I first heard of the Josephine Sculpture Park a little over a decade ago. The Bigs were still littles and there was some sort of fair in Lexington. The sculpture park occupied a booth space and invited littles like mine to add colorful bits and scraps to recycled containers which an artist would then integrate into a sculpture in the park.
I liked the idea of leaving a mark for someone to see and know. Something like the Whos in Whoville screaming with all their might: We are here! We are here!
Each of the Bigs made their colorful deposits. We left with a brochure, some stickers, and the knowledge that we had made our purposeful marks on something artistic. Something beautiful.
The Josephine Sculpture Park was always somewhere tucked in my mind as a place I could visit some day.
Last week, some day arrived.
According to literature at the park, the place was created in 2009 by sculptor Melanie Van Houten. The park offers seventy sculptures and murals on thirty acres of reclaimed family farmland and is snail-trailed with two miles of a five-foot wide, mowed walking path. It’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit “with the mission to connect people to each other and the land through the arts.”
My mission wasn’t so much an attempt to connect to anything, really. My mission was to simply go to this place that had simmered on some long-suffering back burner in my mind.
We pulled into the parking lot.
“What is this place” the young one asked, squirming and twisting in her booster seat to get a better look at odd shapes and colors beyond the tree line.
“Josephine Sculpture Park,” I said.
“Are you kidding me? Are. You. Kidding. Me!”
She unlatched her seatbelt, pulled the cords of her little backpack over her shoulders, and opened the door into some sort of magic I’ve had a hard time seeing clearly of late. I shifted into high protection mode. This was, after all, a garden of the world.
She looked back at me only briefly.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“Lead on,” I replied.
The park is sectioned into five different areas: Native Hill, Firefly Forest, Kestrel Fields, Fox Meadow, and Walnut Grove.
We traipsed through all of them, reading the little signs for each sculpture, being mindful of “respectful touch” and which ones she could climb on.
In a sculpture called Mother and Child, she carefully stepped into a suspended platform connected by chains to a rather large steel structure.
This, to her delight.
She climbed a wooden scaffolding set up near the structure and looked from a different perspective at where she’d just been.
I watched her face from where I stood, grounded. I watched as the realization dawned.
“Is that a woman? Is that a —? Did I just —?”
Her jaw hung open. Her eyes wide.
She got it.
I nodded, a little sad, a little happy. She had touched the art. It had touched her. What was the cost?
“You mean it was like I was just BORN AGAIN?!?!?!”
She skipped to the mowed trail, racing to the next sculpture.
“Bio Marker” said the sign.
Created in 2007 by an Indianapolis man named Aaron, the sculpture is made of cast brass, stainless steel, bronze and steel.
The sign has a narrative prompt: The title often gives you clues to the meaning of an art work.
The sign has a series of questions. She answered them in order:
What does the word ‘bio’ mean?
“Life,” she said.
Does the overall form look like anything you’ve seen before?
“A cross,” she said.
What could this sculpture be marking?
“Jesus died on the cross,” she said.
Can you take a guess, what do you think it is about?
“Jesus died on the cross to take away the sins of the world. When we believe, we have life,” she said.
Her responses were so matter of fact. There was no apology in her voice; no trembling questions or doubt under the surface of her words. There was only certainty. Christianity is the truth; her truth.
This is how she sees the world. This purity of heart and mind, this level of faith, it’s a gift of God.
After a few seconds, she shrugged her shoulders, then skipped down the path toward the next sculpture.
“You done here?” I called after her.
“I can’t climb on it,” she called back.
She’s nine. Nine-year-olds have priorities. So do fifty-something-year-old-mothers of nine-year-olds.
We carried on, over, sometimes even through. There were sculptures Tim Burton would have loved – a cluster of what looked like concrete grapes suspended from bits of welded re bar fashioned into spider-like legs; skeletons cavorting in a head-down hoe-down; shreds of recycled, black rubber tires in a frame that resembled wings. That one made me shudder.
At some sculptures, she paused, peered, then turned to me.
“I don’t get it.”
I’d pause, peer, then answer. “Me, neither.”
At some sculptures, she paused, peered, then slipped her hand into mind. A touch of assurance.
Then she moved on, no time to waste on things that don’t make sense.
At the transition point between Fox Meadow and Walnut Grove, we came upon Graphologyhenge.
Neither of us could pronounce it, but we “got it” right away.
Here is the beckoning “make your mark” invitation.
The young one read the sign.
“We can paint on this?” she asked.
I read the sign.
“Apparently,” I said.
“I’d paint about God,” she said, then reached for my hand.
The entire piece was made of a series of curved cinder-block murals surrounding a steel structure made of welded shapes and letters. Stonehenge, but not.
My protection gear thrummed. I did a rapid scan, prepared to deflect that which could not be unseen; explain that which could be simplified; pray that which I knew not how to utter.
We walked past the interior of the murals. Classic graffiti-style art covered most of the walls.
I stepped closer, put my finger on a word.
“God …” it read.
I pointed toward an image. An empty cross.
I pointed at a scripture reference. John 3:16.
“God’s already here,” I said.
The young one smiled, wrapped her arms around my waist and gave a little squeeze. She proceeded to walk down the path.
“I’m glad,” she said.
“Me, too,” I answered.
And I was.
To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure, but even their mind and conscience are defiled. Titus 1:15 (NKJV)
Defiled and unbelieving? Is that me? When did I become so jaded? So suspicious?
When did I get so distracted by the defiled, that this is the first thing I think of?
A while back, I made big block letters in my Bible: FOCUS SOLDIER. It’s here, at 2 Timothy 2:4:
No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. (NKJV)
This verse tells us how to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”, the admonition in verse one.
I want to be strong in His grace, yet somewhere along the way, I directed my focus on what I was fighting against, not for whom I was fighting.
When I focus on the defiled so I can control my level of tainted-ness, I forget that God works all things according to His promises; according to His purpose; according to his goodness.
I must be vigilant in my parenting, to be sure. I must watch and pray. I must lead the small one to watch and pray.
At times, I must see how God uses her to lead me, too.
Indeed, God’s already here, and I must never forget to make an attempt to see the holy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Matthew 5:8 (NKJV)