Monday, September 21, 2009

St. Anthony of Padua, again

St Anthony of Padua Comes By Boat
9x11 Acrylic on Paper, 2009

St. Anthony Of Padua is the patron saint of lost things, whether it is a person, or faith, or an object. Loss is experienced in many different ways, and the most powerful losses involve the people we love, either through death, estrangement, or disappearance. Loss can also occur because of the passage of time, erosion, and change. We ourselves can become lost if we are overcome with feelings of sadness over loss or regret, or are unable to let go of the past.

I have found a certain weirdness in being forty, and I think that it may explain why some people go off of the deep end and experience a mid-life crisis, because it's pretty freaky and sad. A sort of looking backwards has been happening, an assessment of my life so far, and all of the people I've known and events that have occurred. I think that the weirdness comes from having spent, at forty, just as much time as an adult as I had as a child. The frame of reference through which I perceived the world, my memories, and my interactions has shifted. The finality of certain changes has come into very sharp focus. The past is a lot more distant. Primary relationships have changed as I have matured. I see people a lot differently than I used to. I am detaching from old notions of myself, they fall behind like discarded paper dolls. Mostly all of this is good, it's just...different.

During a period when these feelings were particularly sharp I happened to come across the photographs of Eugene Richards and Kevin Bauman.
Their photographic portraits of abandoned houses on the prairie of North Dakota and the city of Detroit, Michigan resonated with how I was feeling. Every one of these photographs is a picture of loss. You can imagine the people and the lives that were lived in these places, but you will never know them. No one is coming back, ever. The dramatic landscape of the North Dakota photographs underscores a human absence so profound it is a presence, in and of itself. These homes are a black hole of peoples' hopes, loves, losses and disappointments, condensed, wrapped in questions, turned in on itself under a vast sky. The abandoned homes in Detroit are especially painful to look at, signaling the vanishing of whole neighborhoods and a community way of life. I could relate to them on a personal level, and they really helped me to gain some perspective and inspired me to examine St. Anthony and the nature of loss in a different way. "Saint Anthony of Padua Comes By Boat" is one painting so far in this exploration.

The person peering into the window is not able to let go of the past. Perhaps she really misses someone. Maybe she longs to recapture a happier time. Maybe she is haunted by questions about what happened here. She is so caught up that she does not see the beauty all around her, nor does she understand that her loss is part of the wholeness of the universe and that change is the only constant in life. Help is coming, though—Saint Anthony is out on the ocean, heading for the shore, carrying his light so that he can find her.
The sapling, growing from the ruin and decay, looks as though it is signaling to him across the distance. This new growth is hope, and the good that can come from change, if she allows herself to see it.

The hope and growth we can find because of loss was put into words beautifully by Roberta Hiday , who wrote to me about "St. Anthony of Padua at the Guard Rail" :

St Anthony of Padua at the Guard Rail
9x11 Acrylic on Paper, 2008

"my spiritual journey has brought me from catholicism, to evangelicalism to the episcopalian church - where i am now. i enjoy living in the mystery. i'm in my late 50's so i have a sense of the value of just going for it! in my eyes your saint anthony is a happy, round monk wearing a brown robe - he looks approachable, and the way he is holding the light as he looks over the abyss is hopeful to me.

i live on the olympic peninsula...i drive on a road like the one in your picture and the trees look like the ones that line our 2 lane roads - so i indentify with it....loss comes in so many forms - my mom focused on items like keys, bills, money, etc. your painting helped me to see st. anthony in a new light - as one who can assist in the looking for lost relationships, & for people who have lost their ways, or for those who have lost their drive (pun intended), or their sense of hope....

as a spiritual director i know my clients will appreciate this painting as a metaphor of their "journey"....they have stopped on the road of life to look for what they have lost.......and as a spiritual director i see myself as st. anthony in the picture - looking into the darkness of people's stories...helping them to make peace with their shadow side and shining light on it...."

Roberta's words remind me of my favorite lyric by Ani DiFranco-

up up up up up up points the
spire of the steeple
but god's work isn't done by god
it's done by people


I think that St. Anthony is working in mysterious ways and that he keeps coming up for a reason. I'm so glad that he is there when I need him.

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