I have been working on a series of wood collages the past couple of weeks and last week it was finally time to begin painting them. Tuesday evening was the first rain free evening of the week so I took advantage of the opportunity to get outside and paint. I laid out a big sheet of paper on the ground, put the collages on top of the paper and began to apply the first layer of paint. I was only painting the backs of the collages in the first round so it didn't take very long to get them coated. As I came inside after moving them to the porch to dry for the rest of the evening, I began to feel stinging and itchy pain on my arms and feet. Upon investigation I found that I had been bitten by mosquitoes several times on both arms and once on each foot during my little outdoor adventure. Subtle swelling of the spots ensued and I quickly applied some aloe to cool the burning pain of the bites.
I immediately recognized the silliness of the situation. I should have known better than to paint outside, at dusk, on a summer evening without some sort of bug bite prevention in place. However, what had happened had already happened so there was nothing to be done but breathe through the immediacy of the pain, wait for it to subside, and make a mental note to avoid such a situation in the future. In fact, I did more than just make a mental note about it - I posted a status update on Facebook about it stating "the next time I get the bright idea to paint outside at dusk on a summer evening - please remind me that bugs bite." I guess I figured that actually writing it down and putting my experience out there in the virtual world might help me remember the painful reality of the moment and assist me in my vow to not repeat such an event.
Time passed and the stinging and swelling subsided and all of a sudden it was Friday evening and I found myself with some free time to fill. It was a nice evening again so I thought to myself that I really should get a layer of paint on the front of the collages. So outside I went and laid out a big sheet of paper and placed the collages on top of it and began to apply the first coat of paint to the front of the collages. I was half way through coating the second collage when I felt the itchiness start and the realization dawned on me that I was painting outside, at dusk, on a summer evening and I reminded myself - oh yeah - bugs bite. Fifteen bites later, the collages were resting on the porch to dry for the evening and I was, once again, inside applying the cooling salve of aloe to my burning and itching arms.
What is it about the human brain that allows us to have experiences, learn lessons from those experiences and yet still allows us to venture into the same setup again when we know full well that the outcome may be quite painful? Is it a desire to test the nature of things, is it an innate sense of arrogance challenging us to prove that what we know should happen will not occur just because we do not want it to? Maybe it is an underlying acceptance of pain as an interwoven aspect of life and our previous experiences with pain have taught us that with time comes the easing of pain and eventual healing. Or perhaps it is simply a lack of attention to intention as we move through the moments of life.
It was certainly not my intention to hurt myself by going outside to paint on Friday evening, I was distracted by the task at hand and did not even think to take a moment to be attentive to the entirety of the situation. This lack of attention to the whole very often leads to complex and sometimes messy situations. Awareness of the larger context of any given situation can provide insight into the intricacies of actions, interactions, and reactions that may occur. Such insights allow space for the understanding of motivations and situations that, without a willingness to be tuned in to the big picture, may be overwhelming, confusing, or discomforting.
Contextual attentiveness offers us an opportunity to enter into situations with an understanding spirit and, if needed, the proper equipment necessary for a positive and engaging outcome. That being said, I am also fully aware that it remains impossible for the human brain to have a complete understanding of the whole of any context regardless of our intentions. We simply do not have access to every bit of information that is necessary in any given situation to have a complete understanding. There are so many variables at play in the equation of each moment that it is almost surprising that we come through so well, so often.
Here enters grace. Grace which knows that which we do not know and intervenes even when we are unaware of the assistance we receive. Grace cushions our humanity and empowers us to encounter each experience in open fullness. Grace is not a magic wand that makes all things as we wish them to be, it does not always act to prevent pain or complexity, nor does the presence of grace relieve us of our responsibility to be attentive and aware of that which we can grasp and act on in any situation. Yet grace continues to be present, filling in the gaps of our human knowledge and sorting out far more than forgotten bug spray.
So, here I sit with the remnants of bug bites on my arms reminding me to be thankful for the Grace which constantly surrounds and inconspicuously intercedes in so many moments of life.
Bug Bites - That's Theological.