I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Celeste Boudreaux's reflection "Healing Art."
I see you, though you try to hide
Blending into the wall
Daughter of a defective mother
(Whose empty eyes betray her lipstick toothed smile)
You lurk in the corner, timid and sad and skinny
Child of a deceptive poverty
Cinderella’s colorless little sister
Dwelling in the big house, eating ashes
Bearing in silence your public shame and private anguish
Called to be the strong one, the good one
Who needs nothing, demands nothing, receives nothing
Mother’s caretaker during her final years
Of agonizing unraveling
Forgive those who looked away in discomfort
Who did nothing, made no inquires
Waited until after the final, successful disaster
To offer any help
For I see you
And I’m telling you
I see a brave and resilient child
Not needless, but worthy of compassion
Not invisible, but beautiful with color and texture
Not deserted, but secretly upheld
Not unscarred, but admirably capable of growth
Unfold a little
Relax, smile, be silly
Receive my love
Accept these tender tears
You will not slide into the abyss
Because I will hold you tight
On Good Friday, 1975, when I was 16, I came home from my after school job and found my mother’s body. She had attempted suicide twice before. Before I had left for my after school job, she had said goodbye to me at the front door to the apartment, and now she was laid out on the bed not breathing.
Naturally, this was a defining trauma of my life, but it was merely the culmination of a childhood of pain and deprivation. After my parents’ divorce, my stern grandmother had taken charge and imposed her harsh discipline on me and my five siblings.
When I was 13, our family was broken up again, and my uncles put me in an apartment with my mother. Now I had to become the mom, doing the cooking and grocery shopping and worrying about paying the bills. My tortured mother swirled within the vortex of her own inner turmoil, swinging between extreme agitation and debilitating depressions, until that terrible Friday.
As an adult, I staved off my own depression by maintaining a discipline of positivity, denying my own pain. I had internalized my grandmother’s relentless standards and productivity ethic. This served me well until I found myself flat on my back with a tangle of health problems made substantially worse by extreme stress, overwork, and debilitating anxiety.
At this point of desperation, God began to lead me on a path of healing through art. I started drawing simple pictures of me as a little girl and Jesus as my father: rocking in his lap; twirling myself dizzy and landing in his outstretched arms; sitting cross-legged in a field weaving a clover flower crown as he sits nearby, smiling as he watches me play. I drew all the tender interactions that I missed during my girlhood, the moments that would have told me that I was a much loved and cherished child, that I had permission to play and express joy, and that he delighted in me just being myself. Drawing these pictures was a kind of meditation, a way of spending time with those images, of transforming them by some strange alchemy into the reality of memory, and thus starting to heal my little girl’s heart.
One day as I struggled with my anxiety, I was inspired to write a lullaby, as if Jesus my father was singing it to my toddler self, crying hysterically in my crib. “Sweet little baby girl,” he sang, “Daddy’s here…you are heard, never fear.” Later, I wrote “For Celeste,” a poem to my teen self. It seemed that God was leading me to speak the language of my child self at different ages: a lullaby to comfort a baby, drawings for a young girl, and now a poem for a teen who had written poetry at that age so long ago.
Recently, I have begun making collages that express aspects of myself, such as The Good Little Girl, pictured at the beginning. I expected that I would be done with it by now, but I have found that deep healing comes in stages, one layer at a time.
As a monk in the world, I am learning that I can only truly know and love God in proportion to how well I know and love myself. If I do not extend to myself the grace and compassion that he extends to me, then I will not be able to be present to others in a deep and meaningful way.
I close with a poem for all those who have walked through pain and disillusionment away from a broken ideal towards a more humble and graced reality.
Exiled from the garden of perfection
I journey on my forced march
Fearful and desperate
Searching, clutching, clinging
For any bit of comfort and control
Hiding in loneliness and sorrow
Learning to bury it deeply, deeply
And soldier on in pride of self reliance
Teased and blessed by glimpses of glory
Amidst the mustiness of decay
I catch a whiff of honeysuckle
Lost Eden peeks through a fallen world
Can I say yes to both pain and beauty
Is less than perfect good enough
Does God hold more dear the broken and mending heart
Celeste Boudreaux lives in Houston, Texas. In addition to her day job as a university administrator, she is a spiritual director and one who sees beauty and expresses it through photography, painting, drawing and poetry. She also loves yoga, walks in nature, and butterfly gardening.