23 Sep Return to Wonder
Mark Compton is an artist and builder, starting his career as a screen printer, working for 12 years with a company that specialised in fine-art screen prints for many of the dealer galleries in Aotearoa, New Zealand. He then worked for three years as an artist, painting and printmaking, before moving into building. He is husband to Naomi and dad to Adley (5) and Jack (3). They live in Orewa and worship with Coast Vineyard.
A creative reflection on Matthew 6:25–34 and the prompt to “pay attention.”
As I sat and reflected on these prompts—or, more accurately, as I paced and stressed—I was well aware of how long I’ve been off the tools. Making art has always been a part of my identity. Makers often have a need to make—to form words or materials into story and beauty—and I haven’t been any different. I was able to make art my full-time job, but, in need of a break, I ended that season about 10 years ago. My craft had become a task, and I had lost the joy in making. At the same time, other needs took precedence, and I took on work as a builder—a different, very practical type of making and creating beauty. Only recently have I started to dream and re-imagine—two crucial components of art making.
My return to making art came in three waves.
It began with two pieces: a collaboration with my three-year-old Jack and the painting “Certitude.” The latter was made during a gathering of creatives from across Tamaki Makaurau. We met together to share our stories and to work; this was my first prompt to start making again. The former signalled my return to wonder and joy in making when I joined forces with my three-year-old, adding only black and white to his world of colour.
But when the assignment came through from Venn, I was rusty. My mind was working through all of the practical elements of a creative process: I tried to manufacture a creative idea, imagine what this piece of art would look like, and find pockets of time to work on it.
The second and third pieces are my response to this prompting, coming in two stages.
The first leans on a skill set that I developed 10 years ago, painting birds on pipes. “Keep watch” and “Attend” came as I tried to retrain my hand in the language of making. I then started “For a moment,” but it felt like a battle.
While stuck in this process, I was reminded of an offering I heard last year by Bethany Allen, a pastor at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. She spoke on the practice of wonder. Here’s a small excerpt:
Wonder in many ways is an essential mystery. It is a cultivator and motivator of our desire to seek and understand, and it is often the vehicle that God uses to reveal himself to the world. It is the means by which our horizons expand, helping us to grow into greater faith and belief about what God is up to in the world around us.
Bethany went on to flesh out a way of practising and being alert to this kingdom reality. Its intent is to help us shift our thinking that we might be surprised—or awed—to be moved by a moment or experience, and to allow wonder to wake us up. Ultimately, it’s to allow wonder to draw you—me, us—into something, or someone, greater than ourselves. And to be transformed by it.
She further explained that practising wonder is an invitation to pause and slow down. In our busyness, we often shut out anything that doesn’t aid efficiency; as a result, it’s disturbingly easy to lose a sense of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and in the world. Practising wonder takes you outside yourself and changes your perspective of yourself and the world. I also think it’s an invitation to repeat: wonder begets wonder.
As I reflected on Bethany’s words, I realised this was the message I was trying to share but without practising it myself. As with all practices, our humanity often gets the better of us. I have practised wonder, and I have wandered from it. Even in this art assignment, I was certain that I had been led to lean into this practice of wonder, and yet I had not paid any attention to it or to anything outside my own head. I was in an artist’s block, struggling to put paint to canvas and doubting there’d be time to finish anything. I knew that I wanted others to see the joy, beauty, and goodness of practising wonder, but I didn’t have the eyes to see or ears to hear myself.
I paused. Actually, I was encouraged to pause by an outside source—we never do this work in silo. I played with my kids and saw their wonder in the smallest of things. I watched them play in the spa, and my mind was taken to baptism. I felt my perspective change. I took time to sit, think, and stroll through my neighbourhood. We have a piece of art on our wall by Millie Law, a 2020/21 Venn Fellow; as I looked at the piece, I felt hope spark as I realised: I’m not at the centre, Jesus Christ is.
I found peace. I realised that working from this space of paying attention to the world around me was exactly where I needed to be. Even if my offering wasn’t “perfect,” even if the works weren’t completely finished, they would be enough for Jesus.
I found productiveness from this place of retreat. I was reminded of Jesus’s rhythm of retreating to be with his Father, then returning. It gave me new energy in my work.
I found provision, like the birds and flowers of Matthew 6. The provision was, and continues to be, communion and relationship with the Creator. I was reminded to wonder in the small things I’ve missed over the last few years: an unexpected drink with new and now good friends in a time of wilderness; a pounamu gifted by a church friend as we ended our time in Wellington; a broken vessel that still holds life.
The third wave—the remaining pieces—came in the space of 36 hours. I felt my mind at peace and my horizon wide and open. After leaning into the practice of wonder, I discovered the possibilities were endless! But the timelines weren’t. I continued to make until it was time to hand over, trusting that Jesus had provided and that what I’d done was enough.
These offerings are the result of my shaky, practicing steps as I learn to wonder. They are a true reflection of my journey at the moment: my ability to pay attention is stilted, and the result is messy and unfinished (maybe it always will be). But I will return again and again to the wonder that is God with us.
I close with this prayer: Realign me, again.
(Images: Copyright Mark Compton, 2021)