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Brush with the Lord

December 20, 2004|by DON AINES

STATE LINE, PA. - As a close examination of a painting reveals the individual brush strokes of its creator, so too may one see the works of God by looking closely at nature, says the Rev. Norman Ford.

"In Psalm 19, David makes a declaration that the whole universe is God's voice speaking to humanity ... that we might come to know Him, His nature, His purposes and the purpose in our lives," Ford told the congregation of State Line United Methodist Church on Sunday.

As he delivered his sermon, he dabbed and stroked amorphous shapes onto a canvas he previously painted with a sky-blue background.


"Unless you can see with spiritual eyes, the world is going to be meaningless," the 83-year-old retired pastor said as he applied a splash of red across the canvas. The meaningless became more meaningful as he superimposed orange and yellow over the foundation color and an autumn landscape began to take shape.

A pastor for more than half a century, Ford said he began to paint about 40 years ago, looking for a hobby to give him some relief from the stress he felt during a building campaign at one church.

He began by taking art classes, but that did not last long. After the third lesson, Ford said the teacher told him, "Norm, some people have. Some people don't. And you don't have it."

Another artist told him, however, that anybody can paint if they have the desire. Ford kept at it, developing his talent and getting divine inspiration in his method of creating landscape art.

While driving through Florida, Ford said God gave him an art lesson. The revelation was that trees and other aspects of nature are created in segments, with recurring patterns.

That led Ford to bend the bristles of the brushes normally used to paint walls to replicate foliage, grass and other works of nature. Holding one, its bristles bent at nearly a right angle to the handle, Ford said, "These are not house brushes anymore. They are artist brushes."

The brushes themselves served as a parable in Ford's sermon.

"Are you going to be a nominal Christian or allow God to bend you, not out of shape, but into shape?" he asked.

"This old beat-up brush, you'd be surprised at what it can do," said Ford, holding up a well-worn example he called "my senior citizens brush."

With a few dabs, he used it to add a pair of evergreens to break up the fall foliage.

"It has its own special purpose, just like you and I as seniors do," he said.

Ford takes house-painting brushes and makes them into uncommon artistic tools. Brushes to reproduce variable foliage patterns, constant foliage patterns and grass are made by placing them in holders that force the bristles into the desired shapes.

After stateside Army service during World War II, Ford served as pastor at his first church in Roaring Springs, Pa., in 1946. He started five churches during his career and his final pastoral assignment was with the Church of the Nazarene in Gettysburg, Pa. He and his wife of 63 years, Romayne, moved to the State Line area in May.

The painting pastor has delivered his artistic sermons about eight times in the past year, mostly at churches in the state of Indiana, Romayne Ford said.

Norman Ford said he also teaches art and markets his own work over the Internet at

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