The Chair

adult learning, art, Creativity, Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, hope, Imagination, incarnation, inspiration, john wesley, ministry, Painting, perfection, photography, picasso, purpose

The everyday objects around us are like so much white noise: we know they’re present, but after a while, we tend to ignore them. A running joke among the clergy is “Never move anything at the new appointment for six months because you don’t know what objects are the sacred cows.” I learned this the hard way in my first full time appointment when I suggested we rid ourselves of an aging, olive green, velvet curtain hanging on the back wall of the fellowship hall stage, since “It was just hanging there for no purpose.” Oh, the outcries of rage! Little did I know this was the one and only curtain to survive the fire which destroyed the old church building. The people saw this ragged banner as a symbol of hope for the church they were rebuilding for the future. They had invested spiritual meaning into this curtain, even though it no longer served a spiritual purpose.

Picasso: The Chair, 1946

In the same way, we treat our Bibles as holy objects because they contain the inspired writings handed down over the centuries. We recognize they tell us important truths about God, humanity, and our relationship with the God whose steadfast love for God’s creation never wavers. In worship, we often say after reading from scripture, “The word of God for the people of God.” When many read John 1:1—

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

These same readers connect the “word of God” with the ”Word and the Word (who) was with God, and the Word was God.” The English translation of LOGOS to WORD derives from the Greek principle of Logos, or divine reason and creative order, which is identified in the Gospel of John with the second person of the Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ. This is how the early Christian writers argued for the preexistence of Christ and for the existence of the Holy Trinity. When we refer to the Logos/Word of God, we are speaking of Christ. If we read the Old Testament, we’re speaking of the one God who has spoken through the ages, but only revealed God’s Son to humanity during the New Testament era. The Spirit has been active always.

This reminds us to honor the Bible for revealing the Incarnate Christ through inspired words, but not to idolize the Bible as a object greater than the God it reveals. After all, over the centuries, the Bible has been interpreted differently by various schools of thought. This brings up the question of how do we know what we know. There’s a whole body of philosophy dedicated to how we know what we know, called epistemology. There are various kinds of knowing:

  1. Sensory perception or observation of facts
  2. Reason or logic
  3. Authority of tradition or common wisdom
  4. Intuition, revelation, or inspiration

Some of us use one way more than others, but each has both good and bad points. In the case of the authority of tradition or common wisdom, for instance, some have been time tested across the ages, but deference to authority without critical thinking can be a mark of intellectual laziness on our part.

Wesleyan Quadrilateral

John Wesley’s famous understanding of what we now call the Quadrilateral comes from Albert Cook Outler’s discussion on how Wesley understood authority. When challenged for Wesley’s authority on any question, Wesley’s first appeal was to the Holy Bible. Even so, he was well aware that Scripture alone had rarely settled any controversial point of doctrine. Thus, though never as a substitute or corrective, he would also appeal to ‘the primitive church’ and to the Christian Tradition at large as competent, complementary witnesses to ‘the meaning’ of this Scripture or that.

However, Scripture and Tradition would not suffice without the good offices (positive and negative) of critical Reason. Thus, he insisted on logical coherence and as an authorized referee in any contest between contrary positions or arguments. And yet, this was never enough. It was, as he knew for himself, the vital Christian Experience of the assurance of one’s sins forgiven that clinched the matter.

Anglican Meme

In reality, Wesley’s diagram for how we know is really a triangle— consisting of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason—which leads to the Christian Experience of being a Child of God, forgiven for our sins. It’s based on the Anglican tripod of the faith: scripture, reason, and tradition. Wesley took the tripod and added the firm “seat of experience” of God’s loving mercy to forgive all our sins. This insight came out of Wesley’s life changing Aldersgate experience, which he recorded in his journal on May 24, 1738.

“In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Wesley understood he could spend his whole life learning about God, reading about God, and even serving God to the best of his ability, but he was in his words, an “almost Christian” because he didn’t have the faith of a son or daughter who served God out of love, but had instead the faith of a slave or a servant, who served only from fear of punishment. One of Wesley’s Standard Sermons is the “Almost Christian,” which you can read in its 18th century glorious English at the link below. Most of us would be glad to be accounted in the “almost” category, but Wesley asks, why don’t we go farther and become “altogether Christian?”

In Methodist terms, this is “entire sanctification,” or “going on to perfection.” We don’t talk much about this any more, but it’s the purpose of our Christian life to be conformed to the image of God. We aren’t trying to be like Beyoncé, JayZ, Taylor Swift, or Jake Owen. Instead we have the promise in Romans 8:29—

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.”

David Hockney: Walking Past Two Chairs

We don’t do this on our own, but with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. That’s why the Spirit is called a helper, for it’s a coworker in the process of perfection or sanctification. This epistemology for knowing is useful for art classes also. Some of us believe we need to be perfect from the get go and can’t accept our raggedy messes we produce as we learn the techniques of color mixing and shading, much less the fine motor coordination required to connect our thoughts with our hand movements. If we aren’t able to endure the rough edges of imperfection as we “go on to perfection,” we won’t last long in art class. Just learning how to see the three dimensional world and translate it onto a two dimensional surface is a Mount Everest accomplishment in itself. Some days we have no energy to cope, and that’s when we need to come for support and encouragement.

Last Friday we painted chairs. Every artist’s work we viewed for inspiration had a different take on the chair. We no longer have to make a photographic rendering of an object because we have cameras for this purpose. We can use the chair as a reason to break up the picture plane and organize the spaces. I found a funny little poem called “The Chair,” by Theodore Roethke:

A Funny Thing about a Chair:
You Hardly Ever Think it’s There.
To Know a Chair is Really It,
You Sometimes have to Go and Sit.

Sally’s Chair

As the class went on, Sally decided she wanted to copy one of the inspiration images. She’s new, so she was practicing color mixing with her limited palette. When she couldn’t get the bright turquoise color, I brought my manganese blue over and mixed it with her titanium white. The color she wanted came popping out, much to her delight. “I’m going to buy me some of that color.” Sometimes all we need is the right materials.

Lauralei’s Shower Chair

Lauralei’s humor takes the cake with her shower chair. She can imagine the model chairs in a new environment. She doesn’t let the reality limit her options.

Gail’s Chairs

Gail divided up the canvas into various planes of colors, which sing for joy. I think she had fun. As the only one of our group who took the challenge of the entire scene, Mike took a bird’s eye view of the table and chairs. I hear he may be traveling again, or at least yearning to fly away from the day to day grind of full time work to something closer to retirement.

Mike’s Chairs and Table

I can understand that feeling. After years of teaching school, I look forward to summer vacation. We’ll have art class on the last two Fridays of May, and then take the summer off. Our current plan is to return on September 9, the first Friday after Labor Day. In the meantime, if you want to know how God really is,

“Be still, and know that I am God!” ~~ Psalms 46:10

A fun summertime activity is building a chair fort or a chair cave. All you have to do is turn over a couple of chairs on the floor and throw a sheet or blanket over them. This provides a quiet place for a child of any age to have a “time out” alone during a long summer. I recommend a quiet place for children of all ages, even those who’re long of tooth.

Cornelia’s Chairs

Joy, peace, and a quiet place,

Cornelia

Experience in the so-called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” | Kevin M. Watson
https://kevinmwatson.com/2013/05/13/experience-in-the-so-called-wesleyan-quadrilateral/

The Wesleyan Theological Heritage: Essays of Albert C. Outler: Albert Cook Outler, Thomas C. Oden, Leicester R. Longden: 9780310754718: Books
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0310754712/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0310754712&linkCode=as2&tag=deeplcommi-20

Sermon—The Almost Christian by John Wesley via Words Of Wesley Quotes
http://www.wordsofwesley.com/libtext.cfm?srm=2&

Great Blog by Adam Hamilton on biblical authority and how we read the Bible in different eras
https://www.adamhamilton.com/blog/the-bible-homosexuality-and-the-umc-part-one/

Icons for Holy Week

art, butterflies, Creativity, Easter, Faith, holidays, Icons, Imagination, inspiration, Mandylion, Ministry, nature, Painting, renewal

As we approach the days of Holy Week, life can get busy for people of faith. For those in leadership roles, you likely don’t have time to read. That’s OK. This is a time for you to use your meditation and prayer time to rest in the presence of God’s Spirit. Palm Sunday, April 10, begins the mad dash of multiple planned worship experiences in most churches, and the week usually gets more complicated by the human conflicts that also arrive during the high holy days when more is expected than than can be accomplished by Easter Sunday.

Some of these disasters will be small, such as the child who goes out to make a violet ink from new irises growing by the back porch and messes up her pretty Easter dress. Others will be actual chaos, involving runaway ex-spouses with the non-custodial child. Yes, the holidays can get crazy for families, ordinary and church families both.

The tradition of the icon says these images are “windows into the heavenly spaces.” I offer seven of my interpretations of these windows: Mandylion, or the Image Not Made By Human Hands, Resurrection of Christ, Christ is Lord, The Good Shepherd, and the Mandylion of the Ecological Christ, who proclaims, “All creation shall be renewed.”

Mandylion Icon
Mandylion Icon
Mandylion Icon
Resurrection Icon
Resurrection and Baptism into New Life
The Good Shepherd
Ecology Mandylion: All Creation Shall Be Renewed

Joy, peace and be still in the presence of God,

Cornelia

Sunflowers and Shadows

adult learning, Alexander the Great, art, Carl Jung, Creativity, Faith, grief, Holy Spirit, Imagination, inspiration, Ministry, Painting, perfection, Plato, Prayer, Socrates, Stress, Ukraine

DeLee 2019, Drying Sunflowers

A sunflower follows the sun. Actually, only young sunflowers track the sun across the sky, while mature sunflowers face east. Why is this? Why do we care? As sunflowers fill our Facebook feeds and social media posts, most of us are looking at flowers so we can ignore the awful consequences of this unprovoked war. Right now, many of us are heartbroken because of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. I had only a passing knowledge of this country because of its well known naïve artist, Maria Primachenko and her paintings of fantastic imaginative animals in gardens. They have always been a delight to my soul and a joy to my spirit. Many of her works include the sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower. Sunflowers have been grown in Ukraine since the mid 1800’s, and are not only an important export crop, but also a symbol of peace. When Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, people planted sunflowers as a symbol of the peace they hoped would follow.

Maria Primachenko
A Dove Has Spread Her Wings And Asks For Peace (1982)

Sunflowers, when young, follow the sun on a 24 hour circadian cycle, just as our bodies have a similar cycle keyed to the light and dark. When the flowers are growing, they maximize their time facing the sun, but once they’re mature, they set their face toward the east, since this gives the head maximum warmth. Bees love warmth, so keeping the buzzing crowds near is in the sunflowers’ best interest for pollination and reproduction.

Heat map of sunflowers at different times of the day

Most of us prefer the sunny days. Clouds, storms, and distress aren’t our first choices. After the last few years of pandemic stresses, we’re unprepared for yet another crisis, even if it seems to be on a distant continent. Our own supply chain for reserves of caring and concern have been stretched thin by the nearly million deaths from COVID in our nation alone, not to mention the worldwide death toll of over 6 million. On Friday in Sam’s Club, I met a lady who complimented me on my flowered pants, which I was wearing in honor of the Ukrainian folk painter, whose museum had been bombed by the Russian army.

“I can’t bear to even listen to the news any more. It’s all so awful,” she said.

I should wear this shirt on Friday at Sam’s Club.

“I know. It reminds me too much of domestic violence cases, where the man decides he’ll punish the ex by killing all the children and taking himself out also.”

My blood sugar usually drops low on Friday after art class, before I eat lunch, so I don’t have my usual, civilized filter on my mouth. The look of awareness on her face was the sudden recognition of a truth she had refused to see before. Sometimes we need to face our fears and deal with them. This is the hero journey. None of us can travel it alone, but far too many fail to ever set out on it at all, even with a spiritual companion or guide. My failure to snack at art class upset her comfortable apple cart and caused her distress. She ran out of Sam’s in a heartbeat. I was able to chat with a baby and her mom later on, who was amazed her child wasn’t at all afraid of this stranger. Food is a medicine for my mood and a bridle for my mouth.

Morandi: Still Life of Bottles with Strange Shadow

On a sunny day, we can see our shadow. Most of us are afraid of our own flickering shadows. We don’t want to see the darkness within us, even though we’re ever ready to see the sinister images of others. Like a sunflower, we’ll turn instead to the light and only see the good, the beautiful, and the true.

A story I remember from my classical art studies regards Alexander the Great and the shadows. His father Phillip II, the ancient king of Macedon, had a difficult, high strung horse, which no one had been able to ride. In fact, it was downright vicious and unmanageable, which made it less of a “gift” to the ruler. Alexander, even though a youth, noticed the handsome horse was disturbed by his own shadow, so he turned the animal’s head into the sun, attached the bridle, and was able to mount him. Alexander rode Bucephalus until the horse’s death at the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 B.C.E. In his honor, Alexander named a local city, Bucephala (sometimes identified with the modern Jhelum, in the Punjab province of Pakistan), after him.

Mosaic of Alexander the Great and Darius in Battle from the House of The Faun, Pompeii, 3rd century BCE

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes,” Carl Jung wrote to one Fanny Bowditch, on the eve of his entry into military service during the First World War. Jung believed as long as you looked at other people and projected your own psychology into them, you could never reach harmony with yourself. Jung taught all persons had a shadow side to their personality, or those aspects of ourselves which we’ve repressed. These may be both bad or good aspects, for some of us have yet to realize our own brutal natures, as well as the heroic figures which we’ve also buried inside.

DeLee: Endless Nights of Pain, Ireland, 1973

My old granddaddy was fond of saying, “When you point out another’s failings, you have three fingers pointing back at yourself.” I came to learn I couldn’t recognize the fault in others unless I could claim it also in my own self. This keeps one humble for sure, but it also keeps a person from thinking he or she has any godlike or dictator qualities.

This brings me to another famous shadow story involving Alexander the Great. After his father’s death, he visited Corinth, where Diogenes the Cynic lived in 326 BCE. Diogenes was famous for carrying a lamp in the middle of the day in his “search for an honest man.” In the most famous exchange of this meeting, Alexander asked Diogenes whether there was anything he could do for him. Diogenes, who was enjoying the warmth of the autumn sun, answered, “Stand aside to stop blocking the sun.”

Statue of Diogenes and Alexander

This abrupt response, showing Diogenes’ utter contempt for the power and prestige craved by Alexander, inspired many artists over the years. Although Alexander’s attendants took offense at Diogenes’ rudeness to their king, Alexander himself wasn’t displeased. Leaving, Alexander was said to reply, “If I were not Alexander, I would want to be Diogenes.”

When I brought these delightful images from Maria Primachenko to class, Gail and Mike were amazed at how bright, flat, and clean her designs were. Partly this is due to her use of gouache, an opaque water based color paint. She also uses repeated motifs, symmetry, and clean lines with sharp color contrasts to make her images “pop,” as the decorators say. Mike, who favors textures, was thrilled to see another artist who paints like he does. Gail was glad to process the distressing news through flowers and the yellow and blue of the national flag of Ukraine.

Gail’s Unfinished Painting

Often we don’t feel “safe” speaking about dark or upsetting experiences, preferring instead to bury them deep inside. This is maybe the worst decision we can make, for like a poison or an infection, what we refuse to bring to the light will fester and grow. Then it further sickens the body or the mind until it becomes unrecognizable and unhealthy. Perhaps this is when we move from being rational to irrational. As I always tell folks, “Just because you think the world operates on reason and order, doesn’t make it so.” By this I mean, we live in a world with accidents, change, disease, sociopaths, and greed. In biblical terms, we live in a broken and fallen world, one in which even those of us who are “saved by the blood of Christ” from the wages of sin are “not yet perfected in the love of God and neighbor.”

This is what it means as a Christian to carry the Jungian shadow within us. If we believe keeping a law is the best evidence of our faithfulness, we can overlook the moral quality of the law itself and find ourselves carrying out harm, rather than doing good. As the writer of Hebrews explains in the platonic argument of Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All:

“Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.” (10:1)

Mike’s unfinished painting

If we want to be law keepers, we can’t be picking and choosing which laws we want to keep, as if the law were a cafeteria or buffet table. Jesus certainly knew what potholes lay ahead of him after his baptism in the Jordan River. A forty day fast in the wilderness is great for getting your head together and dealing with our human nature’s dark side of desire for security, power, and equality with god.

Maria Primachenko
Don’t Feast Your Eye’s On Other People’s Bread (1983)

I post my Artandicon blog on LinkedIn as well as on my various spiritual formation Facebook pages which I manage. I sometimes get a message from folks there. One was from a friend, who mentioned she really wanted to get back into her art, “for it brings her peace.” I tell people, “the process of making art brings satisfaction, but we’re not ever satisfied with the work itself.” If we were ever to be satisfied with the work, if we thought we could reach no higher, or if we thought so highly of ourselves that we’d made the last best artwork for all times, then we’d have to quit and make pancakes, until we’d perfected those. And then we’d find a new obsession.

Cornelia’s Painting with Nuclear Monster Destroying a Church

My favorite monsters are those from the Japanese nuclear monster movies of the 1950’s. They are both kitschy and scary. The sunflowers destroyed by these monsters of war will fall to earth and be reborn once again in ever increasing numbers. If hope is the last to die, it’s also the first to rise again. As long as one has breath, one can hope. As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome long ago,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (15:13)

Making art is a metaphor for the hero’s journey. Jung believed art was important because often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain. We don’t know what battle or monster awaits, but we also don’t know what divine spirit will come to our aid. Along the fantastic inward journey, we’ll meet the very same creatures who are outside of us. They arise in our dreams, but they were planted in our awakening moments. We may have been turning our faces towards the sun, like the baby sunflowers or the horse Bucephalus, but soon enough we’ll trust the one who guides us and we’ll go wherever it’s necessary.

The journey toward Christian perfection in love is a heroic journey, one which we can only undertake with the help of the Holy Spirit. Along the way, we also travel with others on same road: mystics, saints, and holy persons from yesterday and today. As the old camp song refrain goes,

“And they’ll know we’re Christians by our love, by our love,
They’ll know we’re Christians by our love.”

Maria Primachenko:
May I Give This Ukrainian Bread To All People In This Big Wide World (1982)

The following prayer, Psalm 23, has comforted people for thousands of years in times of trouble and grief. Here in the English Standard Version, if you have fears, trepidations, or trembles, it might help you to calm your spirit. As you speak it aloud to the rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation of breath, remember those who have given up their lives rather than reject their faith: Christian martyrs in the Roman coliseum, Jewish martyrs in the holocaust, and democratic freedom fighters around the world. Let your voice be heard, even as their voice is being silenced:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

Joy, peace, and sunflowers,

Cornelia

The Mystery Of Why Sunflowers Turn To Follow The Sun — Solved : The Two-Way : NPR
https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/05/488891151/the-mystery-of-why-sunflowers-turn-to-follow-the-sun-solved

Alexander and Bucephalus | Department of Classics | University of Colorado Boulder
https://www.colorado.edu/classics/2018/06/19/alexander-and-bucephalus

Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine Is a Sin All Russians Will Bear
https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-02-24/putin-s-invasion-of-ukraine-is-a-terrible-sin-that-all-russians-will-bear

Carl Jung: “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.” – Carl Jung Depth Psychology
https://carljungdepthpsychologysite.blog/2020/02/08/carl-jung-i-am-afraid-that-the-mere-fact-of-my-presence-takes-you-away-from-yourself/

Carl Jung – Archetypes – Shadow
https://www.carl-jung.net/shadow.html

Carl Jung: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” – Jung Currents
https://jungcurrents.com/jung-hands-intellect-mystery

They’ll Know Are Christians by Our Love
https://www.hymnlyrics.org/newlyrics_t/theyll_know_we_are_christians_by_our_love.php

This is the Way

adult learning, art, beauty, change, Children, Creativity, Faith, Holy Spirit, Imagination, inspiration, ministry, mystery, nature, Painting, purpose, Reflection, risk, shadows, Socrates, Spirituality, vision

Are we our works? Are we valued by our works? Is work a noun or a verb? The child in me asks these questions until the parent in me wants to answer, “I don’t know. Go ask Alexa!”

Alexa Meme

We’ve all been there with the rug rats of our families and kinfolks. Children are curious and for this we’re grateful. This incessant questioning is their way of learning about the world. It’s altogether better than a puppy’s chewing on every new object it comes across. If families are to encourage their child’s interest, they get them a library card so they can have internet access and books to read, and they answer as many questions as possible. If they don’t know the answer, “Go look it up in Google or the encyclopedia.”

In ancient Greece, Socrates taught by asking his students questions, a technique we call the Socratic Method. Some of us teach art in this way also. When we see the student at a stopping point, we teachers ask, “Are you having a problem and not figuring out a solution?”

Raphael: School of Athens , Vatican City, 1509-11.

The student can usually point out what they want to change on their work, but they don’t have the experience or prior learning to drawn upon to solve it. For instance, if the flower petals all look flat because they’re painted in one color, the beginning student knows this doesn’t look right, but they need a trained eye to point out the variety of values in the petals. Once they see the gradation of light to dark, it’s never again unseen. We know it’s there.

Teachers can point out the range of values from dark to light that make up the visual vocabulary of shading a two dimensional image so it looks like a three dimensional shape. Students can learn this technique and master it over time. Mastery then becomes a matter of hand and eye coordination. In a sense, we have to lose ourselves in the subject matter so we can let its energies enter into our hearts and minds, and quicken our hands. The rest is a matter of practice and learning how our egos can quit controlling the outcome.

Old Farmland off Higdon Ferry Road

The spiritual writer and Jesuit priest Richard Rohr speaks of the three eyes in his book, The Naked Now. The first eye grasps what the senses can understand, the second eye understands the science and poetry, while the third eye is aware of all of the above, but especially how all things connect as part of God’s great mystery. When we enter into this “now,” we’re present not only to God, but to all creation, as well as our own selves. This is the contemplative spirit for which the artist strives, and not just for the mastery of the materials or for the rendering of the subject matter.

If we allow this energy to move our hands, does that mean our work also becomes part of us? If we baked a simple yellow cake out of a box, we might not ask that question. When we start decorating a cake made from scratch and adding frillies of frosting, then we start identifying with the cake. Should someone smash the cake enroute to the soirée, there’ll be hockey sticks to pay.

I remember almost fainting in Italy when I saw a glue blob on one of my delicate watercolor paintings, which had just been framed for an exhibition there. A stiff shot of some unknown alcohol brought me back to life. The framer made it good, for the glue was water soluble, so we could gently lift it up. I was more of a drama Queen in my 20’s also. I take things as they come these days. I also was more immature, for I didn’t separate my work from my identity.

Some say we are what we eat, so then are we what we create? Jesus had an answer in Mark 7:18-19 for those who thought certain foods were unclean, or forbidden to eat:

“He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)”

That fancy dinner we ate two nights ago leaves us after a few cups of coffee in the morning. We don’t recognize it and most of us don’t even inspect it as we flush it down the toilet on its way out the sewage pipes to the sanitation station. Of course, only parents can get excited about their two year olds who manage to do their “business” in the toilet instead of in their diapers. I know I was one of those. If Facebook had been invented back in the day, I’m sure I’d have posted an update.

As we grow older, we enjoy making and crafting for the experience of the textures and the command of the materials. Children have fun pushing the paints, papers, and glue all around the surface of their artwork. Parents often look askance at the grey, scribbled messes their children excitedly present to them for the honored place on the refrigerator display, but these muddy creations are the result of a dramatic story of their child’s imagination. “Interesting, why don’t you tell me what’s going on here?” Is an adult’s best response in this situation.

Art Lesson: Cut a Snowman on the Fold

I’ve had kindergarten children meltdown because they had difficulty cutting a snowman on the fold. It’s hard to be five years old and live in a home in which the parents don’t want their children to make a mess. These children, as a result, have poor fine motor skills, have difficulty writing, and handling scissors. Even folding a piece of paper is tough. Then they miss the important information: hold the fold, and cut on the flaps. If they hold the flaps instead, they end up with two halves of a snowman. And a meltdown into tears.

“I’ll never be able to make a snowman! My snowman is cut in two pieces. Why can you make a perfect snowman and I can’t?”

Therapy Hat

This lesson always called for me to wear my therapy hat, and remind my five year old students I’d been making folded snowmen for a very long time and my first ones looked just like theirs did. There was hope for them. We just needed to go over the directions again and make one together. Sometimes we miss a step, and that’s ok. It’s just a piece of paper. It’s not like we took away recess from everyone forever.

Usually when we went over the directions again, I could remind them of the way to hold the fold and cut the flaps. Then they’d all be amazed at how easy the project was. “Everything is easier when you follow the directions.” They’d laugh and start decorating their snowman, all their meltdowns forgotten.

Most of us aren’t successful the first time we attempt a new experience. If we were all extraordinary artists right off the mark, none of us ever would get excited about Michelangelo, Rembrandt, or Picasso. If we could all pick up a musical instrument and play it well right off the bat, who’d have the need for civic symphonies or even bar bands? We’d all be happy making our own music. The truth is some of us not only have the interest and inclination, but also the will to spend not just hours, but years, honing our craft, until we sing our notes purely or paint with a master’s hand.

Woven Canvas: Greenway Park

If we all aren’t masters, we all can enjoy the journey if we learn to detach our egos from our products. When I wrote papers in seminary, before I opened up my graded work, I’d repeat the mantra, “I am not my grade. I am a daughter of the living God, chosen for God’s work.” Then I’d look at the markings on the inside. This helped me to remember who I was, whose I was, and what my purpose was. I was also two decades older than that fainting child in Italy.

As I would tell visitors to Perkins, “If your well-being is wrapped up in your grade average, you might want to rethink either that notion or choose another school.”
“Oh, really?”

“Yes, if you’re going on for a PhD, you’ll get over a 90 in your classes. The top grade for the Mdiv is 89. If you get any grade higher than that, the professor thinks you could do PhD level work.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” they said.

“It’s a curve. If you go elsewhere for a DMin, those schools know Perkins’ grading system. Think of it as an A at 89 and don’t worry about it.”

Some people can’t restructure their world so their 89 is an A, but if that’s the system they’re in, that’s how it is. If they have in their mind nothing less than a 95 will validate their worthiness, then if they do their degree work at Perkins, they’ll always be up against the immovable wall. When they go out into ministry, they’ll discover everyone they meet has a grading system. That can drive a person crazy, unless he or she decides the ultimate approval they seek comes from the one who says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Likewise, if we’re beginners in art, we have to suspend our criticism of our imperfections in our work. Instead, we reframe our critiques into “areas which need improvement.” Even now, after decades of working in my studio, I’ll let a canvas rest near me in my living room. I’ll eye it in different lights, until I hear it call my name. I’ve totally repainted some of these, and others I’ve destroyed. A few I leave alone. All of us will keep learning something new, both from our “good paintings “ and our “need improvement works.” Most likely, artists quit painting when they they think they have nothing left to learn, or when they lose the courage to risk moving into the unknown mystery, as it’s written in 1 Corinthians 2:9—

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Paul also writes in Romans 8:27-28,

“And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Louisiana

So we too ask the Spirit to work more in us and free us from attachment to our need to be loved and affirmed by our works, since God is already working for good for those who love God and who are called according to God’s purpose. As we drop our old ideas and preconceived notions of the good, we become open to God’s good and God’s purposes. Releasing control to God is an act of humbleness and faithfulness, both of which are contrary to our modern belief in self-actualization and autonomy. This is the way of the mystic, or the contemplative, and the inspired artist.

Gastrointestinal Transit: How Long Does It Take?
http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/basics/transit.html

The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See – Kindle edition by Rohr, Richard. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com. (Also available in iBooks, for more money)
https://www.amazon.com/Naked-Now-Learning-See-Mystics-ebook/dp/B011H5IKU8/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2GSFR51RZ25BM&keywords=richard+rohr+naked+now+ebook&qid=1645568603&sprefix=richard+rohr+naked+now+ebook%2Caps%2C107&sr=8-1

The Heart of the City

arkansas, art, change, city, cognitive maps, Creativity, Historic neighborhood, hope, Imagination, mystery, Painting, trees

Cities are growing organisms, each having their central growth from their place of origin. Some begin on a waterfront, as a place of trade. Other communities began along a creek, where people would meet to connect, trade, and settle differences in peace. These were safe spaces, welcoming places, but they existed only so long as everyone acknowledged them.

In our cities today, safe spaces are rare. Some reasons are we don’t know everyone anymore, since our populations are so large. We don’t know who to trust, so we trust no one. If we’re anonymous, we think can do what we want, since no one knows who we are and we don’t know whom we harm. Of course, this is absurd, for if we do harm to another, we aren’t living out our best life, not to mention we’re not living out the wisdom of “Do unto others what you want done unto yourself.”

“Who knows what lurks in the heart of man?” the old radio program asked. “The Shadow knows,” was the answer. Most of what we know as the city is hidden behind the layers of paint, wallpaper, and various accretions of dust in our historic district. In Hot Springs, we can eat hamburgers in buildings where mobsters would hang out, walk the streets where old time baseball players strolled, and take hot baths where our ancestors took the “cure” for every disease known to humankind. They got clean, but the cure didn’t take.

Autumn Facade, Downtown Hot Springs

We have a civic interest in renewing our old buildings, for they attract tourists and provide incomes for owners and workers in our restaurants, shops, and hotels of all sizes and qualities. We have dive bars and first-class accommodations within a mile of each other. This is a sure sign of a community in transition. I won’t name either, but if Hot Springs were to be the setting of an old-time radio show, it wouldn’t lack for interesting characters or venues.

During this pandemic era, for it’s stretched long enough now to be called such a lengthy time, I’ve been working on a group of cognitive maps. A cognitive map is any visual representation of a person’s (or a group’s) mental model for a given process or concept. Cognitive maps have no visual rules they need to obey. There’s also no restriction on how the concepts and the relationships between them are visually represented. If we were to take a number of people to the same place, we’d most likely end up with the same number of maps. Some parts might overlap, but everyone would notice different aspects of the landscape.

My own cognitive maps start with a screen shot of a google map of a place I’ve been prepandemic, and work in process through sketches, then several layers of paint, and finally, the end product. This last stopping point sometimes comes only after I think I’ve finished the painting, but I leave it sitting out where I can look at it some more. In the looking, I discover, I’m not ready to release this image out to the world. It lacks unity, power, focus, or some other defining quality I can’t put words to. I only know I am unhappy with it the longer I look at it.

When I cook a recipe, I have a certainty if I follow the directions, I measure correctly, and my oven is true to temperature, I’ll come out with a good approximation of the original recipe. Afterall, I’m recreating someone else’s process and instructions. Making something new, from the imagination is part of the creative process. Sometimes the end product arrives easily, but other times, its birth is a struggle, and the child arrives crying to beat the band.

Creekside Landscape, Hot Springs, 2021 springtime

Most of us are used to seeing the landscape from our upright view, for we walk through our world with our head up every day as we reconnoiter along our daily paths. Some of us keep our heads buried in our phones, so we depend on the good nature of others to keep us from bumping into them, or these people must have particularly good side vision to avoid collisions with other walkers. We don’t have the bird’s eye view of the city, so we don’t see how the streets connect or how they follow the elevation changes. We also don’t get to see the patterns of tree growth, or the hidden waterways. Mostly we have a patchwork vision of just the immediate areas we inhabit, but not a vision of the whole.

Greenway Park Map: Apple Pencil Drawing on Google Map

I saved a screenshot to my iPad so I could draw on it. Color for me has emotional energy, so as I drew, I over laid the first colors with others. The changes the drawing went through prepared me for the changes through which the painting would transition. This pandemic has certainly been a time of change, but life has always been changing. One of my old friends always said, “Human beings are meant to change. We’re brand-new people every 27 days! That’s how often we get a whole new skin.”

I spent many years in the church, an organization not noted for changing. It’s not the organization that doesn’t want to change, but the people. We find those same people resistant to change in NASCAR fans, football fans, and any other group you want to name. As one wag said, “It was the 56th Super Bowl and they finally had rap music in Los Angeles, and NASCAR had Pit Bull at the LA Coliseum for the Clash for the first time in 43 years. If you have a point, it’s time to make it.” If we don’t like change, we should quit washing our bodies, since we’re just hurrying those dead skin cells off to their final demise.

First Stage of Greenway Park Map Painting

Artists must embrace change, however, for the moment we put a mark on a canvas or tap a stone with a chisel and hammer, we’ve changed the surface before us. We can’t be afraid to go into the emptiness or the unknown, for there we’ll find the beauty of the unspoken or the hope of the silence in which we work.

This stage of the painting adheres closely to the drawn image. The blue streets define the city blocks and a few building shapes are notated. It’s a complicated street map from one of our older sections of town.

Second Stage of Greenway Park Map Painting

On this repainting, I balanced the colors better, but kept the greens and oranges. I signed it, for I thought I was “finished.” I set it down in my living room to observe it for a while. I often do this with my work, for if it still looks good after six months, I think it’ll survive for a year. If it lasts a year, I think it’ll last longer. If I look at it three years later and it doesn’t survive, I’ll destroy it. This was painted during the winter, with the worst low light of the season. No wonder it looked grim under the brightening light of the returning sun.

Final Stage Greenway Map

Some sunshine has come into my life here in the middle of February. I’m very sensitive to the transition of light across the seasons, so when it begins to leave in October, I start shutting down. When the light begins to return again, I awake, as if from a hibernation. Perhaps this is the reason I took all my yellows and reds and overpainted the other colors on the canvas. Now my canvas is almost monochromatic, except for small streaks and blobs of color in places. You can still see the city blocks and streets, but now the over all feeling is less of a map and more of an energy record of the city area.

This is the city as it grows, as it lives, and as it changes. The dynamics and life blood of the city move and pulse as it transforms. Hot Springs is unique in that we keep as much of our old as possible and build new when we must. I’m thankful for this city, for its love of the arts, and its honor of its history, as well as its embrace of the future.

After all, that’s all any of us can do, is remember who we are, whose we are, and give thanks to the one whose steadfast love remains forever.

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

How Often Does the Epidermis Renew?
https://www.webmd.com/beauty/cosmetic-procedures-overview-skin

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

adult learning, art, bottles, butterflies, Creativity, Faith, flowers, Icons, Imagination, nature, Painting, pre-diabetes, purpose, risk, Stress

When faced with a complicated task, what’s the first thing we need to do? I usually vote to have a cup of coffee and sit down to think about it. Some may call this procrastination, but I call it contemplation. I need to settle my mind, focus my senses, and discern the most important parts of my task. This is necessary, for if I were cutting off a limb from a tree, I’d sure want to get my body placed on the part of the tree that wasn’t going to fall. Keep the most important thing the first thing in mind is always the best practice.

Manet: Chrysanthemums and Clematis

Once our youth group from church went to the Appalachian Mountains for a mission work project. Most of our kids came from poor homes and we arrived in a single church bus, which for some reason the license plate hadn’t got renewed. The group even let me be the navigator. Only by the grace of God did we arrive, for I’m known to be directionally challenged among all my friends.

The other group who attended this session with us came with another truck, complete with all their own tools. Our children were despondent at first, for they felt they couldn’t “compete.” Our adult team leaders reminded them, “We’re here to do the work God has called us to do. This isn’t a contest. Everyone has value and all our work counts toward the greater good.”

Cross Stitch Motto from my Mother

That big, well provisioned group got the job of replacing a front porch and a roof. They divided up into a porch and roof team. The porch team finished first, but then they got mad when the roof team had to destroy their work to put the roof on right. They had failed to talk out an overall plan first. If the roofers had started on the porch end, then the porch team could come behind them and work would progress along properly.

This is called team work in groups. Our small group was experienced in talking out the process before we began working, so we knew the consequences of our actions. “If…then” is always an important consideration, especially in our artistic endeavors.

If we’re familiar with the work of Dr. Stephen R. Covey, he talks about putting first things first by organizing and executing around our most important priorities. We live and are driven by the principles we value most, not by the agendas and forces which surround us. Pleasing others isn’t God’s purpose for us, but to do God’s work of loving all and serving the least of God’s people.

Spider Plants in the Classroom

When we look at a landscape, we have to select the primary image to emphasize, and relate the other forms around this important image. In the still life, we might drive ourselves crazy trying to paint every single petal, pistil, and leaf of some flowers in a vase, or we could find the most important shapes, which give us enough visual cues to let the viewer say, “Yes, this is a flower painting.” Not every leaf needs to be given the same attention, since our goal is to make a painting, not a rendering of the subject before us.

Cornelia’s Spider Plant Painting, 2020

Some might ask, “Why do we return to this well worn theme from time to time?” The best answer is we continue to learn from our repeated exposure to this theme. For another, our drawing skills improve over time, so we can see our progress. Also, our ability to handle the paint gets better, so we are more comfortable with mixing our colors and planning our composition. Besides, the great artists over the centuries have found this discipline fruitful, so if it benefited them, most likely we’ll get some good from it also. My nanny’s wisdom comes clear here: “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

Beauty Berry Plant

When faced with so many shapes of leaves, a central stem, and a glass vase with ridges and reflections, our untrained brain wants to explode. We have to catch our breath, inhale, and exhale to cleanse our nerves. This is the point we begin our first simplification. If we note the proportions, the leaves are about the same height as the vase, and we can set the vase on a plane (the table) so it has depth. We can mark these off on the bare canvas with light pencil or a light wash of yellow paint. We’ll paint over it later.

Cornelia’s Beauty Berry Painting, 2020

The next step of simplification is to get the basic lines and shapes down. These don’t have to be perfect, but give you an idea of where you’re going to paint. If you do this in a pale wash, you can paint over it with the heavier colors in the more exact form. In sculpture, Michelangelo was known for chipping away from the stone everything that didn’t look like his subject. In painting, we add color, tint, and shade until it looks like our subject.

Cornelia’s False Wild Indigo

The final stage of simplification is to get the background in. Here you can paint up close to the individual shapes and “clean up the edges.” You can add highlights in places to bring out the foreground shapes, and add a shadow in the background for variety. By this time, the vase ought to be dry enough to put highlights on it also. Notice the leaves aren’t all the same color and they don’t bend the exact same way. Nothing in nature is perfect, for each part grows according to the amount of sun, shade, and nutrients it receives. As one of my old teachers reminded me, “Nature has no straight lines, so you never have to worry about that.”

Daffodils from 2019

To show you how sustained effort and intentional looking over time can helps student’s work improve, I offer the following examples from February, 2019, and September, 2020. One was the spider plants and the other the daffodils. I’m not sure who did these, so I won’t identify them.

Daffodils from 2019

I merely throw these in here because Gail and Mike have been working with me for several years. If practice hasn’t yet made perfect, it certainly has made improvements, and that’s all anyone can ask for. After all, we’re not asked to be perfect, but to go on to perfection (in love of God and neighbor).

Spider Plants from 2020

For history buffs a side note. Wild indigo is in the genus Baptisia, which derives from the Greek word, βάπτω, which means “to dip” or “immerse,” just as our baptism (βαπτίζω) does. North American indigenous peoples and early settlers would extract yellow, brown, and green dyes from the leaves and stems of wild indigo, notably blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) and other species. Indigo dye was extracted from yellow wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), but it proved to be an inferior source compared to the treasured true indigo (Indigofera species).

For years, wild indigo remained an obscure historical relic, its ornamental and ecological contributions undiscovered and under appreciated. Yet, in the springtime, wild indigo produces tall spikes of pea-like flowers that rise above the gray- to blue-green three-lobed leaves to provide nearly a month long display of color. The flowers sustain bumblebees and other winged pollinators, while the leaves feed the larvae of a variety of butterflies that include the wild indigo duskywing, frosted elfin, eastern tailed-blue, silver-spotted skipper, and various sulphurs. If you want to encourage butterflies in your garden, this is a hardy, drought tolerant, and deer resistant plant.

Gail’s Wild Indigo

Gail found the plants with their unique seed heads on a hike last week. This subject matter was received with more joy than my suggestion of apples. Evidently, what was good enough for the great master Cezanne is an acquired taste for my students. I might need to bring apple pie to soften them up. I’m not above bribery for a good cause. Besides, pie would be a great still life. Gail got a very detailed drawing of the leaves, the vase, and the grouping’s placement on the table. She sketched in the counterbalanced stick with its mossy growth. This was the quickest I’ve seen her work, for she’s usually very deliberate in her choices.

Mike’s Vase of Leaves

We had a full house last Friday, so Mike sat at a different table. He had to paint with the added burden of looking over his shoulder periodically to check his work. He began to paint more from emotions than from sight, which isn’t a bad choice. As long as his work carries enough of the vocabulary of the image to speak its message, he’s good with it. It’s the energy, the experience of painting, and using his mind to solve a problem in his own creative way that engages his interest. So if his painting looks “less real” than Gail’s, it doesn’t mean it’s less successful. He began from a different place, so his destination is also different.

Sally’s Vase of Leaves

A new member of our group, Sally is experimenting with techniques and tools, as well as the paint itself. This week she came with heavy body Liquitex paints, the professional quality paint, which has more pigment than binder. She was so used to the thin bodied paints, however, she watered down these excellent colors. When she asked why they weren’t working like she thought, I pointed out, “You’re supposed to use them straight out of the tube, thick.” This is why we have a group session, so we can learn together. Sally also had a new fan brush, which she used to make brown decorative marks all over her canvas. “I just wanted to try it!” Now that she knows, maybe she’ll plan ahead. I really like the swaying energies of her leaves. They’re happy and full of life. If this were in bright colors, Matisse would be proud.

Lauralei’s Vase

Lauralei brought an interesting solution to our subject this past week. The clear vase was a little intimidating, so she, like several others, colored it solid. When we first learn to swim, we want the security of water wings or the proximity of the edge of the pool. We all take small steps before we take bigger steps. She got the stick and fringed moss down and the many leaves of the plant.

Making all these decisions takes a lot of energy. Our brains use about 20% of our calories, so if we’re engaged in a new challenge, our blood sugar can dip if we’re not careful. If we aren’t aware of this, we can run out of energy or make careless choices. As someone who has prediabetes, I get low blood sugar easily. Stress and excitement can cause my blood sugar to dip. I always bring a small snack as well as eat a good breakfast with whole grain complex carbohydrates, like old fashioned oats. That snack is important, since I test my blood sugar before I drive home.

I’ve learned the hard way if my blood glucose reading is under 80, it’s falling and my driving skills will be going south too. I usually know I’m having trouble, for I can’t string two thoughts together and I begin to overwork my painting. I can’t make the good decision to stop while I’m ahead. Not everyone has this problem, but learning to recognize when you’re tired or just painting with no purpose in mind, is also an acquired skill. Taking care of our bodies so we can fully enjoy exploring a new adventure is a gift we can give ourselves. We only have one body in which to live out God’s purpose for our lives.

Dusty’s Icon of Vase and Leaves

Dusty concentrates well and gets a good shape on his canvas before he sets out to paint. I can’t read his mind, but it seems as he draws, the steps he needs to paint his image come into his mind. This is contemplating at a deep level. It’s not surface thinking, but an inner, deep knowledge that percolates up from within. I mention it’s an icon, for the tablecloth is tipped upward as if it were a background, not a flat plane on which the vase sits. This isn’t something he did by choice, since we haven’t done a lesson on perspective together. In the language of icons, the four cornered shape represents the world and its cardinal directions, or all creation. So we have one plant and all creation, as Paul said to the Romans (8:19-21):

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

We’ll take Friday, February 4, off due to the frozen roads. On February 11, we’ll do paper Valentine collages. Y’all stay warm and safe. Eat hearty soups and enjoy the beauty of the snow.

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

Manet: Chrysanthemums and Clematis in a Crystal Vase, 1882, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®: Habit 3 – FranklinCovey
https://www.franklincovey.com/habit-3/

Wild or False Indigo | Home & Garden Information Center
https://hgic.clemson.edu/wild-or-false-indigo/

The City

adult learning, art, city, cognitive maps, Creativity, hope, Imagination, inspiration, Painting, pandemic

As an itinerant Methodist pastor I, along with my sisters and brothers, have had the privilege of answering God’s call to minister in different cities and towns. Sometimes I questioned the wisdom of the Holy Spirit working through my district superintendents and bishop, but I wasn’t alone in this. Other clergy have wondered why they were sent to “exile cities, ” just as our congregations often wondered why the bishop sent them the very last person at the bottom of the clergy bucket.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people taken from their homeland into exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE:

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (29:7)

God has a way of putting us where we need to be, just as God has a way of providing the leaders we need. Maybe not the leader we want, but the leader we need. Also maybe not the location we’d put at the top of our bucket list, but the place where God needs us to be in this present moment.

Making a painting has some of this same expectation and disappointment. In class we had the inspiration of “The City.” We don’t paint just the shapes, but also the emotions we feel about the subject matter. If we like the city, we’ll respond well, but if the idea of the city is distressing to us, we might not even be able to work at all. If I don’t have sufficient caffeine by 10 am, my creative juices don’t flow swiftly.

City in the Dark of Night

This was one of the inspiration images. It may be best understood as, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” Also a poem, “The Cities Inside Us,” by Alberto Ríos, says “what the Shadow knows:”

We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece
Through the eye and through the ear.

It’s loud inside us, in there, and when we speak
In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm

Not reach out
In place of the tongue.

Overpainted Houses

These brightly colored houses are the last layer of a heavily overpainted canvas. Underneath the house shapes with their gabled roofs, we can still see the faint images of rectangular buildings. The artist also scratched through the paint in places for texture and stumbled colors on top of other colors. This technique takes more time than two hours, since the bottom layers need to dry before the upper layers are added. The quality of paint is different also, since thin paint isn’t able to handle this type of work. It yields a much livelier and more optimistic image than the dark one above.

Seaside Houses

This image has not only the brightly colored houses of a seaside city, but also their reflections in the water below. The sky is broken up into planes of various tints of blue. There’s three distinct sections: foreground, middle ground, and background. It’s located in a real space, even though it’s rendered in flat and decorative colors.

Dusty’s Buildings on the Lawn

Dusty painted his buildings on a green lawn for a nice landscape setting. While he didn’t have time to render any details in our short class time, I could tell he was thoughtful about the placement of his colors and shapes.

Mike’s Atmospheric Sky and Cityscape

I asked Mike what his Myers Briggs Type was, since he has no trouble making a plan and executing it. My guess his first and last letters are E and J, and most likely S and T in the middle. Not everyone can make a plan right away, but some have to work on the canvas and let the painting begin to call itself into being. It becomes more of a conversation between the artist and the artwork.

Mike enjoyed bringing to life the night sky with its clouds and full moon. The mystery of a city and its buildings’ windows blazing with light in the night must be a memory he holds dear.

Lauralei’s City Under the Clouds

Lauralei’s city had some moody, overhanging clouds. The buildings underneath were transparent and fragile. It was as if they were a glass city, and a threatening storm cloud hung over the city. Worry and stress can wear a person down. I know anxiety is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. “You can’t cross the bridge until you get to it,” my mother always said. My Nannie would chime in, “Today’s trouble is enough. Don’t go borrowing trouble from tomorrow!” It’s best sometimes to put the work down and try again after giving our concerns over to God:

“The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds,
and it will not rest until it reaches its goal;
it will not desist until the Most High responds.”
~~ Sirach 35:21

Sally’s City

Sally would have liked to work some more on last week’s painting, but tried this project instead. She’s still learning the limits of her paints, so this is why the building on the left has one green dot darker than the others. It was painted into the wet ground, so it picked up that color and dulled it. I saw that move out of the corner of my eye and suggested she let the building dry first. If we work all over the surface, or “do the big before the small,” we have a good chance our colors will stay clean and fresh. If we want grayed colors, we go ahead and paint into wet areas. The orange and blue complementary colors contrast nicely with the grays and violets.

Gail’s Copenhagen Painting

Gail used a photo to do her painting at home while under quarantine. She made a good rendering. I’d suggested to the group the week before we would do a city scene, so if they had a photo on their phone, or a postcard from a vacation, they were welcome to bring it. I guess the dog ate everyone’s homework! Except for Gail.

Gail’s inspiration image and painting
Cornelia’s Cognitive Map—1

My work went through several stages, rather like our continuing COVID pandemic. The map covers the area between our two city hospitals, National Park Medical Center and CHI St. Vincent. The former is at 100% occupancy in its ICU beds and the latter is at half capacity. National Park’s regular beds are almost 80% full, while CHI’s are about 55% full. In class time, I laid down some base colors according to a pattern from Google maps. Then it was time to pick up, clean our tools, and go home.

Cognitive Map—2

At home, after I recovered from a weekend of four exciting football games, I took several of my oldest fabric face masks, which are inadequate for our latest highly transmissible omicron variant. Abandoned masks are a common sight, joining the rest of the urban detritus that sully our city sidewalks now. I also added some of my grandmother’s crocheted rickrack for one of the main streets. I overpainted the bright colors with dark blue colors. Somehow rolling into the third year of this pandemic has sucked some of the energy out of me.

Cognitive Map—3

The dark night of COVID couldn’t last long for me, for I always have hope. I picked up my iridescent colors: silver, gold, and bronze. Mixing these, as I scumbled them over the base colors, I thought of the Psalmist (104:30):

“When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.”

Cognitive Map—4

I wasn’t truly satisfied until I pulled the gold, silver, and bronze mix over all the whole surface. Only a few of the bright colors from the original under painting remained as key notes to bring the eye around the canvas. I think I might have to make more three dimensional areas in another work. This one doesn’t have quite enough.

When I taught young children, I used to remind their parents children have a different purpose in art than adults do. Children are excited about the process, while adults want a finished image. Kids will push a work beyond its “boundary” just to experience the activity of making art, while adults often hold themselves back for fear they might go over the edge. We grownups need to have more of that childlike abandon, since going over the edge in art isn’t going to threaten life or limb.

This week we’ll paint from wildflowers. Drawing from our imagination is difficult if we haven’t practiced this skill. Drawing from an object we can see is much easier. We can look at it and sort out the basic shapes and lines. We can check the proportions to see if they relate to one another correctly. Sometimes we discover drawing from real life is actually just as hard as making something up out of our own creative ideas. Actually, everything about art is equally easy and difficult at one and the same time. We just have to relax and make the colors and shapes appear on the surface.

Remember the words of hope from Jeremiah to the captives in Babylon:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile (29:11-14).”

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

The Cities Inside Us by Alberto Ríos – Poems | Academy of American Poets
https://poets.org/poem/cities-inside-us

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Hospital Capacity in Garland County, Arkansas
https://data.progress-index.com/covid-19-hospital-capacity/arkansas/05/garland-county/05051/

Color Theory Paintings

adult learning, Altars, art, color Wheel, Creativity, Faith, Hilma af Klint, Imagination, inspiration, Ministry, mystery, Painting, shadows, Spirituality

Cezanne: Four Apples, 1880-1881, oil on canvas

Cezanne once said, “We live in a rainbow of chaos.” Perhaps he meant we’re surrounded by colors, in various and sundry shades, and through art, we try to find some order to this chaos, even if our resulting work seems outwardly disorderly. In his own lifetime, Cezanne was accused of being a madman, “afflicted while painting with delirium tremens.” His response was to shrug off the guardians of the Academy: “With an apple I want to astonish Paris.” He worked in isolation for a very long time, only gaining financial success in the last ten years of his life.

Jackson Pollock: Number 32, 1949, auctioned in 2018 at Sotheby’s

Another artist who broke ground is Jackson Pollock. When we view a Pollock action painting, we realize there’s actually an order to this chaos. The drips and pours are more like calligraphy and live in tension with one another. They vary in color, size, and energy, not unlike a song. The action paintings are not just “drip paintings,” but energies expressing emotions by means of fluid dynamics. This is why we don’t say, “My grandkid could do this.” People try to forge Pollocks and fail. Even Pollock had difficulty creating these unique works, the best of which belong primarily to a two year period when he refrained from his alcohol habit, which affected his depressive disorder.

As compositions, each of Pollock’s drip pictures simultaneously dissolves into a chaotic jumble of individual lines, while also coming together as a structurally uniform, whole field. We’re mostly used to works best viewed from a single fixed point, such as a High Renaissance painting. Instead, to view a Pollock, we must move across the whole surface, and look deep into the layers. His works draw their audience in to inspect the details closely, passage by passage, and at the same time overwhelm the viewer with their monumental size. Their coloristic and textural richness emphasizes the expansive surface, yet the elaborate and totally visible overlay of multiple layers of paint (and sand, cigarette butts, glass, and other materials) create a very real depth and space. It’s definitely not your grandchild’s artwork.

HANS HOFMANN: Elysium, 1960, oil on canvas, BLANTON MUSEUM OF ART

Hans Hofmann, a 20th C American abstract expressionist, once said, “Colors must fit together as pieces in a puzzle or cogs in a wheel.” Often we use the colors straight out of the tube, or we flail around trying to figure out which yellow and which blue will give us the shade of green we want to use. Experience is the best teacher, for learning how to see the colors of life is like solving a puzzle that doesn’t have a photo for a guide. Once we begin to recognize their composite colors, we begin to see the order in the midst of chaos. Then we have the cogs to the wheel and it will turn the next wheel in good order. Experience becomes our Rosetta Stone for decoding the other mysterious languages of color we hear around us every day.

Color Wheel with Neutral Grey at Center

One of the cues we’ve come to recognize in our painting class is the color of our brush wash water. If it’s a lovely neutral gray, like the center circle in the wheel above, we’ve balanced the warm and cool colors on our canvas. Most of our group in attendance chose colors from this wheel.

Paul Klee: Watercolor Word Study

We saw a number of color theory examples from history, including Paul Klee’s geometric watercolors, which vary from color blocks, landscapes, and written images.

Hilma af Klint: Primordial Chaos, Number 7

A little known colorist is the Swedish artist, Hilma af Klint, who was one of the earliest abstract painters. She developed a language, or visual imagery, to share the spiritual experiences she received during her participation in automatic drawing. As with many others of her era at the turn of the 20th century, she and her friends, in the group called The Five, mixed elements of traditional Christianity with seances and beliefs in a mystical guiding higher spirit. If she lived today, we’d likely call her beliefs “new age.” She also incorporated new advances in science for her time in her explorations.

Hilma af Klint: Altar Piece, Number 1

Her work for The Temple was heroic in size, with each of the 193 paintings measuring about 7 x 9 feet.These were completed between 1906 and 1915. The whole sequence can perhaps be understood as af Klint’s pursuit of an original “oneness,”or the basic unity which she believed existed at the world’s creation. She believed this integrity had since been lost, giving way instead to a world of polarities: good and evil, woman and man, matter and spirit. In her work after 1912, af Klint seemed to move stylistically away from techniques related to spirit channeling, such as the fluid lines of The Five’s automatic drawings. Her use of Christian iconography and geometric forms increased. By 1917, af Klint stopped producing art through a spirit altogether. Her 2,000 plus works are owned and administered by The Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden.

Dusty: Circle in Space

Dusty used a plastic plate to draw his circle. This plate served a secondary purpose as well: it was also his palette to mix his colors. “Art imitates life, even in abstraction.” He used the ruler to measure out equal pie shaped segments, and divided the background planes. I almost stopped him in the midst of his planning, but I wasn’t about to stop that train of thought. I could only admire it for its balance and symmetry. He mixed the shades of the colors, and filled in the spaces. Then he added a few “motion” marks to indicate the movement of the disc in the atmosphere.

Gail: Sun and Waves

Gail pulled a plastic French curve drawing shape out of her toolbox to make the unique shapes in her painting. The blue and green curves are the waves of the sea and the central oranges of the resulting negative shape is the sun above the water. I always appreciate her paintings, which connect to her love of nature and have a sense of order to them.

Lauralei: Geometric Shapes

I think I have this painting right side up. I followed the path of the brush strokes. Lauralei wins the prize for most different number of colors mixed on the palette. So often we get accustomed to using the same familiar colors over and over. Everyone had a café au lait colored interior two decades ago, then we all went white, and gray predominated for a while. Maybe soon we’ll paint our homes actual colors instead of following the crowd.

Mike: Rainbow Cross

Mike had this idea percolating in his mind before he came to class, but didn’t have time to work on it at home. As soon as he saw our inspiration works, he decided to follow his inner guide, which had opened this image to him. He took the ruler to mark off some guide lines, then focused on bringing this idea to life. The radiating energy bolts of dynamic rainbow colors coming from the cross remind us of God’s love in Jesus Christ for all things and all people. We’re also one in Christ and belong to the one family of God, no matter how we worship, or what our understanding of God is.

Cornelia’s First Stage: Light and Dark

I began my little painting as a homage to Klee, but I didn’t get far in the 90 minutes we have for painting. I attempted to leave the negative space for the letters, but my brush was either too large or my painting surface was too small for the text I chose. I brought it home and worked another six or seven hours on it in the following week.

Cornelia’s Final Stage: Light and Dark

In the quiet of my studio, I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the emotions of the words, but only to the technical aspects of mixing the colors. I reread again my text from Luke 1:78-79:

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

At this time, I saw the upper half needed to be light, while the lower part of the painting needed to be in darkness, since the two verses broke in this direction. This also gave my painting a landscape feel, as if the dark earth hadn’t yet seen the dawn of God’s light. As I painted, I began to lose the sense of the letters and the words, and the patches of color became more important than trying to keep the sentence legible.

I’m very impressed with this group, who’ve taken to heart my teaching mantra: Everyone will find their own voice if they engage in creative thinking and do the work. In the spiritual life, we’re saved by faith, but in art, we do find “works righteousness.” Amazingly, we get better the more we practice, especially if we have positive critiques and goal oriented lessons designed to help us grow. This provides fertile ground to awaken the spirit living within each of us, so that we can become co-creators in God’s renewal of the world. Maybe Hilma af Klimt was on to something special after all.

Our next class will be The City. We can either treat this as a lesson in perspective, poster design, abstraction, or a close up view of a building. Vacation photos are a good resource to bring, if you have a special place you want to remember. Antique photos are good too. Till next time, keep your hearts full of

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

The Fascinating Physics of Jackson Pollock’s “Drip” Paintings
http://hyperallergic.com/526383/the-fascinating-physics-of-jackson-pollocks-drip-paintings/

Jackson Pollock’s Paintings: Characteristics of Drip Painting Technique
http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/jackson-pollock-paintings.htm

Paintings for the Temple | The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation
https://www.guggenheim.org/teaching-materials/hilma-af-klint-paintings-for-the-future/paintings-for-the-temple

Hilma af Klint The Paintings for the Temple 1906–1915 ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 2021 Catalog Bokförlaget Stolpe 9789189069114
https://www.artbook.com/9789189069114.html

STARS AND THE WINTER SOLSTICE

adult learning, art, Astrology, chocolate, Christmas, cosmology, Creativity, Faith, Family, greek myths, grief, holidays, hope, Icons, Imagination, incarnation, Marcus Aurelius, Ministry, nature, Painting, Philosophy, poverty, Spirituality, Stonehenge, trees, winter solstice

Stonehenge at Winter Solstice

This is a time of year when we look to the night sky for a sign. It’s not for nothing the depths of darkness are the beginnings of hope and our desire for the return of the healing light. People around the world and over the generations of time have celebrations of feasting, family reunions, and honoring their culture’s gods on the darkest day, or the Winter Solstice. The term solstice derives from the Latin word “sōlstitium”, meaning “the Sun stands still”. On the Winter Solstice, the sun reaches its southern-most position, shines directly on the Tropic of Capricorn, and seems to stand still there.

We’re all familiar with Stonehenge, a Neolithic stone monument in England built about 4,500 years ago to track important moments in the solar year. A later custom is the blazing Yule Log, a Norse tradition. The family would drag a huge piece of wood into their house, set it into the main fireplace, and let it burn for several days. It was a type of sympathetic magic to encourage the distant and faint sun to return, reinvigorated. The family often wrote down their desires for the new year as an offering to the gods. These were then burned in the fire. Afterwards, the family scattered ashes from the fire in the corners of every room in the house for good luck.

Hiroshige: The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō

The Chinese also have a Winter Solstice festival, which once was a new year’s festival. The family gathers to eat traditional foods, and they honor their ancestors, as well as the old ones still living among them. This poem by Ruan Yue, in the late Northern Song Dynasty speaks of this:

罗袜新成,更有何人继后尘。
The socks for elders are newly woven;
the custom should be handed down.

A later poet of the Song Dynasty, Fan Chengda, had a more optimistic outlook on the dreary and dark days before the Winter Solstice, or perhaps he was using “positive pep talk to reframe his grumpy mind.”

休把心情关药裹,但逢节序添诗轴。
Don’t be thinking about medicines all the time;
write a new poem at the solar term.

I can relate to Fan Chengda, for I find I have difficulty waking up without the sun streaming into my bedroom windows. I’m also more irritable and mopey on these dark days. It’s probably Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of depression related to the lack of light in this season. I tend to think dark thoughts, feel more pain, and lose my appetite, except for medicinal chocolate, which I consume under the Tim Allen mantra, “If some is good, more should be better!”

For Medicinal Purposes Only

When I get this type of mood on, the commercial Christmas we see on television and in the movies strikes a discordant note in my soul. I think about the ancient text, which reminds us when the parents of Jesus went to Bethlehem to be counted in the census: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

What most of us glide right over is Joseph had kinfolks galore in this town, but none of them opened their home to Mary, for she was pregnant before he married her. The innkeepers in town weren’t going to risk their reputations for these two either. Only one innkeeper took pity on them and let them stay with the animals in the stable. This marks the birth of the Christ child as an outsider to his whole extended family, the House of David.

Botticelli: Nativity, 1475

The Magi, or Wise Men, came from the East to visit King Herod, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”( Matthew 2:2)

Herod was worried he would be deposed, so he sent the Magi to find this child, then return and report to him. The Magi followed the star until it stopped over the place where the family was staying. They offered their gifts and returned home, without telling Herod where the baby was. Jesus was an outsider to the Roman occupation which propped up the local kings. He was a threat to the way governments rule the world.

Shepherds are the epitome of outsiders in the Bible, for they live outdoors among sheep and goats, neither of which are clean. In fact, anyone who’s gone camping knows how hard staying clean is. Glamping isn’t camping, and neither is RVing. My youthful experiences in Girl Scout camps of pitching tents and digging rain gutters is the closest I’ve ever been to living on the land. Even then, we had outhouses and cold water showers. The biblical city folk who could keep the ritual rules of cleanliness looked down on the shepherds as a lower class group, or outside of society.

Imagine a group of shepherds sitting around a nighttime fire, eating a simple meal, and chatting about their day or their families at home. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9). I’d be terrified also, as I imagine you would be too! There’s a good reason the first words out of angels’ mouths are “Do not be afraid!”

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Giotto: Nativity at Padua

If ever the outcasts of the world needed good news, if ever the hopeless needed a savior, if ever the least of all needed one just like them, it was these lowly shepherds, who went to find a newborn child lying in an animal’s feeding stall. No fancy crib for the newborn king, no royal robes or golden crown, just ordinary swaddling clothes. He looked just like any other child, except his birth was proclaimed by angels, honored by Magi from afar, and given a place through the grace of a kind innkeeper.

Those of us who will celebrate Christmas with our families, our extended friends, and our relations in a wild, chaotic buzz of coming and going, feasting and drinking, and perhaps exchanging of gifts, don’t know the quiet and holy night when the light of the world entered “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79)

We keep our homes lit inside and out with megawatts of electric lights, both colored and white. Some of us even cue our lights to blink to seasonal music. Those of us who live beyond the great urban areas, can better see the stars at night, since there’s no light pollution. This is one reason we need to keep our national parks as close to nature as possible, for one day, these may be the only places people can marvel at the bright stars against the dark canopy of the sky above.

Gail: Stars across the Sky

Gail brings her love of the outdoors and her experience as a park ranger to her work. Over the trees, a floating band of stars become a pathway across the night sky.

Mike: Sun, Moon, and Stars

Even if our assignment was stars, that never means “only stars.” After all, the sun is a star, which is very close to us, astronomically speaking. If you’re going to have the sun and stars, you might as well have the moon also. I always say, “Why not?” The Tim Allen rule sometimes applies in art class: “More power!” When you go too far on the Tim Allen scale, that’s when his sidekick Al reminds him, “Sometimes less is more.” Mike certainly captures the energy and joy of the celestial bodies in this painting through the bold colors and strong brush strokes.

Sally: The Cosmos

Sally had an idea in her mind, but no image to look at. She wanted to show the cosmos in motion, as if God were looking down upon it. In her mind’s eye, she imagined this from memory. As she worked on the small canvas, she’d add more paint into the areas which weren’t quite dry and got somewhat frustrated at the paint not bending to her will. As a matter of technique, painting into a dry area is better than continuing to add color to a wet area, since the wet brush picks up the wet layers below that. Mike and Gail, having many sessions under their belts, have already crossed this particular bridge. She also learned something significant. It’s easier to paint something when you can look at it. I think it’s a good start and it holds promise: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:41).

Cornelia: Starry Night

I’m not a fast walker, nor do I get down the road quickly. I’m too busy noting the color of the sky, thinking what colors to mix to get the grey trees of a late December day, or how to paint the towering cumulus clouds of summer. I file these thoughts away in the treasure house of my mind, for one day I’ll need them. I look at the shadows of the leaf clumps on trees, but not at each leaf alone. The tree leaves are communities, not individuals. They exist as groups, so the artist treats them as such.

I’m not sure about others, but many walkers are fixed on their personal best speed, or going a half mile longer. Some people drive to the grocery store and make their list in their head as they go. In the store, they make a new to do list for the home, and once that’s done, they make another list for the next day. The cycle starts all over again. They never once raise their eyes to greet the stars, to note the cycles of the moon, to enjoy the sunset colors, or the sunrise either. They’re probably more productive than I am, but I take time to reflect deeply on the “why of things” rather than repeating the same rhythms over and over. Most people like the familiar rhythms, however, while I question if they still have meaning in today’s world.

Today I saw the Winter Solstice Dawn

In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans thought the stars had a power and energy to determine the fates of human beings. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and stoic philosopher of the 2nd century, wrote in his Meditations: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” From his privileged location, he could identify with the heroic persons in the astrological figures of mythology.

Some people are “born under a bad sign,” or are unlucky in life. Of course, some say we make our own luck, but people born into harsh circumstances lack the same resources to make choices for good. The deck is stacked against them, from living in trauma filled neighborhoods to a lack of quality foods due to a paucity of grocery stores. As Albert King, the great blues artist once sang, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

The good news is the bright light of the Christmas star points to the new light, which has come into the world. We hear, amidst the cacophony of commercials and piped in musical carols, the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (60:1).

As a gift, you can listen to the great Albert King sing “Born Under a Bad Sign,” by copying the link below to your browser.
https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=F2IqJtBL6yk&list=OLAK5uy_kRTT9VaZ7Ht_pjIoBhtqhS_99sMi_D5a4

Our art class returns Friday, January 4, 2022, at 10 am. I hope to bring pomegranates, if I can still find them in the store. We’ll make a fresh start in the New Year, so if you want to join, you’ll start where you are. We are a “one room schoolhouse,” so there’s no grade levels with us. We’re all learning and improving from where we are at the moment.

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

How to Make a Yule Log
https://www.learnreligions.com/make-a-yule-log-2563006

5 Most Beautiful Chinese Winter Solstice Poems to Appreciate
https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/winter-solstice-poems.htm

The New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness | CIRES
https://cires.colorado.edu/Artificial-light

Rabbit! Rabbit! Welcome to December!

art, Christmas, coronavirus, Faith, Family, Food, grief, Hanukkah, holidays, Imagination, Ministry, nature, pandemic, purpose, vaccinations, winter solstice

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” my daddy was fond of saying. We often long for the “way things used to be,” as if the Golden Age of the past was the best of all times. Yet, that past often exists only in our memories, but not in the lived reality of all persons. This is the classic story of the young prince, who while sheltered within the confines of his sumptuous palace never knew want, but once he walked among his people, he saw suffering and need everywhere. Today we know him as the Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama. Many over the centuries have wondered why suffering exists in the world, or why they themselves must suffer. The Buddha saw all life as suffering, or rather our inability to accept the impermanence, change, and dissatisfaction with the present moment.

Rabbit Buddha

The Golden Age is a myth and poetic concept, as well as a political and philosophical construct. It began in Greece and was fixed in people’s minds by the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus. The Golden Age is a dream of an “earlier time when people lived peaceful, untroubled lives, and the earth supplied all their wants.” Those who read the Bible can easily find a parallel story in the first humans, who lived in the Garden of Eden. Of all the high and holy days in our cultural calendar, Christmas rates number one for nostalgia, both the personal kind and the universal type.

Nostalgia is the state of being homesick, or a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning, either for the return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. It can be a salve for those who suffer, or it can be more salt poured into an open wound. It just depends on how one frames the experience. We feel “homesick “ in the worst possible way, for we yearn for the security of the familiar and the safe. Mostly we yearn for the people we love and are kin to us.

Happy Rabbit Family

I remember the year I divorced my husband. It was necessary, for I couldn’t trust him to care for our daughter due to his alcoholism. The first Christmas was hard, for his family chose him and shut me out, as did all his friends. Decorating the Christmas tree was always a family affair in the Golden Age of my memories of Christmas. If this year I had no family, I would bring friends to decorate my tree. Just because I’d always celebrated one way before, I wouldn’t let my circumstances keep me from finding joy this Christmas. I called my young mother friends, invited their families to my home, and we decorated my tree within an inch of its life. It was my best tree ever! And then we ate and drank a toast to our creation. My friends were salve for my suffering, and helped me create a good memory, which still gives me pleasure to this day, four decades later.

Big Holiday Family Dinners

Christmas brings families together, but this is a double edged sword. While we all want to be with our families, we also know oil and water don’t mix. After both my parents died, I often ate with some of my clergy pals’ families. I was glad to know they had relatives who also wore their crazy pants to dinner. If I ate with congregation members, they were often on their best behavior, as if I were some sort of god on earth. You’d think after six months at a charge, I’d already have disabused them of that notion, but some people never see your true nature, but only the image of every pastor they’ve ever known before. More often, I’d get pastoral calls of family crises during holiday seasons, so after years of this recurrence, I finally learned to plan for it. I eventually realized we all have a Golden Age of Christmas in our minds, but in real life, we live in the Age of Iron. When reality hits our delusions, the disconnect is palpable. We feel it in our very bones.

1896 Thomas Nast illustration in Clement Clark Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

For many Americans, images of Victorian Christmases include memories of “children all snug in their beds with their visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads,” which we recognize as one of the opening lines of Clement Clark Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” a.k.a. “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” These sugar plums aren’t sugared fruits, but are more like candy covered peanuts or almonds. Jelly beans also are made by this same process. Whatever these treats were, the children dreamed of a world of happiness, sweetness, and delight.

As my Depression Era mother would say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would be kings.” That outlook never stopped me or my brothers from wanting everything in the Sears Christmas catalog, even though we knew these were just suggestions for Santa. Yet we never felt deprived, for whatever we received was a gift, plus it was more than we had before. On Thanksgiving day this year, consumers spent at a pace of at least $3.5 million per minute on line due to stores being closed for the holiday. This year, the average household is pegged to spend $924 for online shopping, more than double the $440 expected for in-store.

December 15 is Wear Your Pearls Day

The National Retail Federation (NRF) projects November/December retail sales of $843.4 billion to $859 billion, up 8.5% to 10.5% from 2020 results. NRF said its forecast — excluding automobile dealers, gas stations, and restaurants, and covering Nov. 1 to Dec. 31— tops the previous high of $777.3 billion. This total is up 8.2% over 2020, as well as the average gain of 4.4% over the past five years. This increase is in spite of supply chain hiccups, rising gas prices, and the pockets of as yet unvaccinated individuals, who continue to be the greatest number of COVID admissions to our hospitals. It’s as if we’re trying to replace the suffering of our present with presents for those we love. This also accounts for our desire to donate to charities at this season.

Scrooge of Christmas

Yet the Scrooge of Christmas continues to be COVID, for as an Augusta University Medical analysis released in May of 2021 revealed, which looked at COVID-19 related deaths in vaccinated versus unvaccinated individuals—only .8% (150) of vaccinated people accounted for the 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May. If you want to give someone the gift of life this Christmas, take them to the local pharmacy and get them started on their vaccinations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found both infection-induced and vaccine-induced immunity are durable for at least six months — but vaccines are more consistent in their protection and offer a huge boost in antibodies for people previously infected. Unfortunately, unvaccinated persons are also the prime hosts in which the virus can mutate, so the Grinch has already brought us the latest variant of concern, Omicron.

This variant was first identified in the South African peninsula, due to their excellent testing facilities. Of course, now the nations of the world have isolated the countries there, so they now feel punished by these bans. Travelers arriving in major world airports already have tested positive for for this variant, so we can expect disruptions and quarantines worldwide to follow. During this holiday season of restoring relationships, COVID keeps breaking our ties instead of rebuilding them.

DeLee: Found Objects find a home in the No Room Inn

We can long for the Golden Age of light from our younger days, when our parents took on the big worries so we could have the pleasant memories of an untroubled childhood, or we can fix our sight on the lights of our faith. The great star of the east which announced the birth of Jesus was a pale light compared to “The true light, which enlightens everyone, (which) was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) His was “The light (which) shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

Colorful Menorah

Our Jewish friends meet the darkness of this Hanukkah season with prayers and menorahs, nightly lighting candles to disperse the darkness of hopelessness against great foes. They remember doing battle against spiritual powers, with God empowering their weakness. God never comes for the strong, but has a special kindness for the poor and weak. This is why we should feel blessed, no matter our personal experience, but especially during the holidays. The ceremony begins on November 28 and ends December 6, since it’s set by the lunar calendar.

So also are these December celebrations light filled: Burning the Yule Log on the 4th, St. Lucia on the 13th, the Winter Solstice on the 21st, Kwanzaa on the 26th, and finally, New Year’s Eve. Our good earth will bring its tilt back towards the sun gradually in the days following the winter solstice. This darkness too shall pass, whether it’s our personal grief or our universal suffering.

Winter Solstice brings back the Light

We’ll keep walking until we meet the better land beyond the horizon. If this isn’t yet the Golden Age of our memories or the Golden Age of our sugar plumb dreams, let’s work together as we walk to build a better world for all people, “for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my Bunny Friends!

May you have a mindful holiday, full of joy and peace,

Cornelia

Dukkha: What the Buddha Meant by ‘Life Is Suffering’
https://www.learnreligions.com/life-is-suffering-what-does-that-mean-450094

Reckford, Kenneth J. “Some Appearances of the Golden Age.” The Classical Journal, vol. 54, no. 2, The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, 1958, pp. 79–87, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3294223.

Wynne Parry: Why We Feel Nostalgic During the Holidays
https://www.livescience.com/17571-nostalgia-holidays-memories.html

Sugar Plums: They’re Not What You Think They Are – The Atlantic
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/12/sugar-plums-theyre-not-what-you-think-they-are/68385/

U.S. Thanksgiving Online Shopping Spending to Set Record
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-26/u-s-thanksgiving-spending-to-set-record-as-shoppers-move-online

U.S. holiday retail sales outlook brings good tidings
https://www.supermarketnews.com/consumer-trends/us-holiday-retail-sales-outlook-brings-good-tidings

The Washington Post: CDC finds immunity from vaccines is more consistent than from infection, but both last at least six months
https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/11/01/what-works-better-vaccines-or-natural-immunity/

Staggering COVID-19 Statistic: 98% to 99% of Americans Dying are Unvaccinated – AU/UGA Medical Partnership
https://medicalpartnership.usg.edu/covid-19-staggering-statistic-98-to-99-of-americans-dying-are-unvaccinated/

Night before Christmas, Creator: Moore, Clement Clarke, 1779-1863 ( Author, Primary ), date: c1896, The University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries, Donor: Egolf, Robert
McLoughlin Bros., inc ( Publisher )
Nast, Thomas 1840-1902 ( Illustrator ) https://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00085407/00001

All of the versions of Clements’ work can be found at the UF Library site. The illustrations are telling of the age in which they drawn.