How long does a new and unusual aspect of our environment need to be in place before we notice it? On the other hand, how long does it have to persist before we treat it as the new normal and begin to ignore it?
My mom and dad were married right after World War II, so they’d lived together for nearly forty six years when I came home for a visit from seminary one weekend. Right off the bat, I noticed something differ about my dad.
“You’ve gone and grown a mustache.”
“You like it?” He asked, as he smoothed the unruly hairs into place.
“Oh yeah! You look like a perfect Southern gentleman.”
He smiled. Perfect and gentleman was his aim.
My mother, who was sitting in the identical chair next to his, separated only by a small table with a lamp and magazines, craned her head around that lamp to look at him.
“When did you grow this mustache?”
“Mother! You’ve slept in the same bed with daddy every single night of your entire life. You always kiss each other good night. I can’t believe you haven’t noticed the hair on his upper lip!”
A little rattled, she replied, “It’s always dark when we go to sleep.”
I laughed. My daddy smiled. My mother always had an answer for every thing. I noticed his mustache because I hadn’t seen him in a while, whereas mother had watched the slow progression of the hiding of his upper lip. I should say, it’s been my experience the husband usually fails to notice his wife’s new haircut, an act which causes much family drama.
When I travel, I don’t go from point to point with the goal of arriving as soon as possible. If that were the case, I’d fly. In my car, if I see an interesting place, I’ll go visit, since the journey is more important than the destination. Once I’ve arrived, I even make side trips, just for a little exercise. I was walking around Lake Bridgeport, in the town of Runaway Bay, Texas, when I stumbled upon these grasses, flowers, and small trees. The afternoon light caught the center stalk so it glowed its reds and golds. The few leaves left from autumn’s color, which hadn’t been blown away by the seasonal rains quivered in the light breeze. A few flowers added color to a rather grey afternoon.
Why would ordinary weeds catch my eye? There’s nothing remarkable or heroic about weeds. Most people spend good money to rid their lawns of ugly and invasive weeds. Here around the lake is a wild place, however, and the weed is in its natural state. This red weed is unique among the other natural grasses, for its not a single blade, but a stem with alternating leaves. I had to pick my way through some underbrush to find an opening from which I could take a good photo. I felt as if this weed had called to me.
I’ve often wondered how long the bush burned in the wilderness before Moses looked up from counting his father in law’s sheep and said, “What is this? I must go see it!” Extraordinary events happen all the time, yet we’re too consumed with our day to day busyness to see the glories of God’s hand at work in the world. Or we come to a watershed moment, when the bush would burn brightly for us, and throw water to quench its fire, for “it’s never been done, it can’t be done, it’s always been this way, and people will never change.”
If Moses believed this, he’d have never followed God’s call back to Egypt. The Hebrew children would still be slaves in Egypt. But Moses trusted God. This is called a sea change, or a transformation. We don’t do this just on our own, but by a power at work greater than our own. We might resist, but God persists.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh,
and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you:
when you have brought the people out of Egypt,
you shall worship God on this mountain.”
~~ Genesis 3:11-12
What sea change is happening in our world today? Are people finally fed up with treating human life as a cheap commodity? We do this if we treat people as objects to be used and then thrown away when they’re worn out or too sick to be worked hard. When we fail to fund schools and health care for all, we don’t get the best people for our citizens or our employees. If only the wealthy can afford health care and a quality education, then our democracy suffers, for we will have a permanent underclass and a qualified few. This bifurcation doesn’t bode well for the future. Does a bush burn in the wilderness for any of my readers?
Are we tired of exchanging precious human lives for a shibboleth? The word means “stream” in Hebrew and was used as a sorting test to distinguish warriors of Gilead from those of Ephraim. Today, the 2nd Amendment serves the same purpose, because the National Rifle Association gives politicians large amounts of money for their campaign coffers and spends extra money on their behalf also. The NRA is the front for gun manufacturers, who profit if they sell more guns. They never want any restrictions on any freedom, but we don’t live in an anarchy, so a democracy can restrict certain aspects of gun ownership and use.
Public mass shootings have occurred on average every 172 days since 1982. Since September 6, 2011, there’s been 14 mass shootings at an average interval of less than 172 days. These don’t include domestic violence or criminal activity. Seven of the deadliest mass shootings in modern US history have taken place in a school, including Sandy Hook elementary and Virginia Tech University. The deaths at Stoneman Douglas HS in Florida were the 180th mass shooting since 2009 and the third mass shooting in 2018. By Valentine’s Day in 2018, 17 school shootings had been reported, and in the week after, even more.
Schools now receive an average of 50 threats of violence daily, compared with 10 per day at the end of 2017, NPR reported. Since I began this blog in 2011, mass killings in public spaces have snuffed out the lives of 270 persons in grocery stores, church sanctuaries, schools, post offices, and restaurants. In seven years, an average of 38.6 individuals did not celebrate with cake and ice cream on their next circuit of the earth around the sun. I didn’t know any of these personally, but we may have lost the next Steve Jobs or the next Mother Theresa, or someone who would have fought happiness to their small corner of the world.
Some want to arm the schools, but what about the other places of mass shootings? Why not just ban the weapon which enables the taking of mass casualties? Or are the lives of grocery shoppers less valued than school children? Ask an orphan if a parent is valued. We don’t want to become an armed state in America, or at least I’m not for it. Perhaps the NRA wants this, for the gunmakers would boost their bottom lines. They make enough money off the rest of their product lines.
Some would say, opioids take MORE lives, as does tobacco use (1,300 deaths per day). These substances are legal and on the market we expect people to use them responsibly. They’re also addictive and controlled. The largest incidents are mostly since 2004 when the ban on semiautomatic weapons lapsed. These weapons, civilian equivalents to military type issue, are meant for mass killing, not for sport, hunting, or target shooting. Their high velocity ammunition doesn’t just pierce flesh, but obliterates it. Survival rates are slim and none.
I wonder if this moment in our nation’s life is our burning bush, our opportunity to hear the voice of God calling to us, and we rise up to set our people free from this pain and insanity.
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt;
I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.
Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians,
and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land,
a land flowing with milk and honey…”
~~ Exodus 3:7-8a
It’s summer, so what other temperature would it be? I’m in the midst of destroying some of my old works, since I’m tired of looking at them, I’ve grown beyond them, I’ve learned what I needed from the act of doing them, and the best ones from my past series got sold. These “unsold inventory,” or the canvases cluttering up the corners of my condo, need to go elsewhere!
Yet I’m a pack rat from the old school, having been a teacher, the child of a teacher, and the grandchild of a tinfoil hoarder and string collector. Once I could justify my actions as acquiring raw materials for found object sculptures, but now I haven’t much excuse. I no longer teach classes, but my desire to rescue old objects is still in my DNA.
I decided to rescue and destroy these old works at the same time. Just as a forest is made new by the fire which destroys it, I decided to weave together two paintings. For the first one I cut up two same size paintings and rewove them. For this work, I had two different sized works, so I left the original work on the stretcher strips. I cut the other painting into inch wide strips and wove it with a simple basket weave pattern. This allowed the image of the original to shine through.
As painted the silver and golds, I began to enjoy the texture and colors of the surface. Now that I’ve got a fair ground on it, I might live with it and see if I want to push it in another direction. I’m at a stopping place now. I am hungry. Painting on an empty stomach isn’t a good idea! I’ve never made a good decision on an empty stomach. Part of making good art is knowing when to stop. We can always add, but subtraction is more difficult. Our work will look heavy, labored, and overworked. Like a good meal, we should stop before we’re stuffed.
This is how the old painting looked. I had a heavy hand due to illness–too much blood pressure medicine had me unable to think or feel. I was also struggling with depression. I’m surprised I was even in my studio! Now I have both conditions under control, so I’m turning out a painting a week. If I keep working, I know I’ll improve. If I live long enough, I might even get good! Whatever happens, I’m thankful for the privilege to give this art life the best of my heart and hand.
I hope each of you wake up with joy for each new day!
Joy and Peace, Cornelia.
“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor…”
~~ St. Theresa (Mother Theresa)
The biggest disease today isn’t covered by any medical plan–it is the lack of concern for the weak and vulnerable among us. The only medicine for this is a change of heart, so we begin to consider the needs of the poor, the disabled, and the ill as equal to the healthy, the rich, and those who can work.
This medicine is a living faith, not a dead assent to beliefs! Can we look on the face of our brothers and sisters and see the face of God!?! Can we see the wounds of Christ needing to be healed!?! If we see only the money and the tax ramifications of the plans currently proposed by congress, we have a dead faith, for we aren’t working to care for the “least of these, my brothers and sisters, who are the Christ” we meet daily as we go about our journey.
If our Sunday words are only for ourselves and not for the world also, if our Sunday words are only for our lives and not for the lives of others, and if our Sunday words are only for our lives, but don’t translate to our politics, we cannot say that we are living a fully Christian life.
What is the medicine for this? Repentance and restitution. We must make a change in the way we live, the way we think, and in all the ways we act: our uses of money, our treatment of people, and our lifestyle choices. All must be governed by God’s all encompassing love. If God’s love flows into our hearts, let this same generous love flow out unimpeded.
“Love one another, as I have loved you.” –John 15:12
By Stephen Crane
Aye, workman, make me a dream,
A dream for my love.
Cunningly weave sunlight,
Breezes, and flowers.
Let it be of the cloth of meadows.
And let there be a man walking thereon.
In 2013, I made a painting of flowers in a meadow. It wasn’t a bad painting, but it never called anyone’s name. Yes, it was part of my unsold inventory, as we artists call our orphan works, those which have yet to find another home.
“What the heck! I’m cutting this up, weaving it into another form, and I’ll see if it speaks in a different voice to me.” This is artist speak for “I’ve had it with my life, my world, my existence, and my progress at the easel.” In truth, my hand has felt dead due to illness: my blood pressure was too low, so I lacked energy. It’s hard to paint without energy. Depression also robbed me of my creativity, since I lacked the will to pursue a challenge. Thankfully my doctors are healers and I’m on the right track now. I just had to find the key to unlock the door to the path ahead.
I cut the old canvas up into mostly even strips and wove it in a simple basket weave. Once I rewove this 8″ x 10″ canvas, I sat meditating upon the colors and shapes. I began to see faces of Christ appearing and arms and bodies, as if he were hanging upon the cross, one image superimposed upon another. The checkerboard colors were a garden of flowers wildly blooming in a riotous exuberance of the joy that was set before him, even though he was enduring the shame of the cross (Hebrews 12:2). I took some cerulean blue and pyrrole red to make a dark violet to sketch in the outer shapes of the figures. These colors make up the ground, along with some white for highlights. I used Payne’s grey to darken other parts of the ground. The halos are cadmium yellow deep.
Why are the faces of Christ not detailed? We often want to fixate on who the person of Jesus is physically, but this ties him to his human body only. We forget he is also the Son of God, a being who can’t be imagined or represented except in the form of Jesus, the incarnate one (the embodied one). Cultures across the world represent Christ as one of their own people as a result, rather than tie him to a first century middle eastern individual.
Then too, if Christ takes the sins of all the world upon himself on the cross, one could say he also takes the pain of all the people of the world into himself. If this is so, we would no longer see the “face of Christ,” but we would see the “face of every person for whom Christ’s suffering was redemptive.” This is a mystical understanding, of course, but it gets to the heart of the meaning of ATONEMENT. This has always meant sacrifice in the past, but today some of us are understanding it to be AT ONE MENT. This is when we and Christ are at one in suffering and redemption, in death and in the hope of new life, and when the “cloth of meadows” is indeed where we walk in new ways.
Joy and peace for the Easter season. Cornelia
Triple Christ icon, $50, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 8″ x 10″
My newest painting is full of energy and colors, for it’s a study of autumn leaves and tree branches, which I saw in the forest surrounding my home. Nature doesn’t plan out how the pine needles fall from the trees, nor how the ornamental pear tree leaves blow up the hill into the shade. Tree branches fall down when they come to the end of their usefulness on the tree. The oaks and sycamores might not be as bright in color, but they too will add their bodies to make the soil richer for the surrounding trees.
This painting is more about my joy of having a brush in my hand and paint on the canvas than it is about any attempt at any realism or representation of my original photo. Layering the colors; changing the background blues; marching the pine straw lines; and even losing the big, bottom sycamore leaf (it became amorphous, overlapping leaf shapes) was a sunny morning’s delight.
It’s been a long time, for I haven’t felt good enough to do anything creative in my studio. What happens to the artist who can no longer feel? Sickness can dull the senses, so the hand can no longer feel the touch of the brush against the canvas or the weight of the paint on the brush. These are minuscule amounts, for sure! One needs to be well to tell the difference and know when to keep going or let go of the stroke. Also one can overwork an area or the whole painting. I have several of these disasters which I’ve decided not to share with you all. (Although I admit I might be my own worst critic. However I do have loads of experience and high expectations!)
Depression, a form of sickness, is worse than feeling sad for a few days. It is a loss of interest in the experiences which once gave you joy, and it’s isolation from the living world because you feel dead inside. When I lost my daughter, I began to crawl in a hole. Then I got physically sick, and my blood pressure medication was working too well. I was one of the walking dead. Once my doctors got the physical problems cleared up, I realized I was also depressed. Now my new “brain chemistry ” is making me feel like “my old self!” I’m thankful I’m able to do creative work again.
A verse which has steadied me through this difficult journey from Isaiah 57:18-19–
I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
I will lead them and repay them with comfort,
creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord;
and I will heal them.
Autumn Study, 12″ x 16″, acrylic on canvas, $100.
How do you do your best work? Do you need a certain amount of order, do you like to fly by the seat of your pants and put out the fires which spring up, or do you need all the decks to be stick and span before you get started? I belong to the goldilocks crowd: I need just enough order and disorder both to work.
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1-3)
Originally creation in the Bible began with formlessness and emptiness, while darkness covered the face of the deep waters. The land was buried under this great deep. The Spirit or breath of God was blowing over all things. Only at God’s word did light separate from the darkness.
In the studio, ideas comes up from the depths of the mind. They are hidden in that darkness, like light was first hidden in the blackness covering the face of the deep. Once we begin to work on the idea in the studio, we discover if it’s a sun, moon, or a star. It might begin as one image, but become something else entirely as we work. For instance, this painting above began as a hardedged design, more like a poster.
This is because a painting has its own voice, just as a child does. And an artist responds to the give and take of the images he or she lays down, eventually getting to a stopping point. The painting is either overdone or the artist has learned all that’s possible from this one creative endeavor. Time to go on to the next one.
The good news is always contained in the verse of this painting: Psalms 104:30–
“When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.”
God is always sending his renewing Spirit to those who are his children, who are his own creation. Together, we will renew the face of the earth, with the help of the Spirit who first created it.
Icon of the Hands Recreating the World: acrylic on canvas, 16″ x 20″, $100, 2017.
The snow arrived overnight, as promised! Just enough to change the landscape of winter on the lake in Arkansas. The trees, mountain, and grey sky are just shades of black and white. Snow changes our perception of the landscape, so it is an epiphany of its own kind.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, or the night before Epiphany, folks used to take down their decorations and trees. They gave each other the last of the Christmas gifts, though I’m sure no one ever got “twelve drummers drumming ” as the old song goes, unless they were a rented band who went about drumming for hire.
Today we celebrate National Take Down the Christmas Tree Day on the same day as Epiphany, for folks who aren’t in a rush and have lost the connection to the spiritual reason for the season. Epiphany celebrates the visit of the wise men at the birth of Jesus. The word means “reveal,” so God revealed the divine presence in Jesus to the nations of the world when the wise men visited the rude accommodations of the savior’s birth. The poor shepherds had already seen his glory in the manger, as well as the creation, represented by the animals in the stable.
Who was missing from the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany? The extended families of Mary and Joseph aren’t ever mentioned, yet our modern celebration of this revelation of god to the world is celebrated primarily in the home, not amongst the poor or the outsiders. We focus on the giving of gifts to our families and friends. Shoppers around America planned on spending an average $929 on gifts in 2016. Religious organizations had average donations of $1,703 (secular households donate $863 on average to other causes) (2012).
I mention this, since nowhere in scripture can we find a proof text to affirm going into debt to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. We can find multiple texts in which God forgives debt, but Mastercard does not forgive debt. John Wesley asked his clergy, “Are you so in debt as to embarrass yourself?” The wags among us answer, “I’m not embarrassed if you’re not embarrassed!” The correct answer is “NO.”
Sometimes it takes an epiphany, a revelation of divine insight, if you will, to realize Christmas isn’t a day, but an emotion. Even if we take down the decorations, put away the carols and stockings, and return our homes to “ordinary time,” we can always live in the season of welcoming Christ into the world. If we look upon the face of the poor, or the least of these my brothers and sisters, we are seeing Christ. If we look upon the natural world, we are seeing representatives of those who first saw his glory. If we see our families, we see those who failed to attend this miracle, and we give them the gift of grace, for we too were off doing other more important things those twelve days of Christmas long ago. We can gift ourselves a little grace also.
Today is Epiphany. We can have the revelation anew because God is always inbreaking into our world of grey, or black and white. I see the world in shades of grey, rather than strictly either/or, but an epiphany will light up the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome this light.
Happy New Year to everyone! May you keep Christmas in your heart every day! May an epiphany be yours at the right time. (God’s time is the right time, so be open!)
This is on my easel right now. Last autumn on a warm and sunny day, I took an Instagram photo below of the woods near my home. Maybe we’ll have one ofthose days again, with no rain!
The photo above is my most recent painting. I’m letting it set overnight, to see if I need to work it some more. A fresh eye will see better tomorrow. I’ve spent 4 hours on it today.
Notice I didn’t paint all the trees in the foreground. Photographic truth is different from artistic truth. We know this is the same place by the line of the hill, the placement of the bushes in the background and the staggered line of trees in the foreground. If details are omitted, we don’t worry. If the colors are varied, we understand the artist is responding to the emotions of the landscape, rather than to the facts of the site.In the same way, biblical truths may be operating in the parables and stories Jesus told us. For some people, the miracles themselves are mere “truth stories” which serve to open up the mysteries of God. For these people, science is how they understand their world, but God’s word is the way they understand how to relate to God and God’s creation.
If they can hold this creative tension in their minds, it isn’t any different than seeing this painting as a true image of the place it represents.
After all, as Jacob said when he woke from his sleep, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”
And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” — Genesis 28:16-17
The gates of heaven are all about us, if only we have the eyes to see them. We are always within the house of God. I find this awesome, life changing, and spirit filling. Recognizing God’s presence everywhere should change how we pursue our lives, our work and our relationships also.
Some folks say Merica, like they can’t stand to say the whole of our country’s name or bear the taste of it in their mouth. Others bleed red, white and blue, but they only see the America they know and love. Once they have their piece of the pie, they are afraid to let others come to the table.
First we maligned the Irish, then we found other newcomers to scapegoat. We kept a whole race enslaved, and then found ways to keep them second class citizens. Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920! Yet none of these oppressed groups ever gave up their dream of the America we can become if we all work together for the best of the lofty goals our forefathers desired.
The providence of God is a faith belief and a trust that the pie is always large enough for all to share. God will provide for us our needs every day. Our human need to control our own destiny and define our own life is marked by our fear of God not being there for us. While humans may abandon us in our hour of need, God’s steadfast love endures forever. This is a promise repeated over and over again in scripture.
Human love tends to be conditional, or a quid pro quo type of love. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is how we explain this. God’s love is unconditional because God loves God’s creation and provides for what he created. The pie for people of faith is limitless, for God keeps increasing it. How does this happen? God opens our hearts to the needs of others and we share God’s blessings with them.
This is why Americans are the most generous people of the whole world. We know the source of our strength and our power is magnified when we share it with others who are weak and under attack. If Christianity is going to be co-opted by our culture, let it be the best parts of our faith! The care for the poor, the weak, the hungry, the sick, the ones who need a miracle in their lives. Let’s not have Christ be used as a one armed bandit to deliver riches, health and wealth to individuals for the rice of prayers or deeds.
Look at the photo again: a true patriot…
“This woman explained to me that the flagpole over her door was broken but ‘on such a day as this, one keeps one’s flag on one’s heart.'” I felt in her a touch of the strength and robustness of the early American pioneers’.
Photo by the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson USA. Massachusetts. Cape Cod. July 4th, 1947. Independence Day.