Twinkie Dust & The New Creation

Creativity, Holy Spirity, Icons, Imagination, Love, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision, vision

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” 

~~ Isaiah 43:18-19

My favorite time in Vacation Bible School was the plaster handprint. When I was a child in the 1950’s, we were given our choice of one color to paint “our hand to serve Jesus.” When my daughter went to VBS in the early 80’s, her little hand had a rainbow of colors exploding all over it!

Those ladies are the unsung heroes in every generation, for they mixed and poured plaster into recycled pie pans and let all of us children put our hands into that goop so we could bring our “helping hands” home to our parents. They also cleaned us up afterward.

One summer Art in the Park teacher brought some real turquoise and real silver wire to a bunch of hot and sweaty kids sitting at a picnic table. My 10-year old hands make a piece of “jewelry,” which I still sometimes wear.  My Saturday art teacher took me under her wing as soon as I was able to write my name in cursive. I also have to thank my Mom for driving me all over town so I could do what I love the most.

Each one of those teachers stretched me as a child, but none stretched me more than two of my teachers at Georgia State University: Mr. Sitton and Mr. Perrin.  One week the head of the department would stop by and ask, “Are you working for me or Mr. Sitton?” Each time I would only reply, “I’m working.” Not letting that noncommittal answer go by, Mr. Perrin would keep asking until I had had enough of being interrupted and I burst out, “Neither of you! I’m working for myself!” It was the answer he was waiting to hear.

I do remember how these two pushed me to strive beyond myself and to grow as an artist. They encouraged me to find my own voice, my own style, and to not be an imitator of others. I could learn from others and study them, but to become an artist, I had to discover my own true vision.  So I had to press on to the new thing as yet unseen, and let the old fall pieces away behind me.

This is easier said than done. It’s much more comfortable to repeat a form than to move onward to the next one. The old one feels safe because it is known; the new one has risks because it is as yet unbirthed and unseen. It may arrive still born, and the work will seem as if for nothing. However the effort expended isn’t wasted, since the artist now knows that this path is a dead end and can try another with more confidence.

So, why is it we spiritual people have a hard time living this new and different life once we make our profession of faith in Christ? The world calls us “hypocrites” because we seem to live the same old lives as we once did before we knew Christ. There seems to be no outward transformation to match our inward change of heart and relationship. We do not become magically and radically different, but instead progress slowly into a newer and more perfect life in love. No wonder we have a hard time attracting the unsaved into our new way of life or into our congregations.  They don’t see a visible witness that our faith in Christ has made a difference in the person we are or in what we do.  We might “steal a church member from another congregation,” because they already know the drill: show up, go through the motions, and maybe one day, I’ll change into a better person. People of faith are afflicted with chronic optimism, for we “walk by faith, not sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

Now if “going onto perfection in love” really operated in this manner, I could just go to the gym and laze around, anticipating that one day my body would magically become buff and lean.  Having spent the better part of two years on a mandatory lifestyle change that has included giving up junk food, processed foods, lattes, double dip ice cream cones, large pizzas, and learning how to cook from scratch, I can say that there is no magic Twinkie Dust for weight loss.  Going to the gym means sweating, not standing around posing and looking nice.  I’m not very pretty when I leave, but I now understand the meaning of “working out your own salvation” (Phil 2:12).

Our bodies do not magically transform themselves anymore than we become perfect Christians by a mere profession of faith. We need spiritual guides, just as I have a trainer and a physician who help me through the rough spots of my remaking of my health and my life.  If I want to lose more than the 50 pounds and the 6 dress sizes I’ve already lost, my dietitian friend says I have to cut my calories to 1500 per day because of my age and medical needs.  This will require discipline, persistence, courage, faith, and suffering. It is a biblical model:  “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).

This might be a fun week to try out a new craft or a new theme in your art. You could try praying with the holy icons. I have an ICONS photo album on my Facebook page ARTANDICON that you can view on the computer or smart phone (they are for sale also). Spring is the time for renewing the Spirit!

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Finding the Rainbow at the Center of it All

Family, Holy Spirity, home, Love, Meditation, Ministry, Prayer, purpose, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized

“…he who has pity on them will lead them and by springs of water will guide them.” ~~ Isaiah 49:10

Last spring I was painting at an organic vegetable farm near Hot Springs. The owner’s dream is to grow food to help heal the world while taking care for the earth itself.

I took my old student easel, a 3 X 4 foot canvas and a lawn chair for my paint palette “table.” I set up beside the river to paint. The day was overcast until nearly 2 pm, but I had been there on brighter days, so I remembered how the light played across the water and the meadows beyond. I knew how the distant hills and trees caught the light.

The longer I stood and painted, the more the actual landscape began to resemble the painting I was creating before me. The sun was burning through the clouds and by the time it became fully bright, we were in sync.  The play of light on the natural world reflected the light I had imagined on my canvas, my vision of the world to come. As the two came together, I began to paint the river in a rainbow of colors as it ran alongside the dirt riverbank. The rocky river shore of the left bank, which was a jumble of dull white, beige, and brown rocks, became a collection of jewels spilled beside the waters, as if the rainbow had shattered into its separate pieces and was lying there, waiting to be picked up.

So my painting is a combination of “realism” and “visionary,” rather like a prophecy issued by Isaiah of old, or another of God’s chosen voices.  When I was younger, and painting abstract works, I called my style “metaphysical realism,” because I was painting about truths of being and existence that could only be intuited or felt, rather than scientifically proven. At the time I wasn’t a believer in God, but I was searching for a divine being or higher power.

When the owner came back later, I was still painting. In six hours I had nearly completed this large canvas! “Wow!” was all he could say.  I asked, “are you amazed that I could get this much paint on it in this little time?” His reply, “And make it look so good.” I laughed, “Well, it’s not brain surgery. I don’t hold someone’s life in my hands. It’s only a painting. If I don’t like it, I paint over it or throw it away and start over. I just put the paint on it. If it works, good. If not, oh well, I’ve learned what doesn’t work.”

That confidence and assurance when faced with a blank canvas comes from trusting God’s hand upon your own. The blank canvas is like a bare height for some artists, just like the blank page is a sheer cliff for scaling for a poet or a writer.  It is a challenge because of its emptiness.  Making the first mark changes the whole tone of the surface. This is why I first sketch very lightly, either in pencil or in light yellow wash. Only then do I begin to paint in the deeper colors, making sure to work from the center outward to the edges of my canvas.

In our spiritual lives, we are called to work from our centers out toward our edges. Our centering begins with our placing our trust in the one who guides us besides streams of water and provides food along the bare heights (Isaiah 49:9-10). This is where we gather strength for our labor in the world of our families, our neighborhoods, our faith communities, and our world. We can have a long ministry, hold someone’s life in our hands, and care for their immortal soul because God has placed his Spirit of caring and consolation in our hearts. If we want to find the beautiful rainbow that we call God, we need to seek the one who loved us first.  “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us; and his love is perfect in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:12-13).

To practice centering ourselves this week, choose one word that is most meaningful for you. It can be one of these: holy, one, peace, love, joy, hope, or another that you choose.  Sit in a quiet place and get comfortable. As you breathe in for a count of 5, think the word and imagine it filling you completely as you inhale deeply. As you exhale to the count of 5, imagine that same word going out into the world. Breathe in and out again, repeating this for five minutes morning and evening on the first day.  The second day, do for 7 minutes. Gradually increase until you can do 20 minutes morning and evening. This is a centering prayer/meditation that brings us closer to God. The deeper breathing also relieves stress, which is a good thing! Joy and peace to you this week!

Generosity

Uncategorized


“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 
Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high, he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his peoples.’” ~~ Ephesians 4:7-8  

Generosity is a spiritual gift that marks one as having the nature of Christ within them. The human nature says “mine,” but the Christ nature says “yours.” God is a generous God, sharing without reserve his image, love, provision, salvation, and his Son.

When my parents were newlyweds, they lived in a tiny garage apartment. Dad was home from World War II and was just setting up his medical practice with his older brother. Uncle Berkely promised him the grand wage of $45 per week to start. I came along and they moved to my grandparents’ rent house. With the impending birth of my second brother, we bought our first home in an older section of town.

As the oldest child, I had the privilege of handing out the gifts under the Christmas tree. I might have claimed this honor because I was the oldest, or I was the first to read, or I was hyperactive and needed something to occupy my busy hands. I think I enjoyed giving gifts to others and seeing their faces light up with excitement.  As long as we gathered at our parents’ home, I was the designated giver of gifts on Christmas Eve. This was our family tradition.

When we have nothing, we truly appreciate the generosity of another. When we are rich ourselves, are we able to be generous to others or do we hold on and say “mine?” If we have little, can we share what we have with others, and know the richness of giving from our poverty? If we are truly have the Christ image in our hearts, we have his generous nature there also and know that the measure with which we give will be the measure which we get back (Luke 6:38).

Sometimes we are so used to giving, that we can’t receive.  Then we rob someone else of the blessing of giving, for we’ve heard it said so often “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). As a designated giver, I know how hard it is to receive! It feels more “right” to me to gift someone than to be on the receiving end of the blessing.  Yet if we pause and consider, we are always on the receiving end of God’s inexhaustible gifts of grace and power. We are always the recipients of his unearned gift of salvation that is ours by faith in the work Christ did for us on the cross.  We aren’t the active partner, giver or the one who blesses in our relationship with God, for we are the ones who receive all good things from God!

Generosity in art is a gift also. How can I share my gift/talent with others? Too often “art” is tied up in the “sale” of art: merchandising, advertising, gallery contacts, commissions, and all the attendant hoopla that comes with that scene. That isn’t “art.” The work of creativity is art. The outpouring of heart, soul, mind, and spirit into paint, clay, stone, and other media is art. Whether a child, a hobbyist, or a professional, the artist is generous with their time and energy when confronted with their chosen medium. Time passes unnoticed and unmarked as the artist pours out her soul upon her work, a generous offering that holds nothing back. The blessing is visible—the gift is there for all to see! A thing of beauty is a joy forever!

Generosity for the artist is not just in the creation of the work, for the artist needs not just to give his all to his muse.  That would be self-serving; a giving that may benefit the audience, but also benefits the artist’s fame, celebrity, status, and accomplishments.  For the artist to be truly generous, his effort must benefit his community and lift up others. An artist that volunteers his skills to teach at risk children in a neighborhood art program helps his community.  My old churches in West Helena, Berryville, Parkview, and McGehee had afternoon programs that reached these kids with music, art, scripture & food. The volunteers weren’t always the best artists or musicians, but they had the best hearts!  God gave gifts to his peoples!

Giving of your self may be something new, a growing edge. As creative and spiritual people, we seek to stretch ourselves, to push our boundaries, and find the edge of discovery that allows us to find the deeper connection with our God and our selves.  If we are a little uncomfortable, that is good: God wants us to go to a land he will show us (Genesis 12:1). After all, this is a journey of faith into the unknown, not a well-worn path into the known.

Pottery & The Spiritual Life

Creativity, Ministry, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized

“So God created humankind (Adam) in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  ~~ Genesis 1:27

A second creation account in Genesis 2:7 says that the LORD God formed the  man Adam out of the dust of the ground (adamah) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. I remember my professor in Bible 101 saying that the image of the Hebrew word is that of God at a potter’s wheel, molding a lump of clay under his hands until it has conformed to the shape God has in mind.

This isn’t an easy task, at least not for the clay! First the clay has to be dug up from the earth and removed from where it has so peaceably resided. I think of the trauma of childbirth. We come from the safety and comfort of the womb where sounds and lights  are all muted and darkened. Suddenly we are thrust out into a bewildering brightness and a cacophony of sounds and images.  No wonder we scream with our eyes closed when we take our first breaths!

Once the potter has the clay in hand, he works the clay to drive out any stray air bubbles that linger inside by slamming the clay repeatedly onto a plaster slab. Life does the same to us also, as events slam into us: as a child we might have to deal with being picked last for a team or with being bullied. As a teen we deal with sweetheart issues, friend problems and peer pressure.  As we get older, we have grown up problems that slam us against this plaster slab: divorce, death, disease, job loss, infertility, addiction, caretaking our parents, and other events of the human condition.

We begin to ask the ultimate questions at some point in this beating: What is the meaning of my life? What is the purpose of my life? Is this all there is for me? What good have I done? Will some good come from all this pain? Is there more to life that this present condition? Is there any reason for me to live with hope? As the final slams of the clay drive out all the remaining bubbles of air, the clay is ready for shaping on the wheel.

The person of faith doesn’t have to wait for old age to ask these ultimate questions, since they can be asked at any age. Likewise, they don’t hold God accountable for the pains in their life, for they know that God uses the circumstances of their life to work for the ultimate good. God doesn’t cause the pains, but God uses our present pains to prepare our lives for something more.

“We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). When life has been hardest on us, we most feel like the clay that has been slammed against the plaster slab. We no longer have any air inside us, so we feel dead inside. Whether we are 29, 39, or 69, God is ready to mold us to his purposes on his wheel. At this point, if we are people of faith, we ask God to reshape us into his image, for we are now ready to give up on our quest to make ourselves into our own image. The clay is ready to be worked by the Master Potter.

The death of our striving for self is what God was waiting for, so that he could breath new life into our lifeless bodies. His reforming us is part of our rebirth and restoration to the image of God that was our original birthright, but was lost to the stain of generations of sin, including our own.

A potter makes a vessel on a wheel by taking a prepared lump and throwing it down hard onto the wheel. When God gets my attention, I usually feel like this—slammed! But then, I’m pretty hardheaded and usually need wake-up calls. The gentle stirrings in my heart usually aren’t enough for me.

The clay isn’t exactly centered, however, so the potter places one hand flat on top and the other hand vertical on the side of the clay. He kicks the wheel and begins to press down and in with equal pressure in both hands until the clay between is “centered.” Most of us don’t spend enough time letting God center us, and that has adverse effects on the final product. If the clay isn’t truly centered, the pot being raised will begin to wobble and its walls will warp out of shape.  It won’t be either a beautiful or a useful pot, but will be destroyed and thrown back into the clay pits for the recovery of the raw materials.  The process of slamming will begin again.

Some of us “clay pots” don’t learn very quickly because we seem to have a mind of our own: “you turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay? Shall the thing say to its Master, ‘He did not make me’, or the thing formed say of the one who formed it ‘He has no understanding’?” (Is 29:16). God had to get me to a place where I had lost everything in which I had ever trusted or hoped in, a place in which “I was emptied of air,” before I could finally see my one true hope and my one steadfast trust was Jesus Christ. I had to be prepared by loss so that I could be formed into something new and useful for God.

My prayer for you is that you are smarter than I am and you learn from my life. But even if you are just like me, the good news is that God can make the sorriest lump of clay into the most beautiful and useful pottery vessels because he delights in creating beauty!