It's all so much-- too much, almost-- even though I believe the Spirit promises to help us bear challenges and suffering. Lately, in moments of deep grief, overwhelm, and anger, a Fox has appeared twice in my new art images.
First, the Fox came several months ago as a sleeping figure. She was nestled in a calm background of warm ground and peaceful night. And although the image edges might be fraying, a glowing center of hope or protection calls our friend Fox into trust and rest. Little did I know, soon after I made this painting, my wife, Hollin, would be diagnosed with low-grade breast cancer on top of her chronic illness (ME/CFS). When I woke in the night and couldn't get back to sleep, I remembered this image as a prayer and a way to soothe my heart. I practiced coming back to trust, over and over and over, the way I had circled the moon and the Light with colored pencils. Over and over and over.
Just a few weeks ago, the Fox returned in an emotionally turbulent painting. I began by making hundreds of cathartic marks-- some of them smooth for the practice of trust, faith, and centeredness, and many of them chaotic and tangled to represent questions and heartbreak, anger and turmoil. My Hol was scheduled for surgery, and just about everyone I knew was dealing with some kind of upheaval or hardship. My heart was in knots about children in prison camps, violence against our immigrant neighbors, corruption and abuse at every turn, suppression of truth, and ever-increasing climate disruption.
Then our Fox came and sat right there, in the midst. And of all things, she looked rather curious. Curious, really?!? I thought she would be growling, or moaning, or hiding. But she showed up in another form of trusting: in wonderment.
I'll be honest, I don't always understand my paintings. It sometimes really bugs me that when I'm feeling the most anxious and frustrated, images come to me with some element of invitation, grace, or opening. The moon shows up, waxing. Here we are in tumble and turmoil, and the Fox stays curious.
Ironically, I often asked my former students or clients to consider curiosity as a useful first response. When something "goes wrong" in art-making, can we wonder what happens next rather than judge ourselves for screwing up? If someone unloads a negative attitude, can we first be curious about how they are hurting or wounded? It can be a powerful practice to start with curiosity. Yet even today writing this, I'm still surprised that Fox came to ask me the same thing!
I suspect this Fox is inviting me to take curiosity to another, deeper level. For example, can Hol and I return to wondering what happens next, staying open to faith and the richness of life, after each medical appointment? [So far, Hol's prognosis is good, and we are so grateful for friends and family supporting us!] If I hear today's news stories of horrific injustice, abuses of power, or harm to our dear planet Earth, can I remain engaged in the process of envisioning change, always on the curious lookout for my parts to play? When I am overwhelmed, will I choose to circle back to trust, over and over, listening for spiritual guidance?
Impossible challenges and real suffering are all around us. Nevertheless, here's the Fox knowing we can make and hold spaces for each other where it's still safe to dream. Even so, Fox brings an invitation to stay curious.
May these images and practices give us a bit hope in the midst of it all.