by Pastor Audrey
Now that you know that I’ve started learning to paint with watercolor, I don’t mind telling you what a huge Bob Ross fan I am. Yes, he painted with oil paints rather than watercolor, but that’s not the point. I found a collection of his painting videos on Netflix called “Chilling with Bob Ross” and the title did not disappoint. Hearing his soothing, encouraging voice, with the cheerful, pleasant expression of his face, and the relaxed, effortless approach to his creation of art and beauty is like experiencing a guided mediation or prayer practice.
I’d been watching a lot of Bob Ross when my family visited the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in April. I was truly stunned by first views of the immense swaths of poppies along highway 138. Or maybe I should say that I was stunned by the color itself – a shocking shade of orange. (Or is it tone? Hue? Value? I’m still learning…) I called it “construction zone orange.” I’m not kidding. If you look very, very intently at a poppy you’ll see what I mean. As we continued on along the road, we saw splashes of construction zone orange here and there against distant hills. And I wondered to myself, “why construction zone orange?” Construction zones are loud, messy, and don’t usually leave the native habitat intact. All of that could be true of the poppy reserve with the masses of visitors. But at that moment, what came to mind was “caution.” Not in the sense of danger, but in the call to be alert and pay careful and close attention.
I took the description of the color “construction zone orange” as an invitation to pay careful attention. And then the funniest thing happened: as we walked along a trail on the backside of one hill, away from the largest crowds, I began to imagine God as a painter. Not hard, really, given the staggering beauty and color of the valley. But the funny part was the voiceover that I began to imagine – in the legendary voice of Bob Ross. Part of what is so effective in “chilling” with Bob Ross is paying very close attention. When you pay very close attention to whatever is at hand, it’s harder to be anxious about the future or agonize about the past.
So as I walked along, paying very close attention to what was right in front of me, I imagined God – the master painter of the universe and each magnificent poppy – giving me a guided tour. God (with Bob Ross’s voice) would say things like: “Take your number two fan brush and get it nice and loaded with that construction zone orange. That’s it. Now let’s go in right here in the foreground in front of this rock… And we’re just going to dab it all around this rock, like so…” Later, looking across the valley at the distant hills: “Now take your number two round brush, and just go crazy. This is your world. Just have fun with it.”
This voiceover narrative stayed with me for most of our meanderings around the poppy reserve. Near the end, I thought of the Gospel reading during Lent where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. Such over-the-top extravagant love. That’s what the poppies ultimately felt like: over-the-top extravagant love. And not just for the benefit of humans, though we certainly take much delight in it. But the poppies are part of an entire ecosystem – insects, rodents, reptiles, and birds. All thriving. All sacred parts of God’s created world.
More could be said about the need for protected reserves like this or the possibilities for paying attention in our own backyards or local parks. But any time that I am able to spend soaking in the wonders of creation, a sense of expansiveness opens up within me, which always points beyond themselves to the Creator of the universe… and each individual, magnificent poppy.