Isaiah 61:10 “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,my soul shall be joyful in my God;for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation,He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments,and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.”
I prepare my palette and easel for the first day of the painting workshop. I have come to a master class to learn from one of the masters. Wedding dresses are draped across two chairs on pedestals, one on either side of the room. The nude model makes her way toward the chair near my easel, climbs up onto the pedestal and sits on top of the wedding dress.
I am a novice in nude model painting, and am a somewhat modest girl so I cannot help but imagine myself up in the chair completely naked and exposed in front of a group of men and women. I imagine how I would comport myself, how I would hold my shoulders high trying to appear confident to cover up the insecurity I would feel underneath.
The dress drapes over the arms of the chair, light reflecting on the creases and folds in shades of blue and green. I study the model for the lights and darks as I am told. Her profile is in shadow, and I can hardly see her face for the bright light coming from the window. She is mostly shadow until her chest held high catches the light. The figure begins to tell a story, begins to speak, and I see myself in her, a woman who has wedding clothes within her reach but chooses to sit unclothed.
I hear the instructor say, "Paintings are meant to wake us up.” So I study the naked bride, and begin to awake. I awake to truth as I contrast light and dark, as the image of a naked bride runs through my mind.
I am reminded of the dream I had years ago where Jesus and two faceless men were waiting for me at the end of an underground cave. Jesus was standing, waiting for me like a bridegroom awaiting his bride at the end of the aisle. I walked toward him, and as I drew closer, I could see how his eyes adored me and how they were filled with love and compassion, and as I finally made my way to him, he wrapped his arms around me and embraced me. I felt his deep love in the embrace but it felt strange to hug him back because I knew I was in a relationship with him, but I didn't really know him. The bride was betrothed to a stranger, but it was not him that did not know me. It was me that did not know him. His eyes were not angry with me as I would have imagined, only full of love and compassion, only full of mercy and grace for the bride who had forsaken her garments of salvation and all that he had to offer in the previous years.
And then Jesus held up a stone tablet like the one Moses would have etched the ten commandments on, and it simply said, “Ecclesiastes 11:3” which reads, "If clouds are full of water they pour rain upon the earth."
So instead of the law of Moses, he etched Ecclesiastes 11:3 in stone. For years, I was puzzled by the verse, had no earthly idea why God had spoken to me about clouds and rain, but just recently, he revealed the full meaning, that as a cloud cannot help but empty itself when it is full of rain, my heart cannot help but empty itself when it is full of the love of Christ. That's simply what hearts do when they are full of the tears of remembrance of what Christ has done, they rain out love upon the earth as a result of that remembrance.
So Christ’s work fulfilled the law and etched a love story in stone, a romance between he and his bride. And as he clothes his bride with garments of salvation, Christ fills her heart with his love, so that she cannot help but empty herself, cannot help but pour out the love that he places in her heart.
I pick up my brush and continue to paint the lightest lights and darkest darks as my painting wakes me up, and I clearly see what is in the light and what is in the dark. I study the naked bride before me, and I see that her bare chest is one of the lightest lights, and I begin to hear Jesus whisper, "Your bare chest, your naked heart is the lightest light of this life I have given you. The baring of your soul, of all that you are in me, that is the way you shine the light of Christ. The bride undresses for her bridegroom because she knows how deeply she is loved, because the baring of a soul, the nakedness of a heart, is what shines the lightest light of Christ, is what shows the world a child of God knows she is loved.
So I hold onto the truth that I am dressed in your garments, pure and white, so that I can undress, bare my soul, be myself. And there is no longer shame in baring my chest, in exposing my naked heart, when I am walking in the knowledge that I am clothed in him.
I shift my focus away from the bride and look toward the window. I struggle to paint the light pouring through it, because how does one portray the light when it is not reflected on form? And maybe God asked himself the same question. How do I portray my light, my love to my bride if it doesn’t have form? So he sent his son in the form of a servant. God clothed himself in human flesh, gave himself form, reflected himself through it, then gave up that life so that we could see his light, so that He could rescue his bride, make her all light, clothe her in his garments of salvation, white and pure for eternity.
My four-year-old Katie asks me as I am writing, "What is the end of the numbers?" And I tell her that there is no end to the numbers, that they go on forever, and I am reminded that God’s love for me, for his bride, has no end, and that my years are no longer numbered, that the numbers will go on forever and ever. So how can a girl whose years have no end not bare her chest, not open her heart to share what Christ has done, not separate darkness, not put away all that is in shadow, so that others can be clothed in the eternal garments of Christ.
I see the model reaching for her dark dress that lays crumpled under her chair, so I step away from my paints to hand her the dress, but I wonder if I should have handed her the wedding clothes instead. And I wonder how often I hide my heart, keep it in shadow, and in all my hiding, give people back their old clothes, instead of the dress that is white and pure.
I read just yesterday that shadows can only exist where an obstacle stands in the path of the light, and now I clearly see how the hiding heart stands in the path of the light. So I separate light from darkness, stop forgetting that I am clothed in Christ and start holding onto the truths that are within my reach, the truth that I am His beloved bride dressed in white, all light...
The instructor has told us that just a few streets over, down by the river, the city is blowing up the dam, the man-made obstacle that keeps the water from flowing freely. They are destroying the dam that the mill owners once used to harness power. And God speaks to me again, says “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." And I am reminded that out of this bride will flow streams of living water that no man can harness. And from where does the water in the streams and rivers come except from the rain that pours down upon the earth, these tears that come from the remembrance of what Christ has done. So I wake up to truth and remember that He has clothed me with eternal garments, and my heart fills with the tears of remembrance until they pool into a river of life flowing from within…
So, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelations 22:17)
As the water flows freely down the river, the model returns to her chair, and I am reminded that Jesus will also return, that “he is coming in the clouds,” (Rev 1:7) the ones that pour down rain to make rivers. And He is coming to retrieve his beloved bride dressed in white, so I step back to my easel and paint the bare chest and the light reflecting off of her flesh. And I awake to the beautiful truths that my bridegroom speaks as I continue to separate light from darkness…