By: Abigail Onley
A thousand voices morph into white noise, every color of the rainbow sprayed, dusted, and brushed over buildings, people, and windows. The wind blows the newly charred ashes of the deceased into the water of the Ganges, past worshipers bathing in the river in belief that it will cleanse them of their sins, and here we stand, looking at this beautiful broken city called Varanasi. Varanasi is said to be India’s spiritual capital: meaning there are as many religions represented there as colors on the buildings. I don’t always paint from a place of experience but of empathy. I can look, read, and imagine what it would be like to be there, experiencing a very different kind of life, and here is where this picture begins: a beautiful broken place full of broken people searching for hope.
I think that sums up our world. We need hope. Hope that a bad situation will turn around, hope that someone out there cares enough to move on our behalf, hope that we can go unseen and unhurt, hope that we can avoid brokenness, hope that we are good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, accepted, hope that we can be put back together again. There are many hopes we have but they shrink besides the mammoth hope of God, the all-encompassing hope. The Emmanuel; God with us- who promises to take our brokenness as His own and give us His wholeness in exchange. We are overcome, remade, something new. A Garden.
This is the Freedom Garden. What if that faith took over a city and the green of that Ivy was us…them? What if our choices could bring hope…tangible hope not just to those cities far away but to our own cities? What if we started with us, stopped trying to satisfy the “gods” of our culture or the god of self, and instead became satisfied by God himself?
The Jesus of the gospels, the God who is with us, is our Hope.
Many people will argue about the church, but not many people can argue with Jesus. He liberated women in society, he cared for the broken and forsaken, called the poor blessed because of the hope they lived from, he valued children, he looked with compassion on our sinfulness because He knows we are sick. He called us to repentance, to a changed life, an upside down world were weakness is named as strength, dependency is honorable, kindness is the color we see, and love is who we become. He called us to be a voice for the voiceless and to see people- all those hidden people behind our lust, our clothes, our food, our deeply loved coffee and chocolate, as uniquely shaped souls worthy of love.
When I painted this city overgrown with flowers, it pictured HOPE. Out of garbage, and chaos, and the remnant smoke of ritual fires there rises new life; that little broken seed of hope that grows and changes us from the inside out.