A Narrative Journal of London / Paris 2014
by Ariel Blocher-Smith, John Wesley Scholar, Class of 2016
All photos (except group shot by Darek Jarmola) taken by Ariel Blocher-Smith
Coming out of a long, cold winter has been a gradual warming process. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer close to Thanksgiving 2013. From then on, I went through a time of testing, choosing to trust in God and learning to be brave. The freezing temperatures of early 2014 tried to seep into my soul; dad’s illness at home brought an isolated, distanced feeling to my heart. My emotions rose and fell like an ocean wave, from vulnerable with flowing tears, to blank and stony, pretending nothing was wrong. What kept me alive was God’s promises and his Word. Two things I was certain about: my dad was eventually going to be okay, and I was supposed to register for the London/Paris trip with the IWU Art Department.
Passionate about art and adventures, I was ready to explore foreign countries and see works of art I had only dreamed about visiting. Through this trip, God was getting ready to do something amazing. After weeks of preparation, a group of ten students flew across the Atlantic for ten days of life changing cultural experiences. On the plane ride over, I made a new friend: Maja from Denmark, who made me forget my winter fears of having nothing to say. My love for meeting new people resurfaced, and we had a pleasant flight, discussing differences between our countries, our lives, and our shared enjoyment of dystopian young adult novels. Early on in the adventure, God revealed his divine itinerary: meet new people, listen carefully and pay attention, take opportunities as they come, keep calm, and be thankful.
Visiting museums, churches, and national landmarks, our group searched for beauty in every situation and location. Our whole trip was filled with wonder and new experiences, even through lost baggage and a broken elevator. Having be en to London once before, I wondered if it would seem boring, but I actually found the city even more interesting. It was almost like coming home to an old friend, filled with warmth and delight. Seeing Paris for the first time was magical, being both similar and different to what I expected. Everything glowed with a romantic radiance and street art was emblazoned on almost every surface. The streets were dirty and dingy, however, something I hadn’t anticipated. Life moved at a different pace, much slower and more relationship-oriented than American life.
During our travels, I had a few favorite moments in London and Paris. On Pentecost Sunday in London, I had the opportunity to give my devotional to the congregation of Wesleyan Christian Centre. Reading Makoto Fujimura’s A Letter To Young Artists, I also made a few remarks about the unity of the church and the Holy Spirit. Because of my HNR-230 class, I had to adopt a spiritual mentor, and chose Makoto Fujimura. Reading his Refractions every day, he was instrumental to my growth in peace and trust in God. Mako’s works would prepare me well for the winter hardships ahead. After the church service, a woman came to thank me for speaking. She was a writer and had been at an impasse with her words for a long time. As I spoke, she said that inspiration dawned on her and she finally knew where to go next. God’s beauty and power continually astonishes me. If, by testing my courage, God had me speak in front of an entire church just to inspire one writer, then I am willing to release my fears and let him use me for his purposes.
In France, we traveled by train and bus to Giverny, where Claude Monet resided and painted his famous water lily paintings. Seeing the gardens and pond was a childhood dream come true, the colorful blooms exploding like an Impressionist brushstroke coming to life. Planning ahead, I brought a watercolor set to create a piece inspired by Monet’s works. Taking in the misty air while layering on colors, tiny raindrops rippled on the pond surface, and birds chimed in with bright, clear songs. As I painted, people stopped to sneak a peek at my work, giving their approval and encouragement; “Magnifique!” a guard quipped. In that moment, I was having fun with art, something my illustration professor has encouraged me to pursue. My professor also tells our class consistently that, as artists, we hold a great deal of influence. While those words may seem empty in a classroom, they hold truth in the real world. When sketching while abroad, people took notice and stared at the object we were drawing too.
At the end of our experience, it was the people I traveled with that made my time worthwhile. Spending ten days with new and familiar faces made me realize how blessed I am to meet people and connect with them. While I kept to myself in the winter, quietly surviving through my father’s illness, summer, traveling, and friends came to awaken my soul from its hibernation. The God of the Universe romanced me back into believing that the world is astonishingly beautiful. Matthew 5:6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” After a draining winter, I hungered for renewal and restoration, and found it in museums, churches, nature, and people. As my father regained his strength and health, I discovered my boldness and let my faith grow stronger. God revealed to me through his world and his Word how loved I am. In the end, love is the only thing that can heal a wounded soul and melt a frozen heart.