Life, ephemeral painting, eternal portrait

Gebriel Alazar Tesfatsion
4 min readJul 6, 2021
Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay

Forgive the cliché ( but then can anyone ever say anything of substance, meaning in today’s world without coming off as cliché, corny, or even parochial?) —but what if this thing we call life, existence, is, in truth, painting, that we are really painters, seated before our respective canvas, in the act of one live portrait painting, and that every word we utter, action and reaction we take, thought we entertain in our mind, and feeling we hold in our heart, are strokes on that canvas; and that the portrait we are painting is this invisible figure posing before us called self, character, the self or character we become; that the purpose of our existence, the reason our Creator, the Greatest Art Teacher, sent us forth is to paint that painting in as aesthetic as we possibly can. The aesthetics of our portrait depends upon how each stroke is wholesome or is in anyway a slight to ourselves, our fellow beings, the environment, and all the animate and inanimate beings in it.

We do not ever take a break from this task; not even when we are most passive, as when we go completely virtual, when we immerse ourselves in the virtual world of entertainment , in our wish to escape from it — this idleness are but smudge paints upon the canvas of our existence — we are painting our character in what we let our senses attend to. We are still painting even when we are sleeping, in our unconsciousness, in the unconscious thoughts and feelings that run around the deserted pathways of our hearts and minds.

There lies our tragedy. The world conspires with our flesh to blind us to this truth, to the truth that there is only wholeness, that the painting of self, on the canvas of our existence is one, whole, incessant painting of the one portrait. We are fooled into believing that that painting, like material paintings, are one that we can leave and come back to at will; that we only need to paint the character that we wish to exhibit in the moment, when we come unto the presence of people, the world, such as, between 9 am and 5 pm on weekdays, in the impression we make in the way we dress to impress; in the way we are measured and considerate in our choice of words; in the way we act and react; the thoughts we express and we hold back; the feelings we exhibit towards the people we come across; and that these skimpy, transparent veil of momentary show would conceal the character we have spent our lifetime painting on the great big canvas of our existence. The clearest, most elemental brushstroke of the painting of self are the actions and inactions, thoughts and feelings a person makes when alone.

The people, the world, of course, see through this show, this façade. They peek at what we have been able to paint and react to us accordingly. We see that reaction in the way they, the world, life treat us. Perhaps the reactions startle us. At the extreme, one might in exasperation be moved to tear the canvas into pieces, by committing suicide. Only we cannot tear the canvas — it is untearable. Suicide is just another stroke — one, final, indiscriminate, ugly stroke across the canvas that defaces it irrevocably, even when the rest of the painting were majestic. We ought to only take heed of these reactions, and let the reactions be the gauge of the aesthetics of our painting, or the lack there of. Aesthetics is not in the absence of tests, suffering, and even failures in life, but quite the contrary; absence of suffering is inaesthetic — the more aesthetic our portrait becomes, the more the world and our flesh conspire to deface it.

The greatest painters among us are those who succeed in finding true purpose in their life and live their life in its worship, for only in worship can we paint self with devotion. True purpose is the purpose that we are most generous, selfless, productive, joyful in serving.

Life does come with a paint eraser , of course — it is called repentance. We make use of that tool when we collapse on our knees, heartily repent our mis-strokes, so to speak. Repentance removes the the pesky paints in our character.

Image by Glauco Gianoglio from Pixabay

Our painting of the portrait of self comes to end when we die. That is when we get to see what we have painted in earnest. Will I, I wonder, be among those who cover or close their eyes or flinch to behold the monstrosity they have made on the pristine canvas they were given upon coming into existence staring back at them — monstrosity painted with a lifetime of mediocrity, indifference, cowardice, selfishness, etc, that swallows up the little goodness we have done?! Afterwards, we await holding our painting in our bosoms inside our graves, until the hour comes when all the painters from the beginning of time are called forth to come with our portraits before the Great Art Teacher. We shall hold up our portrait, either squirming with shame and guilt, or in delight, for His inspection and grading. There are only two grades: pass or fail, not even probation. We shall know our result on whether the just Art Teacher scowls or smiles upon our painting. The ultimate price of our portrait is either eternal life of joy or torment.

Thus we paint our eternity with our blithe, heedless every actions and inactions, thoughts and feelings.