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I hadn't painted for twenty years. I quit because painting had begun to take over my life, drawing me away from my family. For me, painting has always been meditation, a mystical interchange between myself, the canvas, and "the Other," and I was finding myself so absorbed that other aspects of my life were beginning to suffer.

Earlier this year I met Italian artist Orlando Tisato at a workshop he was running during the Adelaide Festival of Arts, here in my hometown in South Australia. I discovered that he painted as I used to paint, only more intensely -- a mystical dance of thanksgiving, celebration, and worship! One encounter with this nimble old man, exuding joy and vitality, and all of those longings were stirred. Every aspect of his being was like a mirror, reflecting back to me the knowledge that to deny what was "in me" was to deny life. I had met a holy man and his holiness was expressed in "being" and paint. I sought him out after his workshop and in broken English he encouraged me to "do a little at a time," something achievable.

My faith community is made up of those who find "mainline" church alienating or inaccessible. One of our worship times is silent. We scatter ourselves around the worship space from which all the pews and chairs have been removed; in an attitude of prayer, some read, others write, some walk. We have cupboards full of junk that may be used to make things. I thought, why not use this time to paint? Easter was coming and I had been reading Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace. In my work as a university chaplain, I was struggling with the violence of fundamentalist Christians toward others. In particular I was trying to come to terms with my own reactivity: why had I become so angry with them that I was in danger of escalating the violence?

I decided to attempt a crucifixion scene, starting with a black background, the color-foreground of hope to come out of the dark. But the household bleach didn't work and later, when the canvas was dry, I was disappointed that the paint color had disappeared into the black. I took the painting home and, in order to make a fresh start, turned it upside down and began again, this time with liquid swimming pool bleach. The effect was instant, and I was amazed to find the colors already present coming through unpredictably. The image coming to me was not the crucifixion but the resurrected, cosmic Christ, taking the wounds of the outstretched crucified hands with him into eternity yet coming to me, inviting embrace -- coming, yet waiting; appealing to me, yet respectful of my own integrity. I applied extra color to the front and, for more subtle effects, to the back of the canvas. I decided to add a crown of thorns to balance and bring contrast to the image, but also to portray an unambiguous Christ and to juxta pose the physical and material with the spiritual, the equivalent of the paradox of the resurrected Christ eating loaves and fishes.

The painting became part of our Easter service, and members of the community encouraged me to take it with me to provide a backdrop for a workshop on "difference" that I was to lead at the First Global Multi-faith Conference for Tertiary Chaplains in Vancouver in late June. Being in the North American vicinity, who could resist staying on to witness a Fourth of July in New York and take in the fiftieth anniversary Cross Currents Consultation? So, unexpectedly, the painting was offered, and made an appearance at Cross Currents as a contribution to the final day's worship.

For me, the image of open arms signifying invitation and hospitality--of the heart and the mind -- sums up the experience my wife and I shared as part of the Cross Currents community for those few days.

GEOFF BOYCE is chaplain to The Flinders University of South Australia, a member of the Uniting Church in Australia, and a co-founding member of The Other Late Late Service.
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Author:BOYCE, GEOFF
Publication:Cross Currents
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2000
Words:684
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