Deadly diagnosis, miraculous healing – at the intersection of faith and creativity

‘The Healing’ is a model for what will be a larger life-sized work.

Vancouver artist Colleen McLaughlin Barlow is now living in Cambridge, where she is participating in a fascinating Artists Project which will culminate in an exhibition June 25 – 27. 

June 25 note: Go here for the exhibition page.

Her comment is posted here by permission.

The Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology put out a call for Christian artists to participate in a research project into the intersection of faith and creativity.

The Institute got many replies from all over the UK. After a lot of interviews, the final 10 artists were chosen for the project. I was fortunate enough to be one of them.

The instigator of the project is Director of Studies at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Sister Pavlína Kašparová, a Dominican nun with PhDs in art history as well as theology. She interviewed me for over an hour, with questions ranging over birthplace, early influences, education and faith.

At the end of this interview, Sister Pavlína asked me to gather some paper, pens, pencils – whatever I wanted to use – and then asked me “Have you ever experienced the Divine?” When I answered “yes,” she followed up with, “Right – please make art about that experience, starting now!”

Miraculous healing

Colleen McLaughlin Barlow in her studio, with another project.

I experienced a miraculous healing many years ago. I had been diagnosed with a rare endometrial cancer and from one of the many second opinions I sought out, I received the news that I should be making a will because I would likely be dead in six months.

This was an extraordinary lens through which to view the rest of my life. My husband and I were headed off for a year’s sabbatical in Paris and my first thought on hearing this dire prediction was, “Oh, I have to get to Paris and be an artist because I don’t have much time left!”

I had been a ‘secret artist’ for years while outwardly having a successful career as a journalist. But I had been unhappy in my career and suddenly realised that I was pleasing my parents, teachers and the world by soldiering on in a career which didn’t suit me.

We went to Paris and attended the small British church there. One night, a retired clergyman’s wife, Sheila Brown, offered healing prayer at the end of the service. My thoughts were – well, this couldn’t hurt – but I really didn’t have much faith that it would work.

Sheila was a bit flustered, saying “Okay, I have taken the healing prayer course but you are my first person!” I told her that I had never received healing prayer before but thought I would try. She asked me where the problem was and hovered her hands over my abdomen, where the tumour was located, as she prayed for healing. I felt a warming sensation in the area.

She finished her prayers and Martin and I walked out into the cold Paris night to return to our apartment. I told Martin about the warm feeling I had in my belly while Sheila was praying. He replied that it was probably a good thing to have done.

The next morning I woke early and, still in bed, the first thought in my head was, “Oh, I don’t have cancer any more!” It is hard to describe just how sure I was about this – like the sky is blue, my name is Colleen and there is no cancer in my body! My second thought was that no one would believe me and they’d think I was some sort of crank. I didn’t even give thanks to God in that first moment of knowing I was healed!

However, when Martin woke up, he believed me and told me to contact the surgical team who were set to remove my uterus and ovaries in a few weeks to see if they could extend my life. I talked to them and after a lot of pressure, the lead surgeon decided on another exploratory surgery – but told me that if they discovered any cancer, they would go through with the hysterectomy. They took extensive samples, but found no cancer – not one molecule!

The doctors said sometimes you see these astonishing remissions, but they are rare. The difference is, I knew going into the operating theatre there was no cancer. That is what I am trying to convey in this piece of art. Like moving through water, the healing was a sort of rebirth for me. I then lived my life according to what God wanted from me, rather than the world.

This happened 27 years ago. I continue to be healed and happy and making art for God.

Drawings, model

Colleen’s initial drawing for Sister Pavlína.

My initial drawings for Sister Pavlína that day were images of a depressed person sitting on a stool in a hospital gown grinding their fists into their eye sockets in despair. 

A startling blue line separates this figure from a second figure, the same person, also in the hospital gown, who is golden and levitating up off a transparent blue block, raising arms towards heaven: healed!

The project had a limited time span – only a month and only an hour a day during that month, which was challenging for me, a sculptor.

I decided to make ‘The Healing,’ a model for a larger life-sized work. This small model is what is going to be shown at the exhibition, since I couldn’t create bronze/clay life-sized figures in less than a month!

The figures are clay – we come from earth – and the base is slate, compressed earth and the holy spirit is depicted in perfect geometry which is transparent and blue. Ultimately, the transparent blue wall will be a vertical fountain of water in the life-sized version.

The formerly depressed person, raising arms towards heaven: healed!

I was concerned about a small figure in gold looking ‘tacky’ or like the hood ornament on a fancy car.

While sketching for the project on a train one day and thinking about this dilemma, I looked up out of the train carriage and saw a 40 foot high painted advertisement from many years ago, painted right onto the bricks of an old building for ‘Golden Syrup,’ with an enormous spoon dripping golden syrup into a bowl.

I laughed out loud, as other passengers looked warily at me. I realised I had my answer! So the final healed figure is gold, with some antique treatment in the final patination. 

All the artists made daily videos out in our studios for the project, including our thoughts, sketches etc. All this preparatory material is owned by the researcher; the final work is owned by the artists.

The exhibition runs from June 25 – 27. Though it will be in Cambridge, some images may appear online during the event. 

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