While I waited to hear her prayer request I prepared the canvases, picked up some blue hydrangeas from the local florist, and researched the symbolism of hydrangeas. One of the symbols that came up and caught my attention was love with understanding. Not a superficial love, but a deep knowing love.
Then my client sent me this prayer request:“In my family, we talk about ways we can open our hearts and move our fence to include and love others, move our fence to give up grudges, and move our fence to not judge others. My children love telling us the ways they have moved their fences! A prayer along that theme of opening our hearts to love others would be perfect!"
What a moving prayer. Then she shared this story with me:
It is said that during the Second World War some soldiers serving in France wanted to bury a friend and fellow soldier who had been killed. Being in a foreign country they wanted to ensure their fallen comrade had a proper burial. They found a well-kept cemetery with a low stone wall around it. It was a picturesque little Catholic church with a peaceful quality. This was just the place to bury their friend. But when they approached the priest he answered that unless their friend was a baptized Catholic he could not be buried in the cemetery. He wasn’t.Sensing the soldiers’ disappointment the priest showed them a spot outside the walls where they could bury their friend. Reluctantly, they did so.The next day the soldiers returned to pay their final respects to their fallen friend but could not find the grave. “Surely we can’t be mistaken. It was right here!” they said. Confused, they approached the priest who took them to a spot inside the cemetery walls. “Last night I couldn’t sleep,” said the priest. “I was troubled that your friend had to be buried outside the cemetery walls, so I got up and moved the fence.”
It has been an honor to hold this story as I paint. As I discover and paint each each opened hydrangea petal, I think of how to open my own heart to more love and acceptance. To let go of judgment and prejudice. An insight I’ve gained through painting the hydrangeas with this prayer and this story is that opening to acceptance, creating space for the ‘other,' or moving the fence is not a one time effort, but a lifetime of small gestures. The hydrangea is gorgeous because of its many small blooms. Each one is opening to something beautiful!
"When people draw a small circle that excludes me or my friends, I try to draw a bigger circle that includes them." Brian McLaren
How beautiful would the world be if we could all draw bigger circles, move fences, recognize that the one we saw as 'other' was actually part of the ‘us’ that inhabits this earth?
I've named this series Heart Open as a prayer and reminder to do just that.
"Heart Open I, II, III 36" x 108" (c) Bronwen Mayer Henry (Acrylic on Canvas)
"Compassionate action, compassionate speech is not a one shot deal; it's a lifetime journey.” Pema Chödrön
"Helping yourself or someone else has to do with opening and just being there; that's how something happens between people. But it is a continuous process. That's how you learn. You can't just open once." Pema Chödrön