Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana steps to the podium to bring the message on the second day of Christian Peacemaker Teams's 25th Anniversary Peace Congress in Chicago. As the worship had begun, Presbyterian Pastor Shawna Bowman entered the empty space before the podium, knelt before the blank black page taped to the floor and began to paint.
By the time Dr. Shanta came forward, a border had been largely filled by Shawna and my eyes left her for a time, engaged in Dr. Shanta's words.
Addressing himself to the Exodus text on the gift of manna, theology, Dr. Shanta reminded us, is not an abstraction. It cannot be. And we help determine the context in which each of our theologies will develop by the simple act of choosing: who will be at table with you today?
Dr. Shanta was reminding us that the people of the margins are seldom invited to the tables of folks like me. Perhaps it was the sting of that truth; I don't know. But it was at that moment that my eyes reverted to Pastor Shawna's drawing. It seemed somehow safer.
My line of sight was drawn by Shawna's actions to the far right side of her work. Figures run up the page, perpendicular to the floor. I'm looking at her creation sideways. Shawna's hands, captivate me . . . she is literally drawing on the margins Shanta is describing. . . while he invites us to notice who is absent from the table, Shawna is drawing . . . curling, whorling, swirling black on black strokes . . . there, on the margins . . . on the margins of the page as in the margins of our lives . . . there, God is still speaking.
As Shanta continues to speak of the margin space, Shawna adds more whorls and swirls, but now in vivid color . . . suddenly, the margins are alive . . . the place where movement is happening . . .
It's been there all along . . .
And the age-old invitation comes back . . . Let them with eyes to see see . . .
I am so grateful for the eyes of Shawna and Shanta and so many, many, others, out there, at the margins, living and working and dancing and bringing life-giving color to those like me in the comfortable middle of things. . . that space where colors too often fade into complacency.
Photo by Tim Nafziger, courtesy of CPT