The Common Good
May-June 1996

Renewing the Temple

by Joy Downing Riley | May-June 1996

At altitude on scaffolding to uncover art

At altitude on scaffolding to uncover art
is a good dream and I'm still awake
finding I belong up high getting dirty in the rafters
with the monks chanting in the chancel,
and the dry wall-ers clearing their sinuses somewhere
below. Sounds come back from inside
this great church wall when I whack a steel girder
with the end of the scrub brush like I had ached
God's own rib and He resounded, "I'm here...
I'm everlasting, just like in the ancient places."

I do taste oldness up here, splintered Doug fir,
dried and sooted, history's own darkness
collected in layers and lost, until
this awakening with my sponge soaking away
the rage of fire in the attic forty years ago.
Misty sprays of solvent extract dirt
the way good love pulls out fear
and firm dabbing encourages mute colors to speak
what they have had to say for years.

How is it that all it has taken is touch,
the reaching back of my hand to restore
what the work of many artists' hands have left for me?
It is more that the Spirit who blends together
all forms that seem naturally not to belong
would not be forgotten. Here is my part:
bring out the zagging shapes that look grey
back to yellow, a hardier self, help arthritic
purples flex their true crimson, show oranges
crippled how to be ready to walk away for a life
of their own.

No re-birth has ever been complete without water
so I rinse each design on the beam, the spray
baptizing like waves on rocks. Grime turns to mud,
mud into a brown river freeing itself
all the way down the wood into the sea
of my bucket waiting for more, a blessed point
of no return. Always, each full bucket
has the hint of red paint because it's the red alone
that bleeds when cleansed, the center inside of the green
circle. Wet, it brightens like an exposed heart,
and dry, it still brightens
as if a secret sadness, at last, is revealed.

JOY DOWNING RILEY co-coordinates the food outreach program for Community Presbyterian Church in Ventura, California, which feeds 1,300 people each month from the church parking lot.

 

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