Painting to pray and play

News | January 18, 2021

Elaine Olson first started painting when she was pregnant with her son, more than four decades ago. As time passed, her paintbrushes fell to the side. But when coronavirus quarantine began in March, Elaine searched for ways to hone her creativity and newfound time at home. She picked up her paintbrushes for the first time in 42 years and attempted to rekindle an old passion.

Beauty jumped from the page — brightly colored flowers; trees with hues of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds; blue birds; and for fun, a woman on a shopping adventure.

Elaine and her husband, Terry Haru, moved to the area almost five years ago. Membership at St. Paul was a natural move for this couple, as Elaine’s daughter, Sara, serves as a pastor. Terry now works as a host at St. Paul and is a warm and welcoming presence in the building.

Elaine worked as a psychotherapist and a pastoral counselor. She was ordained as a pastor in the ELCA in 2008. Prior to retirement, she worked as a pastor of campus ministry at the University of Illinois. Some of her many hobbies include writing, traveling, being a grandmother, and now, painting. Elaine emphasizes that she is a newbie at painting, but that does not affect her enjoyment of the activity or its plentiful benefits.

Last spring, Elaine read an article about essential components to a good day, as the pandemic caused everyone’s days to be restructured. When she read about the importance of the creativity, she began to evaluate ways to strengthen this portion of her daily life. She pulled out her old paints from their hiding place. With an addition of some new paints from her husband and a few lessons gifted by her daughter, Elaine was on her way to rediscovering her passion for painting.

Many benefits have resulted in Elaine’s painting this year. She has been able to focus more intently by slowing down.

“Painting gives me permission not to be perfect,” she said.

Elaine has enjoyed the freedom to try new things that painting has offered her, and, most importantly, to keep trying for improved results. As a therapist and spiritual director, Elaine is experienced in paying close attention and noticing things with her ears. Painting allows her to do the same thing with her eyes, slowing down enough to see something that may not be assumed. Observing and listening skills are more robust with one another, she said.

“You could never imagine how many shapes and colors go into a single flower until you slow down and really look at it.”

Painting has also enhanced her grandma skills. Elaine has noticed that she is pulled into mindfulness more intently. She has been enjoying doing things with her grandchildren instead of for them. The family has enjoyed outside time together, but Elaine looks forward to young ones running around inside her home again someday.

As a writer, a challenge is to show readers things, rather than just tell them. Painting helps Elaine focus on the visual and physical aspects of life. She has noticed an improvement in her ability to vividly describe things using observation skills practiced in her painting. Elaine recently finished and is publishing her memoir (see sidebar). The book is specific to her ten years as a widow and how that time shaped her life.

For the warmer months, Elaine painted on her deck. With the colder weather, she has started painting inside. Her desk is positioned near a window overlooking the tree in her yard. Her favorite way to paint is listening to podcast worship on Sunday mornings. The activity allows her to focus more clearly on worship and the message being conveyed.

“I use my painting to pray and play,” she said.

While Elaine cannot choose a favorite painting, she does give preference to her most recent ones because they show her improvement. Her hope is to one day learn to paint faces. Elaine will continue to paint after this pandemic, she said. The act of painting will allow her to leave the intensity of life behind for a few moments while her brushes are in hand.

My Walk with Grief
Elaine Olson’s book, My Walk with Grief, is a spiritual memoir about her ten-year search for identity and love after living in the shadows as a pastor’s wife for 30 years, then eventually marrying an agnostic who embodies divine grace. When her first husband died, part of Elaine died, too. Unimpeded as a widow, her journey pulled her into soul struggles, grief, world travel, disastrous dating, dog drama, and spiritual surprises.

Elaine’s memoir inspires readers to seek new identities after a significant loss or transition, encouraging them to grieve deeply, live fully, and rediscover love and the largeness of spirit’s embrace. The cover of the book is one of Elaine’s paintings. The memoir will be available this coming spring. Visit legacybookpress.com for more information.

One comment on “Painting to pray and play”

  • Sheila Mesick

    January 28, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    Elaine’s spiritual memoir is a story that I am looking forward to read. Thank you for recording your journey encouraging others to seek.

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