While I have been working through my latest series, images of hand and planting, I have been struck by the overlaps between the process of painting and the process of prayer. In both, there is a dance back and forth between intention and revelation, purpose and mystery, the analytical and the intuitive. Like prayer, I come to a canvas often with vague images, half formed ideas, or sometimes just a seed, a word. Out of this grows an incredible sense of potential “fruitfulness”, but I usually only have a vague sense of how that might develop. Like prayer, this is done in hope. Hope of not just mere growth, but fruitfulness; that something meaningful, beautiful will grow out of the raw materials of lead, paper, pigment. Often, I am disappointed in what results, sometimes pleasantly surprised, but, always there is an element of revelation in the image that develops. The image bears a resemblance to the initial seed planted, but this is more often a genetic sort of resemblance rather than a strict representation. Like prayer, this process requires weeding, pruning, the analytical, scraping away,questioning.

While necessary, this part of the process is fraught with risk and doubt, If pushed too far, the questions simply paralyze instead of clearing ground. But without this weeding, the work unfurls wildly, while remaining “fruitless”. So, like prayer, painting requires trust. Trust that is able to enter this weeding and pruning process. Trust that whatever is real in the words that are my starting point won’t be forever lost. Trust in order to give up what may seem so full of promise. Trust in accepting what does grow, even if it wasn’t what was initially anticipated. Trust that there is something here, something worth putting effort into, and that in this, healing might be found. And that is enough to know in this waiting time.

This is the hardest work of painting and of prayer.

– Sharon Helleman