Marcialene Holcomb: 'When I was 13, I saw clearly what I thought God was: all good and loving all His children equally ... I was startled at the intensity of my insight - it felt like God speaking to me'
What I believe: In conversation with Marcialene Holcomb
Marcialene Holcomb is a Texas-born artist whose exhibition An American in Bangor and Beyond is on show at the North Down Museum in Bangor Castle until August 30. She was formerly a professional architect in the US but now lives in Bangor. She is the first reader in the Christian Science Church in Belfast.
Q Can you tell us about your early background?
A It was the magnificent sunsets over the fence of our back garden and across the adjacent wheat fields in the Texas panhandle that first caused me to love colour.
I grew up in a small north Texas town called Pampa. My father, Jim, after serving in the US Army during the Second World War, completed his petroleum engineering degree, then met and married my mother, Dorothy.
I have an older brother, Steve, and a younger sister, Lynne.
Dad established his own independent gas and oil analysis laboratory business.
During school years I discovered a love of art and architecture. I then achieved a degree in architecture at university.
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I chose architecture because I loved the integration of artistic aspects of design with the engineering of structure and systems, layered over an understanding of what speaks to the human spirit in the built environment. All are required.
My parents taught us that we could achieve whatever we set our minds to if we worked hard at it and never gave up.
They treated us all equally, especially not setting limits to what girls should or shouldn't try to accomplish.
This was key for me because I never saw myself as different in my capabilities to men, and therefore I never experienced discrimination. I learned that thinking determines the outward experience.
After university I worked at architecture firms in Texas and California, eventually becoming a senior director at a major research university, overseeing project management staff for design and construction of large academic and research buildings. It was very demanding, exciting and fulfilling work.
During this time, I began to take staycations instead of holidays, to experiment with painting. That rekindled a love of colour, first prompted by those Texas sunsets. Colour seems like it comes from God, like God smiling.
Q: How did you first come to faith?
A: When I was 13 I participated in a course in my church for young people. It covered the beginnings of Christianity and the development of the Church over the centuries - all very interesting. It was there that I saw clearly what I thought God was: all good and loving all His children equally. I was startled at the intensity of my insight. It felt like God speaking to me.
I joined that church, attending throughout my teenage years, and I never forgot that strong inner conviction.
Years later, I met very loving people who had the same way of thinking as me. They started with a sense of God's goodness and of man being made in the image and likeness of God, as the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible tells us.
Because God is all-loving and all-powerful, man as His image lacks nothing, whether love, health, supply, right relationships, right employment or right activity, and Jesus Christ is the way-shower for living these ideas. They were Christian Scientists.
I began to read the textbook Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by the founder of the faith, Mary Baker Eddy, along with the Bible.
I realised that I had always believed these things, but had not seen them written before. To me, they were truth. They spoke directly to that realisation about God, His goodness and His equal love for all His children that I had experienced at 13. I felt I had come home.
Q: What inspires you as an artist?
A: I love expressions of exuberance, humour, beauty, harmony, fearlessness, or hope in my paintings and know that they do not originate with me but appear because I am God's child. My artwork tries to translate a complex idea into a colourful, usually abstract, painting.
As an American arriving in Northern Ireland six years ago, it has been sobering to learn about the Troubles.
Several paintings in my current exhibition relate to how the people of Northern Ireland, regardless of community, began to see ways to end the conflict. Perhaps this was the result of the prayers of everyone across this land.
The painting titled Dawn of a New Idea tries to portray the new thinking that must have occurred on all sides that eventually led to peace in 1998.
To me, divine love surely was the source for that change.
Q: Does this faith play a real part in your daily life, or is it just for Sundays?
A: As first reader of the Christian Science Church in Belfast, I prepare readings from the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures about the truths of God and man for Wednesday and Sunday services. I work on these daily throughout each week.
Q: Have you ever had a crisis of faith?
A: No. The deep conviction that God is good and that mankind derives strength and protection from Him has been a rock to me.
When my mother passed on, my father was very concerned that I would be in despair. When I explained that I would always miss her deeply, but that I believed that she had gone right on with her eternal life and was always in God's care, he stopped worrying about me grieving for her. I think it lifted him also.
The understanding that God is our eternal father-mother is especially helpful.
Q: Have you ever been angry with God?
A: No. If a situation is difficult, it is me that needs to get a better understanding of God's plan of good for all.
Q: Do you ever get criticised for your faith, and are you able to live with that criticism?
A: Christian Scientists believe that mankind is governed by God and, therefore, find healing through prayer, as Jesus healed. Some people find that difficult to comprehend, in an age of materialism and advanced medicine, and there is criticism. But, for me, it is an effective way of healing.
I have had physical, financial and relationship healings and have witnessed many, including two of heart disease, which were healed spiritually through prayer.
I also very much respect other people's beliefs and choice of healthcare.
Q: Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A: No, it is a Church of love, joy and peace.
Q: Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond death?
A: I believe that, as children of God, we already have eternal life. When we pass from this experience, through death, we then understand that we live on. We cannot be separated from God. That is comforting to me, so I am not afraid.
Q: Are you worried about Hell?
A: No, but I believe that we create our own Hell when we are not following God's direction. When we realise the error of our ways, we can change and do right.
Q: What do you think about people of other faiths?
A: I admire anyone who aspires to live up to the highest aspects of their faith. I love to hear people of various denominations and faiths on radio and television expressing heartfelt ideals, especially after a tragedy. We can all learn from each other. God is always speaking to each of us.
Q: Why are many people turning their back on organised religion?
A: The 'organised' part can sometimes overshadow the important part - the message of the religion. Many people are hungry for a greater sense of spirituality and meaning in their lives.
Q: What is your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A: My favourite film is Tender Mercies for its heartfelt simplicity and sense of redemption. My favourite book is Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr Seuss for its delight and joyful expectation. And my favourite music is mid-20th century improvisational jazz for its complexity and inspiration.
Q: Where do you feel closest to God?
A: It is not a physical space. It is when I set aside my own attempts to tell God what He should do, give up my pre-conceived notions and be willing to listen to Him with all my heart.
Q: What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A: She loved.
Q: Finally, have you any regrets?
A: Yes, but I try to learn from all of them and to move forward.