Steve Taylor Arts
I was invited by the Courage Lion Program to create a portrait for its work in hospitals. See CourageLion.org to learn about and support its helping ministry to children and families in crisis.
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Water of Grace is a painting meditation on unexpected life events – trauma, catastrophic illness, atrocity, such as child abuse – and the challenge of patience to heal from their damaging effects, and the courage of perseverance.
In this metaphorical landscape, many waters are portrayed. All people yearn for the flowing stream that washes away pain and imbalance, which refreshes, and escorts the wounded to the gifts of restoration and peace.
The central image of the painting is the bright tumult of whitewater in freefall; human helplessness in the turning of painful events. Things sometimes happen in life that seem completely ruinous and without purpose. “Going over the falls” speaks to all who have suffered great, unchosen pain.
Yet the tumult is also depicted as ‘bright’, a reminder that everything happens for a reason, and out of everything “bad” comes good.
“Deep is calling on deep in the roar of waters.” The deep agony of wound cries out to the power of God’s love to redeem and restore. The deep wound cries out to the love of others for help and support in search for healing.
At the left side of the painting, a spout of water gushes from the midst of a steep, shadowed slope. It is the water flowing from previously unknown, but ready, sources of help and intervention: the dear people – strangers and new friends – of hospitals and care centers; healing arts professionals, counselors, therapists, retreat guides, support group brothers and sisters, intercessors, ministers, and spiritual directors, bearing gifts and skills of touch, assurance, knowledge, fellowship, and calm. We are never alone.
At the right side of the painting is shown an opening to a dark forest interior. The opening reveals the darkness of loss, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, sadness – suffering. Close by are two spilling rivulets, symbols of copious tears: tears of physical pain, tears of grief, tears of anguish, tears of disappointment and disillusionment, tears of yearning, tears for restoration.
Tears have profound purpose in the road to wholeness. Research science has demonstrated that tears contain stress hormones and toxins that the body sheds in its marvelous capacity to rebalance itself. Many people fear tears, as if they are somehow too painful to tolerate. Some also have the irrational fear that “if I start crying, I will never stop”.
Weeping is the body healing itself. Tears help wash away many different parts of the misery that is illness or disorder or the harmful past. Tears are a gift, part of the body’s natural response to trauma and anguish. All people experience tears of joy, sadness and sorrow in their lives, but Pope Francis has asked: “Can we weep when it is most critical, during the darkest moments?”
Depending on the severity of the wound, many tears may be shed. It is natural mercy that they are spread out over seasons and even years, since, if the whole load of cathartic grief were felt all at once, one might die in the very flame of healing. This dark, emotional space is depicted as sheltered, even secret. Tears of healing are mostly poured out in solitude to God.
At the very bottom of the painting is shown a stream bank of clean, rounded river stones. The survivors of crisis, trauma, or abuse are the tumbled stones that have survived ordeal and the sometimes long, grueling journey toward health. The waters of grace tumble us and cleanse us in coordinated mystery, smoothing away jagged negative emotions, memories, and feelings – anger, bitterness, anguish, fear, depression, and resentment.
On the far side of a now gently flowing stream is depicted a youthful tree in a unique shade. It is strong and healthy, and it radiates something special in the astonishment of a new day. The survivor with the final courage to heal receives a special kind of light that is not bestowed any other way except through great trial. The color of the tree delicately harmonizes the three centers of color in the painting: the greenscape, the waters, and the sky. Very special is this tree which has persevered in hope and willingness to work through everything, averting nothing; enduring every hardship of recovery as pathway to peace.
A rose springs forth among the smooth tumbled stones, a sign of blessing and consolation. On the other side of recovery is a celebration that appears in flowers, song, and beauty, all of which suddenly have more power than ever noticed before in life.
At the ethereal top center of the painting, the pain of trauma begs for restoration as well as understanding. One can’t help at times reflecting on ‘before the fall’, when everything was well and flourishing. This light amidst the radiant trees ‘above’ guide the courage of hope to return to peace. So many painful crossings are marked by great spiritual awakenings. Humility and peace meet in the midst of suffering by grace, a power beyond human imagining or source.
The painting expresses the message that if we are only physically healed, we might miss the most profound opportunity and dimensions of our experience – the spiritual. But if healing is more than flesh made right again, it blesses with something incomparable, something ineffable, and something truly radiant and eternal. No doctor could know what such a soul has come to know.
As is told over and over again in the Scriptures, God casts down, but raises up again, and very often makes things better than the before. Hope and trust that this is true are the fresh light expressed in the patient, wise, guiding, persevering ‘water of grace’.
The Water of Grace flows from the sacramental wells of God’s power in His Holy Church.
The painting incorporates a litany of Christian symbols:
The foot of the main waterfall is attended by a cruciform feature enclosed by a large scour mark. Redemption is the bravery to undergo ‘the passion scouring’ that reveals hidden but persisting wound, and the knowledge that Jesus goes before us in solidarity with human discomfort and agony. With His infinite perfect offering, Jesus heals victims of every stripe by His passion.
Seen near the cross, a large round tabular stone, ‘rolled away’ – the stone that enclosed us in a cave of pain, fear, doubt, unresolve, unfreedom.
The light in the sky is graded in reverse, darker at the landscape horizon gradually becoming brighter toward the top. The whole landscape is bathed in the Eden-light, the perpetual noonlight of the Father, Who is continuously present to all things, at all times.
Healing entails one of the most amazing discoveries possible in earthly life. Healing is the revelation that God was with us the whole time of our ordeal. He was there. We often can’t think so, because we can’t believe that our God would have allowed such suffering to even happen. But the mystery of free will and a dynamic universe enters in. God does not permit dainty, stormless lives. Indeed, there would be no journey to make were there no obstacles or darkness.
Further, God cries tears with us. The sufferer and their God cry together, because God is love. He honors the heroic fact of our encounter with, and endurance of, suffering. He would like to prevent or look the other way while evils happen. But God is love, and only Love would comfort the agony of its creature by entering into it fully with His creature. The struggle is so because a Heaven day will eventually come, and all suffering will then seem utterly insignificant before the majestic, stainless fields of pain-free eternity.
The cedar on the left is the presence and flame of the Holy Spirit, who assists us to reach the grace of healing our sadness for what we have suffered. Dark green is a symbol of healing grief. Grief in service of transformation is holy. Anger also is importantly sublimated away through passageways of grief.
The youthful tree, radiant in indescribable air-blue-green, marks the kingdom of God come upon the one who says yes to the passion of his or her life playing out for the glory of God. See the songbird roosting in its branches and fertile bed of ferns that hug all around it, and that it is placed near flowing waters, as in the psalm. The leaves of this tree will never fade, ever drawing upon the waters of grace. Deliverance day will come – it is all faith, which is but patience in disguise.
The rose is the symbol of our Beatific Mother. If you put your finger over the rose, to blot out its color in the painting, you see that the picture becomes cool and even tart. But the red of that rose makes all that green and blue ‘make sense’. The whole painting comes alive because of that blossom – without Mary there is no Jesus, and therefore, no hope for heaven. Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Mother of Mercy, is, in fact, the center of the entire painting. It is Mary who endured the incomprehensible, the immolation of Perfection who was her child, who will lead us into her Son’s redeeming wounds. Jesus, who has gone before us in His own passion of torture, cruelty, and abuse, and Who alone can make holy our torment, delivers us from it.
The picture has been described by the sensitive as an image of the Divine. God is like water in all its movements and effects – action, power, cleansing, freshness, gentleness.
Remembering the blood and water which came forth from the pierced heart of Jesus on Golgotha, we treasure the knowledge that the blood of God is the life of eternal souls, the water is the righteousness of souls, the purification of souls, the infinite fountains of living water, the gift from the Savior.
The Water of Grace is the Action of God, free, mysterious, continuous, purifying, sanctifying.
Grace is alive. Jesus is Grace. The Risen Grace never stops loving, helping, improving, delivering. Grace turns bad into good. Does life not bear this out?
— Steve Taylor