While a seminary student, I took an amazing course called Storytelling. One assignment from Dr. Chuck Killian called for us to flip through a stack of popular magazines and make a collage that told something about ourselves.
As I examined the collage I constructed I was given a holistic snapshot of my life, with the past, present and future held together in some sort of epiphany-laden tension. This was therapeutic for me, for I have felt most strangled in life when the lenses were fuzzy and I could not catch a discernable glimpse of who I’ve been and what I’m becoming.
The collage uses near-Platonic images of the concrete and intangible, taking me deep inside, to the shadow of a small boy who dreamed, and still dreams, of being a star athlete on display before adoring crowds. It gives illustration to the aspirations of a romantic who still fancies himself as a future movie star, who still longs for an era of innocence when appreciating the lick of an eager puppy he never got to own was carried out with a zest for making life all it could be. This canvassed slice of my private world helps me to feel validated, to accept my frailty for what it is, to own the right to be human and to be unique.
The collage also takes me to those dreams that still seem within my grasp, such as screenplay and book writing, aspirations close to my heart and calling that often are blocked by my concern for the immediate and by my fears of financial insecurity. As I look at the magazine-originated portraits that line the top of the construction paper, I see glimpses of what I most enjoy and what comes naturally. I see a writer who has best expressed himself in life through words. I see a lover of Italian food and chocolate, a person who adores cats, idolizes the Florida State University football team, likes to work out and loves to read. The glimpses are scenes from a life. My life.
As I travel to the center of the display, I see a person who has realized that the things he enjoys to do, and the things he dreams of doing, do not fully quench an inner thirst that longs for the fullness of Eden. It is a person who recognizes that God must be at the center and enlighten and inform all that lies within the white space, in order for true joy to emerge.
Striving to maintain this center, I catch a glimpse of my wife and I traveling down the often-uncertain roadway of life, straddling the border between seminary and post-seminary adventures, dreaming of Paris and mountain sunsets, reaching toward that home with children that at the time still was beyond our grasp.
More than five years after the construction of the collage, I have learned much about myself, yet remain somewhat in the dark. The images are still unfolding, the discernment still in motion. My responsibility is to continue to flip through the magazines, to select the images, to pay attention to what is forming on the canvass. The moment of introspection is always present.
Now, your homework assignment! Grab some magazines and build your own collage. Flip the pages and tear out the first picture that makes sense, even for unknown reasons. Give yourself permission to be childlike for a few moments and go through this exercise. See the bigger picture. Fill in the gaps. It could make a difference in how you see your life during the weeks that come. Gaze upon your own image in time.