Highs and Lows…Lights and Darks…
Used interchangeably between the colors of a palette and the colors of the soul, there is not one part of humanity that these terms do not touch. They pertain especially to the memory of beloved people, cherished places and sacred moments.
“She Dreamed of Dim Sum…” was commissioned to capture the memory of a place that is not only treasured by the one who asked for it, but the artist as well. I, the painter, would call the garden behind these gates “my happy place.” Some people travel in their mind to a beach, a cabin in the woods, or field of daisies. Mine, and that of many others that I know, is this very spot. It is an entrance to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is the most beautiful public space that my eyes have ever seen. And each time I am there, I honestly feel as though they were made just for me. I’m not alone. I believe that everyone who enjoys times within those acres of tropical greenery believes they have found their own personal jewel.
When asked for the painting the request was seemingly simple…a tea set and the Tanglin Gates, please. Considering that no one actually has tea at the gates was a minor point. This painting was to go beyond reality and to a place in the heart and mind that had been visited countless times before. Not because the gates are exquisitely precise and beautiful, and not because the gardens are so manicured and lush. The heart is filleted at the sights of these gates because of the friendships that were nurtured here.
With sweat, tears, laughter and conversation that encapsulate lives, loves, struggles and joys, friends travel hundreds of miles together on the paths beyond these gates. I do not know a single person who has visited these gardens with friends that has not felt most or all of this. Frankly, I can’t find the words to truly illustrate what is being described. It’s as though my language does not coincide with the culture of this seemingly simple activity.
When asked to paint the gates, I was literally afraid. They are forged with such precision, identically mirroring one another. The detail is lovely, whimsical and regal in the same moment. My favorite keepsake from all of Singapore is a graphite rubbing of these gates. It cost all of $3 to make, and it is a priceless piece. Honoring the artist of the gates, and the memory of loving them, was a daunting thought. There was no choice but to dive in. Through fear, and occasional tears, the task of putting them on canvas did come.
Tea for seven centered around a Plumeria branch is an odd affair. Accurate memories often fade to a state of dreaming; details become disproportionate to reality. The starring roles of memories are played by the characters that heightened the senses the most. To approach these gates a walk through a row of Plumeria on each side is required.
Friendship is most often expressed over tea in this part of the world. But how many friends would be invited? One or two? Certainly not. There are so many more. The thought of one friend leads to another and another. Seven must be, as it is quite a perfect number. In the Holy places, it is the numeric symbol of the relationship between God and man. The perfecting of this friendship is what makes other friendships better. We realize that as we pour out our hearts, walking through the humidity of the rainforest garden, we meet God in the faces, conversation, laughter and tears of the friends we are with. What great council we have received as we traversed its paths.
"Happy and blessed" is the one who drinks of this warm potion, or so the tea pot says. In the unbroken written history of China’s language, a discovery has been made. Embedded in the small stories that the symbols tell, are hints of sacred knowledge of the Creator God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The story this symbol tells to all who speak the language is one of blessing and good fortune. But look closer into this picture. Lean in. Peer into history and read that “one man is in the garden with God.” This symbol is the recollection, in only a few strokes, of the first Friendship. It is sacred. It is pure and sweet. It is the original model for us as we walk through the garden with only One or with many.
Sometimes we walk, seemingly alone. But walking soon turns to conversation with the One who made the Garden…the One who made us and knows us best…the One who created friendship simultaneously as he formed the dust.
Sometimes we walk with a gaggle of friends. There is chatter that covers a thousand topics. It is somehow organized and fruitful. It too, is sacred. We look to the first visit in the garden and do it over and over again with friends we hold closer than family.
What a great gift we have received in the souls of our friends, to walk in the council of hearts knitted together, and create sacred spaces on the simple paths of a garden beyond beautiful gates.
*A favorite resource by servants who had no benefit to realize or research this topic: Kang, C.H. and Nelson, Ethel R. The Discovery of Genesis. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1979.