A Fresh Perspective
Gregg Thompson – August 8, 2013
Of all the endless variety of thrill rides available on this beautiful planet, there’s nothing quite like having your assumptions turned upside down. In my case, this happened literally just a few days ago.
Again and again through life experience, the universe has been patiently teaching me that when there’s a conflict between my head and my heart, the heart’s whisper will ultimately lead me in a more positive direction than the head’s shout will. This past Sunday, I was gifted with a wonderful reminder of that.
I was just finishing up my morning routine at the dock when an intuition came my way. I looked at my mariner’s watch and realized that if I rolled out right then, I’d be just in time for the morning service with the local congregation that’s my church “home” when I’m in this part of the country. My head stalled and rationalized for a bit, but my heart’s whisper was clear; “Gregg, just go.”
Stay? Go? I went.
This may sound cynical, and I don’t mean it that way, but your home church is probably not the best place to go when your world view is in need of a shakeup. For starters, unless you’re a first time visitor, you’re much more likely to meet people who think and talk the way you do in a church than you are in the secular world. Added to that, things tend to follow a pretty predictable pattern most Sundays.
Given that frame of reference, you can probably imagine how bewildered I was when I took my seat and saw something completely unexpected in the space where the minister and musicians usually stood.
Who IS this guy?
Dominating the front of the church was what looked like a 4’ by 6’ artist’s canvas. Standing in front of it was some guy I had never seen before, painting to music with a giant brush – like the kind you’d use to slather a barn or fence with huge gobs of exterior paint. My mind instantly drifted to the coffee and pastries I was missing at the café I passed on the way in.
“Heart,” I thought, “you blew it this time.”
It gets worse.
The music was nice, but I stared and stared… and STARED… and could not make sense of what I was seeing. I’ll admit that the level of detail was pretty interesting, considering the size of the brush he was using, but other than that, the blobs of color looked like a big abstract mess. Angrily, I started wondering how much money he’d taken the congregation for to perform this goofy stunt.
Then he flipped my world (and my attitude) upside down.
When the canvas was nearly two thirds full, the painter suddenly stopped his work and inverted the whole painting in one quick swiveling motion. Everyone gasped around me and I could not quite believe what I was seeing. Emerging from where the blobs of color had just been was the clear and beautifully nuanced image of a man on a mat – sitting beside the iconic biblical pool of Bethesda.
A wave of emotion welled up inside me while the painter calmly resumed his work as if nothing remarkable had happened.
Instantly, I realized that I had completely misjudged what was happening in front of me based on one or two incomplete (and poorly informed) assumptions. Dipping patiently and rhythmically into his buckets of color, he filled in the final details of what had been there all along.
The image was every bit as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen in a gallery.
In one transformational instant I received a message that was powerful to me as weeks of Sunday sermons. Wisdom, insight and beauty are all around us, all the time, if we’re willing to let go of our momentary judgments long enough to let them in. In a place where I had taught myself NOT to expect the unexpected, I was given a real-life glimpse of the miraculous and how it actually works.
It turns out that as a young boy, this painter was exposed to artistic tools and ideas, but didn’t care for heights. As he was learning to paint large format pieces, he found that flipping the canvas over part way through allowed him to paint the whole image from ground level without having to balance on a ladder. Over the years he perfected his technique and could visualize virtually any image upside down.
What I thought I knew: A stranger was wasting my Sunday morning AND ripping off my church with an empty, money-making gimmick that was better suited for a county fair.
What I didn’t know: He’d spent his entire childhood teaching himself how to paint upside down for reasons I knew nothing about and had a very important spiritual gift to share with me.
Take your mat and go home.
Of course, the imagery of the encounter at the pool of Bethesda wasn’t lost on me, and to be honest, I’m still processing it. In that moment, by way of my own thinking, I WAS the afflicted man at the pool!
He went there with certain expectations about the “rules” until a mysterious stranger came and told him that his long, uncomfortable years of waiting by the water had been unnecessary – all he really had to do was receive the healing that was already completed, pick up his mat and go home.
There was only one catch.
Sin no more. The “price” of his healing – of jumping the line and skipping the pool, if you will – was that he had to be willing to let go of his old life, his old patterns, the old assumptions that separated him from being the best version of himself. He had to be willing to say “yes” to a whole new perspective. That same calling and freedom of choice is available to each of us today on a moment by moment basis.
After church I had a very uplifting one-on-one talk with the artist and got to examine the canvas up close. He’s a remarkable guy on a remarkable mission… opening up minds one painting at a time. Earlier that morning on the boat, my heart whispered, “Follow me, Gregg. I’ve got something to show you,” and I’m extremely glad I listened and went.