Printmaking is a process-oriented medium. Prayer could also be considered a process-oriented medium of sorts. For me, both prayer and the process of printmaking are inseparable from each other. And I have found that there is an interior wrestling that happens in both.
Recently this “divine wrestling” happened for me while experimenting with color choices for a woodcut I have been working on. After drawing on the key block, carving, transferring the image to a second block, carving again, and printing a couple of times, I was ready to introduce color. I knew I wanted to create a deep red color to emulate the color of how I have often imagined Christ’s blood, however, my first couple of rounds of color printing were unsatisfying. The colors I initially mixed had layered in a way that created brown/gray shades that came out differently than what I had envisioned. I kept trying to change up the colors and mix the inks differently, but nothing was working out. I was texting my friends frantically to ask their opinions and yet I still felt an inner disturbance, a lack of peace in my heart. I thought I might go a little insane thinking about this problem-- I had never struggled with color matching and layering this way before.
A few days later I saw my friend Sr. Mareja, one of the Missionaries of Charity in Harlem where I have started volunteering every so often. She asked me about what I was working on and I offhandedly told her about the color problem with my current woodcut project. She lit up immediately and with excitement she replied “Wow, that’s so beautiful- Jesus is trying to show you something about His blood.” She then suggested that I ask Jesus to show me His blood. I was a little weirded out about this at first, and also taken aback. To meditate on Christ’s blood and actually ask Him to show me His blood seemed more grotesque and involved than I wanted to get with this project. Why would Sr. Mareja suggest this?
As weirded out as I was, I decided to take Sr. Mareja’s suggestion and bring this to prayer wholeheartedly over the next couple of days. I realized that perhaps I didn’t know what was needed for this print, and I started to recognize that I had been trying to control the process of this print in impatient and ineffective ways. And then I simply and boldly asked Jesus to show me His blood.
It wasn’t until the following Wednesday at my usual holy hour with the Missionaries of Charity in Greenwich Village that it came to me. I looked up at the huge crucifix in the chapel behind the altar that I have so often glazed over because of how gruesome and bloody it looks. I opened my eyes wider, staring at the body of Christ hanging on the cross, paying special attention to the dark, bruised, bloodied parts near his elbows, knees, and head. I noticed that the blood was depicted with a dark black/blue-ish paint, much like dried blood that might flow out of blue veins. All of a sudden it hit me- Christ’s blood must be this color.
The next morning I transferred my key block to a third block of wood, did some more carving, and got right back into mixing inks to create a deep blue/purple color for my key block. I mixed a transparent red and a pale yellow for my subsequent layering blocks. As I started to print the blocks by hand with my wooden spoon in layers, one on top of the other, I started to feel more and more at peace. I had finally found the right color combinations and found that adding a third block made a huge difference too.
Despite the anxieties and frustrations that filled the early stages of this print I have started to learn how to allow the Lord to take an active part in my artistic process. Sometimes it takes carving more wood blocks than you want to. Sometimes it takes an increased awareness of the unexpected voice of a friend that encourages something you hadn’t thought of implementing yet. Sometimes it takes a careful listening, asking, and receiving from the Lord in a childlike openness, embracing the weirdness of the unknowns to come in your process.
Perhaps the purpose of this print was not only for me to learn something about Christ’s blood (which I am still praying with and may never fully understand). Perhaps I am meant to take this as a call to release the tight grips of control I often tend towards in each step of my artistic process. It is so easy to want things to happen in my timing and not in God’s timing. Through working on this woodcut I learned to be patient, perseverant, and constantly more and more open to what the Lord wants to put on my heart through the printmaking process.
“I am a little pencil in God’s hands” – St. Teresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionaries of Charity