“Ms. C, will you sing a song for Hannah. Just because it is such a blessing and I have not heard you sing in so long.” As Lanecia spoke, I looked up from the art that I was examining to the form of the artist standing over me; the same beautiful soul that was reflected in her art shone down at me from behind her tender eyes. Sitting at a table in the Knowles-Rowland Center at St. John’s in downtown Houston, at the end of Bread of Life‘s Saturday breakfast with the homeless community, I found myself entranced by the many forms of beauty around me.
“What should I sing?” Ms. C asked, looking at the Project Manager of The Art Project. “Anything you want,” Lanecia answered.
What happened next was something transcendent. “Our Father, who ART in heaven…” I smiled broadly as Ms. C began to sing the Lord’s Prayer to the same tune that my mother had taught me as a child, making sure to emphasize the fact that God puts art all around us, even in our prayers. “…give us this day our daily bread…” Lanecia and I both turned our head slightly, in a subtle act of reflex, as the four year old child sitting in the back of the room behind us began to sing along. “…and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”
Ms. C finished with her bowed slightly, “It’s been a while,” she said, “my voice is gravel-ey.” “No,” I responded, “it was beautiful. And you don’t know it, but you blessed me in a special way.”
I then began to tell her about the day a couple weeks ago when I had been walking on the beach in North Carolina and the song had come to my heart. I was having trouble finding the words to talk to God, until the song came to mind and I started singing. It was windy and the beach was cold and empty so I sang it to my hearts content, over and over again in Taize style all the way. Two miles from Southern Shores to Kitty Hawk, and two miles back. It was a beautiful walk, don’t get me wrong, but the impact of it did not hit me until that moment. It seemed God was winking at me once again, as my mind turned the two puzzle pieces to see that they fit together, reminding me that there was a thread of meaning through this journey we are on together.
“The Lord’s Prayer is our prayer,” Ms. C said. “The Lord’s Prayer was meant for homeless people. That is why it says ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ We know what it is to need our daily bread.”
“I need daily bread too,” Lanecia said.
“Yes, but no one is more in need of daily bread than a homeless person. No one understands it better than we do,” Ms. C replied.
Lanecia nodded as if to say ‘touche’ and answered, “You’re always teaching me.”
A couple months before, while I was listening to God with my friends on Eleuthera, I had been blessed with a spiritual direction visit via Skype from Pastor Juanita Campbell Rasmus, one of the founders of Bread of Life, Inc., the non-profit of St. John’s responsible both for the morning’s breakfast that fed the community’s bellies, and for The Art Project that fed their hearts. The challenge she had left me with was to ask God how God wanted me to pray. And here, coming full circle as I sat in a building that hosted Bread of Life, was another piece of that puzzle.
I was learning to live my prayers. I was learning what it meant to live as if I really trusted God for my daily bread. It was hard at moments, but God always sent me what I needed to keep my courage up. The day before it had been my beautiful friend Yvette Davis, who had found her way from Pennsylvania, where we had served together, to a conference in Houston. Today it was my gentle friend Lanecia, whose beautiful soul had welcomed me first to Durham, and then to Nashville and now, in this chapter of my life, to Houston.
“Tell me more about your art,” I said to Ms. C, as she and Lanecia finished their dialogue about the Lord’s Prayer. “I love the colors you use, tell me about the colors again.”
She pointed to a small painting of what seemed to be a stop light, with the colored circles stacked – red, yellow, green. It was painted on cardboard because, as Lanecia explained, it provided a way of redeeming the medium that many were compelled to use to make signs asking for help. With a little love and paint and talent, cardboard became a sign of strength rather than vulnerability.
“Red is stop. Yellow is wait. Green is go, it is hope,” Ms. C said. “When a homeless person looks at a stop light, they can see green and see hope and motivation. Green means go. Go to HUD and get housing. Go to St. John’s and get love. Go gets people moving.”
I looked with admiration at the spread of paintings in front of me. Throughout all of them the colors remained, bringing her message through again and again.
Go. Hope. Green. Life.
God had certainly been giving me the green light these days.
I had slammed my brakes on hard a few months back, when after feeling tossed around and battered, I had realized that I did not have to wait for anyone else to say “Stop” or “No more.” When the realization that I had the power to say “Stop” finally washed over me, it was an incredibly liberating feeling and Red glowed with all its warmth and power and welcomed me to its embrace.
Gradually, as the tire skids began to fade, and the shock of a full-on stop dissipated, Yellow came into view. Thousands of miles from home, on the island of Eleuthera, with people I loved and a God who cherished me, it was easier to respect the authority of Yellow than it would have been anywhere else. As I stood throughout those months watching the sun set, Yellow lapped at my toes, as the golden waves rolled in. Yellow lingered, as its grains of sand clung to my dampened skin. Yellow caressed my face, as it’s final rays dipped below the horizon, revealing an echo of red as it disappeared. I submitted to Yellow’s loving command. Wait.
Then a couple weeks before I met Ms. C, Green spoke up. My feet were back in my favorite place, my sister’s home in Arlington, when I heard Green come through my headphones. A song I’d never heard before, by Sandra McCracken, an artist I had long respected, whose music had accompanied me along many other roads.
“Go, go if you want
Go, on your own
Go when you’re ready
Brave girl you are smart
Go when your heart is strong and is steady
Diamonds are your words, babe
Speak them slow, the wisdom is coming
Sure the steps that you take
In sorrow and hope, your beauty becoming…
Hush the noises, hush your doubt
Find your courage, draw it out…”
The time of Green has come. For Ms. C, and also for me.
From The Art Project’s website: “The Art Project, Houston’s ultimate goal is to provide homeless artist an opportunity to make their own trade by creating, displaying and selling their art as a collective body through art exhibits in collaboration with those who are actively engaged in ameliorating suffering and bringing an end to this condition including local agencies, groups, organizations and individuals who share the concern of the homeless dilemma.” Interested in supporting homeless artists? Find out more at http://www.theartprojecthouston.org