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Consider the Lilies: Meditations on Creation, God, and Human Life

Exhibit: April 9 - May 10, 2002

Samford University Library hosts the paintings "Consider the Lilies" by Craig Gallaway.

thumbnail of Coastal Sky: Day 4
thumbnail of Broken Shell Number 2
thumbnail of The Stones Cry Out

There are three series of paintings:

Series 1: Forest Scenes and Beech Trees, exhibited on the lower level of the library
Series 2: Sea Shells and coastal Skies, exhibited on the main floor panels
Series 3: Ground Litter, exhibited on easels at the foot and top of the marble staircase

Consider the Lilies: Meditations on Creation, God, and Human Life

From the artist

Jesus' command, "Consider the lilies of the field," calls us to pay attention to the wild flowers- to take careful notice, one might even say to get down on one's knees and observe, as in drawing. No doubt Jesus too spent part of his regular time in solitude doing this very thing. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins echoes this commitment to looking and seeing in his poem, "The Starlight Night":

Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!

And the Psalms look both up and down (and all around) to behold, praise, and meditate on the grandeur of God and the humble place of human beings in creation. These paintings are my attempt over the last few years to look and see, to pay attention to what God has done and is doing in creation, and to contemplate what that means about our human place in the scale of things. There are really three series of paintings here. The first, begun in 1997, is of forest scenes and beech trees. Did you know that the American Beech holds its parchment-like leaves throughout the winter, flecking the barren forest with gold, and only dropping the old leaves when the new buds press forth in spring?

The second series, begun in 1999, is of sea shells and coastal skies. Here I am looking both up and down to follow Jesus' command. What impresses me most about the shells is their "might-as-well-be-infinite-but-isn't" variety. If this immense variety is a hint about God's truly infinite grandeur and character, then what we call his life, his mind, and his being is so full of wonder in comparison to us that we truly must fall down in praise if we are seeing things rightly at all. Looking up each day to the beauty of the changing sky only reinforces this sense of wonder and praise before the inscrutable mystery of what God creates. The series of coastal skies was painted over a period of five days on the Alabama coast. Every day is new, full of wonder, different. In Psalm 19 David put it this way:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament his handiwork.
Day after day pours forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.

David's meditation on creation leads at the end of his song to a prayer -a prayer that many preachers echo today as they prepare to preach their sermons:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

And then there is Job. Like David, Job's meditation on creation leads to an awareness of human limitation and dependence. "Who can discern his errors?" asks David; with the implied answer, "No one!"-that is, unless God who created this wondrous universe according to laws of his own character will "keep me from willful sins." (Psalm 19:12-13) And Job's story makes a similar point in even more dramatic fashion. Having endured the logic-chopping of his advisors, and then been shown the wonder and mystery of creation by God, Job finally responds with a new sense of faith and humility:

My ears had heard of you
But now I have seen you.
Therefore I repent in dust and ashes.

The third series of paintings in this exhibit is of what might be called "ground litter"-leaves and stones picked up and observed along trails in and around Birmingham. This series, begun in 2001, is not finished. I continue to work on ideas for at least two more paintings. Like the sea shells, what impresses me most in this ground litter is the immense and wonderful variety of shape, form, color, texture, and line. One simply cannot out-imagine God. Indeed, one of the best lessons learned with each painting is that I can never actually see or record everything that is present before me in even one stone or shell. Georgia O'Keefe, the painter of over 150 paintings of flowers, once said, "I have never seen a flower." Jesus said that we should get down close and pay attention to these kinds of things. Neither Solomon's court, nor Buckingham Palace, nor the Biltmore House in South Carolina are arrayed as richly and resplendently as these. So what really are we to learn about our own lives from meditations like these on God and creation? That we can trust God with our lives? Certainly that, for Jesus said so. But he didn't mean by this that nothing we fear will happen to us. The lilies fade. The birds fall from the air. Job suffers in the midst of a wonderful and incomprehensible creation. Like broken shells or fallen leaves we too must go through the way of death. But Jesus says, "God knows." All of this happens within the realm of God's care and watchful eye. Surely if God clothes the grass and provides food for the ravens and sparrows, we can trust him with our own lives as well.

Craig Gallaway

Dr. Craig Gallaway is Associate Professor of Divinity, Chair of Methodist Studies, and a practicing "Artist in Residence" at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University. At Beeson Gallaway teaches in the areas of Methodist studies, spiritual formation, worship leadership, and ministry and the arts. He is both a visual artist working most recently in the media of watercolor and line drawing-and, with his wife Deborah, a folk musician and song writer. He and Deborah are currently completing a CD of recent songs recorded at Beeson's "Players and Poets" studio.

Gallaway has been both a visual artist and a musician since childhood. He was educated at The University of Texas at Arlington (B.F.A. in painting), Regent College (M.C.S., interdisciplinary studies in art and theology), and Emory University (M.Div. At Candler School of Theology, and Ph.D. in constructive theology in The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with a dissertation on the hymns of John and Charles Wesley). Gallaway is a member of The Watercolor Society of Alabama and has exhibited paintings in both national and statewide exhibitions of the society.

The Gallaways are also members of the Friends of Shades Creek, the Cahaba River Society, and other local and national groups that focus on the care and stewardship of God's good gifts in creation. Their music and art have been featured at various local and statewide "environmental" events. In both his teaching and his art, Gallaway emphasizes the key Wesleyan tenet that "salvation" in its ultimate biblical scope entails the restoration of all creation, including the renewal of the image (and imagination) of God in human life.

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