“Quiet Fire” 5×7, oil on gessoboard, $75 Buy Now SOLD
This is a painting of the Holy Spirit.
I wanted to paint a dove because, well, that’s how the spirit is usually depicted, and this story is about someone being led and called. The mascot of her alma mater (which plays a role in the story) also just so happens to be a dove. It would have been perfect.
But I just couldn’t paint one, and, believe me, I tried. Doves are too bulky to represent the spirit of God so subtly sweeping through all of us. To me, this bird, an egret with its long feathers and bended neck, is a much more suitable representation.
I’m so happy to know Sue, yet another Mount Carmel teacher. I was lucky enough to meet her before we even started working together. She’s down-to-earth, kind– the type of person who smiles at you for no reason, welcomes you. Here is her story and the inspiration behind today’s painting.
“There was a time when I could not believe how lucky I was. I’ve always had people in my life in whom I could confide, a job I loved, good friends, and a feeling of purpose. My mother and I were the closest of friends, and my Dad and I had a great relationship. I had a best friend, Karen, who lived six houses away from me throughout high school and was my college roommate, and another, Beth, whose daughter and mine were best friends from grade school through college– we, too, became confidants. I had a job at my alma mater; I loved teaching religion to high school seniors. I had great co-workers that I thought of as friends. I had a great husband and three wonderful children with whom I spent most of my time. I loved life.
Then it almost all seemed to slip away. My dad had a stroke and died very suddenly. My best friend Karen moved away, and I seemed to see less and less of her. My mother got Alzheimer’s and fell into a distant, unreachable world, and at the end of that sad journey, she died. My friend Beth died after a long battle with colon cancer. My children started their own lives and families and had less time for their parents. What probably changed my life the most was post-Katrina. After a great year of taking in students from all over the city of New Orleans, my alma mater was closed. The archdiocese called it merging the two west bank girls’ schools into a new school. It caused quite an upheaval in all our lives. I did not like the new administration or the way the merge was handled and decided not to move to the new school. Sides were taken and friendships became strained. This, combined with all the other things going on in my life, threw me into quite a depression. I felt lost and abandoned. I got a job at a grammar school for the next two years, but it just wasn’t for me; I was unhappy.
I decided to apply to the high school that my daughters had attended. I got the job at Mount Carmel Academy and was once again teaching high school girls. Schools, administrators, costs and geography can be very different, but high school-aged girls are not all that different, and teaching them about their faith is such a rewarding experience. Although I have made friends, I still find myself hesitant to deeply engage, as the thought of the losses I have suffered come quickly to the surface, but teaching has brought me such joy. It has reminded me that God has a plan for my life and that plan involves teaching these beautiful teenage girls.
The difference that Mount Carmel has made in my life is that (despite whatever faults it may have) it is by far the most spiritual place I have ever worked.The students have respect for their faith and for God and that has allowed my faith to grow at an age when I would not have thought it was possible. The change in jobs that I did not want to happen turned out to be the best thing to happen for my faith life. I am a better teacher, I am a better Christian, and I am closer to God.”
After reading Sue’s story, one part in particular (and it was almost just a side note) really resonated with me: the idea that teenage girls are really not all that different. I’ve been thinking about that since I read her story. In a world that is particularly violent these days and has, perhaps, always been, I think the spirit of God is constantly beckoning us to see our sameness rather than our difference. Sue talked about geography in terms of west bank and east but I wonder if her message couldn’t apply to greater spans of space, of time.
I’ve written into this one a poem by T.S. Eliot. Since, I couldn’t paint a dove to represent the Spirit of God, at least one is mentioned in the painting itself– you get the drift.
“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.”