Weighing Options - An Altared State
By Tom Wachunas
“… Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” – Ephesians 6:10-18
Preparing for my solo exhibit at The Little Art Gallery (“Altared States,” slated to open on July 19) has been an arduous task lately. Decisions, decisions. A few days ago, sorting through dozens of artworks crammed into my tiny studio, I noticed a piece from 2008 which had been hiding in plain sight, gathering dust for the past ten years. I can’t even remember its original title, though ‘redemption’ might have been part of it. But very recent terrible events, both local and elsewhere in this country, have prompted a tentative re-naming of “SOS.”
There’s something childlike about the construction. Painted on a thick wood board 43” tall by 5 ½” wide is the black cosmos, dotted with splotchy planets, stars, galaxies. From the bottom, a thin shelf protrudes, painted to suggest that it’s on fire, and holding a small green toy dragon. The devil’s dance floor. Just above the faux flames is an actual basket containing a spheroid wad of printed paper - a crumpled National Geographic map of the world. The basket hangs on a fish hook tied to one end of a thin white string – a lifeline - running down from the top of the board. Standing on that top edge is a tiny plastic lamb with the other end of the string knotted ‘round its neck.
As I lifted the piece from the surrounding artsy clutter, I wasn’t thinking about whether or not to include it in my exhibit. In fact, at that moment, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the recent media footage of hurting and angry people holding signs emblazoned with “No More Thoughts and Prayers.” No more thoughts and prayers? Really? OK, I think I understand what they mean to say, frustrated and enraged as they are, but I fear they may have missed something vital in the process.
So, as if encountering this dusty art of mine for the first time, I stared at it, hard and long. At that lamb, that lifeline. At that hook, sharp like a sword. I remembered the words of Jesus to his disciples (Matthew 4:19): “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then, I simply… longed. And the longing turned into praying.
I certainly don’t mean to judge any person’s heart in these matters. Here, though, is a cautionary observation. Maybe for too many folks among us, praying, if it happens at all, can become an impotent ritual, a timid voicing of platitudes, a formulaic posturing, a bromide for solace in suffering, a howling wish for divine intervention and deliverance. Here’s a thought: The divine intervention and deliverance, the solace we so often desperately seek has already happened, long ago, and yet continues, ever in the living person, the perfect, unconditional love and Spirit of Jesus Christ. If only we choose to accept the gift of him dwelling in us.
As a believer and disciple, I’ve come to realize that praying is not just a contemplative prelude to asking God to do something, but an empowering action in itself. In and through Christ, prayer is our intentional interaction with God - our decision to hear and actively live out his plan for us. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,” we are told in Hebrews, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
And this, from Romans 8:31-39... What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
He prays for us still. His prayer has become my prayer. And may it never become less.