Ready or not, the creative juices must be stirred. If the brain has lain fallow all summer, or it’s been overworked keeping the youngsters occupied, now you can find your own groove again. Yes, it’s time for Adult Art Class at Oaklawn UMC.
Our first meeting will be Friday, September 9, at 10 am in the old fellowship hall. Bring your own acrylic paints, brushes, and a canvas or canvas panel to paint on. We begin with a short visual inspiration from some great art works, I’ll give some direction on the skill we’ll work on in the session, and then everyone is free to bring their own unique expression to their paintings. We don’t copy my work and judge how well a person can match it. We learn from the great masters and stretch our own skills to create something new.
Of course, making great art isn’t our first purpose. As we age, we will lose our ability to learn new skills until we lose our memory of what we just ate for breakfast. Challenging our brains is one of the best ways to keep our brain cells firing and “chatting with one another.” Our brains have the immensely powerful ability to remodel themselves because each of us have 1,000 trillion synapses, which are constantly being modified every second of every day. Socialization and encouragement also helps to keep our brains young.
Of course, we have to give up our desire to be perfect. Perfection comes from practice, or working at it. Every baby stumbles and falls when they learn to walk, but dotting adults encourage every trembling step. This is what art teachers also do. I’ve always had a rule in my classes, especially when I taught in middle school: No Negative Talking about People or Art. This included a student’s own art works. They always had to give at least three positive comments about their work before they spoke about the negative. “My work needs improvement” became the replacement phrase for “My work stinks!”
Of course, we’ve all grown up and worked in environments where negativity is the rule. Art class is a place of grace because this is how life should be. If we can transform a blank canvas into a field of color, why can’t we transform our communities and our world into fields of hope, joy, and love? Perhaps because we try to make everyone copy/fit into our idea of the proper end product, rather than allow everyone discover their own creative response to the given subject of the day. The museums of our world are richer and more vibrant because artists have listened to the Spirit of the Creating God. We might do well to realize God’s creative energies are varied and vibrant also, just as Isaiah wrote about his vision of God’s Glorious New Creation:
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.” (65:17-18)
I hope to see you there. I don’t charge for the class sessions, since this is one of my ministries as a retired elder in the United Methodist Church. As John Wesley once said, “The World is my Parish.”
Joy and Peace,
Wes Ely: How long covid reshapes the brain — and how we might treat it
Are we the United States of America or the Un-Tied States of America? One of the apocryphal sayings misattributed to the great Benjamin Franklin is “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Many are the words of wisdom from those who can’t speak up for themselves anymore, but especially numerous are the aphorisms of those we hold in high esteem, the founders of our nation.
As a young rabbit, my summers were often spent in the game of “School,” as the days lengthened beyond the end of actual school. My mother rabbit, a school teacher in real life, would find me underneath the shade tree in our backyard where I’d be instructing my younger neighbor rabbits sitting in neat rows. Since old school teachers never lose their calling to teach, the upcoming anniversary of the birth of our nation is an opportunity for all of us to remember our national struggle for independence and liberty was a cause both difficult and hard won.
As we rabbits pull out our flags, bunting, firecrackers, and ice cream churns, we might want to take a moment to remember the danger and risk our ancestors took to become an independent nation, rather than colonies subservient to the English crown. For many great reasons we can thank our ancestors for their refusal to endure the insults of taxation without representation and the indignities of having all their judicial decisions subject to revision by a foreign party. Indeed, the colonists lived as second class citizens, a fact which grated upon their very souls. Many were their entreaties to the King of England for redress of these wrongs, but to no avail.
Redress is the righting of a wrong. Some wrongs are more wrong than others, to be sure. As a young rabbit in the first year of junior high school, I discovered all my classmates had later bedtimes than I did. In fact, I was still turning in at 7 pm along with my baby brother, who was a mere 8 years old. I made an extensive survey of my different class groups and discovered the average bedtime was 8 pm. I knew my old fashioned rabbit parents would never let me stay up until 10 pm at my tender age.
My daddy was always saying, “Young rabbits need their sleep to grow up big, strong, healthy, smart, and good looking.” I never had a good argument against these reasons, so I’d go to bed, even if I might sneak a flashlight and read a book under the covers. I did get permission to stay up to the late hour of 8 pm, however. Perhaps rebellion is part of the American DNA.
Birthing the American Union wasn’t easy. The collection of individual colonies operated separately and had their own interests. Joining them together into one whole wasn’t an easy task, for each would have to put the common good ahead of their own individual needs and desires. Benjamin Franklin proposed The Albany Plan In July 21, 1754, for a union of the American provinces, which he proposed to a conference of provincial delegates at Albany, New York, to better battle the French and their Indian allies. We remember this era as the French and Indian Wars.
The Albany Plan called for proportional representation in a national legislature and a president general appointed by the King of Great Britain. It served as a model for Franklin’s revolutionary Plan of Confederation in 1775. His original idea germinated in people’s minds, along with other writings which Franklin “lay upon the table.” Not everyone was ready to approve these proposals, but his proposed Draft Articles of Confederation helped the committee when they finally began to focus their action in July, 1775 to write what became our constitution.
In November, 1755, Governor Morris of Pennsylvania pressed for a Militia Act in order to recruit persons for defense of the area from Indian and French attacks. The military units contemplated were purely voluntary and the officers, though commissioned by the governor, were to be elected from below, not appointed from above. The most important difference was that in 1747 the Association was a completely extra-legal body created by the volunteers themselves, while in 1755 the military units were, for the first time in Pennsylvania history, to be established by formal legislative act. And during the eleven months before news of its disallowance by the King reached the colony, the act did serve, in spite of its limitations, as a basis for raising reserve forces for provincial defense.
The Virginia delegates to the Philadelphia convention of 1774 went with this charge in hand:
“It cannot admit of a Doubt but that British Subjects in America are entitled to the same Rights and Privileges as their Fellow Subjects possess in Britain; and therefore, that the Power assumed by the British Parliament to bind America by their Statutes, in all Cases whatsoever, is unconstitutional, and the Source of these unhappy Differences.”
The crown had placed an embargo on the colonists and had forbidden them to import any manufactured goods, books, and while they might trade with other parts of the realm, those countries didn’t have to reciprocate. Economic sanctions were used for political purposes even in the 18th century.
Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, published in January 1776, was sold by the thousands. By the middle of May 1776, eight colonies had decided that they would support independence. When the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia Hall on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read his resolution beginning: “Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
After 21 years of planning, priming, and planting of the seeds for the fragile fruit of a New Democratic nation, it would finally come to life in the July 1776 Declaration of Independence and the 1789 Constitution of the United States of America. Yet not everyone was on board, not everyone wanted to leave the established relationship, even if it wasn’t the best situation.
Jefferson modeled the Declaration of Independence on the Virginia Bill of Rights, which became the basis for the Bill of Rights of the new Constitution of the United States of America. Notice the sections on 3: Governance by the Majority, 5: Separation of Governmental Powers, with Executive and Legislative members returned to private service, 12: Freedom of the Press, and 13: Armed State Militias.
“That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”
Section 13 of the Virginia Bill of Rights is one of the founding documents of our nation. Many today talk about “what the founders wanted.” One way we can know in part is to look at the historic records, although they are few and far between. We can find these in the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and at the Smithsonian Museum, among others. We don’t have to be mind readers or seek some medium to channel the spirits of their ancestral vision. We’re fortunate they and their descendants recognized their importance to history. Today we throw away records at a fast pace, not knowing what will be important for the future.
While today nearly every young rabbit instagrams their lunch or their night out with a comment, which lasts in perpetuity on the internet, sometimes to a more mature rabbit’s shame and embarrassment, people nearly 250 years ago had to sit down, collect their thoughts, sharpen a quill pen, dip it frequently into the ink well, and write on precious sheets of paper.
Scholars think the Declaration of Independence was not signed by any of the delegates of the Continental Congress on July 4. The huge canvas painting by John Trumbull hanging in the grand Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol depicting the signing of the Declaration is a work of imagination. In his biography of John Adams, historian David McCullough wrote: “No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia.” We do have Jefferson’s draft copy as well as several printed copies that are “originals,” plus the clean, handwritten copy we treasure as a founding document.
If we had been members of the Second Continental Congress in 1776, we would have been rebels and considered traitors by the King. He would have posted a reward for the capture of each of us, since we were the most prominent rebel leaders. Soon enough the largest British armada ever assembled would anchor just outside New York harbor. By affixing our names to the document,we pledged our life,our fortune, and our sacred honor to the cause of freedom. Perhaps this would causes us today to pause. Then again, we might dip the quill into the ink well and take our first breath as a free American. We’d sign our name with pride. We would be part of history now.
As we prepare our menus for our backyard barbecues and make our plans for block parties, let’s remember in most urban areas firecrackers and explosive devices are banned, except for professional light and sound experiences. Be safe in large crowds, especially at night and in entertainment districts. Be safe, be smart, keep hot food hot and cold food cold.
The last day of our art class we had a “free for all.” Not exactly a “food fight” or “slug fest” free for all, but a finish up or start a personal project type of day. Our class never disappoints me. Mike brought in his patio parrots, some of which have seen better days. These are papier-mâché sculptures that have been brightly painted and covered with shellac. He hopes to paint over them and repair them so they will look respectable once again in the poolside area. If that’s not possible, I see a vacation south of the border in his future.
Gail brought an icon she didn’t quite finish to add gold outlining to the figures. This detail gave her work an extra embellishment to bring it to life. Before, she’d left an edge of white canvas between the background and the figures. This had the same effect, but also gave her work an unfinished appearance.
I’ve been working on a series of Creation Icons from the first chapter of Genesis. Actually, they’re mandalas, but they serve the same purpose as an icon: to focus the viewer’s sight into the window of the world beyond this one and to contemplate the universal mysteries of the universe and the God who created it. The Creation inspired me because I’ve seen old icons with this theme painted both in figurative and abstract styles.
This one represents Day three and is from The Nuremberg Chronicles (1493). Written by Hartmann Schedel and illustrated with woodcuts by Michael Wolgemut, it represents a monumental place in the history of the printed page. One of the most beautifully illustrated texts of all time, the approximately 600 pages, in-folio, contain 1,804 woodcuts intended to communicate to the public a schedule of events predetermined by God, beginning with the Creation, and ending with the end of time.
My icon is a stylized flower against a blue sky with a cross in the center to remind us, as John 1:1-3 says,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
I chose a sunflower as my representative plant, for the young plants constantly track the sun’s transit across the sky each day. The older plants don’t make use of this mechanism of heliotropism, but always face east to wait for the sunrise. The ancient wisdom says when Christ comes in his final glory, he’ll first appear in the east at the Beautiful Gate in Jerusalem. However, the Bible says in Revelation 1:7,
“Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.”
I think it best to be ready, day or night, for like the servants whose master has gone off on a trip, we don’t know when he’s coming back. We should be always ready, always eager to serve. We’re never too young or too old to be a servant for Christ. As we grow older, one of our best gifts is mentoring the next generation for leadership. Perhaps they’ll make mistakes, or maybe they’ll do things differently than we did, but mission and ministry will happen.
Most mistakes don’t matter in the great scheme of life, unless they’re breaking a moral or legal law. If they’re just doing a task in a different order, like my arrangement of the dishes in the dishwasher at my mother’s house, we should probably leave that alone. I went and sat in the den and let my mother load the next evening’s dirty dishes because “If you’re going to rearrange everything, you might as well put them in yourself.” She did that one night and sat in the den the next night. Training is everything. My mom spent years training me, so I learned from the best. When it’s time to let go, you step aside and let them do it on their own. Learning from mistakes is part of leadership.
In art class we also learn from our mistakes. Sometimes we find out our palettes are too small to mix up all the different colors we want. This can limit our color schemes, muddy our colors, or tempt us into putting more color over the old color in the same tiny space for mixing. Then we look at our painting and wonder why it’s grey and dull, but fail to notice how dark our glass of brush water is. When the water gets dark, we need to pour it out and get clean water, or we carry that wash water full of pigments into our painting with our brush. In a like manner, if we hold our grudges or anger over time, these soil and blemish our souls. Washing them clean through prayer to God makes a difference in our countenance and joy. We’re brighter people when we rid ourselves of these burdens.
I’m taking the summer off from teaching. I have an art show planned for August to September at the Garland County Library, so I’ll be finishing up some work for that event. I also have a couple of chores around my condo planned, and more of my SOULJOURNIES blog to put into shape. I’m excited about these creative renewal projects. I’ll see y’all on the flip side.
Welcome to June! I’ve found my sunshades and my flip flops, so this rabbit is ready for a summer vacation. Old school teachers never die, they just take the summer off. And teachers, as well as students, will need a summer off, along with some intensive counseling, to get them ready to return in a healthy frame of mind next fall.
In my early years in ministry, I served in a certain county where many people were caught up in despair. I often complained to my district superintendent of my desire to pour mood elevators into the public water supply.
“You do know drugging the water supply isn’t exactly an acceptable activity for a Methodist minister?”
“Oh, yeah, but it sure would make my job easier.”
Remember, June 3 is Love Conquerors All Day. I need to remind myself of this on occasion when I want to take the easy road. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 7:13—
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.”
Taking the easy way out isn’t always the best choice, but it’s the one we rabbits most often choose. We rabbits don’t like to rock the boat, and we like to make all the other rabbits happy if at all possible. The only problem is if we please A, B gets upset. If we please B, A gets upset. We don’t even try to please C, since C is so cranky, even the good Lord Jesus couldn’t fry an egg to please them. We set our hearts and minds on pleasing God, as best we can, and hope to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.”
Chocolate ice cream brings me joy any day of the year, but June 7 is a day dedicated to this frozen delight. Don’t worry about frying eggs, but keep it frozen. I like mine plain, but fresh strawberries or peaches are a nice addition, plus some chopped nuts. Always go for complex, unless you just can’t wait. Then grab a spoon and eat it straight from the pint. (Mark it with your name, since you ate from it.)
Often we cut the Gordian Knot and go for the shortcut to our complex problems. Sometimes this is a good solution, for the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. My daughter used to call my vacation navigation shortcuts “the long cuts,” since I’m directionally challenged. Most of the time, that straight line went through swamp land and alligators. I can hear her voice now, “NOOOOO!!!” I’m known for taking the scenic route, so I often see America’s less known sights, which are off the beaten path.
In the gospel of Luke (14:34), Jesus quotes a proverbial saying:
“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”
Another translation of the latter portion of this verse is “how can it be used for seasoning?”
When I think of loss, I think of a life snuffed out. Some people are burned out, so we can say they’ve lost their seasoning ability. There’s no vim or vigor in them. Other lives are cut short and aren’t able to fulfill their purpose to season the great soup of our community. Our past month was marked by 47 mass shooting incidents in May alone. A mass shooting incident is defined as one in which at least four people are injured or killed, not including the shooter. Suicides aren’t included.
Suicides are also a public health problem. They are the “deaths of despair” that leave ripples of grief and hopelessness in the survivors. They’re the ultimate shortcut solution to a problem, the placing of a period where life has placed a comma or a semicolon. My daughter once attempted suicide by downing half a bottle of aspirin. I noticed the open bottle and pills scattered across the floor. She said the “dog ate it.”
“That’s too bad, I’m going to miss that dog. She won’t be long for this world. We’ll need to make burial plans for her.”
“Well, actually, I’m the one who ate the aspirin.”
“Then we’re going to the hospital. You aren’t going to like getting your stomach pumped, but it’s better than being dead. You want to have a chance to grow up and have a good life. A dog we can replace. You—not so much.”
It was a rough time in her life, and mine too. But God was with us. And we had support from counselors, friends, family, and our church family. My work family and my clients supported me too. I must be the most extroverted rabbit in the patch, because I asked everyone for help. It turned out my problem was shared by everyone else. I discovered I wasn’t alone, but was the most ordinary of rabbits around.
This is a humbling experience, especially when you’re a first child and the only girl. I admit to being spoiled, but don’t let my brother rabbits hear me say this. I’ll deny it to my last breath: I’m like every other rabbit I know. I want to think I’m someone special, even when I’m just as fluffy as every other bunny out there on Gods green earth.
Unfortunately, half the suicides today are committed with a gun, not aspirins. When looking at overall gun deaths, roughly two-thirds are attributed to suicides—a proportion that is consistent across most states. Gun suicides are on the rise and data also indicates men, white Americans, older people, and individuals living in rural areas present higher rates of gun suicides. Another group presenting a unique risk for suicide is current and former members of the armed forces, especially those with PTSD.
Compared with the general population, current and former military members have significantly higher rates of gun ownership. According to a 2015 study, nearly 50% of U.S. veterans own a gun. In contrast, studies suggest that only about 22% of the general U.S. population owns firearms. Similarly, the age groups of 50 to 64 years old and 65 and older have the highest rates of gun ownership, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study. This can further explain the high rates of suicide among older veterans.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in 2019, close to 4,332 veterans died by gun suicide in the United States, representing close to 18 percent of the total number of gun suicides reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during that year. Perhaps more alarming is the fact this figure shows a veteran is killed by gun suicide every two hours. In 2019, active duty military members committed suicide by gun 64% of the 498 total (318), almost one gun suicide per day.
Why isn’t anyone speaking about this? For all the lip service our politicians give to the flag and to the armed service members, they seem to forget them once they’re no longer useful to fight their wars or march in their parades. Perhaps because Congress won’t devote any money to study the effects of gun violence on the citizens of our Beautiful America, so we have to fund private studies here and there to piece together a patchwork of facts of this scourge on the peace of our people.
My young neighbor, only 8 years old, was in a panic as he knocked on my door the other day. His parents hadn’t come straight up the elevator, as they’d said they would. He was crying to beat the band and was sure something bad had happened to them. I invited him inside and left the door open so we could see them come past. He was so worked up, he couldn’t sit down. I suggested a call to his daddy, but they came walking past just at that moment.
We don’t realize what terror these school shootings put our children through. There’s no safe place for them any more, no matter how “hardened” we make the buildings. Some person always breaks the shell at the most inopportune moment.
Some rabbits will have empty seats at their family reunion tables because someone decided to act impulsively. Father’s Day (June 19) won’t be a celebration without the son or daughter to give Dad the tie, the golf balls, or breakfast in bed.
I think back to my own childhood. We worried in the 1950’s more about the urban legends of Halloween candy poisoning, when we were more likely to get killed crossing Highway 1, a four lane highway running through our town. My mother rabbit would wait for me to ride the trolley home from school. She would wait until the near lane of traffic cleared before she walked out to the center median and time this so the far lane’s cars would finish passing so she could walk across the newly empty lanes to meet me on the other side. We held hands and crossed in the same manner on the way back to our home.
This was our routine from the start of school until sometime in the autumn. Mother was delayed one day, so I sat down to wait for her and opened my book to read. I was wearing a brown jacket against the early cool spell, and my dirty blonde hair blended in with the pile of dry leaves on the ground. Intent on my book, I failed to see her come outside. She overlooked me and went inside thinking I’d missed my ride.
A bit later, I decided if she wasn’t coming for me, I’d come to her. Gathering up my possessions, I stood on the curbside. I watched the comings and goings of the quickly moving traffic. Once I saw the break in the pattern, I walked out into the clearing, waited at the median, and crossed behind the trailing traffic of the second lane. When I walked inside, my mother had a conniption fit. After this, I began riding my bicycle to school, and my brother got to come with me.
Not everyone is mature enough to cross a four lane busy highway by themselves when they’re in the fourth grade, which is the same age as the children who lost their lives at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. . Some people still need to be supervised at work even in their 20’s. The brain keeps maturing past age 21, as the frontal lobes, which are home to key components of the neural circuitry underlying “executive functions” (such as planning, working memory, and impulse control) are among the last areas of the brain to mature; they may not be fully developed until halfway through the third decade of life. Although neuroscience has been called upon to determine adulthood, there is little empirical evidence to support age 18, the current legal age of majority, as an accurate marker of adult capacities.
Since May 24, the date of this tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, the gunviolencearchive.org has recorded 16 mass shootings in six days, with 79 killed or wounded. Some of these are high school graduation parties where uninvited guests arrived and gunfire broke out, others are the result of young people wandering about in the late hours and getting into trouble with guns. During my time of ministry, youth, alcohol, and firearms were usually a recipe for trouble. Maybe parental rabbits’ brains are still developing too, if they aren’t able to put their rabbit foot down and tell the junior rabbits to leave their weapons at home. Visiting Jack Rabbit in jail for accidental death or intentional use of a firearm will throw a curve into your best laid plans for your progeny.
Instead, cities may have to reinstitute curfews after dark to curtail the opportunities for gun violence. Or they could raise the age to buy a weapon and require a longer waiting time and a more thorough background check. I wouldn’t be opposed to a training class and a test to see if the owner knows how to use the weapon safely. After all, we do this for the 2 ton weapon of mass destruction known as the family automobile. So what if the founding fathers never had autos; they also never had automatic pistols or large magazine weapons, modeled on the ones used in combat.
Did I mention June is National Safety Month? Its emphasis is workplace safety, but as a former teacher, this old rabbit reminds you, between 2009 and 2020, teachers’ workplaces are in schools, which is where 30% of mass shootings occurred in public places (schools, malls, or bars), while 61% of mass shootings occurred entirely in the home and another 9% occurred partially in a home and partially in a public location. The common factor in these is the gun and the presence of domestic violence. In at least 53 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2020, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member during the rampage.
I know y’all usually expect a bright and cheery note from me at the beginning of the month, but my heart is broken. Thoughts and prayers are nice, but they don’t stop the carnage. We need to make some changes. At least one man has turned in his assault weapon to his local police station, so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. He couldn’t bear the thought of it being used to perpetrate a similar crime if he were to sell it. If we parents don’t say no to our children, if we keep voting for politicians who are doing nothing, then we get to keep the distinction of having the highest rate of violent gun deaths for any of the developed countries.
That’s not the American Exceptionalism I believe in. We can do better. These are crimes against the common good and against the innocent. The shooter shares the primary blame, but everyone who does nothing to change our society for the better also shares the blame and shame for the next group of victims. At the rate we’re going, we’re having about one mass shooting per day. Eventually this scourge will come to YourTown, USA, and your small town police force will be just as flabbergasted as poor Uvalde’s. How could this happen in our little corner of the world?
I cry along with Jeremiah ( 8:21-22):
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?
Sometimes we go along with the attributes of cultural Christianity, rather than practicing the Christianity of Jesus Christ. Romans 12:2 reminds us
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The mandala is a geometric design representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. It generally has a circular form and can be varied in any number of ways, but it’s always balanced. In the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, mandalas are objects of meditation to aid in one’s spiritual development. The imagery depicts the universe and the symbols represent one’s spiritual journey, the cycles of birth-life-death, and the interconnectedness of all living things.
The Hindu tradition focuses on the realization of the self as one with the divine. Whereas in the Buddhist tradition, the emphasis is on the potential for enlightenment (Buddha-nature) and the pictures within the mandalas illustrate the obstacles that one has to overcome in order to cultivate compassion and wisdom. Drawing mandalas in this tradition follows strict rules.
Carl J. Jung was the Swiss psychiatrist who introduced to the West the practice of creating mandalas for self-expression, discovery, and healing. He discovered the shapes, colors, and symbols of his mandalas reflected his mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being at the time that he created them. He noticed his mandala drawings changed as his mental and emotional states changed. Reflecting on these mandala drawings, Jung concluded our subconscious and conscious selves are always seeking balance. When Jung worked with his clients, he would have them draw mandalas. He observed through creating mandalas, his patients experiencing chaotic psychological states could regain balance and calm. Jung also identified universal patterns and archetypes that reoccurred in his and his clients’ mandalas.
As in other cultures, the round shape in Christianity represents the universe, and therefore, is seen as a way to connect the earthly and spiritual realms. Whether in the form of windows in a church or as a rosary, mandalas are used to take the time to contemplate the self and the divine. Perhaps the most iconic representation of the Christian mandala is in the majestic stained glass windows that decorate many churches and cathedrals. While some of these are on a far grander scale than others, the stained glass window is often made up of a central point – often the figure or scene being depicted – which is surrounded by a design that is inherently geometric due to the fact that it’s made up of hard-edge pieces of glass.
Some of the world’s oldest cathedrals are home to rose windows. The rose window is one of the most classic examples of the mandala in Christianity, and their origins trace back to the Roman oculi. These windows are created using geometric segments, and can contain extremely intricate patterns made from different colors of glass, all of which extend out from a central starting point in the middle of the circle.
Aside from its famous French Gothic architecture, this venerable cathedral contains some of the most iconic stained glass in the world. Pictured here is the South Rose Window—a gift from King Louis IX of France—which was designed by Jean de Chelles and Pierre de Montreuil. Installed in 1260, the window is 42 feet in diameter and contains 84 panes divided into four circles. It serves as a counterpoint to the window on the north side, which was completed a decade prior.
Of course, we can also see balance and symmetry in architectural designs around and above us, even if they weren’t meant meant to be “symbols of the universe or creation.” We have to ask ourselves, “How do we feel when we enter a space of a particular design?” The architect uses forms, voids, lines, and heights to imbue in us certain emotions, as well as to make the building practical for its intended use. I always know I’ve found my home when I’m house hunting because the place will “call me by name.” I’ll feel at ease when I walk in. It won’t matter how badly the current owners have decorated it, the place will call to me.
This 1899 upmarket department store with a soaring Tiffany-stained-glass ceiling in the lobby was transformed into a luxury hotel in anticipation of the 1968 Olympic Games. The ceiling, which evokes the country’s Mesoamerican heritage with a lively palette of turquoise and gold, was designed by French artisan Jacques Gruber and also features a Louis XV–style chandelier. The domes in the center have a geometric, mandala design.
The Louis Comfort Tiffany dome at the Chicago Cultural Center measures 38 feet in diameter, making it one of the largest stained-glass domes in the world. Held together by an ornate cast-iron frame that features some 30,000 pieces of glass shaped like fish scales, the dome was finished in 1897, the same year the building opened as the city’s first public library. The dome underwent a meticulous restoration in 2008 and is now lighted electrically. Tiffany pushed the art of stained glass to the extreme, but this dome certainly has the wow factor the citizens of that era expected, for Chicago was a world class city experiencing tremendous growth, while attracting such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright and hosting the World’s Colombian Exhibition in 1893.
Completed by Catalan Art Nouveau architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner in 1908, this steel-framed concert hall boasts a stained-glass skylight featuring a three-dimensional depiction of the sun. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the music hall contains countless other artworks, including the busts of Anselm Clavé and Beethoven flanking the stage. It’s also the only European concert hall to be illuminated only by natural light. The impressive stained-glass ceiling and the way it’s designed allows the Palau de la Música to use only natural light to illuminate the main concert hall during the day.
Designed by Italian architect, Santino Solari, the Salzburg Cathedral in Austria stands out in a city already filled with stunning architecture. Built in the 17th century, the cathedral was the site of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s baptism. In the center of the dome is a sunburst behind a descending dove of the Holy Spirit. The hexagonal shape repeats down through the dome, with window openings ending at the four trapezoid shapes at the column junctions, which contain paintings of the four gospel authors. It is peaceful and serene, ordered and mathematically precise, much like a Mozart composition. It’s said Mozart wrote his pieces almost without correction, as if they came to life fully born, like Athena, who sprang to life in full adult form from Zeus’ forehead when he had a terrible headache.
Our class has painted mandalas before, but this was before Sally had joined us, so it was a novel idea to her. Still, she decided to go for it, using her new favorite color, Manganese blue. The growing and expanding flower shapes show her love and connection to the natural world. She can paint faster than her decision making can override her energy. This takes time to learn the discipline to hold back the hand, or one can choose to paint on a larger canvas to spread that energy around. Sometimes we have to get our tools fitted to our personalities so we can make the art best suited to our energy and creative imagination. Then our work will begin to “speak to others and call to them with the unique artistic voice of the creator.”
Mike’s mandala balances dark and light, circles and squares, and various sizes of triangles. I get a sense it’s a representation of the creation of earth, but I didn’t get a chance to confirm this with him. Mike typically sits down to paint and doesn’t talk much during class. This is his quiet place, his meditation place, and his medicine for his very busy life. The only thing that will get him talking is “Did you hear about those SEC coaches calling each other out? That’s gonna be some kind of hoodoo when they get together.”
I got started on another creation mandala: the plants and vegetation. I’m basing it on the sunflower, but I’ve only just begun. I have the graphite underdrawing, and part of the central image painted. I’m just a bit irritated at the graphite, since it mixes into the paint and grays it out. This is why I usually sketch my initial image in a pale yellow wash, which I can easily paint over.
Jung wrote in Memories, Dreams and Reflections, “The mandala is an archetypal image whose occurrence is attested throughout the ages. It signifies the wholeness of the Self. This circular image represents the wholeness of the psychic ground or, to put it in mythic terms, the divinity incarnate in man” ( Pages 334-33). As Philippians 3:21 promises,
“He will transform our humble bodies so that they may be conformed to his glorious body, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”
Those of us who spend time in meditation don’t do this practice merely to feel better or to relieve stress, but to become one with the creator of the universe. As we come closer to God and Christ, we also become closer to the people for whom Christ gave his birth, life, death, and resurrection. As he said,
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” ~~ John 12:32
The unity of those for whom Christ lived, died, and was resurrected, is all encompassing. It’s not for a selected few, or for some who look like us or believe like us, but for “all people.” It’s a common fault among human beings to ask, like the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, “But who is my neighbor?” Jesus led him to understand the one who showed mercy to the hurt one was the true neighbor, even if Samaritans normally were shunned.
If drawing mandalas brings us to understand our Bible, our faith, and our God in a deeper way, I’m all for it. If all we’re doing is making pretty patterns on a blank surface, without contemplating the generous Providence of the God who created and sustains our universe, we might as well be mumbling the Apostles Creed on a Sunday morning without giving a thought to any of the words we say. Both of these can be time fillers, mere mind numbing activities, that keep us from having the inner form of Christ, while we give the outward appearance of Christianity. This would be a waste of time, and as the ancient word concerning the law says,
“Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” ~~ Deuteronomy 10:16-19
Next week is our last class for the spring, to let this old teacher have a summer break. We’ll start up again in the fall after Labor Day. If you’ve never painted before, this a one room Art School. Everyone proceeds at their own pace. You only have to give up your competitive spirit and your desire for immediate gratification and perfection. It’s art, not microwave pop tarts. You won’t be Michelangelo and that’s a good thing. He’s dead. We want you to be alive and growing in Christ.
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.
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:
Sensory perception or observation of facts
Reason or logic
Authority of tradition or common wisdom
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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 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.
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.
My spiritual journey always has a late start, but I suppose my lateness is irrelevant in the realm of the God whose time is eternal and everlasting. God’s time is always kairos time, or the time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action. God always works at the opportune and decisive moment, never before or after. As Gandalf says in The Lord of the Rings, “A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.”
I don’t claim to be a wizard, and I’d never accuse God of being a mere wizard, but I didn’t get the appellation, “the usually late, but sometimes great” Cornelia DeLee for nothing. Am I time challenged as well as directionally challenged? Or do I take on too many tasks, as well as push some of these too close together as I near the starting line for my journeys? Maybe some of both. At one time before the pandemic, I could get a car care appointment in Little Rock in two days, but now it takes three. There goes my Friday. Saturday night I spoke for three hours with my oldest granddaughter and turned into bed early in the morning after taking my medicine.
On Sunday, I was packing in zombie mode at ultra slow speed and was on the road by 3:30 pm. My intentions had been to leave by 10 am and arrive at 4 pm. At best, I now would arrive by 8 pm, but with my need for pit stops, I knew my arrival would be later still. I got to see the sunset change the light on the rolling Grant Wood hills of north Louisiana and later I watched the land turn lavender as the early evening turned to dusk. As I drove further south, the road itself became a dark blue-violet velvet ribbon, until the last rays of light left the sky and only shades of grays and blacks remained.
As I made my way past Natchitoches, Louisiana, the colorful lights of this historic city reminded me of the Christmases of my childhood and the many times my family traveled to the waterfront to see their seasonal lights and fireworks display. As I recall, my family was big on loud explosions of color at holiday times, for we also visited our riverfront’s Fourth of July festivities in the summertime. My dad believed fireworks were best left to the professionals, for he never wanted his own children to lose a precious digit or an eye in an accident with gunpowder.
I arrived safely at my destination, even though I drove in the dark. I usually malign Mapquest for its errant choices, but this time, it didn’t send me by the scenic route. While I’ve discovered many unusual places because of Mapquest, this was one trip in which I made a point to point journey. I missed the whole first day, even though I’d planned to get there by 4 pm at the latest. I’ve never met a Plan A I couldn’t transform into a Plan B. This excursion was no exception.
In the darkness at the retreat center, I met a young man who directed me to the office. I thought I said, “Thank you, honey,” but he heard me say, “Thank you, sonny.” I guess I’ve crossed into old lady land, or my trip aged me. It didn’t help I tried to drive over the concrete curbing, which I thought was where the shortcut to the central building should have been. They didn’t consult me when they first laid out the streets here, or they would have included a logical road at this place. There’s a wisdom in not pouring the walks or streets until folks make the way, since commuters will find the shortest distance from place to place.
Monday was a good day in that I started well, but I missed the afternoon teaching session due to napping. I did have the best intentions, but forgot to return my phone’s ringer to loud. The small chirping sound didn’t arouse me from my much needed slumber. I noticed the crepe myrtles along the pathways to the conference room have shed their outer bark. These scraps have settled in the crooks of the trees, as if the crepe myrtles were loath to give them up. Only mature crepe myrtles lose their bark by peeling, not the immature trees. As I thought about this, the image of the circumcised heart from Deuteronomy 10:16-18 came to my mind:
“Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.”
When the crepe myrtles mature, they’re able to reveal the beauty of their trunks only if they shed their bark. If we humans would take a lesson from these trees, we’d shed our false fronts and show off our inner beauty to the world around us. Instead, we hide behind our “protective barks” or “facades of competence, strength, or knows it all,” so we can show our false selves to other people’s false selves. Then we wonder why we’re all so immature and fake.
Sometimes we gardeners try to “treat the bark shedding” as a problem by fumigation or poisoning the unseen fungus causing the bark drop. We don’t realize this is a natural state of this tree, rather than a disease to cure. “Too old to care what you think anymore,” is the mature crepe myrtle’s motto, just as the old lady wears purple with a red hat and doesn’t care what you think about that! The world wants us to keep our bark on, to stay spiritually immature, but if we’re to grow in grace, the bark has to come off.
When the bark comes off the mature crepe myrtles, we can see the many colors of their trunks. They’re a delight to behold, and even more beautiful when the rain brings out their subtle coloration. Most of us think our inner selves need to be always hidden, for “if people only knew who we really were, they might not like us.” We also try to hide from God, even though Jesus reminds us in Luke 8:17—
“For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.”
This is because of God’s nature, as described in Sirach 42:18—
“He searches out the abyss and the human heart; he understands their innermost secrets. For the Most High knows all that may be known; he sees from of old the things that are to come.”
Once we realize God knows our hidden nature or our inner truth, we want to hide our nakedness with clothes made of sticky fig leaves. The ancient story tellers had a sense of humor, for this choice of clothing was only one step above a garment made of poison ivy. No one ever said our ancestors or their progeny were smart. But we have a gracious God, who gave humanity clothes made of skins to wear when they were sent out from their first home.
Ever since the garden, humanity has tried to hide their true selves from an all knowing God. As my daddy used to say, “Darling, I don’t think you’re getting smarter with age. You’re supposed to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them.” Some of us mature slower than others, but the race isn’t to the swift. It’s to the ones who persist, for God has a time for each of us. We will always arrive at the crux of time when God’s time for us is prepared, just as it was for Queen Esther in Esther 4:14—
“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
Like the wizards of old, God is preparing each of us to be in the right place at the right time. Our only question is, Are we willing to answer God’s call to act for the good of God’s people when that time comes? As Gandalf reminds us in The Lord of the Rings, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
I was attending a 5 day academy for spiritual formation last week, sponsored by the Upper Room of the United Methodist Church. We were blessed to have support from the Arkansas United Methodist Foundation. Our leadership group had Methodists from Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as Cooperative Baptists from Mississippi. Ours was an inclusive group of young, old, black, and white Christian folks who share a love for God and neighbor. It’s very interesting, for the Cooperative Baptists split from their more conservative crowd to give women in ministry a voice as the Holy Spirit called them.
Today, we Methodists are approaching a split because some conservatives want to leave. I won’t be leaving because I did my dropping out when I was younger. I rejected everything and everyone that was the establishment. I came back because God had faith in me, even when I’d lost faith in God. If God was willing to be steadfast in love for me, who was I, the prodigal daughter, to say no to God? And so this is the opportune time, this present moment, when we learn God is always with us, God will always be with us , and God will be with us until the end of the age.
I’m back home now, full of Lea’s pie from LeCompte, Louisiana, and happy to continue the meditations and insights I learned from our speakers. If we listen more, speak less, and spend more time in God’s holy silence, we might discover the gifts of communication and compassion. The traits of winning at all costs as we take no prisoners is very warlike, and not the way of peace. Of course, this is the way of our media personalities, not our saints. We ought to be forming our personalities after Christ and the saints, rather than media personalities, but now I’ve gone to meddling again.
Perhaps I should have a bite of the delightful yam loaf I brought back from Lea’s Pie Place. That might sweeten me up!
What a difference a month makes! Only a few weeks ago, I was speaking with a rabbit pal, who was ground down by her constant caregiving in this pandemic world. She cares for elderly rabbits in a nursing home, a vulnerable population, plus she’s grieved the passing of several of her own family members lost to COVID.
“I’m not getting another shot,” she said. “I’m so tired of COVID, I could scream.” “I know,” I replied, “but this isn’t over. As long as we have hosts—those who either can’t or won’t get vaccinated—COVID is going to mutate and stick around.”
“Oh, don’t tell me that! We’ve been through alpha, beta, and gamma. We’re on omicron now. What’s next?”
I laughed. “It doesn’t matter. It could be gigatron, megaton, or atragon—they’re all monsters and we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. We’ll do what ever it takes to beat those monsters, just like in the Japanese movies.”
Her mood lifted somewhat, for in these hard times a friend has to be a support. I was only returning the favor, for she’s been my rock when I’ve been down.
Speaking of monsters, I love Japanese films. I once had a boyfriend in college who had a fondness for Japanese films.
“Oh, me too!” I exulted. “What’s your favorite ?” he asked. “I really like Mothra and Godzilla,” I replied to his frozen face.
He favored more arcane fare, such as The Burmese Harp, Rashomon, and others with samurai military themes. We did share a common love of pasta, but his military service took him elsewhere, and my artistic sensibilities took me to a different place also.
We rabbits like to escape from reality when life gets too real at times, as it has this past month. The Bible speaks of “the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle,” in 2 Samuel 11:1. When the sap rises and the light gets brighter, some circadian rhythm must kick in that sets off a power struggle amongst the powers that be. When I taught school back in the day, all my rabbit students were wild as hares from April Fool’s Day until the last day of school in May. During my first year teaching, we got an extra week of spring break, since we didn’t use any of our snow days.
My old daddy found me crying on that Monday morning. “What’s wrong, honey?”
I sobbed, “We only have one more week of vacation before school starts again!” “It’s all downhill from here, honey. You can do this,” he said, encouragingly. “Dry those tears and let’s share a cup of coffee at the breakfast room table.”
Life is always better with coffee, and with an older bunny to talk some sense back into you. At least my daddy was always willing to listen to my tales of woe. I must have been a real drama queen back when I was young, but surviving those “bad old days” meant I could take my turn later on and help other young rabbits through their peaks and valleys. As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:10—
“Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
One of the ways I would escape reality was to watch those Japanese monster movies. They weren’t always long on plot or character development, but you could count on lots of action. Atragon, a huge monster of the Mu empire, an underwater civilization that was supposedly extinct, resurfaced in one movie to declare war against all nations. The sole hope of humanity seemed to lie on Captain Hachiro Jinguji, who refused to surrender, and his atomic super-submarine, the Gotengo. When the Mu and their evil Queen kidnapped his daughter, he decided to attack them. Earthquakes and battles between submarines and the great sea monster ensued.
I’ve always found watching monster movies and the concomitant destruction they cause easier than watching the actual mayhem reported on the evening news, but then I grew up in the Vietnam era. I always had difficulty with the people my parents’ age who wanted to “bomb the North Vietnamese back to the Stone Age.” Now when I see a Russian dictator doing this very deed to Ukraine, an independent nation, I have even more distaste for this activity. I’m reminded how easy it is for us to project a demonic nature on those who do terrible, unprovoked, and unimaginable deeds on others.
In the years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese worked out their fears of another nuclear horror or the after effects of that first one with their mutated monsters by atomic radiation. Today, we have movies which deal with our fears of robots taking over the world or artificial intelligence throwing over its creators.
These aren’t new themes, of course, for Greek mythology tells of the early Titan king Chronos, who swallowed all his children, so none would fulfill the prophecy of taking his throne. When Zeus was born, his mother spirited him away. When he grew up, he came home, caused his father to vomit up his siblings, and together they defeated him. This is how the gods came to rule the heavens, the oceans, and the underworld. These gods were made in the image of human kind, so while they were more beautiful, stronger, and immortal, they were also given to the same passions and consequences as those besetting humanity.
The Greeks and Romans were always in a contest of power, whether between the gods, gods and humans, or humans alone. Nothing was ever in a steady state. Their great leaders were known both for their military successes as well as their political prowess. They were leaders both in peace and war. The Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “War is both king of all and father of all, and it has revealed some as gods, others as men; it has made some slaves, others free” (no. 22 fragment B53).
Native American tribes have a story of the warring nature we each carry within us. It’s commonly known as “the two wolves” or “the grandfather story.”
“I have a fight going on in me,” the old man said. “It’s taking place between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
The grandfather looked at the grandson and went on. “The other embodies positive emotions. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. Both wolves are fighting to the death. The same fight is going on inside you and every other person, too.”
The grandson took a moment to reflect on this. At last, he looked up at his grandfather and asked, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee gave a simple reply. “The one you feed.”
We each have a wolf or a Godzilla within ourselves, but sometimes we fail to notice it. Instead we see it only in the outsiders, in our enemies, or those whom we’ve excluded from our privileged circle. How we manage this “darkness” within us, how we the battle the “enemy within,” is the great work Jung spoke to when he proposed the presence of the Shadow within each of us.
When the world is falling apart, we too feel unmoored. When a dictator attempts to redraw the borders of another country, our cognitive maps also fall apart. If that part of the world isn’t safe, is our world at risk also? Even though we know change is inevitable, will the apple cart be set on fire or just dumped over? We rabbits aren’t the bravest animals, so we can borrow trouble from the morrow, as well as from the next half hour. Somehow we have to revision our old lives, shed our old cocoons, and renew our selves for the new world to which we find ourselves awakening.
A hundred years ago, T. S. Elliott wrote these opening lines of his famous poem, The Waste Land. In the days after the end of World War I, his wife was suffering from mental illness and his marriage was falling apart because she was having an affair with another man. He too was suffering from the shared grief of the loss of so many in the Great War, as well as his own personal relationship problems. He wrote this poem at a sanatorium, where he was taking a “cure” for his own mental health.
April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
If we’re ever to understand the great mysteries of faith, we have to meet the darkness within us. That’s what is symbolized by the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. The loneliness in the garden of Gethsemane, the descent into the grave, and the rising back to life once again. If ever we’ve had this loneliness, emptiness, and sense of rebirth, we’re participating in the Easter mystery. Once we die to our old selves, we can live the Christ life, not just a life assenting to the doctrines of the Christian faith.
No one will be able to call us rabbits April Fools, even if they call us fools for Christ. Let’s celebrate this month some of the great faith holidays, and don’t forget your taxes are due. That perhaps is “the cruelest” event of April.
April 3—Ramadan begins—revelation of the Koran to Muhammad April 10–Palm Sunday April 14–Maundy Thursday April 15–Good Friday & Income Tax Day April 16–Passover & Holy Saturday Vigil April 17–Easter April 18–Easter Monday (Emmaus Monday) April 24–Orthodox Easter April 28–Holocaust Remembrance Day April 29–Laylat al Qadr is the day in Ramadan that observes the night when the Prophet Mohammad received the first verses of the Koran
In art class, I taught our group the time honored technique of using a cartoon to transfer an image to another surface. Of course, their first reaction was, “Are we watching Saturday morning cartoons today?”
“No, it’s Friday. We’re going to make our own carbon paper,” I said, as I showed them how artists of old would rub graphite on the back of their drawings and then outline the major lines onto the wall or the canvas to transfer the image. The J. Paul Getty Museum has a great video on YouTube explaining this process.
“You mean we’re going to paint by number?” “Not a chance. You still have to make your own color decisions and shading choices.” Really, by now you’d think they know my opinion on the easy way. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:13—
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.”
I didn’t bring any complicated images of the holy icons. I brought only ones with simple outlines. I knew this project wasn’t going to be as easy as people first thought. It’s not as simple as coloring within the lines.
An icon is an image of a holy person, but it isn’t a mere representation of the individual. When we make photographs or even painted portraits, we seek to make “likenesses” of the individual, and capture their outward details and idiosyncrasies. If we can also capture their inner spirit, we take the image to a master level. Icons, however, are more concerned with representing the inner, spiritual nature of the person, rather than their outward nature. After all, we don’t have any images of how the holy ones from the earliest days of faith actually looked. We only have their acts and the symbols connected with them, so in the iconography we can identify them by these qualities. The word iconography comes from the Greek: eikōn ‘likeness’ and -graphia ‘writing’, so when we paint, we’re actually “writing a likeness” of the holy image.
In the iconographic tradition, all of the faces are broad across the brow, to represent the holy wisdom of God residing in the saints, just as their elongated figures and extremities accent this holiness. The eyes, windows into the soul, are large compared to a natural face, while the mouth is small. The small mouth indicates the saint has conquered bodily passions. There’s always an ear open on an icon, for the icon needs to “hear our prayers.” Not that the icon is alive, but it’s more like an open window into heaven. Therefore, the saint’s ear is the open window through which our prayers flow into the golden light of the mysterious world beyond this material one in which we dwell both in shadows and light.
The color in icons also plays an important role. Red belongs to martyrs. Blue stands for wisdom. White symbolizes paradise and chastity. Green is the color of the Venerable Fathers. Gold symbolizes sanctity.
The icon painter and teacher of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University, Svetlana Vasyutina once described an experience before the iconostasis or screen of images of the saints in the church. “A while ago, I was tortured by the question why it is golden. Once I was standing at a church, looking at the iconostasis. Suddenly, they turned off the electric lights, and only candles before the icons were burning. The golden traces were shining, giving back the light. It was as if, not the candles, but the halos, were radiating light. I was amazed; the light seemed not material, not as comes from a candle or a lamp. The golden color shows the person painted in the icon was granted a different kind of light.”
According to St. Paul, glory (doxa) appears where the form and the idea of God, which inhabits it, become one. This is especially true where form becomes a place of theophany (a visible manifestation to humankind of God or a god), where the body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit. This glory is represented by the nimbus or halo of the saints. We hear Paul speak of this power in Philippians 3:21—
“He will transform our humble bodies that they may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”
The disciples first saw this glory descending upon Christ on the Mount of the Transfiguration, as recorded in Matthew 17:2—
“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
To become completely transformed by the Holy Spirit wasn’t only a special gift given only to the saints alone, but it was meant for all believers. As Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 4:7 (American Standard Version)—
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves.”
A famous story in the Eastern Orthodox Monastic tradition follows:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
Many of us are barely alight with the fire of Christ, and we wonder why the glory of God doesn’t shine through us. Others of us hide our light under a bushel so we don’t stand out from the crowd. If we wonder why we aren’t going onto Christian Perfection in love of God and neighbor, or being a witness to Jesus Christ for others to follow, then we might need to read Abba Joseph’s recommendation once again: “If you will, you can become all flame.”
When we paint an icon, we participate in a spiritual endeavor in which we are coworkers with the Holy Spirit. We enter into a kairos time, or God’s creating time, and are no longer only working only in human, chronological time. This is a mystery, not to be understood in ordinary terms, even if we begin at 10:15 in the morning and stop to cleanup at 11:45. Like the golden background, time has no meaning while we paint the icon. Our cares and concerns of this world can be given to the icon, and thus to God.
We make our prayer gifts in two ways: we hope to become more conformed to the image of God and we hope our images conform better to the icon before us. We’re going on to perfection, one bit at a time. In faith, we expect to be made perfect in love in this life, by the power of the Holy Spirit, or at the moment of our death, as the classic Wesleyan teaching states. The Orthodox doctrine of theosis, union with God, from which our Methodist teaching of sanctification derives, teaches we can have real union with God, just as Jesus had, being fully human and fully divine. We don’t become gods, but we participate in the full image of God, in which we were first created.
We can contemplate these beautiful words of St. Athanasius of Alexandria (+373), in his treatise On The Incarnation, against the Arian heresy:
‘God became “sacrophore”—bearer of our flesh—so that mankind might become “pneumatophore—bearer of the Holy Spirit.’” (Michael Quenot, THE ICON, p 55)
When we keep our heart set on the image of Christ, we remember his undying love for all creation. Then we learn the meaning of the faith of a loving son or daughter, in comparison to that of an unwilling servant. This is how John Wesley saw his own conversion at Aldersgate:
“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.”
Once we realize the law of sin and death no longer holds us in chains, we can freely live in life and love, now and always, if we conform our image to Christ.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.”
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.