A Tale of Two Portraits: Part II

Welcome to the new Teacher | Children | Well!

This painting also came to me without my asking for it.  The story is much shorter and simpler, though: one day after a service, a gentleman from our church approached me and said he’d liked the image of me looking down at the music from the chanter’s stand at the front of the church.  Could he take some photos and create a portrait?

I was honored, but not surprised: I’m used to extraordinary and undeserved blessings pouring over me every time I open my mouth in the sanctuary. They began the moment I started learning to chant and haven’t stopped since, growing in fact more intense, almost unbearable, over the years.

Like so many profound experiences, this one had a prosaic beginning: I was lonely.  After two years at a soul-sucking school, during which I hardly had time for basic grooming, I was suddenly thrust into a normal working schedule. From nine to five I worked at a corporate job, and from five to nine I sat at home and wondered what to do with myself and my life.  I went out a little, with new friends and dates, but mostly I missed my old life, even the incredible stress that had at least kept me busy.

There was a deeper struggle, too, about faith (why had I been through that?) and vocation (what would happen next?) And both began to come together when my dearest friend agreed to teach me to chant.  I had heard the ethereal Byzantine melodies over and over, their haunting cadences and complex truths driving themselves right through me, and I wanted to be able to sing them too.

The strange thing is that, really, I didn’t have a nice voice before I learned to chant.  I could sing on key, thanks to my piano training, but it wasn’t beautiful.  I am sometimes shocked, even now, when I hear recordings of myself: who is that person? I wonder.  It is certainly not me; I could never do that.  And when I look at this portrait, I have a similar feeling – she is not me at all, but the person I wish I were, graceful, humble, consumed by infinite love.  I become her for fleeting snatches of time when I am wrapped in the beauty and power of an ancient hymn.  John caught her for a moment, but by the time I looked up, she was gone.

Only by forgetting ourselves can we ever become who we were created to be.  I find this in music, in art, and in this lowly space, where I plug away at the daunting task of expression because it is so intoxicating, every once in awhile, to have done it well.  Having just completed five hundred entries here, I wanted to celebrate with something new that would inspire me to continue creating; and in this portrait, I think I have found it.