4 x 4

by Ellen in


So, tomorrow I have sortof my first real project due.... it's supposed to be 4ft x 4ft. It doesn't have to be one single photo...it could be a collage, or a mosaic or something. BUT materials cost a lot of money, and printing photos in general costs a lot of money, so I decided to keep it simple and test my luck in the DIS (Digital Printing Studio). Keep in mind that I've never printed anything digitally myself, I've only ever printed from my own photos in the darkroom. So printing digitally couldn't be that hard, right? Press the "Print" button and HELLO you have a print. Well, it's not that easy...there are a lot of steps to go through, and it's not rocket science, but I won't bore you with the details. My first digital print wasn't too shabby, especially since it is almost as big as I am.

Here's the photo I used, and then I'll explain how I got to it:


So I have this bracelet that I wear everyday that Eyleen gave me for graduation from Memphis in 2008. It's a Mobius bracelet with the first part of the Prayer of St. Francis written on it. It is a very special gift because Eyleen and I went to Assisi together (with 19 children and 5 other adults), and I can't speak for her, but I really had some heart-changing experiences in our short 48 hours there. Assisi is not only beautiful and well-preserved, it seems to contain a different sort of holiness than any other holy place I've been in. Maybe it's because the spirit and the mission of St. Francis feels so alive there...I'd like to think so.

Anyway, I wear this bracelet everyday not only to remind me of the connection I have with a wonderful friend and mentor, but to help myself live into this prayer and make it a part of my attitude about God's gift of life. I've encountered St. Francis in many ways throughout my life, and for some reason, those experiences stick out in my head: first, when I was little little little, St. Francis Catholic Church was being built on Germantown Parkway while my family was living in Countrywood, the neighborhood behind the church. We drove by it a LOT, and I remember asking my dad who St. Francis was (Dad probably has zero recollection of this, but I remember it well), and he said that St. Francis took care of animals. In my 4 year old brain, this is what happened- St. Francis liked animals+I like animals=I like St. Francis.

Then, as I got a little older, I was going to St. Mary's, where we had chapel everyday, and all of a sudden, we started reading the Prayer of St. Francis on page 833 in the BCP very frequently. I know that I was in middle school, because I remember what side of the church I was sitting on when it first spoke to me. That may have been one of my earliest, realest, experiences with knowing that God is real and active. I understood this prayer as a way of life, and why can't everyone be like it? I have a feeling I'm not alone in thinking any of this, because I can recall that the murmur of voices in chapel grew to a distinct recitation of this prayer because it had seeped into our brains and we thought it important enough to know it by heart.

Fast forward about 10 years, and here I am in Assisi, Italy, sitting in St. Francis' basilica at night, surrounded by Giotto's frescoes, and listening to a youth choir sing the most beautiful songs. I felt completely transformed...by the physical location, by the friends who were with me, and by the peacefulness that seems to be a part of the air there. It was the only place I didn't buy anything, and I felt bummed about that, because I wanted to take a piece of it with me, but then in May, my wish was granted when Heather and Ed came back from Italy and brought me something from Assisi. I swear, that girl knows me best.
I haven't even gotten to the part about going to the wilderness to pray and being able to see the most beautiful views and walk in the path of so many pilgrims before us. Don't worry, I've already written WAY more than I had planned.
Also, in my application portfolio for SFAI, I included this photo, which was taken when we arrived in Assisi:
I guess it worked, because here I am.

Speaking of where I am currently--I'm not sure if you have yet to realize where this is going, but I live in a place called San Francisco. To me, it is no coincidence that I was called to yet another place where the spirit of St. Fran is alive and well, and in a city named for him, no less. In 1776, the Spaniards found this place (after they kicked out the native people who lived here), built a mission, dedicated it to St. Francis, and named the city San Francisco. The mission still exists...it's appropriately located in the neighborhood called The Mission, and it's SF's oldest structure. It's beautiful and very small. I saw it on Sunday.

I am not Catholic, and I don't worship any saints, nor am I fond of making idols out of men. St. Fran is sort of like a friendly ghost--a Nearly Headless Nick, if you will--and I think that Jesus speaks to me through the knowledge I gain about St. Francis. I can see God using a human like him to change the minds and hearts of generations...he was a little crazy, pretty much always naked because he was always giving away his clothes to people who needed them more than he did, he talked to the birds, and admittedly got stuff wrong a lot. But he was committed to listening to God and fervently enacting all the things that God showed to him, especially changing the stiff, ritualistic concept of church. Then there were the Franciscan monks. And then he wrote beautiful, poignant, difficult prayers like the one we all know...the one that is written on my bracelet. And like my bracelet, which has neither a beginning nor an end, my encounters with St. Francis' life seem to be moving in a circle.

I'm not going to say all of that in class tomorrow, so this is probably what I'll say: I wear this bracelet everyday with the Prayer of St. Francis on it, and I really love it. It helps to remind me what I'm here to do, and even more so when I see the part that says, "where there is darkness, LIGHT," because I identify with using and needing light to make art. And since I live in San Francisco, it seems really fitting that I love St. Francis' words so much. Also, I wanted to see something really small and everyday blown up to be really BIG so that it doesn't look so everyday anymore.

Something like that.

And yes, the photo is HUGE, and it makes me a little nervous. Now I'm concerned that I have just committed myself to a lifetime of living into St. Fran's words, and now I have all of you to hold me accountable. What an easy task.

On the agenda for next time- church Sunday and new friends I made!