I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Life is Art & Art is Life.” I was reminded of this saying this week as I once again encountered G.F. Watts’ painting entitled HOPE. It’s the image that you have before you. I would invite you now to take a few moments and really look at this powerful image. Look closely at the woman sitting on a globe, blindfolded, notice that she has an instrument in her arms and that the instrument has lost all but one of its strings.
Now, as I examine this image I can’t help but wonder what struggles this woman must have encountered in her life. What were her experiences, her joys and pains, her disappointments, her celebrations? Had she experienced life as being a series of failures and held onto the one thing that brought her joy…her instrument? Or had it just come to this? And how did she end up with only one stings. I don’t know the answers to these questions. But it seems to me that the one string is why Watts entitled this painting HOPE. That solitary thread signified that all was not lost, there was still hope.[I]
In a world where we encounter so much negativity, so much greed, so much polarization; we rarely encounter individuals or communities who dare to speak of a hope. I wonder how many people see Watts’ painting and see only the broken instrument of a hopeless woman. And that’s sad. It’s sad because they miss out on potential of that one string. Who knows, maybe that one string could give the instrument its integrity and give the woman the ability to make beautiful music. That string may just be the one that makes all the difference.
Paul ascribes to this way of thinking. He writes to the people of Rome speaking of a faith that can only be described by a single word, PEACE. The peace of God through Jesus Christ.
Historically, Paul was writing to a people whom he had not met to reassure them that all that they had encountered, all they had gone through, all the challenges of life that they had confronted, were for the sake of their new beliefs and faith in something and someone greater than themselves. And in this text, we see Paul giving them permission to feel good about their adversity, so that they might share with full confidence all that they had received from God. Paul saw the potential in these folks and because of that he had hope.
So, what about us? Does Paul’s confidence translate into our world? Do we possess the potential to be more than we currently are? Does he give us permission to feel good about overcoming our challenges?
As you ponder these questions, I invite you to consider American Ninja Warriors. Yes, I said American Ninja Warriors. If you aren’t familiar with American Ninja Warriors, it’s a television program, now in its ninth season, where a variety of athletes from across America try to conquer an obstacle course. The most interesting part of the program for me, however, is the back stories of the athletes. Many of them had to overcome adversity to compete.
Take Flip Rodriguez for example. Flip, for many seasons wore a mask every time he competed. The mask, he said, covered up his emotions and he felt that gave him a completive edge. Last season, however, Flip shed the mask. He took it off because, “it symbolized how he hid his pain through his smile when he was younger.” You see, Flip Rodriguez was abused by his father as a child. One step to dealing with that abuse was to lose the mask. And as he moves forward, Flip hopes that his story can inspire people around the world to speak up if they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. “I am so blessed to be on this platform to inspire the youth,” he said, “a lot of people reached out to me to say that it was inspiring to see someone in my light talk about sexual abuse and it gave them the courage to be able to talk about it too.”[ii]
Paul says, “trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope.” Flip endured, in fact, he flourished. And through that endurance he developed character. A character that lead him to use his fame to reach out to others in need. And that, my friends, is hope. A hope that we all can cling to and emulate. When we reach out beyond ourselves, when we see other people, no matter who that person is, as a fellow child of God, we are producing hope.
Which brings us back to the blindfolded woman. The woman in our picture was more than just a woman blindfolded and sitting upon a globe. She was more than what her feet or her dress may have suggested. She was a musician, one who could make beautiful music even with one string. Yes, she may have suffered, but she pushed on and continued. She was a woman whom God had called to do something different and something unique.
Maybe that was what Paul was trying to say to the Roman people. Maybe he was telling them “If you could go through suffering and still push ahead, building the character of who you are, there’s hope on the other side.”[iii]
Now, I cannot know all your deepest sufferings, your trials, what tribulations that you have encountered in life; but I can encourage you to keep on pushing through. I mean, the lady could have stopped playing, put down her instrument, and said, “forget it, I have only one string, what good will that do?” Flip could still be wearing his mask. But he isn’t and she continues to play.
Hope, my friends, is an enduring thing. It can withstand far more than we can even imagine; you can withstand far more than you can imagine. And we can do this because of our faith, because of our relationships, because of our community; we can endure and find our way to God’s peace, because Jesus endured …and continues to endure, giving hope to all humankind and all creation.
As you leave this place today, as you reenter the world, my prayer for you is that hope, a hope that leads you to the Peace of God, may find its way into your innermost being.
In the name of the One who challenges us to endure, calls us to serve, and invites us to love. Amen.
[ii]How ‘American Ninja Warrior’ Flip Rodriguez’s Sexual Abuse Story Is Saving Victims (www.toofab.com)2017
[iii] Ibid. Fisher