The Mirror

February 16, 2016

Christmas is over, and winter is finally settling in after it seemed it would just skip us this year. I am standing in front of a mirror longer than I am tall and staring into it as I unpack my paints and wipe it down with windex in preparation for painting it with liturgical mandala art for a “journey through the Epiphany season.” By now I am really good to saying no to helping out at churches. I would have said no to helping in the nursery. Serving food. Making flyers. Almost anything. But they asked me to do art. Real art.  

The Mirror Image 1


The first day I simply said yes. Since childhood I had scoffed at the idea of being part of any church that bothers with liturgical seasons. 

The first leaving I fancied myself a bit Martin Luther and a bit Joan of Arc, wielding verses and emotions like a double blade of The Truth. Really, it was just easier to speak in theology than out of the brokenness.  Home was irreversibly woven with monotone seasonal readings, wooden pews, candles, robes and ancient hymns to an unseeing god who was powerless to set me free. I walked away on my own feet and never went home again, not really. 

The Mirror Image 1


The second day I drew a perfect cross in the center and stars spaced neatly all around it. 

The second leaving the church where I found salvation split open over differences in a doctrine of demons and swallowed up so much good. In those days I still secretly thought the striking down of infidels might be a good thing. I also voted for Oliver North that year. There are some things I would undo if I could.

The Mirror Image 1


The third day I paint a boat traveling a sea to where Christ will cast demons into swine and set captive souls free and a tree and a dove and a raging river. It is not the calm baptismal waters in the stained glass over looking the dark sanctuary. The tree is twisted like a puzzle. I loose myself in the twisting branches and allow my heart to imagine, for a moment, that all this is indeed leading somewhere. They could not know, of course, when they asked me to paint this mirror how fraught and fragile my feelings on Epiphany remain. The season of emerging light and yet it is the day my best friend's young brother died. On the anniversary of his death I paint a bird on the mirror. The obvious liturgical symbol of the Holy Spirit and baptism -- but it is for him. A single bird flying upward always is, always will be for him in my art.  Souring upward. I also paint a butterfly. Being reborn.

The third leaving I was sent in applause - a missionary off to save a city. I often return to that church where I found calling, love and the first real healing and sit on a bench across the street in the park and wish I could have stayed in that season. Except by the time we left it was vanished already and the people clapping were mostly strangers. 

The Mirror Image 1


The fourth day I painted over the mirror entirely in vibrant swirling blue washable tempera leaving only those stars showing through. The plan was that each week a section of the blue would be wiped away during service revealing the white mandala line work painted mirror underneath which corresponded to the liturgy. In my tests with the technique it worked beautifully.

The fourth leaving was with shame and cardboard boxes overflowing. Eight years of love and life poured out recklessly and then discarded. Futile looking for good fruit from a poisoned tree had left us bitter and broken. Years thrown into a breathtaking bonfire of lies. I do not know how one comes back from this. 



The first Sunday the removing of the paint from the design during service also removed the lines beneath almost entirely. 

The fifth leaving was over nothing really. The places that used to fit us no longer could.

The Mirror Image 1


I returned and repainted the white lines for the boat and rolling sea waves but they were no longer as clean and the blue paint was bleeding and running through them. I remember learning in my childhood that when a great wave breaks -- dive deep under it far from the crashing and if -- when it becomes clear you can no longer swim to shore on your own power -- you are caught in a current beyond all you have in you.... let it carry you. Let the sea carry you until help comes. 

The sixth leaving was over something so unimportant. I knew this was a people who stood on mountains and walked in the midst of miracles. I knew they would see I was drowning and change the story. There are some things I would undo if I could.


The second Sunday I wrote detailed instructions on how to remove the blue paint without destroying the line work. I knew I would never be able to repaint that tree, recapture the trance of the anniversary of the death and all those branches leading to the light at once. I skipped church.

The seventh leaving was inevitable. We tried to go back to that place where there had been spirit and light and the dreams were born. We knew all along what we were searching for was long gone.

The Mirror Image 1


I return and in the dark empty sanctuary carefully wipe the bird section clean. I did not repaint the ruined tree.

The eighth leaving we gave joining another chance. We let down our guard in a place that seemed so safe, so secure, so much exactly the oppostite of all we were running from. Until it wasn't. 

The Mirror Image 1


I do not return this week. The city shuts down, shrouded in deepest snow.

The ninth leaving is in not going at all. 

The Mirror Image 1


Someone comes in after the snow and wipes the fourth section perfectly. Only a single wing of the butterfly was scrubbed off a bit. I knew this took great patience and care. Instead of church I go to the beach and stand at the end of a jetty barefoot on sharp rocks and watch rushing, rolling winter waves. 

The tenth leaving I truly wish I could have stayed. The night over the water is beginning to fill with stars I had never noticed before.



I return and repaint the tree and at last wipe the final section, the cross, clean and touch up everything, including the tree. It was not the same, but it could not be. Recreated, not restored. Re-imagined, not resurrected. The painting that had been underneath was changed by the paint on top, by the drip of water and the many hands scrubbing off and by imperfect remembering. Something new was made and when I stepped back to consider it – decided it might even be better. 

The eleventh leaving a few were told about the drowning brokenness. I smile when they say how they will call us if we just leave -- remembering the taste of a belief in a place so sincere. That shore seems so far away now. Maybe even just a dream I once had. I finally understand that the help I was told to wait for is never coming. Trusting the current carried me across oceans, but there is a time for siege, for battle, and for surrender.



Transfiguration Sunday. I was invited to participate in the liturgy by carrying the large candle from the altar and lighting candles held by the congregation circling the church as the church brings the liturgical seasons of Advent and Epiphany to their conclusion. All the painting and repainting of leaving and returning and regretting and anger and blaming, and it was always only my own face looking back from that mirror. Always my own fears and brokenness through which the light could not pass, always an aching for someone, anyone to see through to what was never made visible. The mirror also reflects the circle of light behind me. The congregation passing and holding their candles until they are all lit. On its surface float the individual lights of hundreds of candles lit from one light. The night is filling with stars over rolling waves -- a faint liturgy like a tidal lullaby rises as I glimpse the faintest outline of a distant solid shore.

Perhaps it was there all this time. In the imperfect arch of the ancient hymns I remember a God who was always saving me even as I desperately dove into the darkness beneath the waves that crashed and swallowed but somehow never drowned or shattered.


Sometimes the miracle is simply being held together through dark places.

In the smeared, peeling and broken, imperfect yet beautiful lines of that mirror -- irrefutable evidence reflects back at me that even so, despite it all, through it all – the darkness did not overcome it – and I yet carry light.



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 I'm a designer, wife and mother of two.  I post my work and on the places where creativity and life’s clutter intersect. Looking for inspiration and finding balance.  Join me on the journey.

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TwitterRachel4My name is Rachel. Good to meet you. I like caramel coffee, the way patterns of light or color or ideas fit together, and mornings at the ocean. Dislikes include: political ads, conspicuous wealth and mornings in general. Together, my husband Buddy and I are daily challenged and blessed as we raise two children and run one business: By His Designs.

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