So at the end of a long line of ambitious homeowners on the last day of a two-for-one paint-gallon sale, I waited for a half an hour for a quart of blue paint. I was inspired to bring color into my home when I saw what women friends did to beautify homes they must leave because they no longer have relationships that support them. One painted her downstairs bookshelves a mossy English green – books and the intellect – brainy and earthy like writing by Tolkien. She tiled her bathroom with the blue of larkspur and Mary’s color. She painted bedrooms purple and decorated them with tapestry from India with varying purple tones. When she invited me to her home and showed me around, walking upstairs and making the transition from blue to purple affected me emotionally – almost spiritually.
Purple is the color of royalty in the Western World, and in the East, the seventh chakra which, as far as I understand, is the most spiritual one. This would seem to be opposing views and uses of purple, but somewhere in between this West and East, on the body of Jesus, royal purple took on the pallor of sorrow and Lent when his captors mocked him in a purple robe, mashed a crown of thorns on his head, and spat in his face. For me, this run-in with God and purple made an Almighty God more spiritual because it made God accessible to me.
Painters know that colors change depending on which colors are placed next to them. A painting of a fiery red Icarus will make a purple Daedalus look even more blue than it would without Icarus there. A young student once told me that the painting above is a battle a between fire and water. Perhaps its hard to imagine one well without the other. Perhaps that is why so many ideas about hell have risen out of the scant Biblical references to it; perhaps, like making a painting in complementary colors, imagining hell works as a creative exercise in trying to understand heaven better. But the thought of purple next to red makes me cringe – in paint that juxtaposition usually muddies both colors. Maybe Jesus wore purple and then bled next to it because God knows that in our experience of the world, absolute power corrupts, and that we won’t trust a God who won’t, for a moment, give up some of his power.
I learned in painting that a color is what it is in relationship to what’s next to it. Perhaps royalty can’t remain royal without humilty and suffering. Perhaps we can’t remain in faith without accepting its loss. Perhaps we can’t remain faithful to a vocation or a relationship without losing its image to disappointment which allows for, whatever we make of it, a new beginning.
My friend made an oasis for herself that now she must leave. Having done it once, she knows she can do it again. Her courageous approach to her losses and gains through using color gave me courage to go into my basement room where my old drawings are and to say goodbye. Those I don’t need to follow me through the rest of my life went in the trash, and the others, along with my old self, received appreciation. It was painful, but hopeful, to upend boxes of paper into the recycling bin.