Monday, November 1, 2010

Russian Lessons, Part 2: Signs and Wonders


That night, I flicked on the tube to watch Sixty Minutes.

In and out of the room, I was in the kitchen when something caught my ear. I rushed back into the family room to catch the end of a segment on Russia.  Specifically, it was a story about the infiltration of American and European cults and religious fringe groups into the former Soviet Union. A spiritually-starved population was searching for meaning after years of atheistic indoctrination. Hungry for truth. An image of a Russian church, golden spires pointing heavenward, filled me with nostalgic sadness for the beautiful, tragic nation.

After supper, I went upstairs and turned on the bedroom TV. (Junkie.) Evidentally, we’d left it on the Movie Channel the night before. Dr. Zhivago was playing.

In the checkout line at the grocery store the next day, the cover of Time caught my eye. Russia. Again.

I was beginning to get slightly weirded out. Russia wasn’t exactly front-page news in 2002.

My next errand was to the home of Mary Padgelek, an artist I’d known for years. When we first moved back to Athens in the early ‘80’s, I bought one of her watercolors at a local art festival. It was an impressionistic still-life of a long-haired black and white cat sitting on a table by a window. Shortly after I bought the painting, a cat who looked strangely like the one in the painting adopted us. (She was, without doubt, the sweetest kitty that has ever graced the planet. I am picky about animals. The cat we have now is Satan’s baby brother. We hate each other. But I digress.)

Our fluffy friend endured three little girls dressing her up like a baby and pushing her around in a stroller. They held her by the neck.  They carried her around like a sack of laundry. She never responded in any way other than with a loving purr. When she died after 20 years with us, I looked at the watercolor and wished that it looked more exactly like her. A portrait. Never in a million years would I have gone to the trouble to pursue a project such as that, had I not run into the artist the day after the thought occurred. I hadn’t seen her in years and years. But there she was, sitting in a restaurant next to me. So I asked. She told me to bring the painting by her house with some pictures of our kitty, and she would doctor it up.

Mary’s house is a fantastic, fanciful museum of creativity. She has a notable collection of folk art, and has written an award-winning book and play about one of  the South’s most intriguing self-taught artists, J.P. Murray. This time, she let me in the back door, and we went up a different way to her studio. Over the years, Mary has experimented with many different types of art. Her journey to faith has been reflected in the creative process. But I had never seen her do anything remotely similar to the painting that jarred me at the top of the stairs:

 I was stunned speechless. I stood there and stared with my mouth hanging open for several minutes. The hairs on my arms bristled with electricity. Chill bumps covered them.

Finally, I found my voice and asked about the painting. She told me it was a God thing. She’d recently been inspired to start painting Russian church spires. Out of nowhere.

I told her about my half-hearted challenge to God. How I’d joked about the signs. She just smiled at me.

Mary let me buy the painting from her. It was the first thing my husband saw when he came home from work.

Usually the voice of circumspection and caution, his response stunned me: “I think you’re supposed to go,” he said.

But, really, how could anyone argue with such a beautiful, symbolic sign?

A butterfly, the symbol of resurrection, transposed over the spires of long-dead churches, springing back to vibrant life?


(Hope you're not bored yet. This isn't even half of the story.)

A note: Because of the reflection of the glass, this is not a very good copy of the original painting. Colors are even more vivid in reality.


Anonymous said...

Not bored at all. In fact, He's using the stories of the signs He graciously gave you many years ago, as a humbling and wonderful sign for me this very moment. Please, write more...

Cheri said...

It's funny how sometimes He actually has to take our hands and put them out in front of us so we can receive the wonderful gift He has for us. "Please Lord, continue to be persistent. Don't stop trying to convince us to take what you have for us."

Susan said...

Bored?! I've got chill bumps right now. Just love it when I get a sign - or a bunch of them - because I can be a little too cautious at times. Or maybe just dense. No matter what - I still love the signs! I wish the painting of the butterfly and church spires could be made into note cards. I would SO love to have them and use them!! Rest of the story soon, I hope. (The word verification for this comment is "notwe" HA!)

Karen said...

Loving this journey with you :). I worked for a Russian company in Canada. This was during the cold war. The Russian staff were only allowed a year or two in Canada before they were replaced with other workers. They were lovely, lovely people, so proud of their country. This is when I learnt to drink vodka, straight up.... Since I haven't been able to visit this beautiful land I am glad you are taking us with you. :). Karen

Laurel said...

Gorgeous. The painting, the story, the significance of the piece, the way the disparate threads all weave together to form a tapestry you can't see until it is finished.

I am not good with the visual arts. But I love paintings. I also have a painting of a pet I loved that an artist friend sent to me after we lost her.

I have another that I almost didn't buy one year at Spoleto, thinking we had already spent as much money as we should have. It plucked at my heart and mind the entire weekend, though, and we went back for it the last day. Of everything hanging in our house it was the one that attracted comment from multiple guests this past weekend at our Halloween shindig. I bought it because it reminds me of my grandmother. It's a cardinal on a winter branch, simple to the point of austere, but I love it.

All the arts are a medium for Truth with a capital T. The classics speak a universal truth that can be recognized by any culture. But sometimes, we are lucky enough to find one that speaks a personal truth or message. It may not speak to millions, like the Cistine chapel or the Kouri sculptures, but for the intended recipient it is like getting a message in a bottle.

Rebecca said...

Um, by my count that was FOUR signs! Wasn't your deal, THREE?? :)

Donna said...

I believe in signs from God. He gently guides us through subtle signs and sometimes if we are not carefully looking or paying attention, we miss them. However, He was not so subtle at all in revealing His signs to you.

Anxiously awaiting the rest of the story!