Graffiti and the Art of Breathing Hope

Graffiti and the Art of Breathing Hope

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” Lk 1:46

The first day Pastor Heidi Neumark entered her office at Transfiguration Lutheran Church, she found a can of red paint sitting on the floor. It was a remnant of the congregation’s effort to welcome her into the neighborhood. They had painted the front doors of the church to cover up graffiti. To them, it was a sign of a new beginning.

Pastor Heidi quickly learned she would need every drop of paint left in that can. Every night, the youth from the neighborhood would paint graffiti on the doors. It had become a way for them to express their anger, frustration and hopelessness. In an act of defiance to this hopelessness and anger, Pastor Heidi began each day by painting over the graffiti. Eventually, she got children to paint gospel stories on the doors instead. It became a witness of hope for everyone who walked by the church.

The doors were only a small piece of the ministry Pastor Heidi provided in the South Bronx. She ended up turning her experiences into a book, titled, Breathing Spaces: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. If you were to read the book, and I encourage you to do so, you will discover it filled with beautiful stories of transformation. However, the readers who never experienced the South Bronx of the ’80’s will never capture the severity of the challenges. It was one of the more violent and poor neighborhoods in the United States.

In many ways, Pastor Heidi’s story is like Mary’s. As modern readers of the Gospel, we gloss over the severity of Mary’s situation. An unmarried, pregnant woman could have been stoned to death. Her pregnancy was a public affair and a daily threat to her safety. Yet, in the face of this threat, she proclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Mary will not give into hopelessness, instead she will breathe hope into the world.

No matter where you live, you will be confronted with a desire to give into violence and hopelessness. Do not give in to this desire. Your situation is never removed from the possibility of transformation. I can say this because the Lord is always with you. Like Mary’s song, or Heidi’s doors, we need to be reminded of this truth. It helps us learn to breathe hope into the world, even when it does not seem possible.

Click to read: Luke 1: 39-56

Reflection Questions:

  • What most threatens you sense of hope?
  • Where have you discovered hope in the midst of despair?
  • What images remain you of the hope you have been called to proclaim?
  • How can you breathe hope into the world today?


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