All images and writing by Kate Kennington Steer
Last time I wrote:
[Story] telling [is] an integral part of Justice, making it about recognition and release, celebration and gratitude. Each telling is unique: God’s created world, and peoples, is infinitely, wondrously varied. If the stories of trees and stones are revelatory gospels where Spirit can be read; how much more so might the Spirit pour out, in loud acclamation, from the stories of precious people who currently do not know how to make their voice, their story, their gospel, be heard? … Is offering encouragement to others, urging them to tell their story, an act of justice? Is that small invitation, “tell me about it, show me how it is for you”, only applicable in the end for those with the means (financial, social, educational, emotional, physical, technical etc) to provide themselves with a way to connect to that ultimate citizen-broadcast medium: the world-wide-web? Surely not.
(If you missed the post, you can read it here).
So, now I find I am asking this question: who will carry out this deeply radical act? Who will make time to hear one person’s story today? Isn’t encouraging someone, especially someone who is without whatever means/medium they need to tell their story, to make their story heard a deeply political act? For story-telling is a dangerous act: sharing stories might be how we heal the world. One act of encouragement sparks another, which sparks another, and so on. Such a chain reaction sounds very like how the Kingdom might be built, doesn’t it?
As for my ‘work’, it is rapidly becoming apparent to me that each painting might be an opportunity. Each painting may be an ‘entertaining strangers unaware’ moment; what if an angel disguised as a painting is just waiting to bless the onlooker and to enter into a dialogue with them, releasing them to tell their story in their turn? Blessing one person might be the encouragement they need to tell their story, and hearing that story might be how we heal the world.
Is this so fanciful? Isn’t this exactly what the work of Spirit might do to build kingdom…?
Each story is a guest, just as each body is a guest. So, in that spirit of encouragement, here is a little more of my story:
Since May I have been trying to create a gratitude project around a ‘big’ birthday. I want to raise money for and also to raise the profile of a small charity with a massive impact: creativeresponsearts.org.
Creative Response, working across one small, English county offers a safe haven to those who due to mental health issues, learning difficulties, or physical impairments are in need of finding a place to be. The charity aims to provide a place where ‘vulnerable adults’ might express themselves, to provide a place to receive release and the beginning of healing for old wounds, to provide a place to receive relief, a place where people might know that in this one safe haven they are recognised, heard and seen. Creative Response welcomes each participant and each arts worker beside them, enabling them gradually to be seen in all the splendour of who they are – in fact, as who we all are: as beautiful, precious, wounded, healing souls.
Creative Response has (literally) been a life-saving organisation for me over the last twelve years. Yet I recognise that gaining access to, let alone receiving such precious support is all too often an issue of justice. It is subject to the whims of governments and the prevailing fashion in spending priorities, or postcode lotteries, inaccessible spaces, tech poverty, immigration policies, gender barriers, age limits, NGO aid camps, clean water and sanitation, lack of trained specialist personnel, mental health prejudices, racial prejudices, and gender barriers (to name just a few).
God forgive us, for the list of injustices we inflict on one another in this world is endless, and should be heart-rending. We should grieve for and with all those who feel isolated, misunderstood, abandoned, overlooked, vulnerable and unseen. Yet alongside our righteous anger, our communal lament, there is also a vital need for communal enthusing.
Enthusing one another is surely about sharing our hope; it is about flexing our rejoicing muscles daily. It is about sharing our deep gratitude for what we have been given.
How can I summon up enough energy to be enthusiastic enough, to encourage another person to tell their story? Can I be enthusiastic about listening? Can I be enthusiastic about telling my own testimony of gratitude? Can my enthusiasm be the release valve which encourages one other person to look for hope around them? Can my own determination to keep looking with paintbrush or camera in hand be the means of releasing one other person from what binds them and keeps them silent? Can my paltry offerings really be made by the Spirit into the means of showing one other person how to pause, how to see where they might find their hope, most especially when all else feels at its most desolate?
This is my passion, and my passionate prayer. I can do none of it under my own steam. With the power of the I AM behind me? All is possible. So let me encourage you to be encouragers: pausing to look for the possible. Share your own ways and means of threading a thriving belief in hope through all that is unjust and without peace in our world. With your own story of thanksgiving heart-rooted deep within, may you begin encouraging the ones around you whom no one has bothered to encourage before.
We all need the Wholeness of God…this resource includes reflections and activities for coping and thriving during the COVID-19 challenges in search of shalom as well as hope for restoration during and after this period of social distancing.