By Donna Fado Ivery, California-Nevada Annual Conference
In 1994, a disabling brain injury dramatically changed how I form each thought and motion, throwing me out of the pastoral ministry, my beloved vocation. With compromised speech, memory, vision, balance, left-side facility, and endurance, and through five years of rehab and chronic pain, I learned how to shadow the Spirit’s creative movement in order to get “through it all.”
I had given up painting years before, particularly after a visiting professor in college told me I didn’t have the talent to be an art major.
After a 200-pound glass partition dropped on my head, I approached each day on autopilot, not knowing surroundings, names, or when speech would become undependable. With words cranking like rusted gears, I began to paint in order to express to my therapist what I was experiencing. These paintings summarized the urgent agenda of my heart, the discourse of hours of prayer throughout my “one hour down for each hour up” rehab regimen. My Painting and Poetry Journal illustrates my first three years of recovery.
While I would try to paint whatever felt honest in color, form, or image, whenever I would touch the pulse of truth, an answer to my prayer would be woven within the painted image, which would later, when I was ready, point to another layer of healing. This echoes Jesus’ description of a fully accessible Holy Spirit who is a partner to truth (John 14:17). My journal tells how the Spirit, whom I experience as Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, and Intercessor, speaks for us when pain is too deep for words. I could share through painted image how the Holy Spirit speaks my prayers when I don’t know how to, a testimony to Romans 8:26–27. Sharing my story and journal led to workshop and teaching engagements across the U.S., and the first program offerings of my business was created.
Saving each penny possible, I purchased the Silk Scarf Painting Sampler Set via mail order—it sat on my shelf. In 1996 my close friend suffered her seventh miscarriage, this one at five months; working as an oncology nurse, and alongside a coworker who shared her due date, she was grieving in what seemed an impossible context. Could anything help her navigate daily duties, behaving as though nothing had happened, when another’s growing belly was a constant reminder of her loss? I took a few handles of hope from my journal: one, that tears are Holy Waters at work, and two, that a touchable memorial on which to lay the burden of the heart helps to carry its relentless weight of grief. For my dear friend I painted moving waters on a silk scarf—titled the Scarf of Tears—and wrote an inspirational reflection on how to use it: “to absorb your tears and hold them forever, offering comfort for grief and despair.” With the Scarf of Tears, she could wear her grief, at times keeping the silk in her lab coat pocket, at other times around her neck, and use it to dry a tear every so often, or just to touch and remember. “Donna,” she said, “I don’t know how I would have gotten through work without it. It helps so much. I want you to offer them to others.”
Thus began Spirit Brush Arts, first licensed for business in 1997. At present I have sold over seven hundred Scarf of Tears gift sets, each a one-of-a-kind, hand-painted silk scarf with interfaith inspirational reflection in a trifold greeting card. On its tenth anniversary I produced a new Scarf of Tears for Difficult Times, for sufferings beyond death, such as rape and cancer. Stumbling forward, while shadowing the promptings of the Spirit, I fell into a growing business.
The General Conference 2000 actions relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community propelled me to respond by creating art. By this time, I was teaching regularly about the need to express truth and how the Spirit responds by moving one toward integration/wholeness, and what I identify as the four stages of “dancing with pain.” God chased me down for a few months, interrupting my waking and sleeping, asking me to apply what I was teaching to my church body in pain. The result is the Table of Tears, a stained-glass mosaic and acrylic table; composed of seven teardrop portraits of people excluded in church history for biblical reasons, the art installation tells the story of Spirit-led healing. The Table of Tears began as the Mosaic Communion Table because I experience healing in Spirit and Truth as sacramental. In combining the beauty of church tradition with the brokenness of prejudice, seen best when illuminated, stained glass just had to be part of this sacramental healing project, even though I had never previously cut glass. The table was circular, cut into seven pie pieces for paintable panels. A few years after interpreting the Mosaic Communion Table, teaching people how to carry the two-by-three-foot teardrops in a processional, and the meaning of laying down their burden at the altar, I realized the grand design of the Holy Spirit all along was to shape the portrait panels as teardrops, and thus changed its name to the Table of Tears. My artistic and daily process is clear: “I don’t know—–[deep breath]—”Holy Spirit, take the lead!” The Holy Spirit is an incredible Manager of hours.
My daughters, who were three and five when I began my business, grew up painting right alongside mom. Volunteering in their classrooms, I led students through silk scarf painting. Silk scarf painting workshops were added to my workshop/retreat offerings, with participants ages 3 to 96. A teacher suggested I apply for a grant in the area of Life Science and Art. Why? Did I really not know, or had I forgotten, that silk is formed of cocoon threads? Students raised silkworms and painted silk scarves. I was pulled more deeply into painting on silk as a spiritual medium, with cocoon threads embodying the very touch of transformation.
Soon I was painting with transparent acrylics on large pieces of silk, stretching them like canvas supports. These paintings were selling! I discovered that diluted paint moves as it dries, having a surprise finish the day after I finish painting. With 3-foot-long brushes and a whisk broom, I paint as I pray, with open heart, and joyous interaction with the Spirit’s movement, like surfing a wave. I paint to one song repeating; otherwise the painting changes as the music changes.
Not long ago I painted a recently commissioned 4×6-foot painting of a Christ figure blessing, with large palm branches carpeting the ground beneath the silk. The details change during rapid drying, and the face of Christ appeared the next day. This is Spirit Brush Art—when my brush follows the Spirit’s movement, and my not knowing is modus operandi.
When a visiting bishop scheduled to preach at the 2006 California-Nevada Annual Conference canceled a few weeks prior to session, I was graced with the invitation to paint the sermon at the Ordination Service. Onstage at the convention center, I painted three, 3×5-foot silk paintings to twelve minutes of inspirational music, followed by ten minutes of preaching. A bulletin insert described how painting is like visible prayer. While “It Is Well with My Soul” played on the speaker system, a resounding applause interrupted my focus—the congregation recognized the Weeping Christ come to life. My favorite, joyous activities—preaching, painting, and pointing to the amazing presence of a Living God—all whirled together in an awesome surge of energy. It was a delightful experience. Spirit Painter was added to the business offerings.
And so my business, Spirit Brush Arts, has evolved full circle, because the creative Spirit of God is the real deal. Praise God that the Holy Spirit is the greatest artist, CEO, and designer, and has an imagination beyond my knowing. If I have one suggestion, it would be to decrease the measure of must-do tasks we all take on, be still, and follow the rhythm of life’s giving breath, Spirit. How exhilarating it is catch the wind beneath her soaring wings!
2019 – Unity in the Church
2018 – Claim Who We Are in Christ
2017 – Bodies, Oppression, and Gospel
2016 – Birthing a Worldwide Church
2015 – Clergywomen Lead Vital Congregations
2014 – Empowerment for All
2013 – What Next?
2012 – What Does the Lord Require of Us?
2011 – See, I am Doing a New Thing
2010 – Voicing Truth With Grace
PDF archive – 1987 to 2009
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WellSprings, A Journal of United Methodist Clergywomen, is published by the Division of Ordained Ministry, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Editor: HiRho Y. Park
Managing Editor: Barbara A. Dick
Editorial Circle: Patricia Bonilla, Neelley Hicks, Anita Phillips, Jacqui Rose-Tucker, Trudy Hawkins Stringer