Reflection on “Despair…and Hope” and the Mental Health First Aid Class

By Liz Danielian

Anyone who has had the opportunity to see the Sacred Threads quilts hanging in our sanctuary and fellowship hall knows that these are true works of art…images that use fabric and thread instead of paints and brushes, clay, or notes to communicate one of the 7 themes of this exhibit. Art, in all its many forms, has the power of capturing the complex and varied emotions of the human experience and transmitting that to the audience. Art can speak directly to our souls, sometimes in a powerful and unexpected way, without need for interpretation, translation, or explanation. And, this is one of the reasons that art and spirituality go hand in hand. At WRPC, we have a deep understanding of this idea and our community of faith has been enriched by the intentional and varied experiences of creating, learning, listening, and viewing art and having art regularly incorporated into worship and into the life of our church.

Art can communicate emotions, especially ones that we ourselves have not experienced, in a far more powerful and true way then words alone could do. This was my experience in seeing “Despair…and Hope.” Even before reading the artist’s description, I was drawn down into this work--the feeling of being in a dark hole. After reading, I learned this image was the “bottom of the well” of the artist’s chronic depression. The figure posed at the bottom appears small and closed off, then, the vertical lines and trees that directed my eyes up to the crescent of bright light and brilliant green shining far above, but, only a small part and not always accessible to the figure at the bottom. But, days that she is able to climb the tree she finds the light—hope!


I have listened to numerous people describe their experience of depression. Despair, loneliness, and absence of color/light/joy are among their experiences, and are so poignantly captured in this image. What I especially love about this work is that it does not end there. It also shows light, color, and a way to climb out of the darkness and escape the loneliness and despair—it shows hope for recovery.

As some of you may know, at the same time this exhibit has been on display at WRPC, we had our first Mental Health First Aid class. Twenty-four people from 5 congregations and 4 cities, of widely varying ages and experiences, came together on 2 consecutive Sunday afternoons in January, surrounded by the quilts. As a class they learned how to recognize when someone is dealing with a mental health issue and how to safely and effectively give help and hope for recovery.

During the section of our class on depression, we were able to specifically direct folks to experience Elaine Ross’s work and read the words of the artist regarding her chronic depression. This unexpected gift of having the exhibit up during the MHFA class, and the fact that this piece in particular was among the ones that were brought to WRPC, was a highly enriching experience for all of us.

God created us with the capacity to experience incredibly profound, complex, deep, and sometimes unwieldy emotions. God also instilled in each of us the ability to create art and to be drawn into art in its many forms. (Yes, everyone is an artist!) I believe this is by God’s divine design, to provide us with a way to express and share those feelings, emotions, and inner stirring of our hearts and minds that are too complicated and profound for words alone. But through, color, stitch, brush stroke, notes, and movement….our souls and spirits are able to begin to process emotion and comprehend complex feelings in a different way.

Our full range of emotions is our palette with which we bring color to our lives. ~Anne Copeland

I haven't understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it. ~Igor Stravinsky

Paint from your soul. Paint what touches your heart and paint it in a way that lifts your spirit. Then not only will you be sharing a part of yourself with others, you will stir the viewer's emotion. This is what people remember – not how cleverly you have painted something...~Susan Harrison-Tustain

What I want is that my picture should evoke nothing but emotion. ~Pablo Picasso

When I am alone with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear. ~Giuseppe Verdi

I hope that anyone who has not yet gotten an opportunity to view the quilts or who wants another chance to experience them will do so before February 23rd when they will move on to their next location.   

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