Ekphrasis, May I? By Ella deCastro Baron

sand grains.jpg

Ekphrasis, May I?

By Ella deCastro Baron

Okay, ready for your Greek word of the month?  The two dollar word you can utter nonchalantly at the next dinner party, or with a walking partner?  

[you, raising an eyebrow that pulls up a corner of your lips] “The other day, for my time with God, I did a little ekphrastic journaling.”

[whoever you’re talking to] “Oh, wonderful.” 

[same person, nodding] WUT?!

Ekphrasis, “to describe,” comes from ekphrazein, “to recount.”  It is an inspired reaction to a work of art. Usually, a person studies or meditates on an engaging piece (a sculpture, a painting, a photograph, a scene) and reacts with their imagination and spirit.  Writing and art teachers use this exercise—ekphrastic writing—to have students connect with art, to go beyond it by exploring deeper meanings. It can also cause us to co-create new material out of our imaginations!  

We should try it often and with abandon.  As a teacher once advised [with my tweaks], “Write drunk [in the spirit!], edit sober [or not at all!]  Look at a famous piece of art (like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”) or something in your yard (a bird, a succulent, fresh dirt) or pull up one of your smartphone pictures (a sunset, a silly selfie).  

Let yourself look at, interpret, praise, inhabit, confront (!), speak to or speak with this subject.  Give yourself into an ecstatic moment.  Beyond a little pause in our day, we know this can heal and propels us with vision into our destiny. 

Ekphrasis is a lot like when we study scripture. We treat the words of God as pieces of inspired art.  The Rhema (the spirit “now” word) behind the Logos (the physical recorded word) connects with us. And if we can open ourselves to what Holy Spirit wants to reveal, we find ourselves in worship with worlds of wonder!

Yesterday, we went to South Mission Beach late afternoon. (Pro-tip:  most people are leaving, heat is dissipating, and you only have to apply sunscreen once).  We pulled a wagon with boogie boards, snacks, towels, and beach chairs.  We thought we’d spend a few hours cooling off, decompressing and chatting with friends before going home to check off more of our Adulting “To do” lists.  

The kids kept jumping back in the ocean.  We didn’t stop them. We swam, strolled, sat, too. We stayed until 9 p.m., grabbing slices of New York style pizza along the boardwalk, getting home too late for anything “responsible” other than quick showers and bed!  

A day like that always reminds me of why we pay the rents we pay here in “Sun Diego” [or “Sandy Ego”!]  Grounding myself in the wet sand, jumping through waves, the seaweed braiding itself around me:  this is walking into a three dimensional artwork.  In between Lifeguard tower 12 and 13, I was reanimated in that very small but profound beach patch. 

This morning, I thought of Psalm 139 and how God has tangible, specific thoughts of me that outnumber the grains of sand on the whole planet, not just one lifeguard tower’s span!  

“Every single moment you are thinking of me!
How precious and wonderful to consider
that you cherish me constantly in your every thought!
O God, your desires toward me are more
than the grains of sand on every shore!
When I awake each morning, you’re still with me.” (Ps 139: 17-18 TPT)

I googled “magnified sand grains” and here, the ekphrastic moment opens.  This is an invitation to think about sand itself as divine art. 

Look at each of these grains of sand.  EACH miniscule grain is a work of art. (I invite you to look up more images.  Copy and save one that stuns you. I mean, can you even fathom?!) 

grains of sand. two images.jpg

Since I was at the beach, God’s thoughts started there and kept going.  For each complex grain sculpture, one thought. Here’s what I perceived:

I love how you still giggle when you catch a wave.

I love that when you’re exhausted, you pop up and say out loud to no one, “Two more waves” before you stop.  I’m the one who suggests, “FIVE more!” and you agree!

This salt water is healing your skin.  It stings on the tender places.  Keep swimming until the pain stops.  Remember how I did that for you in Hawai’i as you recovered from sickness?  I’m still doing it.

I love that you bring a book in your backpack even if you never pull it out. 

Today, your family is healthy.  I celebrate this with you!

Staying present is worth it. It’s really hard for you, I know! I made you! 

I really like that you’re the grown up who brings red velvet cookies and pulls them out when everyone is ready for a treat.

Kids have no sense of time.  I want you to abandon your sense of time, too. 

It’s so good that you’re trying to stay curious. I’ve got so many surprises for you!

Do some ekphrastic writing about what God is thinking of you, this moment, on the stretch between Lifeguard stations 12 & 13.  Look closely at each grain of sand, at how intricately it is designed.  These are how elaborate God’s thoughts are about, to, and through you. Make a list of thoughts inspired by just five or seven or ten grains. Think in first person, from God to you.  

Later, re-read what you record. Maybe write an ekphrastic sand grain thought-list to someone who needs to know how loved they are today. 

Try to imagine these thoughts multiplied by SO many more—a number we can’t quantify—each a precise, matchless longing to love you and those around you.  

 “Every single moment you are thinking of me!
How precious and wonderful to consider
that you cherish me constantly in your every thought!
O God, your desires toward me are more
than the grains of sand on every shore!
When I awake each morning, you’re still with me.”