We come two by two each month to the Orlando Museum of Art, are warmly greeted, and don our nametags—blue for the “diagnosed,” brown for the companion. I’m getting to know the group and they to know us, and it’s become a happy and comfortable place for Mike. We come for “Art’s the Spark,” the museum’s program for adults with memory issues. Except for us and a few staff, the museum is empty, and we get to view and discuss several pieces according to the month’s theme: portraits, landscapes, and so on. On a recent visit, we examined the grid that the Belgian post-impressionist Louis Dewis used to sketch and then paint what he saw.
Dewis, like many artists, employed a wonderfully simple system to assure fidelity between reality and canvas. Using lines sketched on a canvas and a similar grid through which to view the scene, the “main thing” stayed the main thing, and the perspective was correct. Portraying reality was not left to mere good intentions.
We looked through the grids ourselves, and it was remarkably helpful. I got to thinking about how the artist Dewis used the grid because he sought to paint the world true to life, and I thought about other tools we use to keep a right perspective. Compass and plumb line come to mind. Only a couple of degrees off course will take the traveler where she did not want to go, and if a plumb line shows a wall not to be truly vertical, the wall will collapse.
For a person of faith, the most obvious equivalent is the Bible, which teaches who God is, what he’s done, who we are, and what we should do. We need a standard outside of ourselves the way a painter needs a graph, and it must be absolutely reliable. “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Proverbs 30:5). Without an objective measure, it’s hard to place the bridge correctly and paint the barn the right size compared to the trees, which one can only hope will be truly vertical. If we’re depending on our own intuition, or letting our conscience be our guide, things sooner or later go awry. Without right thinking, we can neither perceive nor act rightly.
Sailors and masons likely consider their compasses and plumb lines equally essential. It may be tempting to go with our instinct rather than reaching for the vital tool—weather in navigation, masonry, or painting—or just to “pray about it” or “follow our heart” rather than consulting God’s word, but let’s not neglect the gift. Christians call the Bible a “means of grace,” a method by which God gives grace to us. The Bible will never fail us, because the God behind it will not. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:5).
The grid also helps the artist by dividing the scene into manageable sections. Maybe you, like me, get overwhelmed with all of life coming at you. If you know me, you have probably heard me say, “There’s enough grace for the next thing.” I can not count the ways that God has brought to mind a promise from the Bible to help me through my moment of need. Sometimes it’s a person delivering the grace, with a kind truth, a helping hand, or a prayer. It happened yesterday at a stressful medical appointment, that a sweet friend texted a reference to Psalm 86:17 with this prayer, “Please show Maria a sign of your favor, and help and comfort her.” A reminder of God’s care enabled me to complete the next grid of the painting, so to speak, and to lay my head on the pillow last night assured that the God who had been faithful that day and every day prior would be faithful tomorrow too.
For an artist to work without a grid may lead to wonky art, but to disregard the truth that God holds out in his word is catastrophic. Let’s help each other stay true to life and find grace to help in time of need.
If you are praying along with us on this journey, would you pray now for those who suffer with dementia and for their caregivers, especially for our dear friends in the “Art’s the Spark” community. At yesterday’s appointment I heard Mike’s amnesia referred to as dementia for the first time, so we’d be grateful if you’d include us in those prayers as well.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).