Give much away, expect nothing in return
In July I started to work away on a new play. I left the world of war-torn Europe (where much of my creative thought had been throughout the winter when I drafted a full length play, an exploration of Nazi occupied Holland during the Second World War). I moved my imagination behind the Iron Curtain.
Brother Andrew led me there, really. I returned to his book God’s Smuggler, which is a must read. It deeply impacted me when I was younger and was just as resonant, perhaps even more so (who can measure such things?), today. Reading stories of risk for faith, suffering for belief, and how beautiful and missed things are in perception when they are gone (whether a friend, a sacred text, the sound of a hymn) surely can stir the heart. And I found reading this book, and others as a result, a sort of catalyst for a new work that I’m currently shaping. It’s a play that I shouldn’t talk much about quite yet.
Oh the places you will go is how Dr. Suess said it. I’m at a point where I need to catch up to some research so I can get far enough in and away from what I’ve written to decide from here where to go.
And what treasures I have found along the way! A discovery I’m grateful for is the story of Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth who were missionaries to China from 1888 onwards. The more I learn about their lives, the more amazed I am.
I have a number of Rosalind’s books on loan from a library out of town, and am waiting with expectation the arrival of bundles of microfilm from an archive in the States: documents concerning their lives and work (one reason to love your local library is the access a $10/yr membership grants you to such troves of material!).
Stick with me, this is all just the set up.
As I’ve ventured forth (ahem) learning about their lives, I stumbled upon some interviews with one of the Goforth children years after her parents died. The impact the missionary couple made in China is immeasurable. Do a little digging and your skin will tingle with the tales. Something that impacted me from reading the delightful interviews of the Goforth child was a list of seven principles that Jonathan Goforth lived by.
Archives are incredible. And because I’m sort of lost or disoriented with all of the information I am absorbing and wading through (all the while trusting that the research will also reveal the writing) I decided to take some pause and absorb the principles, which I find so profound, into my life. So that I don’t just pass them by. So that I can reflect on their meaning and integrate them into my life.
My way of doing it was to do a series of paintings. An acrylic archives of sorts. I have never painted before. But why not? Perhaps this isn’t really considered painting (whatever painting as an art form is), but let my own self critic by damned (and art critics be gracious)!
Whatever the result, I found the process meaningful. A way to concretely, as in physically, engage an abstract concept. For me the point, though I desired some aesthetic enjoyment, was to have something tangible to look at to prod my memory to remember the principles.
The painting photographed above is a representation on a small canvas of Jonathan Goforth’s first principle for Christ-like living: Give much away, expecting nothing in return.
It’s a provocative statement, for we like to hoard, even save, and if we save we do it to spend, often on ourselves. I’ve had the fortune of living with communities of people who practice this principle in small and large ways. There’s a certain power unlike any other when people give not only out of their abundance but also in their need. When people give sacrificially. When we give with joy, attaching no strings to our gifts, from willing hearts.
For me, this painting represents that sort of giving an is my attempt to capture some of that mysterious exuberance.