and in harmony with our planet.The quote also reminded me that achieving peace means standing back from all of the artificial constructs of modern American society that are harming us physically and spiritually: the illusion that the borders between countries indicate a difference in our humanity, animal testing, agri-business, pollution, a capitalist system that resembles piracy more and more every day, a culture based on consumerism, a social and economic structure that promotes exclusion and division instead of unity, a focus on material things over the well being of our souls, and a general ignorance of the fact that the way we are in the world, how we choose to walk through this life, is immeasurably more important than what we own, where we live, and what we drive. I don't think this means we should let unacceptable behavior slide. I think it means we should confront it with a response that ultimately promotes peace, even if I have to get up in someones face to do it. I really hope I can channel the teachings of St. Francis, the Dalai Lama, and Jesus when the occasion arises. I really do.