This shortest day of the year is the Winter Solstice, which is on Wednesday, December 21, at 4:48 P.M. EST, in the Northern Hemisphere. Some think of this as the Longest Night, but I’m a person of the light, not the darkness. I always prefer to look to the light, no matter how dim or feeble it may seem.
Yet darkness is a necessary experience in our lives. We do not yet live in the land of the “unclouded sky” or the heavenly realm:
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” —Revelation 21:23
In the darkness, growth often happens: germination and rooting are two types of unseen activity that help produce the plant we see above ground. Without adequate light, the visible plant won’t thrive. So both darkness and light are at work to produce fruit in our lives.
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28
The Winter Solstice in Hot Springs is at 3:48 pm CST on Wednesday, December 21, 2022. In terms of daylight, this day is 4 hours, 37 minutes shorter than the June solstice. In most locations north of the equator, the shortest day of the year is around this date. The good news about the Winter Solstice is the days will begin to lengthen, although imperceptibly at first: one minute, four minutes, seven minutes, ten minutes, thirteen minutes, sixteen minutes, and so on.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the sun’s return, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. Today we recognize the source of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song in this festival. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Prosperity for all in the New Year!
In this time of stress and strain, grief and gripes, let’s look to the in-breaking light, and the renewal of life and love. Here’s a “Winter Solstice Chant” by Annie Finch, for your pleasure:
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing, now you are uncurled and cover our eyes with the edge of winter sky leaning over us in icy stars Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing, come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.
Of course, if you can’t get your travel plans together at the last minute to visit Stonehenge, England for the winter solstice celebration, you can always make Rice Krispies Bars in the shape of the ancient monument. The recipe link is at the bottom of the page. Hint: don’t turn the heat up high or your treats will be hard. Due to high carbohydrate count, one “pillar” of Stonehenge Krispies is actually two servings.
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
Cities are growing organisms, each having their central growth from their place of origin. Some begin on a waterfront, as a place of trade. Other communities began along a creek, where people would meet to connect, trade, and settle differences in peace. These were safe spaces, welcoming places, but they existed only so long as everyone acknowledged them.
In our cities today, safe spaces are rare. Some reasons are we don’t know everyone anymore, since our populations are so large. We don’t know who to trust, so we trust no one. If we’re anonymous, we think can do what we want, since no one knows who we are and we don’t know whom we harm. Of course, this is absurd, for if we do harm to another, we aren’t living out our best life, not to mention we’re not living out the wisdom of “Do unto others what you want done unto yourself.”
“Who knows what lurks in the heart of man?” the old radio program asked. “The Shadow knows,” was the answer. Most of what we know as the city is hidden behind the layers of paint, wallpaper, and various accretions of dust in our historic district. In Hot Springs, we can eat hamburgers in buildings where mobsters would hang out, walk the streets where old time baseball players strolled, and take hot baths where our ancestors took the “cure” for every disease known to humankind. They got clean, but the cure didn’t take.
We have a civic interest in renewing our old buildings, for they attract tourists and provide incomes for owners and workers in our restaurants, shops, and hotels of all sizes and qualities. We have dive bars and first-class accommodations within a mile of each other. This is a sure sign of a community in transition. I won’t name either, but if Hot Springs were to be the setting of an old-time radio show, it wouldn’t lack for interesting characters or venues.
During this pandemic era, for it’s stretched long enough now to be called such a lengthy time, I’ve been working on a group of cognitive maps. A cognitive map is any visual representation of a person’s (or a group’s) mental model for a given process or concept. Cognitive maps have no visual rules they need to obey. There’s also no restriction on how the concepts and the relationships between them are visually represented. If we were to take a number of people to the same place, we’d most likely end up with the same number of maps. Some parts might overlap, but everyone would notice different aspects of the landscape.
My own cognitive maps start with a screen shot of a google map of a place I’ve been prepandemic, and work in process through sketches, then several layers of paint, and finally, the end product. This last stopping point sometimes comes only after I think I’ve finished the painting, but I leave it sitting out where I can look at it some more. In the looking, I discover, I’m not ready to release this image out to the world. It lacks unity, power, focus, or some other defining quality I can’t put words to. I only know I am unhappy with it the longer I look at it.
When I cook a recipe, I have a certainty if I follow the directions, I measure correctly, and my oven is true to temperature, I’ll come out with a good approximation of the original recipe. Afterall, I’m recreating someone else’s process and instructions. Making something new, from the imagination is part of the creative process. Sometimes the end product arrives easily, but other times, its birth is a struggle, and the child arrives crying to beat the band.
Most of us are used to seeing the landscape from our upright view, for we walk through our world with our head up every day as we reconnoiter along our daily paths. Some of us keep our heads buried in our phones, so we depend on the good nature of others to keep us from bumping into them, or these people must have particularly good side vision to avoid collisions with other walkers. We don’t have the bird’s eye view of the city, so we don’t see how the streets connect or how they follow the elevation changes. We also don’t get to see the patterns of tree growth, or the hidden waterways. Mostly we have a patchwork vision of just the immediate areas we inhabit, but not a vision of the whole.
I saved a screenshot to my iPad so I could draw on it. Color for me has emotional energy, so as I drew, I over laid the first colors with others. The changes the drawing went through prepared me for the changes through which the painting would transition. This pandemic has certainly been a time of change, but life has always been changing. One of my old friends always said, “Human beings are meant to change. We’re brand-new people every 27 days! That’s how often we get a whole new skin.”
I spent many years in the church, an organization not noted for changing. It’s not the organization that doesn’t want to change, but the people. We find those same people resistant to change in NASCAR fans, football fans, and any other group you want to name. As one wag said, “It was the 56th Super Bowl and they finally had rap music in Los Angeles, and NASCAR had Pit Bull at the LA Coliseum for the Clash for the first time in 43 years. If you have a point, it’s time to make it.” If we don’t like change, we should quit washing our bodies, since we’re just hurrying those dead skin cells off to their final demise.
Artists must embrace change, however, for the moment we put a mark on a canvas or tap a stone with a chisel and hammer, we’ve changed the surface before us. We can’t be afraid to go into the emptiness or the unknown, for there we’ll find the beauty of the unspoken or the hope of the silence in which we work.
This stage of the painting adheres closely to the drawn image. The blue streets define the city blocks and a few building shapes are notated. It’s a complicated street map from one of our older sections of town.
On this repainting, I balanced the colors better, but kept the greens and oranges. I signed it, for I thought I was “finished.” I set it down in my living room to observe it for a while. I often do this with my work, for if it still looks good after six months, I think it’ll survive for a year. If it lasts a year, I think it’ll last longer. If I look at it three years later and it doesn’t survive, I’ll destroy it. This was painted during the winter, with the worst low light of the season. No wonder it looked grim under the brightening light of the returning sun.
Some sunshine has come into my life here in the middle of February. I’m very sensitive to the transition of light across the seasons, so when it begins to leave in October, I start shutting down. When the light begins to return again, I awake, as if from a hibernation. Perhaps this is the reason I took all my yellows and reds and overpainted the other colors on the canvas. Now my canvas is almost monochromatic, except for small streaks and blobs of color in places. You can still see the city blocks and streets, but now the over all feeling is less of a map and more of an energy record of the city area.
This is the city as it grows, as it lives, and as it changes. The dynamics and life blood of the city move and pulse as it transforms. Hot Springs is unique in that we keep as much of our old as possible and build new when we must. I’m thankful for this city, for its love of the arts, and its honor of its history, as well as its embrace of the future.
After all, that’s all any of us can do, is remember who we are, whose we are, and give thanks to the one whose steadfast love remains forever.
This is a time of year when we look to the night sky for a sign. It’s not for nothing the depths of darkness are the beginnings of hope and our desire for the return of the healing light. People around the world and over the generations of time have celebrations of feasting, family reunions, and honoring their culture’s gods on the darkest day, or the Winter Solstice. The term solstice derives from the Latin word “sōlstitium”, meaning “the Sun stands still”. On the Winter Solstice, the sun reaches its southern-most position, shines directly on the Tropic of Capricorn, and seems to stand still there.
We’re all familiar with Stonehenge, a Neolithic stone monument in England built about 4,500 years ago to track important moments in the solar year. A later custom is the blazing Yule Log, a Norse tradition. The family would drag a huge piece of wood into their house, set it into the main fireplace, and let it burn for several days. It was a type of sympathetic magic to encourage the distant and faint sun to return, reinvigorated. The family often wrote down their desires for the new year as an offering to the gods. These were then burned in the fire. Afterwards, the family scattered ashes from the fire in the corners of every room in the house for good luck.
The Chinese also have a Winter Solstice festival, which once was a new year’s festival. The family gathers to eat traditional foods, and they honor their ancestors, as well as the old ones still living among them. This poem by Ruan Yue, in the late Northern Song Dynasty speaks of this:
罗袜新成，更有何人继后尘。 The socks for elders are newly woven; the custom should be handed down.
A later poet of the Song Dynasty, Fan Chengda, had a more optimistic outlook on the dreary and dark days before the Winter Solstice, or perhaps he was using “positive pep talk to reframe his grumpy mind.”
休把心情关药裹，但逢节序添诗轴。 Don’t be thinking about medicines all the time; write a new poem at the solar term.
I can relate to Fan Chengda, for I find I have difficulty waking up without the sun streaming into my bedroom windows. I’m also more irritable and mopey on these dark days. It’s probably Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of depression related to the lack of light in this season. I tend to think dark thoughts, feel more pain, and lose my appetite, except for medicinal chocolate, which I consume under the Tim Allen mantra, “If some is good, more should be better!”
When I get this type of mood on, the commercial Christmas we see on television and in the movies strikes a discordant note in my soul. I think about the ancient text, which reminds us when the parents of Jesus went to Bethlehem to be counted in the census: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
What most of us glide right over is Joseph had kinfolks galore in this town, but none of them opened their home to Mary, for she was pregnant before he married her. The innkeepers in town weren’t going to risk their reputations for these two either. Only one innkeeper took pity on them and let them stay with the animals in the stable. This marks the birth of the Christ child as an outsider to his whole extended family, the House of David.
The Magi, or Wise Men, came from the East to visit King Herod, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”( Matthew 2:2)
Herod was worried he would be deposed, so he sent the Magi to find this child, then return and report to him. The Magi followed the star until it stopped over the place where the family was staying. They offered their gifts and returned home, without telling Herod where the baby was. Jesus was an outsider to the Roman occupation which propped up the local kings. He was a threat to the way governments rule the world.
Shepherds are the epitome of outsiders in the Bible, for they live outdoors among sheep and goats, neither of which are clean. In fact, anyone who’s gone camping knows how hard staying clean is. Glamping isn’t camping, and neither is RVing. My youthful experiences in Girl Scout camps of pitching tents and digging rain gutters is the closest I’ve ever been to living on the land. Even then, we had outhouses and cold water showers. The biblical city folk who could keep the ritual rules of cleanliness looked down on the shepherds as a lower class group, or outside of society.
Imagine a group of shepherds sitting around a nighttime fire, eating a simple meal, and chatting about their day or their families at home. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9). I’d be terrified also, as I imagine you would be too! There’s a good reason the first words out of angels’ mouths are “Do not be afraid!”
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
If ever the outcasts of the world needed good news, if ever the hopeless needed a savior, if ever the least of all needed one just like them, it was these lowly shepherds, who went to find a newborn child lying in an animal’s feeding stall. No fancy crib for the newborn king, no royal robes or golden crown, just ordinary swaddling clothes. He looked just like any other child, except his birth was proclaimed by angels, honored by Magi from afar, and given a place through the grace of a kind innkeeper.
Those of us who will celebrate Christmas with our families, our extended friends, and our relations in a wild, chaotic buzz of coming and going, feasting and drinking, and perhaps exchanging of gifts, don’t know the quiet and holy night when the light of the world entered “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79)
We keep our homes lit inside and out with megawatts of electric lights, both colored and white. Some of us even cue our lights to blink to seasonal music. Those of us who live beyond the great urban areas, can better see the stars at night, since there’s no light pollution. This is one reason we need to keep our national parks as close to nature as possible, for one day, these may be the only places people can marvel at the bright stars against the dark canopy of the sky above.
Gail brings her love of the outdoors and her experience as a park ranger to her work. Over the trees, a floating band of stars become a pathway across the night sky.
Even if our assignment was stars, that never means “only stars.” After all, the sun is a star, which is very close to us, astronomically speaking. If you’re going to have the sun and stars, you might as well have the moon also. I always say, “Why not?” The Tim Allen rule sometimes applies in art class: “More power!” When you go too far on the Tim Allen scale, that’s when his sidekick Al reminds him, “Sometimes less is more.” Mike certainly captures the energy and joy of the celestial bodies in this painting through the bold colors and strong brush strokes.
Sally had an idea in her mind, but no image to look at. She wanted to show the cosmos in motion, as if God were looking down upon it. In her mind’s eye, she imagined this from memory. As she worked on the small canvas, she’d add more paint into the areas which weren’t quite dry and got somewhat frustrated at the paint not bending to her will. As a matter of technique, painting into a dry area is better than continuing to add color to a wet area, since the wet brush picks up the wet layers below that. Mike and Gail, having many sessions under their belts, have already crossed this particular bridge. She also learned something significant. It’s easier to paint something when you can look at it. I think it’s a good start and it holds promise: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:41).
I’m not a fast walker, nor do I get down the road quickly. I’m too busy noting the color of the sky, thinking what colors to mix to get the grey trees of a late December day, or how to paint the towering cumulus clouds of summer. I file these thoughts away in the treasure house of my mind, for one day I’ll need them. I look at the shadows of the leaf clumps on trees, but not at each leaf alone. The tree leaves are communities, not individuals. They exist as groups, so the artist treats them as such.
I’m not sure about others, but many walkers are fixed on their personal best speed, or going a half mile longer. Some people drive to the grocery store and make their list in their head as they go. In the store, they make a new to do list for the home, and once that’s done, they make another list for the next day. The cycle starts all over again. They never once raise their eyes to greet the stars, to note the cycles of the moon, to enjoy the sunset colors, or the sunrise either. They’re probably more productive than I am, but I take time to reflect deeply on the “why of things” rather than repeating the same rhythms over and over. Most people like the familiar rhythms, however, while I question if they still have meaning in today’s world.
In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans thought the stars had a power and energy to determine the fates of human beings. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and stoic philosopher of the 2nd century, wrote in his Meditations: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” From his privileged location, he could identify with the heroic persons in the astrological figures of mythology.
Some people are “born under a bad sign,” or are unlucky in life. Of course, some say we make our own luck, but people born into harsh circumstances lack the same resources to make choices for good. The deck is stacked against them, from living in trauma filled neighborhoods to a lack of quality foods due to a paucity of grocery stores. As Albert King, the great blues artist once sang, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”
The good news is the bright light of the Christmas star points to the new light, which has come into the world. We hear, amidst the cacophony of commercials and piped in musical carols, the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (60:1).
Our art class returns Friday, January 4, 2022, at 10 am. I hope to bring pomegranates, if I can still find them in the store. We’ll make a fresh start in the New Year, so if you want to join, you’ll start where you are. We are a “one room schoolhouse,” so there’s no grade levels with us. We’re all learning and improving from where we are at the moment.
As the days grow shorter, the pile of leaves grows larger. This is Einstein’s equation for autumn. I know “Energy equals Mass times the speed of Light squared” isn’t really congruent with all those bags of leaves accumulating on the edge of the streets of the front yards in your neighborhood. It just seems that way. When I bought my first little stucco, flat roofed house back in my hometown, the former owners reminded me at closing, “Be sure and rake the roof every autumn.”
Of course I forgot about this, until the twenty something major trees around my little flat roofed house dumped all their leaves on my roof. How did I know? When it rained, those leaves blocked the drainage holes, so water came inside the ceiling light fixtures of my kitchen in the back of the house. As soon as the rain quit, I had the ladder out and was filling the big, black garbage bags with soggy leaves. If you only fill them half way, they’ll stay intact when tossing them over the parapet. I was younger then, and trainable. I didn’t forget when autumn came the next year.
I’ve always thought leaves “fell” off the trees or the wind blew them off, but I asked Mr. Google, “Why do leaves fall?” Turns out, the trees cut them off with scissor cells. The leaves are only useful for making food for the tree. They are the seasonal kitchen staff, so the tree lets them go for the winter and brings in a new crew in the spring. The changing light and cooler temperatures triggers a hormone that makes this happen.
If the leaves stayed on the tree, they’d wake up during a winter warm spell, start their food production work, and then get frozen when the cold inevitably returns. The tree knows the lifespan of the leaf, and this is the natural course of the life cycle. New growth will come in the spring, after a period of rest and recovery.
Our holiday season coincides with darkening days and marketing excess. Most of the commercials show happy families with lots of presents in heavily decorated holiday environments. Statistics show 25% of people are estranged from their families, and one out of every 463 Americans alive at the beginning of 2020 has since died of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. About 1 in 8 Americans say that a member of their family died of the virus; another fifth say that they lost a close friend, according to YouGov polling. These are staggering numbers, for in the US alone, 779,293 people have lost their lives as of November 30, 2021. One too many Thanksgiving tables had an empty place setting for a loved one no longer among us, and this will be a blue Christmas for many families.
If this were a war, maybe folks would get all excited and consider good health practices such as mask wearing , hand washing, and vaccinations their patriotic duty. Instead, they throw themselves into the breach of a thousand tiny viruses as if they were seeking the congressional gold medal for valor, and end up leaving their families with nothing but medical bills, grief, and the loss of their presence. Into this weary season comes Omicron, yet another variant, but an expected event due to the lack of worldwide access to vaccines and the virus’s ability to mutate in immunocompromised individuals. The enemy keeps evolving and the battles continue, whether we’re weary of the struggle or not.
“The Falling Leaves,” by Margaret Postgate Cole of England, is one of the first anti-war poems from a woman’s perspective. It was written in November 1915, during the First World War, when from 1914 to 1918, Flanders Fields was a major battle theatre on the Western Front. A million soldiers from more than 50 different countries were wounded, missing or killed in action there. Entire cities and villages were destroyed, their population scattered across Europe and beyond. The tradition of poppies on Veterans Day came from the red flowers given life from the blood spilled on this battlefield. COVID today is exacting it’s own cruel battle toll, with children left orphaned and spouses left without their mates. The adverse affects on this generation may be equal to those who went through the great flu pandemic of 1918 or the Great Depression.
War may be necessary in some instances, but it’s never to be glorified. There’s always a sadness related to the loss of life, regret over the great expense poured out that might have been used to build rather than destroy, and the cruelties that attend actions when we make others into evil enemies and refuse to see them as human as we are. Her poem speaks poignantly to this human loss:
Today, as I rode by, I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree In a still afternoon, When no wind whirled them whistling to the sky, But thickly, silently, They fell, like snowflakes wiping out the noon; And wandered slowly thence For thinking of a gallant multitude Which now all withering lay, Slain by no wind of age or pestilence, But in their beauty strewed Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay.
Source: Margaret Postgate’s Poems (1918)
If we want to treat these end of year days as “days of denial” of all that’s grim in the world to focus only on the good and the light, we’s be like people who claim we have no shadow. Carl Jung believed the shadow included everything in the unconscious mind, good or bad. Also, the shadow might include only the part of the personality that you don’t want to identify as self, but still is a part of your unconscious mind. This dark side of your personality contains everything your conscious mind can’t admit about itself.
When we read the birth story of Jesus, we often focus on the angels and the gifts of the magi. We forget these heavenly hosts are God’s armies and the magi came to meet the new king. These were revolutionary acts that caused King Herod to feel insecure and threatened, so he slaughtered the innocent babies born at this time. The Bible never forgets this shadow side of life, for this is why Christ came into our world:
“to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” ~ Luke 1:79
Robert Frost, in his poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” speaks to the transitory nature of fall colors:
Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
When I was in North Carolina recently, I was a tad early for the best colors of autumn, but I didn’t miss the Apple Festival in Waynesville, where I bought a half peck of apples fresh from a local orchard. Every time I encounter the word peck, it it brings back memories of my dad and his older brother schooling us children on the tongue twisters they learned in school. Back in the Stone Age, proper elocution was emphasized, along with cursive writing. To this day, l still hear their dulcet duet:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
Don’t get me started on sister Suzy’s seaside seashells or the amount of wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. I’d much rather talk about autumn leaves!
Here in Arkansas, our colors up north are about spent, but near and south of the I-40 corridor, peak leaf change generally takes place in early November. The colors usually don’t last long because as soon as the leaves change, strong cold fronts tend to knock off the leaves quickly as we head toward Thanksgiving.
Of course, with climate change, our first frosts are occurring later in the season. In fact, some climate scientists think we could be on the path to two main seasons—winter and summer—with transitional short shoulders of temperate weather we once knew as fall and spring. This will affect not only agriculture’s growing seasons, but also insect populations, flower blooms, and the wildlife dependent upon them, not to mention our utility bills.
After a three week hiatus from art class, I was excited to return. While I was gone, Gail has had many sleepless nights helping with the new grand babies and Mike has been extra busy, as is his normal usual. I was glad to see Erma and catch up with her to give condolences in the passing of her dear husband. COVID has kept us apart and out of touch, so I was late to know this. Others were sick or out of town, so Mike, Gail, and I looked over some art works for inspiration.
The Georgia O’Keefe Leaf painting treated these single shapes as unique objects, a radical idea in its day. This allowed her to limit her color palette and focus her design on the positive and negative spaces. A somewhat similar painting is Norman Black’s surrealist Autumn Leaves. It differs in feeling because the individual leaves are isolated, floating in space, rather than being layered one upon the other like cozy coverlets.
One of the aspects in painting we often overlook is the source of light. Light is what gives our work sparkle, just as the light makes the world visible. As we wake to darkness now, we’ll appreciate the light more and more when we come home in the dark, for the days gradually grow shorter. Most artists pick one direction as the source for their light in the painting. This allows them to control the shadows of the objects in their canvases. They prefer the afternoon or morning light, not just because the sun is lower in the sky, but also because these times have distinctive temperatures. The morning has cooler colors, while the afternoon has warmer colors.
We looked in our cell phones for images of autumn leaves. This is when we discovered our phone search systems aren’t all created equal. While my phone will turn up every single yellow, red, or orange tree or leaf photo, plus a few pumpkins thrown in for good measure, other peoples’ phones list photos by month and date. Technology frustrated us right off the bat. Rather than waste half our class time looking for an image, Gail and I decided on one.
Sometimes the perfect is sacrificed in favor of the good when the time is short. Perfection is a goal, not the necessity to begin the journey. This is why we Methodists say we’re “going onto perfection,” rather than we’ve already arrived.
Mike chose the first one that popped up in his phone. He went straight to work. Gail likes to find the best before she starts. Sometimes we need to accept what is before us and make the best of what we have. The perfect isn’t always available. Also, she was working on too little sleep. Newborn babies will do that to grandmas. We can take a halfway good image from our phone and use it as an inspiration or jumping off point. We don’t have to recreate the image.
When working from a photo, it’s good to crop the image to the same scale as the canvas. This helps you get the proportions of the subject true to form. I also photoshop the colors, sharpness, and contrast. This preparatory work helps the mind sort out the important shapes. Once these decisions are made, drawing the basic shapes on the canvas starts and colors start happening.
Mike got out of the class to get back to the office before I could set a photo of his tree, but I recall it was an overall image with multicolored leaves. I worked from an old autumn photo from the grounds of my condo. I’d pushed the colors past realism in my computer software program, so it was already bold. I eliminated much of the extraneous details and painted just the simplest elements of the landscape. This is called “artistic license.” We don’t have to paint every leaf, but we can paint the shape of all the leaves in the mass together.
Artists and poets both seek to strike a chord in the hearts of their audience: one uses colors, light, shape, and form, while the other creates their images and emotions through word and metaphors.
If we remember nothing about this glorious autumn, let’s remember John 8:12, in which we hear Jesus proclaimed as the Light of the World:
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 1515 pp. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.
Does God, who knows all things, also have a memory, or can God choose to forget?
I often wonder about such ideas, for when we ordinary folk experience horrific traumas, we often say, “This is going to be with me for the rest of my life. I’ll never get over it.” In some cases this may be true, especially if the person doesn’t seek long term counseling and faith support to deal with the soul damaging harm. With assistance, one can heal from the pain, even while remembering the injury, just as a broken bone can be mended over time.
Those who’ve been wounded and healed can go on to help others heal from their pain and brokenness. The memories of the wound remain, just like a scar on the skin, but they don’t interfere with living a positive and productive life. For those whom Henri Nouwen called “wounded healers,” and who find meaning in their suffering, their lives are a model for others to emulate, for their memories don’t destroy them.
If we look at the nature of God—the one who is, the one who will be, and the one always becoming—we can understand better the discussion between Jesus and the Temple authorities in John 8:56-59–
“Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.”
Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Jesus made the claim to the I AM name and being of God, an act of blasphemy, which the devout Jews found outrageous, since it made him equal to God. Their memories of Moses meeting God in the burning bush are to this day a seminal recollection of their liberation story from their Egyptian captivity:
But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:13-14)
Can one who always lives in the present have a memory of the past, or envision the future? I met a lady at Sam’s Club in the days before the July 4th weekend. She was standing in the center of the entrance while folks were pushing baskets quickly past on either side of her. I thought she looked like the choose cone at a NASCAR restart. Bewildered and worried, she was looking for someone who wasn’t to be found. I asked her if she needed help, and she was even uncertain about this request. I suggested we walk over to customer service. On the way, I discovered her name and that her people had walked off to shop without waiting for her. She didn’t know their names, but she did know hers.
I thought about my own daddy, who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. He progressively lost the memory of our family members: first my younger brothers, then me, and finally my mother became “the lady who came to kiss him every afternoon at 4 o’clock.” However, he could remember every bit of his medical training, even when he slipped and fell. On entry to the ER, he began ordering the medical staff about as if he were in charge. They tried to shush him up, until they realized he was running the accustomed intake drill.
Memories are like this, for we keep some which we find necessary and yet lose some very important ones we’d really like to hold onto. We also keep painful memories longer than happy memories, perhaps as a survival instinct. We won’t touch that hot stove again! This doesn’t bode well for our overall optimism, however, if we end up seeing the world as a fraught and dangerous place. How we imprint the emotions on our memories is still debated, for we tend to assign positive or negative emotions to events of our past. Then these affect our future experiences. This is why some of us fear dogs, while others of us approach them with respect, allowing the animal to sniff us out and accept us before we interact with them. We can change our future reactions to old memories, but this is a work in process.
God never gets old, even though God is eternal. If God is always I AM, or I AM WHAT I AM or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE, then God is a very present god and as well as a God of the future. If the past is also the present for God, then perhaps the past may be also as the future. In fact, for all we humans know time, as we understand it, may have no meaning for God, and what we think of as past, present, and future, God may experience as the eternal NOW. This may be how we understand Hebrews 13:8— “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Recently I’ve been finding old mementos, souvenirs of my youth. Some are faded newspaper clippings, others are letters from old boyfriends, and then there’s the strange and esoteric memorabilia that somehow survived over half a century in storage along the various stages of my journey. My people are genetically predisposed to collecting. Did I ever mention my grandmother’s ball of tinfoil she kept on the kitchen window sill next to the sweet potato plant she was growing in the old mason jar? I come by this habit through my maternal line.
As I’ve been going through these, I had no difficulty throwing away utility bills from the early 2000’s, but then I found the college freshman beanie from my childhood boyfriend. He lived thirteen houses down the street from me. We had a thing for each other all through junior high and high school. For some reason, he gifted it to me. That motive is lost to the fog of memory now. Perhaps as Isaiah 43:18 says:
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
When I picked up this ancient cap of shame, for that’s exactly what it is, since it marks its wearer out as the low man on the totem pole, I marveled at how small the hat was. I don’t remember my beloved having a pinhead! In fact, I mooned and pined over his handsome and athletic form. Then again, I was young. As I held it in my hands, I felt the need to recreate something new from it. I had a landscape painting which had gone poorly because I was ill. I decided to paint over it, using the hat as the central tree structure, and adding some cut fabric trees to balance it. I also found some printed butterflies I cut out for embellishment. Once I glued those shapes on the canvas, I could repaint the canvas.
As I destroyed the old canvas and remade it into a new creation, the words from the prophet Isaiah (43:25) came to mind:
“I, I am He, who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
God is a forgiving god, but more importantly, God is a forgetting god. How many times do we say, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget?” We might as well say, “I’m not forgiving or forgetting, because I’m going to carry this wound or harm or slight FOREVER.” So much for our going onto perfection in love, or learning to love as God loves.
The cornerstone of all forgiveness is self-forgiveness. Too many of us believe the verse from John 3:16 only applies to the world, but not to themselves individually—
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
If we can’t forgive the darkness within us, or the mistakes we’ve made, or allow God to forgive us, how are we to forgive others? In fact, if we tell God our sins are too great for God to forgive, we’ve set ourselves above God’s authority to forgive sins. This is pride, authority, and idolatry all wrapped into one. We’ve made ourselves into a god, rejecting God. The Pharisees of old rejected Jesus for this very reason.
Who was the most forgiving person in all of scripture? Jesus, of course, for he claimed authority to forgive sins just as God did, as when Jesus healed the paralytic whose friends let him down through the roof (Luke 5:20-24). Those who were nearby wondered at his boldness, but he asked, “What’s easier, forgiving sins or saying stand up and walk?” If we’re going to claim the name of Christ, we too are going to be forgiving people. Forgiving is an act that heals not only the other, but also ourselves. If we can’t forgive, we’ll never be able to forget, or transform our painful memory into one which God can use for the healing of others.
In a sense, we make a new map in our minds and hearts of our old landscapes of pain and sorrow. What once were places of despair can become fertile fields, if not gardens of delight. Our wounds become the tender points which open us up to the suffering of others, and allow us to minister to their needs. Our healing is part of God’s steadfast love. As Jeremiah reminds us:
“No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” (31:34)
When I think of the faithfulness of God, I also believe in the timelessness of God. When Jesus meets his disciples in Galilee to give them the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20, he says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” When this present age ends and God renews the heavens and the earth, how will we experience time in the new creation? Surely, if God is making all things new, we won’t be in this same world anymore and the rules it follows won’t be the same. We aren’t thinking boldly enough or big enough if we limit God to only recreating only the current fallen and broken world we have now.
Maybe if more of us began to think on the world a forgiving and loving God could create, we could begin to remake this present world into the new creation. If we were to make acts of love and forgiveness more prominent in our daily lives, we might restore our neighbor to fellowship and community. We can forgive even those who don’t seek it, for they’re the ones who’re most in need of forgiveness. With a forgiving and loving God’s help, we can do this.
Here in this Common Era of 2021, we Americans are now 245 years into this project we call democracy, having declared our independence from the British crown on July 4, 1776. We didn’t effectively become an organized, constitutional nation until June 21, 1788, when nine out of the thirteen existing states ratified the United States Constitution, thus officially establishing the country’s independence and a new form of government. Based on the date of our constitution, which is still in place, the United States is the oldest continuous democracy in the world.
I realize some of y’all rabbits might disagree with my description of the USA as “organized,” but I may have a higher tolerance for disorder than some of you. Then again, I taught art in kindergarten, so that probably explains a lot. When we make a mess in art class, we always clean it up. That’s just part of the lesson plan. Art, as in life, isn’t always neat, but the end product is worthwhile. In art we learn from our failures as often as from our successes. This takes courage and resilience, two life skills any rabbit can use in this fast changing world.
The preamble of the Declaration boldly states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.”
In our modern era, this is the section of the Declaration of Independence which we rabbits so dearly cherish, for it suits our individualism to a T. The next statement which follows complicates life, as King George discovered in 1776:
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Way back in the 18th century, the practice of slavery still allowed others to profit off the the lives of human beings as if they were livestock, women couldn’t vote or own property, and states often excluded from the voting rolls certain classes of men for religious reasons or lack of property. The American Revolution changed the landscape of voting rights to some degree. Once the constitution was enacted on September 17, 1787, it created a new, federal layer of government, in which there was absolute freedom of religion—and no religious test that might prevent a Jew from serving in Congress or even as president—without removing the religious tests that existed in many individual states.
The Freedom to Vote came by Stages
Most of the states wrote new state constitutions in the 1770s, and some softened or removed their existing religious tests, but some did not. The real work of abolishing religious tests for suffrage was done at the state level, largely in the half-century after the American Revolution. Not until 1870, when Congress passed the the 15th and last of the three of the so-called Reconstruction Amendments, which stated that voting rights could not be “denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” did African Americans get the right to vote, if their local communities did not make it impossible due to Jim Crow laws.
Doctrine of Original Meaning
Today, voting rights are under attack once again, not against religious minorities, but against racial and economic minorities. It makes this old rabbit wonder why the “doctrine of original meaning” by the founders has any worth when our 21st century world of today is so drastically different from the 18th century times of yore. Also, if “original meaning” is seen only through the eyes of our white founders, how can we be a nation for all people “created equal(ly)… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness?”
Scholars agree the original framers actually were more intent on the Declaration’s first paragraph, for only the Declaration of Independence officially proclaims the new American nation’s assumption of a “separate and equal station “among the “powers of the earth:”
“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
As we rabbits know, if we plan to start a tussle, good manners suggest we tell why we’re fixing to throw the first punch. If there’s no honor among thieves, at least we rebellious rabbits have the good form to stand up in the pure light of day and list our grievances before we overthrow a bad king. Only the uncouth sucker punch the unwitting. The reason this American Democratic experiment has persisted for nearly two and a half centuries is the vast majority of us have freely chosen to change our leaders through the ballot box, rather than revolution.
Only the past unpleasantness of the Civil War in the 1860’s has marked this unbroken transfer of power by the vote, until the assault on the US Capitol and the Houses of Congress on January 6, 2021, by a motley crew of domestic terrorists, QAnon supporters, and admirers of the former President. Because they violently assaulted the police guarding the building and public servants inside, and interfered with the duties of duly elected government officials attempting to exercise their public duty to certify the electoral college vote, the Department of Justice has charged them and they’ll have their day in court. You can read all their names and cases at the link below. Maybe you’ll find a friend or neighbor there. As Mother rabbit always warned Peter Rabbit, “Don’t go into the garden; Farmer McGregor will get you!”
What exactly did the signers of the Declaration of Independence mean when when they wrote “all men are free and equal?” Abraham Lincoln said, “The men who signed the Declaration did not mean to say that men were “equal in all respects. They did not mean to say,” he said, that “all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal.”‘ Men were equal in having “‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this [they] meant.”
This quote comes from Lincoln’s 1857 argument on the Dred Scott case before the Supreme Court, which decided against him, with Head Justice Roger Taney, who became best known for writing the final majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which said “all people of African descent, free or enslaved, were not United States citizens” and therefore “had no right to sue in federal court.” In addition he wrote, “the Fifth Amendment protected slave owner rights because enslaved workers were their legal property.” Taney’s reputation was vilified for this decision during his lifetime, for it contributed to the growing divisions between the north and the south. The U. S. House of Representatives voted in 2021, to remove Taney’s statue and replace it with a statue in honor of the first African American Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall.
The big holiday in July is Independence Day. While we rabbits lounge about the waterside or in our backyards, eating our favored picnic and cookout foods at the nation’s birthday party, not many of us will be thinking on a biblical text. Instead, we’ll be eyeing our paper plates and hoping they’re substantial enough to make it to the table before they collapse from the excess helpings of foods we’ve piled on them. A special bunny secret: you can go back for seconds, and laugh at everyone when you say, “I just want to make sure all you little piggies get your fill—oink, oink!” Don’t let them bother you, since you made sure everyone who came late would have something to eat by not taking it all at once.
In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul writes: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Love
Have you ever wondered why some groups are so strictly homogeneous, while others are a kaleidoscope of differences? Some rabbits feel safer when everyone is more like them and differences are kept to a minimum. Other rabbits seem to thrive in the creative intermixing of unusual and unique personalities. I know when I entered the ministry, my parents’ friends were amazed I went into the faith I’d been birthed into, rather than some new age, air fluff religion. Oddly enough, I related more to the historic beliefs of Wesleyan Methodism better than my contemporary generation. In that sense, I had faith in a “different religion” than my friends. Yet we all saw ourselves as “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
This marked a freedom of thought, but it required an understanding we were all on the same journey and were progressing toward the same end. I admit I have the type of mind that wants the idea to lead to the behavior and then the consequences. In art class I called it Attitude, Behavior, and Consequences. If the first attitude was positive, the rest followed suit, but if a student had a bad attitude, they weren’t going to work, and then they had the negative outcomes of poor efforts, sad projects, and little improvement. While in life we’re saved by faith, in art we’re saved by works, for work will bring rewards.
One way for all good rabbits to be free is to have no regrets, or worries about what might have been. As my mother often said, “That’s water under the bridge.” The River of life has moved on and the choices we’ve made have gone downstream also. She believed in living in the now. The third Saturday in July recognizes Toss Away the “Could Haves” and “Should Haves” Day. In short, don’t go through life with regrets.
Created by author and motivational speaker Martha J. Ross-Rodgers, this day is intended for us rabbits to let go of our past and live for the present. The first step to participating in this day is to find a pen and paper. Then write down our “could haves” and “should haves” on the paper.
Finally, throw away the list and make the following resolution: “From this day forward, I choose not to live in the past. The past is history that I can not change. I can do something about the present; therefore, I choose to live in the present.”
As I’m going through boxes in my storage unit, I’m coming across souvenirs from my high school and college years. Some of us are sentimentally attached to the memories imbued within these objects, but they’re merely memories, not the actual people. My parents and grandparents saved things, for they experienced hard times. I make new art every week, so if a painting doesn’t hold up to my critique after six months, it goes into a pile to get destroyed and remade.
Now, take care of yourself and your health by living for now. Do your best and make the best of each and every day! Strike a power pose and smile when you do this. You’d be surprised how much energy flows through your body, I kid you not.
A final word for all rabbits who want to live in truth and freedom: we have only one God given life, so let’s live with joy and peace. We aren’t promised tomorrow, but only today. Now is the time to care for the broken, to right the wrongs of the world, and to make a difference, no matter how small.
Charles Derber, in Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Time, says: “Resistance can be symbolic, but at its core it must also be empowering and even shocking, in the sense of awakening the people to the evils of the system and the terrifying end-result if we allow business as usual to continue. Resistance is rage at injustice and at the insanity of institutions that kill and exploit for money and power. Melding that rage with love is the art of activism.”
Now that I walk more slowly in this world, this old rabbit has found I notice people whom everyone else hurries past, even if these folks are standing in the middle of a store entryway and are obviously lost. I stopped today at Sam’s to ask if this older woman needed help. Right away I realized she had trouble processing words, so she might have memory problems. I asked where her people were, but she didn’t know. We went over to customer service, since I knew they could use the announcement system to call for them to come get her. At least she knew her name. I was sad they had hurried off without her, especially in her condition, but I prayed with her before I left. The service staff got her a chair and made sure she was safely seated.
I hope as the holiday approaches, you don’t find yourselves so busy getting your celebration together that you overlook the ones in need who are right in front of you. Once we cared for one another in communities, but now we look after only ourselves. We wouldn’t have become a nation 245 years ago if every man had tried to take on the king’s men alone.
Be the spark that starts the fire of love and joy,
Every nation has its Golden Age. Usually, it’s a bye gone time, located in the dim past, and remembered faintly only by the oldest of the old. My Golden Age is my childhood, for I spent much unfettered time out in nature, whether it was in the backyard, the neighborhood, or at camp. I was so excited about camp, I would lay out my clothes for day camp, and pack my dad’s old army duffle bag a whole month in advance for week long camp. Mother would see this overstuffed cylinder, and laugh, “What are you planning on wearing between now and then?” My excitement and my planning didn’t always get all the facts together.
Going out into nature has always revived my soul, even as a child. Walking under trees, beside a lake, and sleeping with the sounds of the wild places instead of civilization has always appealed to me. If I have a choice between traveling on a major highway or on a back road, I often choose the back road. Today with GPS, we know how far the next gasoline station or rest stop will be. The back roads often have the most interesting sites and sights. The main highways are efficient, but the little roads retain their charm.
Whenever I longed for the gentler days and the healing powers of nature, I would seek out the back roads of Arkansas. Sometimes I would get into my car and drive until I found the solace of the natural world. If I got lost, it didn’t matter, for I had no particular place to go. I would find the place I was meant to discover, as Aldous Huxley, the English writer said, “The goal in life is to discover that you’ve always been where you were supposed to be.”
I’ve always trusted the word of the prophet Isaiah (58:11):
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Of course, those who know my navigating skills might question how I ever found my way anywhere. The secret is all small roads lead to a larger road. Also, if I ever grew concerned, I’d stop and ask for directions back to the big highway. I’ve met some interesting folks by getting lost, just as I’ve found some beautiful landscapes. I’ve never been in such a hurry I can’t stop and take a photo. These images I use for inspiration for future paintings. I took this photo by the roadside off interstate 30 west, near Texas 44 west, near Simms, Texas, in 2014.
While the flowers by the side of this road were only yellow, I decided to add in notable reds and blues, since those are well known colors from Texas also. These primary colors represent lazy Susans, Indian paintbrush, and bluebells. The wind and light in the trees were beginning to freshen up, a true sign of spring on the plains. The whole is full of light and has the promise of the new life and hope, which every spring brings to those who find renewal in nature. William Allingham, an English Poet of the 19th century, wrote a poem called “Wayside Flowers.”
Pluck not the wayside flower,
It is the traveller’s dower;
A thousand passers-by
Its beauties may espy,
May win a touch of blessing
From Nature’s mild caressing.
The sad of heart perceives
A violet under leaves
Like sonic fresh-budding hope;
The primrose on the slope
A spot of sunshine dwells,
And cheerful message tells
Of kind renewing power;
The nodding bluebell’s dye
Is drawn from happy sky.
Then spare the wayside flower!
It is the traveller’s dower.
When we speak of a dower, this is a treasure or endowment gifted to a future visitor who passes by. Because of this, all travelers should respect the wildflowers and leave them in situ. All living organisms need to reproduce. Digging up wildflowers, picking wildflowers, or collecting their seed will reduce a plant’s ability to reproduce and will adversely affect its long-term survival in that location. Removing wildflowers from the wild can have a detrimental affect on pollinators and other animals that depend on that species for food and cover. Removing wildflowers from our national forests and grasslands prevents other visitors from enjoying our natural heritage. Most wildflowers when dug from their natural habitat do not survive being transplanted.
Every nation has its Golden Age, an idyllic past in which all her citizens were supremely confident, filled with energy and enthusiasm and utterly convinced that their country provided the heights of artistic, scientific, and civic achievement for all. The Greeks had their Golden Age after the Persian Wars with the building of the great architectural monuments on the Acropolis, the morality and philosophy of Socrates, Plato, and their followers, as well as the physician Hippocrates, who’s considered the father of western medicine. “Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now,” remarked Pericles, the Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens during the Golden Age.
America had her Golden Age also, that period time we know as the post-World War II economic boom when manufacturing and employment were at their peak. Many people my age wonder why these present times don’t continue the past prosperity, but most forget our world economy has changed, especially since the 1980’s. To give an example, I had friends in the oil business back in Louisiana. They let the roughnecks go and they went out into the fields to take their place. At the same time, when oil prices were so low, the private school where I taught art let me go, since they considered my subject an elective. The art classroom was the only place some students could achieve and find positive affirmation during the school day, but the school would oversee the increased discipline needs. Even during this decade, employers were cutting jobs and asking employees to do the work of two people. Labor has taken a beating in the decades since.
In the forty years since, our whole life has changed. When I was young, a high school education was sufficient for many entry level jobs. Back in 1941, less than half the U.S. population age 25 and older had a high school diploma, while today, 90 percent has that achievement. When my dad was a young man, an 8th grade education was more than sufficient for blue collar jobs. Today at least two years at a community college is the new “Union Card” for employment. Why is this, you ask? Our young people need to know more than we did! Our adults also need to keep learning! This is why I keep teaching myself new things, going to seminars, and writing blogs that require research.
I’m very proud of our class members who attend the Friday Art Experience at Oaklawn UMC. Work can sometimes take a priority over this enrichment experiment, and we went on hiatus for part of the pandemic. One of the goals I gave the group was to find their own voice and not to copy mine or someone else’s. We can learn from each other, for we all have a unique perspective on life and how we interact with the world. When we stretch ourselves, we create new pathways in our brains, a process called brain plasticity. A new activity that forces you to think and learn, plus require ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy, since eventually our cognitive skills will wane. Thinking and memory will be more challenging, so we need to build up our reserves.
Much research has found that creative outlets like painting and other art forms, learning an instrument, doing expressive or autobiographical writing, and learning a language also can improve cognitive function. A 2014 study in Gerontologist reviewed 31 studies that focused on how these specific endeavors affected older adults’ mental skills and found that all of them improved several aspects of memory like recalling instructions and processing speed.
I don’t know about you, but I was born with only two brain cells and one of them seems to travel regularly to the planet Pluto. I need to be in the studio as often as possible if I’m to call that wandering cell back from its journey elsewhere. Art for me is life, just as a walk among the trees or beside a creek renews my soul. As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 19:1, The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Gail was the only one attending this week. Graduations, which were happening in various academic settings, kept others away. She brought a photo of a field of yellow flowers, with a house up on a hill. In the middle ground was a pond and on the crest of the hill were a windrow of cedars. We discussed the formal elements for a bit. I showed a series of wildflower ideas as a slideshow to give a sense of the varied way artists across history have approached this subject.
Then we got down to work. Note the sense of light and air in Gail’s painting. The windrow of trees shows the direction of the sun and we can sense the breeze coming from the same side. This is an unfinished painting, so we can’t tell if the yellow meadow will have more varied colors, but the first layers of the wildflowers in the foreground give us the sense it might.
Sometimes we can finish a painting in one sitting, but other times, even a small work takes another session. Life is a work in progress. We can’t hurry it. When we finish a work, we often find flaws in it. This is because we’ve learned new skills, and we judge our work by our new abilities, rather than by those skills we had when we began. Artists aren’t like those who look to the past for a Golden Age. Instead, they look to the future.
Benjamin Franklin said, “The Golden Age was never the present age.” Usually the Golden Age is a fondly remembered past, but only the best parts of it are treasured by those who benefited most by it. We need to remember, as William James, the American philosopher reminds us, “There are two lives, the natural and the spiritual, and we must lose the one before we can participate in the other.”
Or as 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, so aptly puts it:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
If we do this, we can bring the Golden Age into the present for all people.
Picasso is often thought to have said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” However, just as we tend to view anything on the internet as true, along comes a meme from Abraham Lincoln reminding us of the exact opposite proposition. As one of my old debate team mentors in high school used to say, “Consider the source. Use a verified source. Use a trusted source. Use a legitimate source. Facts, not opinions, count in the argument.” This is the flag we raised, put a light on it, and saluted every day in speech class. This also limited my library quest, for my search engine of choice in those low technology days was the card catalog at my neighborhood library and rummaging through whatever national news magazines came on subscription there.
As much as I love this quote, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” and resonate with it, it doesn’t sound like Picasso. He’s also purported to be the source of “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” It’s not too different from “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?” This latter is a famous line paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw’s play Back To Methuselah, and was spoken at Robert F. Kennedy, Jr’s funeral elegy.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter we aren’t original thinkers, but only that we stretch our thinking beyond what we already know. In 1982, futurist and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller estimated that up until 1900, human knowledge doubled approximately every century, but by 1945 it was doubling every 25 years. By 1982, knowledge doubled every 12-13 months. Today, knowledge doubles about every 12 hours! For some people, this is absolutely too much to bear, and for others, it’s a reason to yearn for simpler times. However, I’m not willing to give up the GPS and maps in my vehicle, for I have a tendency to be chronically lost. I do find some interesting backroads along the detours I take in error. I just get lost less often than I once did.
Art and other creative ventures are the means by which we deal with our anxieties of this world, for if we have pain and troubles there, we can either create a world of beauty to balance our struggles or we can let all that pent up energy out so it doesn’t eat us up from the inside out. If we’re making landscapes, we might have butterflies or forest fires, depending on how we process our soul journeys.
Margaret’s landscape has the breeze blowing through the trees and flowers. The clouds are also carried along by these same winds. She was wanting to paint a flittering butterfly, and wondered out loud “How does a butterfly fly?”
I didn’t know exactly, and wasn’t into acting out my inner butterfly, but Apple Music has a wonderful tune by Ludovico Einaudi called “Day 1: Golden Butterflies.”
I found it on my phone and played it for her. Art class calls upon all the senses, just as reading a biblical text does. How can we get into a mood or intention of a writer or an artist if we don’t use every one of the senses the good Lord gifted us with? Art isn’t just for the eyes, but we should appreciate the textures even if we don’t actually touch them.
In our Friday art class, I always show examples of how other artists have approached our theme for the day. I collect them in my Pinterest account. For Spring Trees, the goal is to use the cool side of the palette, with a variety of greens, and add spring colored flowers of white, pink, or yellows. Blues and violets also show up with wisteria and bluebells. As I showed the group about a dozen different artists’ works, I reminded them: “You can’t go wrong! Every one of these artists solved spring trees in a different way. Some painted only the tree, some painted just the reflection in the water, others painted the whole landscape. Some focused on the people more than the trees. If your colors stay cool, if we can tell these shapes are trees, and if you use your own ideas to elaborate on this basic format, you’ll do a great job! We can always improve on the next one.”
People are so worried about pleasing others, or not measuring up to some standard. What standard are we setting for ourselves anyway? If we want to shoot baskets like LeBron James or Stephen Curry, we’d better be prepared to work. Curry shoots around 2,000 shots a week: He takes a minimum of 250 a day, plus another 100 before every game. It’s a counterintuitive fact that a player with the supplest shot in the NBA, whose overarching quality is feel, has the hands and work habits of a woodchopper. Likewise, LeBron works out even on his “off day,” with only Sunday as a day of rest. Check out this workout. This is why he’s called the “King.”
If we were writing poetry, would we fail to start because we couldn’t produce from our heart and hand the words which move us, as do the passionate lines of Shakespeare’s pen? He had to start somewhere, for sure. “While salvation is by faith,” I always tell folks, “proficiency in arts and crafts usually comes from works.” The more we practice, the better we become. Some of excellence results from acquiring good eye hand coordination, or fine motor control, but also we begin to learn what our media can do and what it won’t do. We enter into a friendship and then into a love affair with it. We begin to anticipate where it will go, just as we often can finish our best friend’s sentences for them. Take a break and read Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet out loud for a moment:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm’d; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st; Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web,” Picasso told Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Just as everything is grist for the poet’s mill, so we bring all that we are to our art experiences. If we’re glad, sad, angry, or any other emotion, this gets poured out into our work through the colors we choose, the subject matter, or the way we use the media. This pandemic will be remembered not only for its cruel loss of life, but also for its neurological complications for the post COVID survivors, since a high percentage have mood and anxiety trouble diagnoses for the first time within six months of their infection. This is how we know COVID isn’t just a bad flu.
I omit the state of depression, for if one feels blue, one can work, but true depression takes away the will to work, to get out of bed, get dressed, or have the energy to brush one’s teeth. No one gets out of that state alone. Help and intervention are needed. I’ve been a chronic depressive for over half a century, and “snapping out of it” isn’t possible for people with this health condition. If I have a sunny and positive outlook on life, it’s because I’ve learned to think optimistically and I’m medicated properly. Plus I attend counseling sessions so I can keep a good perspective on life. If life is getting you down now, please seek help from a trusted medical provider or a pastor. Jesus meant it when he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Faith healing also comes from ordinary means.
Our art class gives our group a safe place to stretch their minds, to take self care time, and to try a new skill that won’t kill anyone. It’s not like chainsaw juggling , where if you miss, you get a free ride to the ER or the funeral home. We don’t do that sort of thing. That’s more excitement than I can stand. I used to teach middle school art classes, so I had days, when the moon was full, that I sometimes thought I was juggling chain saws. Juggling plastic spoons is more my style today.
Gail is supervising home schooling during the pandemic. I don’t know how all the other parents and grandparents are doing in this particular time, but I remember the chaos which ensued one spring break as the pink eye ran amuck through the elementary school at which I taught. The headmaster gave everyone an extra week for spring break, an act which caused my students’ parents to call me in a panic, “What am I going to DO with my child for a WHOLE WEEK?!”
I laughed and said, “Keep them away from children who have pink eye.” I suppose I didn’t commiserate with them, as they thought I should. These people are now grandparents and I hope that one week back then showed them they could manage a whole pandemic today.
Gail’s trips to fuel her caffeine need causes her to visit different coffee shops. The cup sleeves come in different patterns of corrugated cardboard. Of course, this paper product originally came from a tree, so she brought them in to be recycled and repurposed into an art piece about spring trees. Since she worked for the forest service, this is right in line with her love of nature and concern for stewardship of our natural resources. Gail also likes to plan and think her way through a theme.
Mike gets his idea in a big, global whole. Then he seems to boil it down to a manageable size in a few moments, as he mentally discards the least workable parts. In a few minutes, he’s ready to paint a scene from memory or from his imagination. He applies lessons learned from other classes. For instance, painting in the background first is easier than trying to paint up to foreground details. This painting began with the stream, the green trees, the white trees, and then the popping pink trees for an accent.
I was painting trees with wisteria vines from a photograph I took near my home. The coffee spot at the Airport and MLK Freeway had moved, so when I turned in that driveway, I came to the notice of one of Hot Springs Finest. As he rolled down his window, I turned around and smiled.
“Hello, I’m just taking photographs of the wisteria in the trees.”
“I saw your car and thought you might be in trouble.”
“Not this time, but thanks for checking on me. I often stop to take pictures of our beautiful city.”
While we were talking, his radio went off and he had to go help someone else. Life interrupts our time together, and we don’t know how much time we have on this side of heaven. Many of the things we fight over will be meaningless in the great arc of history. When we meet each other on the other side, we won’t care about these things, for our whole attention will be God and the Lamb who sits upon the throne. If on this side of heaven, we learn to love more and forgive better, we’ll all be going on to perfection, whether we are in life or art.