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A Lamp Unto My Feet

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I think the most exciting part of my job, besides getting the job, is listening to someone speak about their ideas and visions for the job. They begin cautiously at first and when they see you are becoming as dreamy eyed about their vision as they are the story flows like water. Gushing, whirling, sometimes falling, jumping over the rocks they’ve not had time to avoid and finally settling into gentle pools, sedate and clear. When they look up they have a somewhat bewildered look, as if they’ve discovered you for the first time. Good story tellers do that. They transport themselves so we can follow. So it was when I first met Reverend Linda Barnes Popham at Fern Creek Baptist Church.

I had come to meet her at her parish and discovered that she was seldom on time. I waited with Brenda and knew if I were to get this project, Brenda and I would become friends. I was right. Linda came in a flurry and after getting herself organized we toured the church. Constantly smiling always talking we moved from one room, one vision to another. “We’d love a mural just outside the library here and one here in the children’s center. Perhaps a lamp unto my feet here and Matthew: 19 there.” (I’m Catholic and not to quick on the bible verses, ya’ know.) “And this hall way, (which is the length of the church,) I’d love to see what you could do with this!” She’s gushing I’m whirling. “Here, in this hallway the dream of Isaiah.” And the waterfall fell and turned into a pool.

I don’t think I will ever have to read this scripture after hearing Linda. Slowly and steadily I saw the throne, the angels descending to place the coal upon his tongue. The tears in her voice made the pool glisten for a moment and suddenly all was quiet. She had stopped her description but the vision remained. And does still.

I came to realize that the lamp to this path, in this Christ centered community is Linda. (She’s more like a blow torch really.) Everyone who meets her, is advised by her, is prayed for by her receives the same light and a clearer view of the straight path.

The actual painting was the same sort of encounter. Looking at a large concrete wall, everyone staring at you expecting great ideas, you coming up short until your mind clicks and says “It’s their story ask them. “What would you like to see outside your library?” Without hesitation Brenda replied, “The Bible, what else.” And the water gushed.

I’m not much on painting just one thing. Psalm 19 has more than enough poetry and meaning to keep you thinking for some time so with the verse as the guide I began. The base for idea being the bible I thought of doing a trompe loeiel alcove for the book – open wide with the psalm spread across two pages, the verse outlined in gold. It was a dark area and gold leaf helps. S0, maybe it was a house of a roman centurion and at one time a statue of his god sat here. And there was an oil lamp hanging above the diety. And when Christ was revealed the dome above the lamp cracked and was replaced by the light of heaven . And you could see heaven in the clouds in the dome of the sky. Metaphor replacing metaphor all in the house of this roman centurion. Gushing but not really settling into a clear pool.

An idea after idea continued until I sat still and read the verse. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Simple.

The ancient book set open upon hard stone, a marble pedestal. “I will break your hearts of stone.” The ragged pages softening the marble casement, it’s words crumbling hardened hearts and heartless civilizations. The light reflected from the pages reveals the source of light above it. “I am the way, the truth and the light.” The Word made flesh, centered in the flame of the lamp, centered in the hearts of these followers. And on this road with him, Paul, still traveling to Demascus.  Once a man blinded by a zeal of passionate conformity now given new eyes in the light of love. His mother Mary, like mothers do, walks  with him and touches His hand. Embracing Mary is Annie Armstrong. Annie’s  life would support the Light for millions of followers with the founding of the Women’s  Missionary Union. Another Missionary leader walks with one of her students, Lottie Moon. A women who knew a path as teacher, as missionary, as evangelist, as a comforter to all that came across her enlightened path. Walking towards the center, steadily, resolutely clutching his bible to his chest, as if his heart could not beat without these words, Reverend Billy Graham.

This path was foreshadowed by those that came before us. Isaiah walks before the Christ, holding the hand of a small boy whose mother once begged to live again. It is in her hope of rebirth that we live. The struggles to be better than we are, to be better to one another – to experience an evolution of resurrection moments are the stones that pave the path Christians walk. Indeed all of us. Isaiah, as with all the prophets, reassures us with a strong hand to guide us along our path.

A bush in flame but not diminished, a resounding voice from time unending and a shepherd is born from the kings of Egypt. Not a shepherd of one civilization but many. Moses leads us onward robed in the simple robes of his Hebrew mothers and the opulence of his Egyptian fathers. Staff in hand to steady our footfalls and to strengthen our souls. Two worlds combined in one message and one belief that sustains us “I am, that I am.”

See? Simple. All I had to do was read.