I first began working with mud as a medium in 2008, when I was volunteering in South Africa with various organizations that supported local schools. As an artist, I understand how important the experience of creation can be in a child's education, and I was frustrated that the children I was working with were rarely given creative opportunities in school, partly because of a lack of resources. On my walk to work each day, I passed by lots of mole hills with lovely, freshly turned earth. At some point, my desire to find a cheap artistic medium collided with my surroundings, and I thought, "Why not mud?"
Throughout my time in South Africa, I experimented with different techniques and processes, and I collected many different colors of dirt. I now paint frequently in mud. I love the textures it makes. I love how it smells. I love that it connects me tangibly to places I care about. I love that there seem to be as many colors of dirt as there are of people.
In one of the creation stories in the Bible, we are told that God formed Adam out of dirt, and I like to pretend that God did that for every human, that each of us is made from some dirt and a bit of God-breath. Later in the Bible, we are told that we will return to dust when we die. The way I see it we, and all the rest of creation, are somewhere between dirt and dust. Christmas is the season when we recognize the supremely humbling truth that our God, the immaculate and holy creator of the universe, chose to become dirt like us.
The Twelve Days of Christmas end on Epiphany, when Christians remember the arrival of the Magi, a group of foreigners who have traveled a great distance to visit Jesus. In South Africa, I was treated like a magus (the singular of magi, apparently). I was very obviously from a far-off place. I was assumed to be wealthy. I was often assumed to be wise (though I usually revised that notion within five minutes!). In other words, I was even more privileged than I am in the United States. But as I worked and worshipped alongside people who were so different from me in most ways, I became convinced of two things: 1.) We are all dirt, and 2.) God loves dirt far more than I do.
Up to this point in the Christmas narrative, only a few poor Jewish people - Mary, Joseph, a handful of shepherds - have met their King. Epiphany, however, marks the initial introduction of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Christmas is incomplete without the Magi because they give us a glimpse of a bigger picture. The baby these dusty, travel-weary strangers worship will die as much for them as for anyone. And the breath-catching, heart-starting news for us dusty, life-weary strangers is that he died as much for us as he did for them.
Here's an image I painted with South African
mud based off a scene of a video I made
for my church's Christmas Eve service.
Read more about Sarah below
Sarah served in several local nonprofits in Grahamstown and Mthatha, South Africa in 2008. She has since gotten her MFA in Illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and is getting her MA in Children's Literature at Hollins University. She is currently working as a preschool teacher outside of Vancouver, WA, where the kids are encouraged to play in the mud, and even paint with it! To view more of her artwork, visit her website at www.clearasmudillustration.com. Sarah heads up the Sojourner Support team, encouraging the newest Krista Colleagues during their service and transition.