It was somebody’s birthday, and our whole extended family (30 plus) were gathered at Grandma’s house. I was in the living room goofing off with my cousins, when I heard Aunt Ella shriek, “George, look what you’ve done!” I went to the dining room, where I saw the horrifying sight: A bottle of black India ink turned on its side, with the ink puddling on Grandma’s lace tablecloth. Everybody was looking at me accusingly. I began to defend myself: “I wasn’t even near the table; I was in the other room; Why do you think I did it?” Then someone started laughing, and they all quickly joined in. I watched in amazement as Aunt Ella picked up the phony ink spill she had found in the Magic and Trick Store downtown. I had been totally punked, and they were all in on it.

As I remember it, I was eleven or twelve at the time. My first response had been defensiveness against what I knew was a false accusation. When I realized that I had been the butt of a joke, I felt embarrassed and foolish. But then I realized, even as a child, that it was an honor to be singled out in this way. It showed that Aunt Ella (and the rest of the crowd) thought I could take it, that I wouldn’t be crushed and humiliated. It ended up making me feel more accepted, even by the adults.*

Later on, ink blots took on other meanings for me. At the end of church services, I often heard the words of the familiar invitation hymn

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot
To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot
O Lamb of God, I come, I come

Maybe I had been falsely accused at that birthday party — that particular ink spill was not my fault. But I was well aware that there were other blots on my spirit that the people in that room didn’t know about, yet they separated me from God. I remember the night, during my teen years, when I responded to the Lord’s invitation and came “just as I am . . . to rid my soul of one dark blot.” That was life changing. The first blot experience led me to feel accepted by my extended family. Now, even better, I felt accepted into God’s family.

As I progressed in my education, I learned about other ink blots. Especially noteworthy was the use of a set of ink blots used in Rorshach’s testing of individuals’ intelligence, personality or psychological pathology. A series of standard ink blot shapes are shown to a person, and he/she is asked to say what they see in each image. Many experts in the field have dismissed this as “pseudoscience,” but still, a majority of U.S. psychologists use it in some way in their practice.

Each day, life presents us with an amorphous set of possibilities. We wish they could be neat, organized and predictable, but they usually look more like random ink blots. What do we see in them? What will we make of them? We shouldn’t get too hung up on fixing blame for the fact that they seem so dark and irrational. We should just attack the possibilities we see in each day’s ink blot, with vigor, creativity and commitment, having faith that God will use us to bring his meaning out of the ink blot we’re confronted with.

– Pastor George Van Alstine

* I think this experience bonded me with Aunt Ella. Years later (1958), when I came to California as a single student to attend Fuller Seminary, Aunt Ella was living alone in Lynwood. She was my only known West Coast relative. On weekends, I’d often take a bus all the way down Los Robles and Atlantic Blvd. to spend a day hanging out with her. Good memories.