*This column first appeared in The Budget’s June 27, 2018, Local Edition.
By Ellie Zumbach
There is a Creative Writing Lounge on my college campus that fellow writers and I spend a lot of time in. There are couches to lay on, bookshelves filled with literary magazines and books, a gigantic chalkboard covered in quotes and doodles that takes up about half of one of the walls, and a fish tank with one red and blue betta. I love being in there for community and ideas, but on this day I was not getting any comfort from that place.
I love that I get to be involved in so many things at Malone University: theatre productions, the Writers Guild, music opportunities. However, when you add 16 to 18 credit hours’ worth of homework to those activities, life gets pretty stressful. I was feeling overwhelmed and distraught.
I threw my bag down in the Lounge and started to walk around the Johnson Center, the biggest building on campus. The JC holds the English, Art, Music, and Theology departments. I was making my way around the second floor when I stopped at the Malone Art Gallery. Every single month, Malone lets a student artist display their work. Every time I pass, the walls are decorated with photographs or paintings, and pedestals are lit up with pieces of pottery and sculptures.
That day I noticed the name of whose work was on display. It was a collection of nature photographs by a senior art student that I worked with on RSVP, a collaboration of artists and writers on campus. Writers give a piece of writing to an artist, and they create a work of art in response. Writers are then given an artwork, and they write from that inspiration. It is a powerful example of when artists of any kind seek community and support each other.
So I decided to take a small look around the gallery. There were photographs of trees and stills of flowers; hills and rivers caught in perfect moments. The Artist Statement was very clear: When we highlight the beauty of nature, we realize that God had made everything the way it needs to be.
I was drawn to this dark photo of trees with faint light filtering through the branches. And as I sat in silence, I asked God to speak with me, through my uneasiness and stress, because I was trying to listen. I pulled back to that photo, and I remembered this story I heard by the writer and speaker Sheila Walsh.
There once was a famous painting of Mary and baby Jesus hanging in one of the most prestigious art galleries. It was ancient, found in the rubble of some crumbled, forgotten city. An art critic, however, could not understand why this painting was so popular. The blurry-faced Mary was holding Jesus awkwardly away from her, the golden trees were drawn at weird angles. The critic asked himself many times why the artist chose to disfigure these biblical figures in this way.
And then, he thought maybe the painting was never meant to hang in an art gallery. So this critic got down on his knees and looked up. The whole painting changed before his eyes. Mary was raising Jesus to the heavens; her face was shining. The trees were bowing down to their Creator.
Some things are meant to be viewed in worship.
First, I checked out in the hallway for people. Then, I walked up to stand before this photograph of warped and bent and broken trees. Then, I got down on my knees in the Malone Art Gallery and looked up. Those trees aren’t twisted. Those trees make the shape of a cross, right where the light shines through.
When we are stressed, when someone hurts us, when things are added to our to-do list more than things are checked off, it’s hard to see the goodness in those circumstances. It’s hard to look past our pain, our loneliness, or even our own brokenness. But we were never made to see the world through those small glasses.
We are meant to look at our lives through faith, through love, and through Jesus Christ. There, we will find comfort and understanding. There, we will find peace in the unknown and realize that no matter what happens, we can still be joyful in our lives and circumstances.
Casting Crowns, a Christian band sings in their song “Already There”, “From where You’re standing, Lord, You see a grand design that You imagined when You breathed me into life and all the chaos comes together in Your hands like a masterpiece.”
No matter how much we want to, we will never be able to see the big picture of our lives. But God can. He knows our future; He knows what’s best for us. We have to trust Him that these circumstances and trials will ultimately bring us closer in our walk with Jesus, forming us into who we are meant to be in God’s will.
Ellie Zumbach is a graduate of Garaway High School. She is currently a student at Malone University where she studies creative writing. Known for her vocal range and acting, Zumbach is currently working with writers at the Holmes Center for the Arts. She most recently appeared on stage as part of the center’s production of “The Music Man.”