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"Drawing is... like Prayer"


I have seasons when I'm not sure why I'm on the planet. Maybe you do, too. This is for those who face this, be it constantly, perennially or only occasionally.

Here's my story of how I got some clarity:
Last Saturday I heard a man who radiated a Santa-like benevolence paired with twinkling humor tell about his life. He said, "I'm a foul weather friend. I don't care about your golf game or your hobby. But, if you're in trouble, I will be there, and I will not leave."


Then he said, "A realized person [a phrase I'd never heard] is one who has encountered spirituality. And such a person changes the atmosphere wherever they are."

I had to stay up late thinking about this. I doodled, I journaled, I prayed.

I realized that I wanted, not this man's life--I'm probably more of a good-time girl than a foul-weather-friend--but his sense of purpose. And that his remark about a "realized person" is one I felt drawn to as if to a mission statement. But what should my direction be? My next step? Am I wasting time drawing and writing; should I go get a "real" job?

Here's what happened next.
I wandered into the guest room and picked up a book I'd bought, second-hand, months ago. I opened it and found an inscription I'd not noticed at the time of purchase.

Back story:
In 1976, this book, Small Rain, illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones, was my primer and inspiration for illustration. For reasons too numerous to go into, it is my gold standard for what art should contribute to text. The illustrator's combination of kindness, draughtsmanship and forward thinking inspire me.

I cherished a paperback copy for twenty years, and when the internet made book searches easier, it was the first book I tracked down. I had that hardcover copy on my shelf when I found the copy mentioned in this post, but I buy this book whenever and wherever I find it.

It means a lot to me.

And when I saw the inscription, I did a double take, because I know that Elizabeth Orton Jones' nickname was "Twig." So, this was her signature in a book dedicated to someone special. And it had been sitting on my shelf for three months without me seeing it. I put the book down, bemused, and went to brush my teeth.

It took a few minutes before it hit me: this was a coincidence with a meaning. A reminder of something central to what is central in my life. The very center of the target, showing up when I felt aimless.

I know I'm an illustrator. I know words and pictures are integral to what I do. But sometimes life feels like a slog, and I forget in the midst of bill-paying and dog-walking and hall-painting that I have something unique to contribute.

The "coincidences" in our lives are pointers that give us direction if we pay attention and read the signs. And I love the serendipity, the grace. My perfect house, back when I lived in Ft. Wayne, had a crook-handled cane leaning beside its fireplace when I first toured it. I had lived there three years before my friend Gloria, seeing a photo of the cane and fireplace, looked at me and said, "Mary, this was surely supposed to be your house." I looked puzzled, and she remarked, as if to a dimwitted student, "Miracle on 34th Street!" Think of the movie, and put it together: the cane beside the fireplace was Natalie Wood's sign that Santa Claus was real, and had provided her the house her heart craved.

Sometimes God gives us confirmation we're on course. If we're traveling out of GPS range but have been told that "if you see a round red barn beside a creek, you're on the right road," we're encouraged, when we see the barn, that we have not gone hopelessly astray. If you're like me, you can notice the sign but miss its meaning.

So I'm writing this to remind us all to be on the lookout for the signposts, the pointers. To me, the book's inscription felt like being kissed by God.

Let me close with something Elizabeth Orton Jones said in her speech upon receiving a Caldecott medal for the best-illustrated children's book in 1942:

Drawing is very like a prayer. Drawing is reaching for something away beyond you. As you sit down to work in the morning, you feel as if you were on top of a hill. And it is as if you were seeing for the first time. You take your pencil in hand... And so you begin. You try...Every child in the world has a hill... Every child--black, white, rich, poor, handicapped, unhandicapped. And singing is what the top of each hill is for. Singing-drawing-thinking-dreaming-sitting in silence...saying a prayer. I should like every child in the world to know that he has a hill, that that hill is his no matter what happens, his and his only, forever.

Here's to the signposts that point each of us to our particular hilltop.



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