Redemption of Ashes by Meena Matocha
In Madeleine L'Engle's book "Walking on Water" she presents the idea that artists are servants. They serve the artwork understanding that the work knows more than the artist does of what it needs to be. I took on this posture when creating this piece for our church, allowing it to be slow and meditative, progressing week to week. My intent with this piece was to let it walk the Lenten journey with us as we approached Easter. It was very much a personal journey but I was continually mindful of our community. The challenge, then, was to not allow myself to fall into thinking about the project as making something to please others, but rather to let our communal griefs and joys feed the work. I believe the Spirit allowed me to do this and it was such a beautiful experience. The stories I've heard and experienced together with you are poured into this piece. The painting is about us, Church of the Cross, and also, ultimately, the church universal, as we deal with our ashes and walk in the redemption of the Light of Christ.
I'll share my thoughts through the different stages of the piece...
In the journey through the weeks of Lent leading up to Easter we intentionally humble ourselves through fasting in order to acknowledge our need and give gravity to our humanity. We are marked with ashes to remember that we are dust and our days are numbered. Death, loss, pain...we are forced to face things we don't want to face and to slow down and listen to what death means in the light and love of the Creator. Andrew Schmemann calls this a "Bright Sadness." I love that. I started the piece on Ash Wednesday and it felt very natural to choose my main materials, ash and charcoal. From dust we are and shall return. I let it stay in these phases for a few weeks, adding more ash, changing the orientation. I wanted to have the piece sit in the depths of humanity for a while, wrestle with it, feel uneasy. There is a gravity and weight of Lent that I didn't want to skim over just to get to the happy end quickly. I felt leaving the piece abstract for a time would allow for folks to see a reflection of themselves in the piece more easily than a representational figure or face might have.
In Bobby Gross' book "Living the Christian Year," he writes, "In the gravity of Lent, we choose a downward movement of soul, and in this turning we are humbled. In the humbling, we find a growing freedom and grace." Here I chose to introduce the representational portrait. She is bowed down showing us humility, confession and repentance which leads us toward that freedom and grace we long for.
The Completed Piece
At last, Easter! What was so far off in the distance before is now here. I chose to keep the materials of the piece ashes and charcoal, still emphasizing our humanity, while lifting much of the charcoal off the piece to let the light come through, letting Easter shine. The figure is us. The final piece is meant to show that we live with pain, loss and death right along-side comfort, joy and life. Our journey ends with this image of needing forgiveness and getting forgiveness simultaneously, and how that brings freedom. Freedom from death. Freedom from being merely dust and ash. Freedom to be who we are meant to be. We are still ash, but we walk in the light and love of the Creator. The Savior has changed everything. We are redeemed.