Spring Flowers

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How many colors exist in creation? Many more than we can buy in a tube at the art supply store and even more than the number of paint chips at our local building supply store. Recently I gave my adult art class an assignment to use their primary colors and white only to mix new colors, since I noticed they were not getting middle values in their paintings. I too enjoy the brightness of the primary colors, so this was also a challenge for me.

Power of the Cross

The following week I needed to do less geometry and more nature, but I came back to the cross theme once again, for these flowers are from a photo of the Easter “Living Cross” at my church. While we can’t see the arms of the cross, anymore than we can see Jesus today, we know the cross is there, just as we know Jesus is present for us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This makes Christ alive, not only in our hearts, but also in the lives of all who suffer: the poor, the immigrant or stranger in our land, and the oppressed. Even the land itself, which suffers from human caused climate change, can be a place where we meet the living Christ.

Spring Flowers

The Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem is a powerful place, for it was where Christ was handed over to his captors by a former friend. From there he went to death on the cross and resurrection for our salvation. This garden retains this energy of struggle: Jesus prayed to get his will in line with God’s will.

If the story ended here, we’d have no living crosses full of beautiful flowers on Easter Sunday. Out of pain and struggle comes great beauty. Most of us will avoid any challenge in our lives, thinking the easy way is the best way. Intentionally causing others to suffer pain isn’t acceptable for moral reasons: “do no harm” is a good adage, as is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Setting achievable goals and challenges are different. These cause us to grow. They may also cause us discomfort, but this isn’t pain.

On this canvas, Spring Flowers, I had to overpaint and scumble to create the textured grays of the background. I even had to repaint the wispy border flowers several times to get their petals colored and straight, plus to get the ground varied enough to make them stand out.

One of the artists I most admire is Picasso, for he was always reinventing his style. Today artists pick a style and stick with it. Perhaps this is lucrative and makes economic sense. Still, I wonder what happens to the creative spirit when it’s not nurtured, challenged, and expressed. Of course, this may be the difference between a great artist and a good artist, and only the centuries will tell which among us now will be great.

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Hope and Suffering

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“You totally (should) become his nature, deny his being apart from you; you should be he himself, not Christians, but Christ, otherwise you will be no use to the coming god.”
—C. G. Jung, The Red Book, p. 137.

“No one can be spared the way of Christ, since this way leads to what is to come. You should all become Christs, says C. G. Jung, in his Answer to Job. He goes on to explain in the divine indwelling of the Holy Spirit in humanity, “a christification of the many arises.” One of the great and simple prayers is “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them in them the fire of your love.” When we ask for the indwelling third person of the Trinity, we also ask for the rest of the “family,” for the three are fellow travelers. The Father and the Son aren’t separate entities, even when the Spirit proceeds from the two, just as the Father and the Spirit aren’t off somewhere distant when the Son is suffering on the cross.

In the season of Lent, many people begin with ashes on their forehead as a sign of repentance and fasting for the forty days before Easter. Some give up bacon, others give up alcohol, and some give up social media. Perhaps this is our idea of suffering today, since most of us have our needs for shelter, food, and security met. Modern people tend to suffer emotionally instead, so this may be why we fast from social media. Unfortunately, we don’t have much deep Christian teaching around suffering, mostly because it’s not a happy subject. Nobody likes a downer sermon. Bible studies on Job and the prophets are unpopular too. We don’t like seeing our faces in a BCE Mirror.

I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

Who wants to suffer today? No one! Most of the Christian teaching around the cross concerns a variation on the substitution theory, or Jesus takes on our suffering so we no longer have to endure the agony ourselves. Of course, when we meet trouble in our daily life, we then call into question either the effectiveness of this work on the cross or our faith in his work on our behalf. Did Christ die for everyone else, but not for me? Are there other works besides my faith in Christ necessary for my salvation? Do I need to be a better person to earn my freedom from suffering?

If we understood the nature of the earthbound Christ life, rather than the resurrected Christ life, we’d grasp the essential nature of suffering bound up into this life of flesh and spirit. Christ knew hunger, thirst, loneliness, temptation, disappointments, weariness, rejection, and pain. Worst of all, he tasted the emptiness of death before he knew the fullness of the resurrection.

Should we protect our children from suffering? If we mean, should we do our best to feed, clothe, and shelter them, the answer is yes, of course! If we mean, do we protect them from the logical consequences of their acts, I’d say, most likely no. If a child won’t do their own homework, they should get the logical results for their refusal. Physical punishment isn’t a logical result. Poor grades, limits on sports or activities, or staying after school are consequences in line with the poor behavior. Small sufferings now will avoid larger sufferings later. (If they want to jump out of a third story window, that’s another matter. Put some locks on that, parents!)

Of course, to even call these “suffering” shows how far our modern world has moved from the ancient world. Sufferings once were the lot of slaves, who had no authority over their own lives, and could be bought and sold like cattle. They had no agency or control over their fortunes or lots in life. We modern folk are different, unless we buy into the idea we’re rudderless ships upon a stormy ocean. Then we’re merely chaff tossed about by external forces, so we might as well be slaves to our environment.

If we held the whole nature of Christ within us, we’d know both the Christ of suffering and the resurrected Christ of glory. While we ourselves have not yet ascended, we do hold fast to his promise,

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

If we live with hope, we can rejoice, and be patient in suffering, while we persevere in prayer.
~~ Romans 12:12

The Suffering Hero

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Daffodils from the Garden

We had a bright taste of spring in last Friday’s art class with the yellow daffodils from Gail’s yard. She and Mike have come a long way in their powers of observation and rendering. They take their time to see, study, and really observe intentionally whatever objects are before them. These two students have been to most of the 26 classes to date, beginning back in June 2018. They’ve come a long way.

Gail—Daffodils

We can get lost in the busyness of the world with all the competing claims for our attention, but if we take our time, breathe, look for the most important things first, and then deal with the details, we’ll usually have a better outcome. This is an art studio principle we can carry over into life.

Mike—Daffodils

I happen to be doing something entirely different. It’s a woven painting, from two old works I’m no longer keeping. As part of my recycled/resurrection series, it belongs to a theme of change. In Luke 9:51, we hear

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up,

he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Sometimes we have to set our minds on what God wants for us and deal with the consequences. As we head into Lent, I recognize as a teacher most students today don’t want to suffer, but want the prize of achievement without the sweat of practice. Some say 10,000 hours is the mythical threshold to acquire competency.

Cornelia—Stage 1—Weaving, Underpainting, & Mystery

Will we then all be Leonardo’s, Picasso’s, or Monet’s? Some of us will work 100,000 hours and still be ourselves, but we’ll be so much more than we were when we began! It’s like the Christian life: if we aren’t intentional about giving ourselves into God’s service, we won’t practice it often enough to grow in love and grace.

I had a dream about this image I’m working on now. Jesus knows the cross is before him. He’s already seen it in his mind. When he goes down to Jerusalem for the Passover, things won’t go well for him. He can go to fulfill his mission or turn tail and run. The prelude to his ministry was the temptation in the desert, which we remember during Lent. He goes forward to the certainty of his ministry and also his death and resurrection.

DeLee—Face Set Towards Jerusalem”

Those of us who like Easter, but not Good Friday, will one day have to deal with suffering: our own, someone’s we love, or the suffering of humanity. We can’t escape suffering, for it’s part of the human condition. Some of it we choose, like training for sports, but some is visited upon us unkindly, such as the dread illnesses and wars of our world. Some were born into suffering by geographic location, and this causes mass refugee populations to move across national borders in search of hope and opportunity.

When we’re painting these pretty pictures of flowers, we can think of those who have put their hope in God’s hands and remember we are Christ’s hands in God’s world.

My weaving is a dream image of a transformational point in time when you see what is both before you and behind you. You choose to go ahead anyway, even knowing the consequences. Both the hero and the artist have to risk the danger. Otherwise we’ll paint pretty canvases for nice homes and be the Christians who wear our decorative crosses, but we’ll never bear the cross for the sake of Christ, his kingdom, and the better world God calls us to recreate.

The Christian life calls each of us to be a hero, one who suffers on behalf of another. If our lives are too easy, we aren’t walking like Christ. We aren’t called to suffer at the hands of another, or to be harmed by others, but there’s a real need in our lives for “structured and guided suffering in a safe environment,” such as learning a new skill or getting outside of our comfort zone.

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PRAYER: Listening to an Icon

Most of us separate our lives into doing and being: we are creatures of comfort at times, and then we expend energy doing chores or work at different times. We live bifurcated lives, even if we’ve heard the admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), we work without prayer and pray without working. Then again, some of us have little connection with the spiritual at all, so we miss the mystery and the awe of the dimensions beyond this mundane world. We’re unable to see even the glory and beauty of the creation, since we aren’t connected spirituality to a life beyond this world.

Christ Overcomes the World

The iconographer is more than a painter or a writer: he or she is one who connects this material world with the spiritual world beyond. The icon is a window through which the heavenly and the earthly worlds communicate. It’s like a wormhole, of sorts, in sci-fi language, or a portal passage for direct communication. Of course, we can directly communicate with the Holy Spirit, but not being able to see the Spirit, we can see the icon’s representation of the image of Christ or a saint, and this helps us to focus our thoughts and prayers.

Golden Christ

Some say a candle would suffice, or a text from Scripture, and I agree. Yet not everyone is able to live such a spare life, reduced of images, color, and beauty. Minimalism isn’t for everyone! This is why we have zen gardens as well as romantic English gardens. Some of us need architectural modernism and others like quaint country clutter. The icon tradition comes from the ancient church, for Luke was traditionally ascribed to be the first iconographer, as well as one of the first gospel writers. He painted Mary “the God-bearer” and Jesus.

Mary Macaroni

Our art class is moving out of its comfort zone in the painting of icons. We can learn about the spiritual life in the art class every time we meet. In fact, every time we try something new or challenging, we learn about ourselves and the spiritual life. A close inspection of the gospels shows a Jesus who was always challenging the status quo. The only time he was comforting people was when they were dispossessed, marginalized, or disrespected. “Blessed are the poor…” was his first choice, not blessed are the rich or powerful!

When we are weak and powerless, when we struggle and fall short of success, and that will be. Every. Single. Day. In. Art—We are then most able to lean on the one who for our sakes became weak so we can become strong. Then we’ll come back and fail again and remember the times Christ stumbled on the rocky road to the crucifixion. What seemed like a failure to everyone gathered about, and didn’t make logical sense to wisdom seeking people, nevertheless served a higher purpose. By uniting all of our human failures and faults in one person, God could experience all of them in God’s own image, the icon we know as Jesus Christ.

Crucifixion

If there’s any reason to attempt a Holy Icon in this modern world, we paint and pray to unite our work and spiritual into one. Usually only the clergy have this privilege, and they can too easily burn out if they do too much and pray too little. Lay people underestimate the amount of prayers necessary for effective work. The older I get, the more prayer time I need. Of course, work takes more out of me now, but I’m a refugee from the dinosaur age. I used to be an energizer bunny back in my fifties, but working thirty hours a week painting and writing is enough for me today.

Any art work, whether a landscape, portrait, or an icon, can be alive or dead, depending on how the artist approaches the work. If we draw the lines, fill in the colors, and never pay attention to the energy of the art itself, we’re just filling up time. If we’re thinking about our grocery list, what to make for dinner, or the errands we have to run, we aren’t on speaking terms with our artwork. On the other hand, if we’re paying attention, sharing in the conversation, listening to what our work is telling us, we can respond to the push and pull of the conversation. Our work will tell us what it needs if we’ll only listen to it. If we trust and listen to the Holy Spirit, we’ll paint a true icon, and the window into heaven will open for all who want to listen.

Christ Blessing the World

PROMISE OF HOPE

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Today is an official snow day here in our town. While other parts of our state got up to 5 inches of the fluffy white stuff, we got a mere dusting. However, our temperatures fell into the low teens with wind chills in the single digits. Those of you from our northern states might think we’re silly, but our schools don’t have heating systems adequate for these temperatures and our school buses don’t have special tires for icy back roads. I’m not leaving for nothing!

Today is a good studio day, since the sunshine is bright here in my sixth floor home overlooking the lake. I’m working on a new icon of the entombed Christ. These take a common form of the figure in repose, with the eyes closed as if in sleep, but the viewer reads the image as the sleep of death. The compact body lacks all physical power, so the truth of death is real. Christ doesn’t pretend to die, but suffers death for all creation.

We in the western world have limited the new creation to humanity, but scripture speaks of a renewal of this world at the Great Day of the Lord:

“But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” ~~ 2 Peter 3:13

Too many today are waiting for God’s destruction of this world so they can get on to the better world beyond. Instead, the icon of the entombment calls us to grieve over this world and hear the Easter call to make it new and fresh again.

When Good Friday’s sadness leads us to the joy of Easter’s resurrection, we discover the same cycle works out in our own life also. Most of us want only to go from joy to joy, but we forget the power of suffering. The prophets saw suffering as an opportunity for change and transformation, as well as hope. If we meditate on the entombment icon, we’ll hear the call to bring hope to the poor, justice to the marginalized, and joy to the suffering.

If we go from Christmas to Easter, we’ll always celebrate the festivities and parades. If we never look at the flight into Egypt, we miss the refugee holy family bearing the gifts from the three kings. If we only eat the hot cross buns, we dismiss the suffering servants of every age and every continent. If we only celebrate our success and prosperity in Christ, we are complicit in the suffering of our world and our failure to be God’s co-creators in the New and better world.

As an artist, I’m always creating a “new thing,” so perhaps this is why God’s message about humanity’s role in caring for the world and our neighbors, no matter where they are, is important to me. This painting will look different when I put the blues and greens on it, but right now it looks like a blaze of sunshine! I hope you will be a ray of sunshine in your corner of the world today.

Hope and Transformation 

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Happy to report this altar has found a home! It’s a one of a kind piece, made from found objects and items no longer found useful around my home. I found most of these items while walking around the local hospital, while others are from broken pieces of my jewelry and my mother’s old treasure hoard. The three matching pulls across the bottom are from the old kitchen cabinets of my 1965 era condo. For some reason, that huge block of wood called my name, as did the snuff pack and the bent radiator cap. Some one lost part of their hub cap, while I lost interest in a home improvement project for which those red acanthus supports were intended. 

While we often give up hope on the detritus of our life, only to throw it out the window or stuff it into a box, never to see it again, we still want something bright new and shiny. Many people today never speak of a struggle because they think it shows God isn’t with them or worse, God is punishing them. Yet the promise of Christ is for the hurting, the broken, the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. 

The message of this altar is Christ died to transform those without hope and for those we’ve given up hope they’ll ever change. As long as we breathe, we can hope. With our dying breath, Christ will complete us for glory if we believe in a redeeming God whose power is greater than our own struggle to rebel. 

You’d be surprised at the junk I find in the roadways and byways, but that’s where Christ did all his great miracles of healing, in the streets and fields of his world. Maybe this altar is calling us to bring Christ out into the world, instead of celebrating him safely within our sheltered walls. 

The Deisis Altar: The Handing Over

“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” ~~ John 19:25-27

Meaning of the Crucifixion

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Most of us have grown up on the teaching that Jesus is “The Lamb that takes away the sins of the world,” this is known as the Substitution or Atonement of Christ. He is the sacrifice instead of us, that sets us free from the bondage to sin and death.    

What if instead, Jesus were “The Bread of Life?” If he were the ancient scythe harvesting the weeds from our fields so that our grains could grow strong and provide us with the food for our rolls, our muffins, our flat breads and our pizzas, then he would be our provider of nourishment and strength. 

He would be feeding us, making us stronger day by day and building us up to be protectors of the weak, the needy, and the defeated of this world. If we hold to the substitution theory, we stay on the weak position always. 

We will always need God, for it is in Christ that we have our victories. As Romans 8:37 reads, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Because we have the victories, we are called to go out in power to defend the cause of the marginalized, the ones who have not found the power of God for themselves. We aren’t given this power to build our own mansions, enlarge our own kingdoms, or build up our own wealth.  

God gives us this victory to secure food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and care for the lonely. When we meet their needs, we meet the needs of the Christ who said, 

“This is my body broken for you.”

WATCHING FROM AFAR

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Watching From Afar acrylic on canvas 16" x 20'

Watching From Afar
acrylic on canvas
16″ x 20′

No one wants to be on the train that’s wrecking. Not many want to watch the disaster unfolding, but when you care intensely about a person, sometimes you cannot take your eyes off the pain and trauma. You watch from the cheap seats in the balcony, rather than paying the full price of orchestra pit, where you can get the front row view, up close and personal.

The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion tell us that the Temple leadership and the Roman soldiers had front row seats at this execution, but the crowds and the followers watched from afar.

Those that had an interest only in the spectacle left once it was over. Those who cared about the person hanging on the cross stayed even after he spent his last breath.

“And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:48-49)

This snow scene is the fourth in a series of a single tree representing the various stations of the cross. My personal banker, who’s a member oft church, jogs past this tree all the time. It’s near the Hot Springs Country Club at the corner of Malvern and Bellaire. I took several photos, played in Photoshop in my camera+app and went to work painting on 16″ x 20″ canvases. 

I divided the canvas almost equally into quarters and halves. The heavens and the earth are top and bottom. The Christ tree almost splits in two the right and left halves. 

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:51)

The quiet stillness of the snow reminds me both of the pause of death and the hope for the resurrection. Both are contained in the cross of Christ, but those who watch from afar at this moment do not yet have this hope. 

The people who live their lives as one train wreck after another want to get off this track, but don’t want to give up control of their lives to a power that can break the chains of death that have held us. “To die to our old selves” is to become a train wreck in the flesh. As we give up these old parts of us, old relationships are rent and have to be reformed in a new manner or we have to part ways with old friends and make new ones instead. 

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The good news is that the cross of Christ unites both heaven and earth, life and death, hope and despair, as well as peace and travail.