Monday, May 2, 2011

Artist's Gift

“You must come to see your painting,” my friend Benneville Strohecker told me.

He paints watercolors that captures the scenes and rhythms of nature: flowers blooming in the spring, children playing at the seaside, the meditative garden at a convent, and clouds blowing in the wind. He also paints children’s portraits with stories about their lives.

I like watercolors better than oil paintings. The shades of colors in a watercolor remind me of the subtle shades of black and white in a traditional Chinese scroll painted with brush and ink.

There is a story behind Ben’s gift to me.

Last spring I attended a meeting of Anglican women in Hong Kong. Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa, principal of Te Rau Kahikatea at St. John’s Theological College in Auckland, New Zealand, concluded the closing worship with a poem. She read John O’Donohue’s “Beannacht.”

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

My mind’s eyes feasted on the colors as I listened to Jenny’s evocative reading.
I thought I needed to pass the poem to Ben since I was sure he’d like it. I also introduced Ben to John O'Donohue’s book Anam Cara (Gaelic for Soul Friend). The poem above serves as the preface to the book.

“What is a currach?” Ben asked me.

“I don’t know.” So he looked it up and told me. Currach is a an Irish boat with a wooden frame.

I didn’t pay much attention to this unfamiliar word and thought it was only a metaphor in the poem. But the image and the expression of "currach of thought" obviously has stirred Ben’s imagination. Sometimes you will never know how the seed of creativity is planted in the crevices of the mind.

So yesterday I went to the opening reception for an exhibit of new works by Ben and sculptor and painter Beverly Seamans at the Bethany House of Prayer in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Ben graciously showed me his painting (15.5 x 8) with two small currachs and a section of John O’Donohue’s poem above them. The poet’s words are written in black ink with dashes of yellow, orange, and red in the background.

The catalogue reads: “Bless the Space between Us” (On loan from Kwok Pui Lan). Ben will offer the watercolor to me as a gift after the exhibit.

The Chinese have a saying, “From a thousand miles away I brought and send you a goose feather. The object is light, but my feelings are deep.”

Ben’s gift, completely gratuitous, comes from a friendship I will treasure for many years to come. It comes from an echo of the soul, from a place valuing art as a way of expressing spirituality.

* Watercolors by Ben Strokhecker will be on exhibit till June 14 at Bethany House of Prayer--a ministry with the Sisters of St. Anne-Bethany, 181 Appleton Street, Arlington, MA. Ben's website is