The Art of Faith 2021: Painting my story

This text is published in our parish bulletin on November 7 and November 14, 2021. Art for Andre fundraiser was an opportunity to articulate the story of my art in these past few years.

In these past couple of weeks, I have donated nearly 200 original pieces of art for a fundraiser for the remodeling of the former rectory to be called, “Saint André House.” During the event on the weekend of October 23/24, many people asked me what it was like to let go of the originals. Parishioners thanked me for being vulnerable enough to send my art into the world. They also wanted to know more about my art, the history of my art at Sacred Heart, and why I began painting.

When I arrived at the parish in 2013, Lisa Lundquist was offering art workshops for our Holy Cross novices. She asked me for space in the Parish Center because there was a large class of novices, and she was running out space in her home. I offered her space with one request, that I wanted to be part of the workshop as well. 

Lisa was very sensitive to my desire to paint. She pondered how to start with me. Lisa knew that I carried a great amount of grief to my new assignment from Portland where I had served people in poverty. The transition into being a pastor in Colorado was not easy. Lisa decided to use that grief as a doorway into my creativity. 

Lisa prepared two sheets of paper taped to a wall, dabbed some black paint on a Styrofoam plate, poured water into a cup, and washed out a brush. She brought me into the room and sat me down. She asked me to describe one of the people I missed from Portland. I described with words a woman who had been abused as a child, with curly hair, thick glasses, and who served as a janitor in a nursing home. I told her that she did not like herself, that the abuse had scarred her for life. Lisa took the brush, dipped it in water and paint and approached the white paper. In less than two minutes the woman appeared on the wall, with thick glasses, head downcast, holding a mop in her hand next to a bucket. I stared at the image and wept. Lisa had captured the woman perfectly in acrylic. 

Lisa then asked me to describe a second person. I described a young man who lived in a tent in the woods in Portland.  He, too, had been abused as a child, and could not keep a job. He had been received into the Church at an Easter Vigil. He always sat in the last row of our chapel with his arms over the back pew, wearing a baseball cap. Lisa handed me the brush with black paint and told me to paint him. I approached the white paper and in a couple of minutes an image of this man appeared. I dropped the brush in the water, stood back from the two images and cried my eyes out. I wept in grief. I wept in hope that they both would find what they needed. 

Lisa then looked at me and said, “See, everything you need is inside of you. All you need is to paint.” I go back to her words often. As I look back now, what is inside of me is my desire to see the face of Jesus Christ. I have painted my way into a deeper communion with Jesus, exploring my heart’s desire to encounter him, to hear his voice, and to see him not just at the end of time, but here every day.

The pinnacle of my art happened during the pandemic. Just before the shutdown, I was commissioned by Liturgical Press in Minnesota to illustrate the “Stations of the Cross in Atonement for Sexual Abuse and the Healing of All.” At first, I resisted the invitation because I knew that my art was not what the publishing house normally uses for their publications. I thought my approach was too abstract. However, the editor of the project, John Kyler, persisted. I painted all fourteen stations in the first weeks of the shutdown and handed in the project on May 1, 2020. 

After the book was published in December 2020, I began to realize that I too, was abused by a priest. I had never put the pieces together before. A priest, a family friend, sent me to another priest because I was not attractive enough for him. I never put those pieces together until doing the illustrations for the Stations of the Cross. The art has healed me. It is no wonder I told the stories of the two people who were both sexually abused when I began painting. I am amazed that at 65 years old, I am still learning about my life in so many ways, still unveiling truth. 

One of the highlights so far of my years at Sacred Heart was my art exhibit at Cottonwood Gallery for the Arts in May 2021. Sacred Heart Parishioners John and Sandy Goddard were instrumental in persuading the gallery to examine my work. The month-long exhibit of the originals was an incredible experience for many people. Over 900 people viewed my work during that month. I had many people tell me the story of their own abuse by family members or family friends. The effects of the abuse still linger as a cloud over present day relationships and activities for so many people. 

During that month, I learned that the priest who led me to a different priest was convicted of five counts of abuse and sentenced to prison for 8-15 years. I still cannot believe after 45 years that the sentencing happened in the same month as my exhibit. Healing abounds. Now, I have come to believe the reason I started painting was to help me get to the realization that I had been abused as well. 

I mentioned to many people during the Art for André fundraiser that my relationship with Sacred Heart Parish and the parish’s relationship with me is summed up in the art. These paintings represent our time together. They did not exist before I got here and will not exist after I leave the parish. These pieces of art are a segment in history of our time together. This is a beautiful reflection for me to ponder, to reflect upon in my art and in my prayer for everyone in the parish.

I never desired to hold on to the originals for long. I have found the search for my own truth and my faith more important than the final product. Over the past 8 years, I have given many of them away, donated others to fundraisers in the diocese, and sold a few. I don’t view the originals as possessions to keep. The journey of a blank canvas, the intuitive approach with paint on my fingers or brush, the quiet in my studio, the act of faith, all become prayer. The act of painting, the self-expression, and the truth are all keys to my heart.  

I paint with immediacy. I don’t spend a long time at the canvas. It is finished when the prayer or insight is finished. I have realized in my art that I paint in a similar manner as I preach. I use words from my heart; I express them in the moment, then I am finished. I don’t keep a written version of my homily because it doesn’t exist. My paintings are similar; I paint them, then I am finished with that image. Words and images are immediate; they speak, and I do not cling to them. 

Now, I do not know where art will lead me. I wait for the inspiration, the action of the Holy Spirit to guide my next moves into creativity and art. In the meantime, thank you for accepting my art and donating toward the next phase of our parish future for Saint André House. I look forward to celebrating our 100th Anniversary together in July 2022. 

7 thoughts on “The Art of Faith 2021: Painting my story

  1. Loved hearing about all of this. I found you in Give Us This Day and have been drawn to your artwork.

    Is there a place to view your exhibit or easily browse your paintings?

    On Thu, Nov 11, 2021 at 4:49 AM Broken But Not Divided wrote:

    > Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C. posted: ” This text is published in our parish > bulletin on November 7 and November 14, 2021. Art for Andre fundraiser was > an opportunity to articulate the story of my art in these past few years. > In these past couple of weeks, I have donated nearly 200 ori” >

  2. Dear Fr. Ron, now I understand….the sad faces of Jesus. May I offer you the same moment of grace that you give us. May God give YOU peace .

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