Looking at Paintings from the Canvas Side

Looking at Paintings from the Canvas Side: A Comment on Perspectives

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My husband jumped out of a plane last week. While he was up there challenging himself, I lay beneath a tree in the early autumn sunshine, eyes intent on the metal bird which hummed into view then released my beloved from its belly.

From where I lay it was a picture of complete serenity; a gentle unfurling of a red canopy against a blue sky, a graceful floating to the ground. I am told the experience of having your feet dangling out the side of a plane at eleventy hundred feet and contending with the wind in your face while free falling brings an altogether different perspective. The pictures testify! Kudos to Mark, though. He’s done something I never will.

photo (5)Last month, my 18 year old daughter caught a plane to Germany then a train from Frankfurt to a town called Herrnhut on the German/Czech border – alone. Without me. From where I sat at my desk or at the dinner table or on the lounge, or in the car, this looked like the most insane, preposterous, terrifying thing in the world.

I am told the experience of a first international flight as an independent adult, the wonder of navigating airports alone and of frolicking in the German woods brings an altogether different perspective. She is having the adventure of a lifetime and is growing and maturing in such a way that my heart sings. The pictures testify.

Last week I drove into the car park at school. For those who’ve been there, you know this is a risky business. It is not the sealed bitumen paradise, complete with curbing guttering, that many have the luxury of parking on each day. No. Rather it is a dust bowl in Summer, a lake when it rains and an obstacle course of inverted speed bumps most of the year. This day,  I navigated my way in and, thankfully, out of Potholes 1, 2, 3 and 4 etc., located the high ground, donned my gum boots, rolled my trouser legs and began to swim to the front door. Imagine my thoughts when a 4 wheel drive powered its way out of Pothole 379 and covered the entire back of my poor little red car in mud. I breathed deeply and swam on, reflecting on the joy of knowing, soon and very soon, the car park upgrade will begin. I’m not sure about the shoes in your house, but the ones in mine will be celebrating when that day comes.

Perspective is so important. In each of these examples there is one side of the story and then another. A way of seeing that seems to be the only one but in truth, there is more. Skydiving is both wonderful and terrifying. Letting our adult children go is both terrifying and wonderful. Living with the car park at school is… well, truthfully, a blessing, because we have one.

In much of life, we don’t get to see ‘the other side’ of events. It’s a bit like looking at the back of a painting, presuming it’s a bit ordinary with its tape and string and not choosing to turn it round and look at the canvas side. I am reminded often of my own need to do this – to make the deliberate choice to consider things from different angles and to see them in their fullness.

There’s a beautiful poem at the end of Cameron Nunn’s novel, Shadows in The Mirror. It’s sourced from the New Testament writings of the Apostle Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul writes, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely just as God knows me completely. Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.”

It would be easy to look at Paul’s words as pejorative, to consider that a child’s way of seeing is ‘less than’ and that childish things must be put off. In the context of Jesus’ own  insistence that we should be childlike, I think this would be a misreading. We in the education world know just how valuable a child’s view of the world can be. I think, here, we see another comment on perspectives and that different perspectives come with maturity.

This is actually what I hope for in the young people I teach. I hope that as they grow in maturity they will grow in their capacity to see things from a range of perspectives, to look to the whole rather than looking through a glass dimly. I hope they will be people who operate out of a spirit of love, that they will choose to turn paintings to the canvas side, that they will celebrate the risk taking of others and that they will determine to find the blessing even in the muddiest moments of their lives.


2 thoughts on “Looking at Paintings from the Canvas Side”

    1. Thank you, John. I do have to say I was pretty happy when I drove into a freshly graded car park this week 🙂

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