Wondering while Wandering…an artist’s limp toward finding ‘Radiance Through the Rain’

‘May the Rain of Suffering Soften Our Hearts, Seeping Radiance to Our Thirsty Places.’

J. Douglas Thompson© 2022


The following blog posts reveal a thoughtful, struggling wayfarer who yes, doubts, has slipped, sipped and swallowed at the rim of life’s light, dark storms, and misty shadows, and yet hangs on! That would be me! Yes, a Christian author and artist who has faith, but not mindless without struggle and asking hard questions.

Beauty and brokenness, or as John Lennox, professor of mathematics at Oxford has stated, ‘beauty and barbed wire’ are daily fare of earth’s fellow pilgrims. This draws me to consider that light demands darkness to truly sparkle. These personal musings or psalms are primarily for my own benefit as I continue my journey of working things out!

Maybe somewhere here however, they will also find residence with someone else and be an encouragement for a fellow pilgrim traveller to keep working things out. These are best found out where doubt can be expressed, where dialogue occurs over coffee or fine wine, and often within the idea of where two or three are hanging out in his name seeking direction.

You possibly would think I was more an armchair theologian along with being an artist if you glanced through my library. We all seem to have our own predilections! I love books and books on art or faith seem to be the first purchased. I think using the act of doing art as a metaphor for the layers of time and struggle required in creating a fine piece of art or a fully lived life are worth consideration. These musings will integrate the act of art making, photography, personal poetry and anecdotal travel experiences into some of my personal devotional insights. Let me say again, personal! I don’t want to come across as preachy and certainly not top down, but rather musings offering invitation for you to come along exploring if you wish.

I’ve found through study and personal experience, this not to be something dusty and theoretical but a personal reality of light and hope. Let me quickly add it’s not been some sweet time with warm croissants and fine coffee, but rather, hard tearful wrestling, often swathed in thick cold mud. If not literally, certainly figuratively!

I found myself studying theology at college in the late 60’s and early 70’s, thinking that would be my career path of maybe chaplain, pastor or missionary. In reality, instead of attending most classes, I was maybe unknowingly being a non-conformist, hiking nearby parks, sitting in fine hotel café bars drinking good coffee while writing poetry and revelling in the many art galleries then in uptown Toronto.

I think I was in fact studying theology, however mostly through the prism of viewing art created by human minds and hands and also viewing the natural world with awe as I hiked and wandered.

Francis of Assisi talked of the ‘Word of God’ and the ‘Word of Nature’ both giving us potential insight. Through this multi-level study I began to accept and take on a personal world-view. The act of ongoing, never ending creating through mark making that can be understood and of having consciousness expressed through words is what separates us from all other species. Does all this point us to having been made in the image of a creator? I personally believe that but I’ll probably ask more questions here than propose hard and fast answers.

During that time of ‘theological study’ I also often sat, entranced, listening to fine folk music in small, dim-lit rooms along the nearby venues such as Yorkville Avenue. Artists like Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie and painter Ken Danby plied their early careers in those, Soho-like milieus. Opportunity rang its bell, and I should have figured a way to answer, as it would have been wise to have-invested in one of the old broken down houses that lined the streets. Decade’s later high-end rollers wander the same streets that are worth multi-millions. Oh well…

I wandered and wondered also nearby in ‘Rochdale College,’ a student run government funded ‘educational’ experiment, where ‘free love and mind bending drugs’ laced spaced out bodies, lying across each other over the eighteen floors. So much for the practice of formal theological studies up the street! All that to say, I still have and continue to read from a large personal library of books on history, philosophy, faith and art while continuing my journey of struggle, wondering, wrestling while wandering.

For those of you who have purchased my limited edition coffee table book, *‘Radiance Through the Rain,’ some of the material there will be repeated or revised here. The following is directly from the book describing the other side of my creative life, the act of painting!

*Welcome to my studio!

“Working through a painting is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding, even a spiritual act. Art is not a trite plaything, but involves intense involvement on many levels. This is why my wife warns me by ringing a little bell before entering the studio. I am off in a far country, wandering multiple paths and any sudden interruption can result in a tailspin of PTSD over-reaction. The bell helps me come back to a single point. The actual act of putting paint to canvas is almost subconscious, as simultaneously disparate thoughts and techniques dance their many forms through my brush.

My desire here is to take you on several of those ethereal pathways. I see the two of us sitting together, having a cup of coffee or glass of wine while I paint, and I let you in on some of my soul thoughts.

I am a follower of the Word, one who was and yet still is…

I am a wanderer…

I am a broken struggler…

I am in process…

I am a fighter – I’ve chosen hope, when despair attempted complete desolation…

I am thoughtful – pushing back against the obnoxious simplistic…

I am an artist who observes and portrays beauty, both darkness and light…

I am a poet – a lover of all the senses, and how each enhances life…

I am called to shed light – and there is light!

Soli Deo Gloria (SDG) is Latin for ‘Glory to God alone.’ It has been used by artists such as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, signifying the work was produced as an act of praising God. I’ve had many who’ve asked what the letters SDG mean when placed near my signature. For me, each painting is a small human attempt at reflecting light and expressing gratitude back to the light giver. My hope is that as you dip into this overview, that some of my ‘I ams’ will push through the rim of life’s mist with the gleam of atmospheric light. Maybe it will encourage some struggler in the darkest depths to persevere while seeking help. For others, it will at least give some insight into my artistic purposes in bringing more awareness to all we’ve richly been given.

My late poet friend penned these words about me after one of our regular forays into nature’s bounds.

“Tis mystery to me

How in delicate degree

His ink on paper rendering

Makes pleasant the remembering

What others surely miss

When passing same the scene.”

– Elwood (Woody) Sparrow

My metaphors are often mixed just as I’m prone to blending and folding in two primary colours, then moving from warm to cool, dark to light. It is there I arrive at the more nuanced, subtle, neutral values, and yes, more sophisticated colours. There is constant flashing fluidity in those ongoing decisions. Nothing is neatly contained in a pretty, sweet little paint box mind behind my quiet demeanour. No, just behind this introvert lies a wildness too long corralled!

In the intertwining of both painted words and images through this blog, I will endeavour to show that my life has been a personal quest toward gratitude through endurance. I savour both the rain and sunshine. In this richness of life light seeps through, touching deep personal struggle, spiritual hope, and genuine authenticity.

My purpose statement for this last quarter of my life describes my desire to be an agent of awakening awareness, encouraging endurance, and blessing beauty with wild creativity.

My story painted slashes the canvas of struggle. It is why I see storm clouds and why depression has dogged my reality. It is through decades of this depression that later, when light finally came, there was emergent healing leading to forgiveness. But for that previous 60-year span I became and remained ice numb. Now that I have grieved intensely all that was lost, the cascading rapids are becoming a little more settled.

My hope in this blog now, as was in the book, is to spend more time in the space that resides between the rain and the sunshine. It is in the transition that I find nuance. I am not tempted toward stridency found in black and white, with its simplistic answers to profound questions…”