Jacob’s Light

A defining characteristic of my work and my process is layering —

Letting one layer at a time reveal itself to me — pausing to take it in —asking it “what next?” — resting in its response — letting go of it — losing myself in it —

But mostly —

Waiting with it.

Waiting with it, and longing.

The felt sense of how we waited and longed with Jacob Wetterling’s family over time and across the miles and through the layers of anguished hopefulness is in this piece that I call “Jacob’s Light.”

The piece started with a note from a new friend who had an idea for me —

“… what about some inspirational art in whatever form for Jacob because it’s really touched all of us as Minnesotans … maybe something will come to you if you pray on it …”

About a week later, I was ready to begin working on the piece and decided it would take form on top of a canvas I painted in 2013 shortly after hearing the song “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” for the first time. Danny Gokey’s practical words seemed a perfect foundation for this story.

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

I put down the second layer — white gesso — in solidarity with Patty and Jerry Wetterling and Jacob’s huge extended family that grew around their hope and suffering over the last 27 years.

Over the next 8 days, several distinct themes emerged while I wrestled with the birth of this painting.

The first theme was light and the obvious visualization of this light was the porch light that symbolized hope for Jacob’s return.

In working through the process of how this light might be represented in this piece, I was companioned with the darkness of of the event that took place October 22, 1989.

I was aware that I was fighting with the darkness, not wanting it to be there at all. I wanted to paint light. Felt Jacob’s life should not be remembered for the horror we know he experienced in his final hours on this planet.

But, of course, it had to get darker first. And I now wept with it.

The second theme was community — a vast feeling of millions of earthly particles converging around the point in time when a little boy was taken from his family and his future. I thought of the particles as seeds in the ground of being —  seeds that could feel Patty and Jerry’s pain and were called, through this pain, to join with the effort to find Jacob.

Along with this, I felt the presence of angels who were also activated at this point in time.  For a couple of days, I walked with the heavenly bodies in this story. I felt the third theme of being surrounded, constantly watched over, and comforted in the uncertainty.

In the next phase of working with the story, darkness covered the entire canvas. Then I started a process I often use to reclaim the subtle dimensions of light by washing or rubbing off portions of damp pigment.

A beautiful butterfly image is revealed in the foreground with a relationship to the patterned cosmos behind it.

The theme of resurrection is present.

I feel this is completion. I sign the work and make an acceptable digital image.

What comes to me the next day is that this might be a nice piece of art, but it is not Jacob’s story.

It is not our story.

There’s too much separateness between the heaven and earth, between light and dark, between the resurrected One and its Source.

So I begin again. Radically.

I don’t know where it’s headed. I am completely lost now. Over the next six hours or so, I let color lead me, applying layers and rubbing them off. Squeezing paint from the tube directly on the canvas. Gripping the brush by its bristles and painting with the other end. Turning the canvas upside down. Letting it sit on the counter in the sun. Breathing with it.

The final theme emerges and the painting is held together by it — love.

This love is represented by God with us on the cross — Jacob was held and protected, never alone.

The events of October 22, 1989 may exist in linear time. But they do not have the final say.  Our truth is in the depth dimension, the Christ in us, where hearts are one and the porch light is always on.

Author: Julie Ann Stevens

My art flows from the patterns & paths of my lived experience which ⏤ like yours ⏤ are at once deeply personal and entirely universal.

2 thoughts

  1. Each of the painting’s stages could stand on its own but that each is layered beneath the finished work is so powerful and moving on so many levels. It is Jacob, it is you, it is us. Truly masterful, Julie. <3

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