Think late 15th century Renaissance Italy. Milan, to be exact; the years 1495-1498 to be exactor.
A man well known for his great wealth and family name–Sforza–hired an artist well known for his wealth of talents and name now synonymous to The Renaissance Man–da Vinci. The Last Supper was painted on a wall that would soon become a refectory, as in a dining hall, mind you, at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. (Partially seen to the left)
What is amazing is how this is one of the few completed masterpieces by Leonardo, and it has been disappearing in plain sight ever since. Even as Leonardo da Vinci’s experimentation of media failed, his execution developing a composition of the twelve disciples with Christ and his one-point perspective proved more than genius.
After teaching about da Vinci and his Last Supper painting, I had the opportunity to actually see it. When Bill and I returned to Italy, we flew into Milan to spend a couple of a days. After stepping into a filtering blow tank, we were in the midst of one of the most famous paintings ever painted.
I suppose what boggles my mind most is how with all the centuries of renovations that followed, someone (or ones) in 1652 had a door cutout on that same wall. Thus, they tore out Jesus’ feet and part of the table portion of the painting, making that section un-restorable. Seriously, did they think that was the best and only location for a door?
Yes, they eventually saw the error of their ways and filled in the hole. The gray arch under the table where Jesus sits issues a cautionary tale similar to what Joni Mitchell wrote and sang about in 1970 in “Big Yellow Taxi.”
”Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot . . . ”
It’s so true, even as we continue to litter and waste resources, ignore those we supposedly love, make unhealthy choices, and compromise with a follow-up promise to do better next time.
In all actuality, we illustrate what we value in our lives if we consistently preserve, maintain and develop . . . or not.
Cut and dried, if we value something or someone, we choose to pay the price by sacrificing our time and energy and love.
So, what if we started our days seeing the future of those choices?
(Would I continue to eat those handfuls of peanut M & Ms?)
What if we started living today in such a way we didn’t have to consider the what ifs?
What if we forgive ourselves from all our what if past mistakes by replacing the paralyzing regret with productive actions, benefitting others?
When I was seventeen and my grandfather died, I was overwhelmed with grief. His funeral was my first. This gentle giant of a man who proved the power one person can make in this world had poured much into my childhood. However, after my parents divorced when I was twelve, I rarely saw him.
I realized part of my tremendous grief was that I had not shown or shared my love for him before his death. It was too late. I didn’t know what I had until he was gone. I vowed then that I would always try to make sure those I loved knew it, felt it and, hopefully, believed it by my actions. (I know to some I can be quite annoying. Okay, sappy, too.)
In turn, for the decades following, I made the hour drive to visit my widowed grandmother religiously. I also tried to reciprocate the support my mother had given me, housing and feeding me my first twenty years. I cared for her the next twenty years during her onslaught of health issues and numerous hospital stays.
Maybe, there was a touch of selfishness involved, that freed me from guilt when my mother and grandmother died. I had given them my best. I could release them.
I also remember though when I was standing over my comatose dad and grieving because of his choices not to be a constructive part of my life.
So, what does one do when you’ve done all you know, all you’re able to do without the others’ reciprocating?
Release it. Not to the wind, flittering about with no purpose, but to God, who can live through us with purpose in spite of others’ choices.
Which takes me back to our purpose and living our best lives.
Are you living with passion for what it is the Lord has poured through you?
I often think of a statement my artist friend Linda once said to me: “When I’m not painting, I’m thinking about painting.” (Fill in the blank with your passion: that thing that gnaws at you but you fail to honor it in your life.)
As an extremely gifted woman, Linda has developed her own expression of art, unique to who she is. However, for several years, she was called upon to help a dying friend. I identified with her frustration because it seemed my work/home/life schedule didn’t provide adequate time for me to pour into my projects. So like Linda, I ended up feeling exasperated, defeated, when my “want to do” lists lay crumpled out of reach.
So much so, that I now realize how I gave up that part of me just so I could work at the tasks before me and not live with that inner pull. It simply seemed easier.
But what if God has put those desires and passions within us? Aren’t we responsible to commit to them even more than we commit to keeping the laundry done or the lawn mowed?
The Parable of the Talents comes to mind. (Matthew 25:14-30)
And yet, what many of us struggle with is balancing those investments in others with juggling those mundane endless tasks so that we can have time for those things we love.
When I was a young mother, I read a story narrated by a ten-year-old girl, observing her mother. The girl described her mother’s frustration in never having the time to pursue her dream of being an artist. The bedraggled woman grumbled about the futility of housework and her resentment that her husband and daughter never appreciated what she did or supported her efforts. The mother eventually left. She walked away from her family to focus on her passion: becoming a full-time artist with no husband and child to stifle her creativity and rob her days.
I tried to imagine this mother in her new art studio, alone, creating, while shaking my head in wonder how a mother could leave her child without an all-consuming guilt. It’s one thing to leave an abusive and/or philandering husband, quite another, an innocent child.
What if, in the story, the husband and daughter had valued their mother’s inner desires and helped her so she’d have time to paint and parent? Hmm, something to consider.
Also consider how your giving into others is valued more than you realize.
Much like Linda did with her friend.
Those are the seasons when our focus must be steady on who and what is before us.
As responsible adults, we sometimes have to work at not resenting having made those sacrifices, enriched by those whose lives we’ve invested in, an investment coursing through living veins.
While thinking about The Last Supper and its significant mark in history, I tried to imagine my grandchildren ever wanting any of my artwork, especially the decorator art I’ve done to match a bathroom shower curtain or a bedroom’s decor. Then I thought of Jessica, one of my former high school art students.
“My grandmother’s an artist,” Jessica shared early that year, often referring to her beloved grandmother who had inspired the awe and wonder of creating within her. Throughout the year Jessica brought some of her grandmother’s artwork. She even used a photo of her grandmother’s house for one of her first watercolor paintings, experiencing her grandmother’s talent trickling through her, too. She offered her painting as a gift to her parents, a valuable keepsake, for sure.
I then thought about our granddaughter Elizabeth, now six, and how she loves sitting at “her” easel in her Nonny’s artroom. I’ll never forget when she was two and I took her into the artroom for her first painting. When I opened a new box of pastel chalks, Elizabeth gasped and ran her chubby fingers across the powdery pastels, in awe of actually being able to touch beauty.
This weekend when Elizabeth and her little sister, four-month-old Grace, and cousin Lily, now two, spend the night, I hope to open up that world for Lily’s little fingers, too. (G still gets to watch.) I may not be a Leonardo, but like Jessica and her admiration for her grandmother, to my grandchildren I’m still something.
So I leave you with “be that something to someone, to God and to yourself. Find your passion and live with no regrets.”
Certainly we’re not guaranteed perfect lives, even easy lives, but we can work (and play) to rebuild the gaps we created with doors that shouldn’t have ever been, restore what needs fixin’ and love who we value.
The Art of Joy is this month’s “Inspirational Thought.” On the Heavy Hurts page in “Honor thy Parents?” I share some of my notes from Kevin Youngblood’s sermon about Gideon and how he had to renounce and break some of his family’s traditions. The artwork is a watercolor painting I did for my grandmother to match her blue walls.