Learning to go slowly: on prayer and a community art project

These past few years, I’ve been unable to plant roots at a church home in Wheaton. I knew I was subconsciously looking for a replica of my home church back in Seattle, that my expectations were much too high, but I just couldn’t help it. As an introvert, it’s very exhausting trying to invest yourself into a new community, and I just didn’t have the emotional energy to put into it.

At the beginning of this school year I began to pray over and over for a church home, for a place where I wouldn’t feel like I had to put on a certain persona, where I could worship without feeling self-conscious or out of place.

These past few months, I’ve found a home in a small church plant in the Vineyard church family. I’ve been going to a small group on Immanuel prayer, a ministry in which we learn how to invite Jesus into painful memories, asking Him to reveal the root of our emotional triggers and heal us from the pain and lies that prevent us from intimacy with Him.

My view on who Jesus is no longer fits into a nice, neat little box. It’s broken down with the realization that He isn’t only a historical figure, but an active God who still speaks to us today. Another way to put it is, rather than ‘what would Jesus do?’ I’ve been learning to ask, ‘what is Jesus doing?’

And it turns out that when we ask Him, He has quite a lot to say.

He’s been teaching me that wounded healers are the only kind of healers there really are, that people are always carrying baggage with them, but that it shouldn’t stop them from speaking life. He’s been teaching me that my woundedness shouldn’t stop me from speaking prophetic truth, from seeking what is real and true and affirming what I see in others.

So when I found out I had the opportunity to create an installation in an old house on Wheaton’s campus, I knew I wanted to explore what I’ve been learning about prayer.

There’s something in the creating, in the hard work, that is really satisfying, and it felt so great to be working alongside other students artists, to feel a part of something big and important and creative and good.

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The text of the mural comes from Luke 18:35-43, where Jesus heals the sight of a blind beggar. The words progress from chaotic and overlapping towards the top to gradually bold and clear at the story’s conclusion: when the blind beggar declares his petition and Jesus grants his request.

When we pray, this sort of process from confusion and anger to peace and acceptance occurs. I believe that it is through this messy process of continuously wrestling and dialoging with God that we learn to trust His goodness and hear His answer. The ritualistic process of painting the mural layer by layer imitated this, in a way, each layer a prayer contributing to the eventual clarity of His answer.

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After a few weeks of hard work, we had transformed this ordinary house into an artist’s creative haven. The kitchen had become an overgrown forest, a piano had been brought in for a live performance piece, and nearly every wall had been covered in graffi, glitter, and paint.

My community art class group mural.
Screen printed protest posters, plastered on the walls with wheat paste.

The evening of the event, students were invited to make their own art in various rooms. In the room where I had painted my mural, students were invited to write their own personal prayers all over the walls.

When I came back a few days after the event and looked at the way the afternoon light fell on the words all over the walls, I sensed something very holy about the space. The prayers were heavy and light, some deeply personal and some generic.

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It was difficult, at first, watching people write all over something I had worked hours and hours on trying to get just right. But after the initial shock, I fell into a deep gratitude. To provide a space for people to pray and ask and talk with God, as well as the act of releasing something that had become so personal to me, was really special.

Growth is usually slow and that is okay. It’s okay not to be sure, to wing it sometimes, and to trust that every day is significant and contributing to something bigger, to the story He is writing.

Keep asking, keep showing up, keep trying anyway. It’s okay to go slow.

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