Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Beauty of Persistence

Surviving cancer requires physical and emotional persistence—through the treatments, the check-ups, the recurrences. Even before my diagnosis, I was unconsciously looking for models I could follow.

Several years ago I attended the Columbus Museum of Art’s exhibit “Renoir’s Women.” More than thirty canvases were displayed, some of them new to me, even though I’m a fan of Impressionism. I didn’t pay extra for the audiotape. Instead, I merely skimmed the information accompanying each canvas, on that gray day preferring to soak up pure color rather than printed words.
            Even in skimming, I learned things I didn’t know about Renoir, things I might have learned by reading a good biography: born in Limoges, Renoir began painting china as a young man. He and Monet were lifelong friends. Although no one has been able to calculate precisely how many works he produced, one estimate puts the number at around 6,000. Most touching to me was the fact that in his old age Renoir suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. He couldn’t walk, but someone would set up a canvas where he wanted it, and his assistants would place the brushes he requested into his claws.
            I have new respect for the painter who persisted, as so many artists persist through personal or physical pain. Old age and its deprivations come to all, even people who put together works of amazing beauty.
            Many places in the Bible offer examples of people who persevered into old age, despite physical or personal difficulties. Simeon and Anna, who met Mary and Joseph in the temple when they brought the infant Jesus in for the post-birth rites, are two stellar examples. Luke writes that Simeon had been promised he would see the Messiah before dying. When Simeon held the child, he burst into the praise that the Church uses for the Compline service, called Nunc Dimittis, from the Latin for the opening words, “Now let your servant depart in peace. . . .” Anna the prophet, a widow of 84 in an era when 40 really was old age, lived in the temple, fasting and praying. She saw Jesus and at once began telling others about him (Luke 2:22–38).
            For me, perhaps the key psalm-prayer for a life of persistence comes from Psalm 71:18: “So even to old age and gray-hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come.” Few of us will create 6,000 works of art that will be prized around the globe. However, we can still proclaim God’s might to future generations through our small daily actions, creating a mosaic of faithfulness mirroring God’s own everlasting commitment to us.

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