Raphael had never felt this sick. He tried to steady his shaking body by sliding down the cool tile bathroom wall and curling up on the not so clean floor. Germs were the least of his worries.
“Oh God…Oh God…”
The hung-over young man did not expect an answer. He was pretty sure there was no such thing. It just seemed like a natural response to the self-imposed suffering he experienced; rather like a mantra. A crazy thought penetrated his fuzzy thinking. I never hear anyone calling the name of Buddha or Mohammed.
To come halfway around the globe to study under an internationally renowned artist, and then to miss one minute, was a price he was unwilling to pay.
He splashed water on his pale face and trudged to the Academy to his safe and familiar perch in front of the huge easel. The smell of paint was like an infusion of strength.
“Good morning, you talented class of aesthetic artisans.”
Raphael’s head throbbed. He knew the great man painted with words as well as with oils, but he wished the taskmaster would whisper.
The sickly art student glanced to his right to see if Amilee was in place yet. She looked up and stopped filling her palette long enough to smile and greet him.
“Hello, Raphael. Are you feeing unwell?”
The sound of her quiet, sweet and kind voice soothed his ravaged and not so tranquil soul.
A few rather old-fashioned codes still existed at this place. The males and females lived in separate buildings that faced each other. He liked to watch her through his window on Sundays as she sped down the cobbled walkway dressed in a crisp cotton dress and carrying some kind of book. He assumed she attended a church.
The booming voice interrupted his reverie.
“Class. We have spent weeks discussing all the aspects of turning a plain canvas into a statement, a masterpiece -- the piece de resistance. Today you will begin to speak with more intensity through the gift you have in your hands and heart. You have one month until the competition and the awarding of prizes. After that, you will return to your homes and to your normal lives.”
Normal? I was hoping for better.
Raphael would never say such a thing out loud. He considered his discontent a sign of suffering for his art.
It was difficult to focus on the parameters being announced by the great man who paced back and forth in front of the studio.
“To reiterate, when you are finished, I expect to see a deep and personal artistic comment on what YOU think a Christian looks like.”
Raphael blinked, trying to process this new information. “Psst, Amilee. Did he say ‘Christian’?”
The beautiful girl with the Mona Lisa smile nodded her head. She prayed for guidance with her plan to invite Raphael to church so he could get an idea what the real Master painter wanted from him.
There were a few guffaws and derogatory comments. One of the students, a former priest, showed no signs of being offended. He ignored them all.
In thirty days, this private endeavor with makeshift partitions between the students came to an end. All brushes were laid to rest and canvases covered. The strange assortment of talented humans trailed behind the Artiste as he slowly made his way from one painting to the next, taking notes in some cryptic shorthand.
There were the expected renditions of clergy in pulpits, men in polyester suits waving Bibles, even ugly ranting people dressed in white sheets and burning crosses. One student depicted the Holy Wars in all the gore he could imagine.
Raphael stepped back to unveil his work. The group gasp was audible. In the picture, Amilee was tenderly tending to wounds in what looked like a battlefield. A gossamer figure in a white robe seemed to hover behind and through and around her; surely a depiction of the Jesus she had been sharing for the last four weeks.
Amilee’s painting caused more dumfounded responses. It was Raphael. He was coming up out of a river, washed clean in baptism; obvious peace was radiating from a place deeper than words could express. It was a stunning portrayal. The class was speechless.
Neither garnered any worldly prizes , but their children and grandchildren never tired of the story of how Pastor Raphael had met his wife, Amilee, and even more, the awesome God he never knew.
The awards would come later.
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