Lovingkindness and Face Painting

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In 2010, I started reading the Old Testament. I had read many parts of it before, but never straight through to completion. I came across the word lovingkindness while reading the Psalms and thought it was a typo. The word appeared 20 more times in that book and a handful of times elsewhere in the KJV Old Testament. Lovingkindness refers to God’s love and especially God’s mercy. It seemed odd to me that a text associated with the idea of an angry and jealous God would use this word with such frequency.

I was struggling to feel God’s love as an overwhelmed mother to two young children, but I liked this word. I liked the idea that God was lovingkind, but I wasn’t sure of how to apply this label to events, feelings, and actions.

This summer, I witnessed lovingkindness in action. I was camping with Mormon feminist friends and we had enough children present that we organized structured activities to keep everyone entertained. Robin volunteered to paint the children’s faces.

On the afternoon of face painting, it was hot, but she gathered some chairs in the shade and children started waiting in line. If I had been in charge of face painting, I probably would have drawn a quick heart, star, or rainbow on each kids’ cheek and sent them off to play. Robin’s face paintings were much more elaborate and she spent time talking with each child as she worked.

Most of the activities lasted about an hour, but at the end of the hour there were a number of children still waiting. Several adults walked by and let her know that it was OK if she didn’t get to all of the kids, but she kept going. Four hours later, she had painted the face of the last kid in line.

Robin had come alone and these children weren’t her children. Robin wasn’t a Mormon, but an apostle with Community of Christ. She sat with our children, got to know our children, and loved them through her hours of dedicated face painting. I was reluctant to scrub the evidence of this lovingkindness off my children at the end of the day. We returned home a few days later with patches of face paint still remaining.

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is an art history professor by day and a sociologist of religion by night. She lives in St. George, Utah with her husband and two daughters and co-hosts the Faith Transitions podcast.

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7 Responses

  1. Liz says:

    That is so beautiful, Nancy, and I agree that the image of a lovingkind God doesn’t really square with the OT God I’ve read about. But it does square with the teachings of Jesus. What a gorgeous act of love, grace, and caring.

  2. Melissa says:

    That’s wonderful! I hope I can emulate such acts, especially with my own family. I find I am far more patient at listening to others than the people I love most. How is it that the people I love most are often not the people I love best?

    • Nancy Ross says:

      This is an excellent point and I am guilty of the same. I am going to remember this “How is it that the people I love most are often not the people I love best?”

  3. Kelsi Moore says:

    I love this. I recently made the same discovery reading through the bible from beginning to end. I also made the connection with the Buddhist practice of metta or lovingkindness. It’s great to be able to practice loving people. Nothing softens my heart quicker.

  4. Patty says:

    Sweet. What a truly loving person. ( And yeah, I caught the “female apostle”!!!!)

  5. Olea says:

    Nancy, I love the Old Testament, and I’ve never noticed that “lovingkindness” before. Especially with that excellent link you gave to lead me down rabbit holes, I’ll bet you can guess my next path of study 😉

  6. Violadiva says:

    Sounds like this apostle of Jesus Christ took seriously her chance to minister to the little children, one by one (literally!). Reminds me of the account of Christ among the nephite children. It took him a long time to get through everyone, too!

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