ICONS: A Moment of Mystery

adult learning, Altars, Christmas, Creativity, Faith, Food, Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, Icons, Imagination, incarnation, Ministry, mystery, New Year, Prayer, purpose, Reflection, renewal, salvation, Secrets, Spirituality, vision

Making Found Object Icons is an art project that evolved out of the Great Macaroni Multimedia Traveling Artandicon Show. In seminary during Art Week our fellow students were horrified we were making sacred images out of edible products, such as macaroni, lentils, peas, and beans.

Jesus is the Bread of Life

“That’s sacrilegious!”

“Jesus is the bread of life, and macaroni is just another form of wheat,” we replied.

“But it’s so ordinary!”

“Clay is ordinary, and so is stone. Can an object only be worthy of God if it’s made of expensive materials?”

“Well….”

“The value of all the chemicals in a human body is about $5.18, but we’re worth far more than that in the eyes of God. Some say God doesn’t make junk, yet too many people of faith despise and debase the body. I’ve always wondered why this was so, since the Son of God came to earth in human form, and as the great hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV) says—

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Jeweled Cross

When we meet Christ at Christmas, we can get all warm and fuzzy because who doesn’t like a warm, cuddly baby? Maybe I have a soft spot for babies, but I really don’t trust people who don’t get a little ga-ga when the little ones coo and smile. I can understand folks getting squeamish at Good Friday and the cross. Most of us avoid as much pain as possible. Humility and obedience to God are not high priorities these days for many people. 

Flight into Egypt

Many tend to ignore this wonderful call to the Christ-like life, preferring instead the cop out of “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14:38, NRSV). “Forgive us,” we say, but we hold others up to high standards. 
We make a distinction between our dual natures of the flesh and the spirit, a concept inherited from the Greco-Roman culture. It’s notable that the often quoted verse, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit,” is found in Galatians 6:8 (NRSV), for this was a Roman province. 
The ancient Mediterranean area had a knowledge/mystery tradition. The Greeks had their cult of Bacchus, the Egyptians the cult of Isis, and the Jewish had their mystical Kabbalah. The Romans had their dying and rising god cult of Mithras, the bull. Entry into all of these groups was by word of mouth only, given to a special few, and all had secret rites known to the members only.  Most promised salvation through secret knowledge, and the true world for them was spiritual rather than the physical world in which we live today. Ecstatic worship separated the believer from the body and the ordinary world. 
You might recognize these traits in your own church or worship community today, except for the ecstatic and enthusiastic worship brought about by mood altering substances. That’s not my church anyway! How do we come close to God? Across the centuries, the tradition has discovered contemplative prayer, singing, searching the scriptures, serving the poor, attending the sacraments, and creating art for God or the Holy Icons.
Making an object for the glory of God, to enhance the worship experience, and to honor God is a gift of the artist’s time and talent. No artist is ever paid what their training and talent is worth, for it’s a treasure from God to begin with—it can’t be valued. Artists have learned over the centuries to live simply, accept fame if it comes, and put a fair price on their work. 

Gail’s Cross

They get value in the spiritual real from the work they do, for the icon opens a window into heaven. As they arrange the jewels and found objects, and move them to a better position, the icon comes alive under their hands and begins to breathe. Only the person, who will be still long enough to hear the silence from beyond the open window, can hear the voice of God in this world. For this person, the icon is a treasure, and a place of holy focus, no matter how small or how simple the materials. 
This is the reason the artist makes an icon—to have a moment of mystery, a time of intersection, and a communion with the holy. In today’s hurried world, each of us wants a place in which we can experience for a moment the timelessness of heaven. 
When we return in the New Year, we’ll begin painting our own holy icons. The process is a spiritual journey, more than a destination or the attempt to reach perfection. We only need to “go toward perfection” each day!

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Rule of Life

art, Creativity, generosity, Habits, Health, Imagination, New Year, Painting, Philosophy, purpose, purpose, Retirement, Strength, United Methodist Church, vision, vision

First painting of the New Year: 
Sometimes you have to remember who you are and whose you are. Starting the year off right by setting my theme. Everyone needs a rule of life, even the nonbeliever, for we need a measure to test our lives against. 

Are we living up to our expectations for a moral life, such as “are we doing all the good we can, to all we can, by every means we can, as long as we can?” While this was John Wesley’s admonition to the people called Methodists, the same principle applies to all people of good nature. Or do we live for the good of numero uno only? 

Self care is an important part of my rule of life, but this doesn’t make me a selfish person. It gives me the strength and stamina to be generous with my time and energy for others. While I no longer am actively engaged in person to person ministry, my facebook pages regularly reach over 800 people each week and my WordPress blogs reach about another 200. 

People on other continents are reading my posts, so the word is spreading. This is a power and a privilege I do not treat lightly. I’m thankful for a simple lifestyle which allows me the time to pursue my creative endeavors in my studio. For those of you who do buy my art, remember I donate 40% of the purchase price to the following causes: 

  • First UMC Hot Springs tithe
  • First UMC Hot Springs Community Outreach fund
  • REV. Paul Atkins, urban missionary @canvascommunity
  • UMC Missionary Elizabeth Soward, Tanzania 

Happy New Year, Cornelia  

Check my work on Facebook at Artandicon 

EPIPHANY SNOW

art, Epiphany, Faith, Family, mystery, nature, New Year, photography, poverty, renewal, Spirituality, trees, Uncategorized, vision

The snow arrived overnight, as promised! Just enough to change the landscape of winter on the lake in Arkansas. The trees, mountain, and grey sky are just shades of black and white. Snow changes our perception of the landscape, so it is an epiphany of its own kind. 

On the twelfth day of Christmas, or the night before Epiphany, folks used to take down their decorations and trees. They gave each other the last of the Christmas gifts, though I’m sure no one ever got “twelve drummers drumming ” as the old song goes, unless they were a rented band who went about drumming for hire. 

Today we celebrate National Take Down the Christmas Tree Day on the same day as Epiphany, for folks who aren’t in a rush and have lost the connection to the spiritual reason for the season. Epiphany celebrates the visit of the wise men at the birth of Jesus. The word means “reveal,” so God revealed the divine presence in Jesus to the nations of the world when the wise men visited the rude accommodations of the savior’s birth. The poor shepherds had already seen his glory in the manger, as well as the creation, represented by the animals in the stable. 

Who was missing from the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany? The extended families of Mary and Joseph aren’t ever mentioned, yet our modern celebration of this revelation of god to the world is celebrated primarily in the home, not amongst the poor or the outsiders. We focus on the giving of gifts to our families and friends. Shoppers around America planned on spending an average $929 on gifts in 2016. Religious organizations had average donations of $1,703 (secular households donate $863 on average to other causes) (2012). 

I mention this, since nowhere in scripture can we find a proof text to affirm going into debt to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. We can find multiple texts in which God forgives debt, but Mastercard does not forgive debt. John Wesley asked his clergy, “Are you so in debt as to embarrass yourself?” The wags among us answer, “I’m not embarrassed if you’re not embarrassed!” The correct answer is “NO.” 

Sometimes it takes an epiphany, a revelation of divine insight, if you will, to realize Christmas isn’t a day, but an emotion. Even if we take down the decorations, put away the carols and stockings, and return our homes to “ordinary time,” we can always live in the season of welcoming Christ into the world. If we look upon the face of the poor, or the least of these my brothers and sisters, we are seeing Christ. If we look upon the natural world, we are seeing representatives of those who first saw his glory. If we see our families, we see those who failed to attend this miracle, and we give them the gift of grace, for we too were off doing other more important things those twelve days of Christmas long ago. We can gift ourselves a little grace also. 

Today is Epiphany. We can have the revelation anew because God is always inbreaking into our world of grey, or black and white. I see the world in shades of grey, rather than strictly either/or, but an epiphany will light up the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome this light. 

Happy New Year to everyone! May you keep Christmas in your heart every day! May an epiphany be yours at the right time. (God’s time is the right time, so be open!)

NOTES ON A FAMILY TREE

Ancestry, art, Children, Creativity, Family, Forgiveness, home, Love, New Year, Racism, trees, Uncategorized

DeLee: In This Place, acrylic on canvas, 30 x40, $350

I’m finishing up my grandchildren’s family history scrapbooks. I got to thinking about our family tree. The high holy days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and the year end festivities bring families together. This often results in a few fireworks or flamethrowers at some of these gatherings. I suspect alcohol may be involved in some of this, but old grudges and scores, which haven’t been settled in decades, won’t get settled on this holiday either. 

My mother’s sister claimed our family goes back to the Baronial Order of the Magna Charter. These are a distinct group of the descendants of the signers of the 1215 document, in which King John of England granted the principles of constitutional law. The most important was each person, even the king, was subject to the law. 

For my family, the real importance was our Anglo Saxon ancestry was ancient and noble, as well as white. Our linage also qualifies us for membership in the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, and DOC, Daughters of the Confederacy, two more all white groups. Both of these are institutions of a bye gone age and a bifurcated society. I have folks in my family tree who liked to put on “airs,” as folks in the country like to say. All the old ones in my family tree went to their graves holding these beliefs firmly. I loved them anyway. 

Trees are meant to live by breathing fresh air and growing new leaves and branches. Even if trees only propagate by pollinating with their own kind, each tree is part of a giant forest of many species of trees. If a forest were a monoculture, a single disease or pest could wipe out the entire growth. If the forest consists of many different plants and trees, the destructive organism has to work very hard to destroy the whole, for the different and unlike species provide protection for one another. The variety of a diverse culture is its strength. 

If we human creatures took note of our surroundings more, we would not fear the Others, but would embrace them. We would make them our friends, and we’d defend one another from harm. 

The next generation of my family tree, I hope, is learning to love the other families of this diverse and wonderful world. I hope the branches of your family tree are open, growing, and renewing. Perhaps your branches can provide a shelter and make America friends again. 

2015 in review

art, Creativity, Icons, Imagination, New Year, Painting, purpose, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Work

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 380 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Creativity, Family, Food, Forgiveness, Healing, Health, New Year, photography, purpose, Reflection, renewal, salvation, Secrets, Spirituality, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, vision

I will make changes in my life because change is the only constant. Trees burst forthwith new, tender leaves in the spring. Their full canopies shade is from the sun’s intense heat in the summer. In autumn, we enjoy their palette of colors and in winter we appreciate the stark structure of the limbs. Each transition has its own beauty. 

 
I really don’t want to chat about the changes I’ve been through: my last 6 months have been hard, but I’m getting over it. At least I no longer have an excuse for stress eating. Now I merely need to do something about it. 
I received my daughter’s ashes this week. I’ll have her memorial service soon. I’ll always know where she is: her cremains at my church’s columbarium and her new life with God. I feel much better now, better than I did during those decades when she was on the streets of San Francisco. 

Her new life and mine are starting at the same time. What in your life is a watershed moment, one which would set you off on a new journey? 

Maybe you need to forgive someone, forgive yourself, give up a bad habit, take up a new discipline, or make some other change to make a difference in your life. 

This could be the first day of the rest of your new life…why not make it now?

Psalms 79:9 — “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.”

THOUGHTS ON ACEDIA

Creativity, Family, Food, generosity, Healing, Health, home, Mental Illness, Ministry, ministry, New Year, poverty, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, Retirement, Spirituality, stewardship, Strength, Stress, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, Work

  
I’m in this mode or mood today. I have a form of malaise, the kind that comes after pouring out all you have until you are drained. Now my listless is my form of recovery. I have hit the wall and I’m not going on. Did I mention that my community has received 25 inches of rain since the first of the year? Our annual average is a whopping 56 inches! We can get rain in any month, so I have a giant umbrella in case I decide to get off the couch. Other cities thirst for our gift, I know, as the good Lord only spits some 37 annual inches their way. Y’all do get more than our paltry 3 inches of snow, however. Please don’t offer to share it. 

 I’ve been chunking away at my various projects, some of which are pure tedium (bookkeeping) and others which are fulfilling (the creative writing & painting). Then I thought about possibly listing my 1 bedroom condo and moving up to a 2 bedroom unit.  The sympathetic illness of moving day is pretty well Ingrained after all these years of itinerant ministry. This disease was quickly cured when I remembered my vow of voluntary simplicity. 
Living under one’s means frees us to give to the poor as well as lessening our need to worry about how our needs are going to be met. Living under our means gives us the opportunity to explore the world, rather than be house bound. We can eat better food and share our time with others rather than being on call for someone’s else’s time and having to eat some fast meal on the fly. 

If we are fortunate, our lives in “retirement” will be more like those of the Benedictine sisters and brothers. We will have an ordered life of work, worship, prayer, quiet, community, and study. We can enjoy a foretaste of that life to come in brief doses, either in 5 day or 2 year commitments at the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation.

This mood, like all feelings, will no doubt pass in a day or two. Rest is good for the body. Taking the time to care for our precious selves is a gift we can give to God and to those who need us most. We will be better able to fulfill God’s call on our lives if we serve from a full heart, rather than an empty spirit. 

http://academy.upperroom.org/

Time and Eternity: Standing Still While the World Rushes By

Dreamscape, epilepsy, Family, Food, Health, Imagination, Love, Mental Illness, Ministry, mystery, New Year, purpose, Secrets, Spirituality, Strength, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, Work

20131221-120631.jpg

Greetings at the transition of the old year and the beginning of the new year. I took a long break from my weekly journal to participate in the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s so fondly called. The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. I didn’t make it, but I didn’t join until 10/12 and I took off four days for Thanksgiving. Still, I managed 27,000+ words and got 47,000 in by the second deadline of November 8th. I felt pretty good about my first shot at a novel.

So, if you bear with me, you will get a chapter a week in this place I call ARTANDICON. The title is “The Wandering Soul”: a priestess of the god of care and compassion discovers that her epileptic seizures are unique, for they dislocate her in both time and space. She travels to a distant planet, which is earth, and there observes and interacts with the cultures and religions of that world. She comes back in our time, but also in other more ancient times. A very strange dis-ease, but it gives me the opportunity to reflect on life, love, mystery, purpose, meaning, and all the other great themes we wrestle with as we journey through our days.

Death by China: Wesley and Barnum Meet Dr. Who

Family, Food, generosity, Health, Love, New Year, poverty, Spirituality, stewardship, Uncategorized, vision, Work

Overheard: PT Barnum & the Rev. John Wesley on the Movie “Death by China”

Citizens of 1880 and 1760 usually don’t have the opportunity to visit over coffee, unless Dr. Who activates his telephone booth or we use the research tools available to us to bring their ideas together in the same space. “Free Books” can bring PT Barnum’s The Art of Money Getting or Golden Rules for Making Money[1] and John Wesley can give us his thoughts on “The Use of Money” from his Standard Sermons.[2] These we can bring together to share thoughts both secular and religious that open up the conversations we should be having with each other as we prepare for our Black Friday Shopping Marathons, for surely our merchants are eagerly awaiting our arrival.

PT Barnum was known for passing off a fake ancient giant skull because a rival group wouldn’t sell him the skull known as the “Cardiff Giant,” which was found in a dig in New York State.  Barnum told the story that this other giant was the fake and his was authentic, causing the other owner to say the immortal words falsely attributed to PT Barnum:  “A sucker is born every minute.” Unfortunately, the Cardiff Giant was an elaborate hoax, so the prophecy was unfortunately true.

This misquote, “A sucker is born every minute,” must have been designed for America when we signed the papers admitting China to the World Trade Organization, for 57,000 factories in America have shut down since China joined the WTO in 2001. These closed factories represent jobs that are no more, but they also represent other support facilities and businesses that supported those workers and factories: beauty and barber shops, bakeries, cafes, shoe shops, clothing shops, and other small businesses such as accounting and legal services, mechanics, and gas stations. All these begin to fold when a factory closes because the workers have no income to spread around. Every one manufacturing job supports a half dozen other jobs. Since 2001, America has lost 2.7 million jobs (Economic Policy Institute estimate), nearly 77% in manufacturing.

We believed a free market would operate in China and open trade would bring prosperity to all parties. Instead by 2012 we posted a $174.5 trillion trade deficit with China. Their low wages and standard of living, combined with their disregard of environmental hazards, pollution standards, labor standards, safe working conditions, and minimum wage laws meant that they could produce goods more cheaply than Americans could. There was no level playing field, so there was no free market. The cheap, addictive products made in China attracted Americans, who wanted to keep their standard of living at the same level.

These Americans had lost their living due to job and wage loss, and didn’t count the costly consequences of also buying from the hand that bit them (lost jobs, closed factories, lost manufacturing base in USA, outsourced economy.)  These facts are brought forward in the movie, “Death by China,” by Peter Navarro (produced by Greg Autry).

We are buying these products on credit: one is the trade imbalance, and the other is the credit card debt people are carrying. Barnum refers to debt as “working for a dead horse” (p. 54), for it doesn’t earn money for anyone. He also said that even in 1880, “Americans as a nation are far too superficial, they are striving to get rich quickly, and do not generally do their business as substantially and thoroughly as they should” (p. 101).

Black Friday deals are made in China: Lead painted toys & jewelry, toxify me Elmo, Cheap electronics and home furnishings, and Shoes produced by prison labor.  If Wal-Mart were a country, it would be the fourth largest trading partner of China. Americans will line up overnight to be the first inside the stores to claim these “bargains.” While we are there we might pick up some Tainted pet food, Toxic toothpaste with antifreeze or Fish/tilapia from China that is raised in a polluted stream. We’ll save a few pennies, but we’ll pay more in health costs in the long run. This is what Barnum calls “penny wise and pound foolish” (p.9). Those of us that have Wal-Mart stocks will celebrate when the sales on Black Friday bring the folks in, as our futures will seem to be more secure. But Barnum reminds us in his book, The Art of Money Getting, or Golden Rules for Making Money, “You cannot accumulate a fortune by taking the road that leads to poverty” (p. 18).

In Sermon 50, “The Use of Money,” John Wesley quotes scripture: “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10), but admits that money itself isn’t evil, for the fault lies in those that use it. He proposes several rules: “Gain all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.” However, he qualifies “Gain all you can” in this manner, for some employments aren’t worth exchanging your life for them, and we have all been in jobs that suck either the life or health out of us.  Wesley’s advice is to change our job even if it means less money. We also aren’t to engage in sinful activities to earn our wages or do work that causes us to lose our souls. We should gain all we can without hurting our neighbor: this includes not selling goods below market price, seeking ways to ruin the neighbors’ trade, or stealing away the neighbor’s employees.  Also, we aren’t to gain by hurting our neighbors’ body, or by impairing the health of the neighbor (spirituous liquors in Wesley’s day, selling illegal drugs or tainted products today). As noted in the paragraph above, the Chinese don’t pass Wesley’s smell test in the Gain of Money.

Wesley’s second principle “Save all you can,” seems to apply to all of us bargain seekers, who should buy the least expensive item and not the most expensive choice.  Instead, Wesley suggests that we reassess our lifestyles and not spend our money on idle expenses: things that merely gratify the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life. Most families in America have many more things than European families, and way more things than Asian or African families. We trash more things each year than others buy! Most of what we buy is for the adulation of others, and not for gathering praise from God. Wesley particularly advises his followers to avoid superfluous or expensive apparel or needless ornaments for self and the home.

Lastly, his admonition, “Give all you can,” is the purest test of our love of God and neighbor and the true assay of our hearts. Wesley takes the Biblical view that we are all stewards of God’s creation, for God owns all things that God created.  First we provide for our needs, our family’s needs and then from the surplus, we are to “do good to them that are of the household of faith. If there is an over surplus, we are to do good unto all men.” For the good reverend, the test he used was “Can I offer up this expense as a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?”

Today some corporations are taking a new look at their use of money. Their leadership now understands that you have to give back to make more money and they are trying to change their shareholder’s understanding. As a result, Corporations made up 5% or $15 billion of US giving in 2010.  Individuals accounted for 73% or  $211 billion.[3

Black Friday is the day our local merchants will make their books turn from loss to profit. This is the day that determines if they survive into the New Year to spread their dollars around to the other small businesses in town and keep them alive also. Our corporations maximize short-term profits at the risk of long-term jobs. We value money over people, and we value now rather than tomorrow. Outsourcing our jobs is part of valuing the short-term profit over the long-term value of investments in people, research, development, and commitment to excellence that will make our country strong for generations to come.  For instance, the US military uses aircraft “flying” technology that is made in China. We don’t make this in the USA anymore, just as we don’t make our computers, printers, smartphones, iPads, or any other technology. If we end up at war, this is very dangerous. We leave ourselves open to theft of our intellectual property, as well as theft of our national security property.

Manufacturing is the origin of Research and Development. When we outsource the manufacturing, we also farm out the activity of R&D.  Our intellectual property is our inheritance. It is what we build upon for the future. We have sold it for a mess of pottage: a short-term profit to ease our hunger, but we will starve in the long run, for we have lost our blessing to another.

My Nannie used to say those that “bought cheap would live poor.” She meant that you get what you pay for: if you want a quality product, you have to pay for the quality worker. If you want a green and sustainable factory producing the item, you need to pay for the product. If you want workers treated humanely and given a living wage so that they can live in decent housing, you need to pay for it.  If you decide that you are good with buying cheap because it suits your pocket book, look into the eyes of the neighbor who is joining the unemployment line.  This sad and dejected person is the mirror looking back at you.

We have a choice, and our money will talk.  We can put it where our mouth is! What are our ethics in buying? Do we use our money to support poor working conditions, low wages, and hazardous environmental conditions? Do we support our companies outsourcing our jobs and economic prosperity overseas? Buy American as often as possible: it’s better made, lasts longer, keeps our money at home, circulates the wealth in your community, and benefits your neighbors. Look for the designation “Made in America.” This means it was produced here at home. This is different from “Assembled in America” from foreign materials, or “assembled in X” from American materials. Only Made in America is 100% American. [4]

I want to thank Alliance Rubber Company for bringing “Death by China” to the Market Street Cinema in Little Rock for its Arkansas premier. Alliance Rubber Company is a Hot Springs company that is celebrating its 90th year in business. Ms. Bonnie Schawxie, the owner, is carrying on the tradition that her Family began back in Ohio.  They are an American success story, celebrating Manufacturing Day and American Made by keeping American Workers producing quality products at a reasonable price.


[1] Free Books App for iPhone

[2] http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition John Wesley Sermon Project General Editors: Ryan N. Danker and George Lyons. Copyright 1999-2011, by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Text may be freely used for personal or scholarly purposes or mirrored on other web sites, provided this notice is left intact.

[3] Giving USA Foundation report, The Center on Philanthropy, Indiana University.

Fresh Breezes

Creativity, Holy Spirity, home, Love, Ministry, New Year, Prayer, renewal, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized

“Jesus answered Nicodemus, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’” ~~ John 3:3

The new year is still young, fresh and full of promises, but already one of my Facebook friends has posted her first Wednesday status as “Take names & Kick butt.” I commented she needed to add, “Take no prisoners.” Sometimes my wickedly dry humor puts a bad day into perspective—if she didn’t feel like killing anyone, it wasn’t really all that terrible a day. We can always enjoy a worse time.

This is what stress feels like to us. Our inner warrior is ready to break forth and do some serious damage or we just want to run away to a desert island and escape the whole crazy business of STRESS—our jobs, our families, our politics, our health problems, our economy. Recently I’ve talked with folks who would give anything to change careers because they are so burnt out from the emotional drain of caring for wounded people or they are tired of being unappreciated for their loyalty and their service by their bosses. Then there are those who aren’t employed and they’re stressed trying to pay the bills and find a job that that is meaningful and pays enough to keep their family afloat. Some just want a living wage! I also think of my friends who love their ministries and pour their heart, soul, mind, and bodies into serving God and neighbor, but don’t have the support of their church members or the people in their communities. These end up being physically ill or not working at peak performance because they are worn down not only by the stress of leadership, but also by working until they collapse.

We can’t see the kingdom of God unless we are “born from above” or “born again,” as the phrase is sometimes translated. Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, asked Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” (John 3:4). We get set in our ways, both in our spiritual habits and in our creative endeavors. It’s hard to break old habits, for we’ve been doing the same routines so often that it feels comfortable, like a well broken in old pair of shoes. Changing our golf swing feels wrong, but if the pros will do it to make more money and win more tournaments, what keeps us duffers from making the change? We aren’t focused on the reward or we think the reward is too distant or unobtainable.

In the studio, as in life, stress kills creativity. Put a time limit on the product, put a committee together to produce it, or put a non-art person in charge of the artist and the creative expression will plummet. Something “OK” will come forth, but not something great. Most of us settle for OK, and don’t seek the great in our spiritual or our creative lives. I think we are afraid to break away from the comfort of the group and the security of sameness. Great art, however, stands outside of the ordinary, just as the saints are recognized as being persons who bear extraordinary evidence of God’s Spirit working in their lives.

Yet we are all meant for greatness, for that is our spiritual goal, the recovery of the image of God in which we were first created. By being born again by the Spirit, we have a divine helper who works within us to bring us closer to God. Our desire to be closer to God increases as we practice our spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, Christian community, fasting, and Holy Communion. It grows when we also practice our works of mercy—feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and the prisoners, clothing the naked and caring for the widows, orphans and strangers among us. These inner and outer works bring us closer to God and neighbor until our hearts are so full of love that nothing else exists. Then we will see the kingdom of God, if not in this world by God’s grace, then in the next, as the Spirit fulfills the promise God gave us.

In our creative lives we want to be “born again.” Picasso was famous for reinventing himself—his blue, rose, and African periods; cubism; and neo-expressionism. He worked in many media, even painting his own furniture and pottery. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:8).

For us, the Spirit of creativity blows into our hearts and minds like a fresh breeze in the spring, bringing along the promise of new life and new hope. Ideas may lie buried under the soil, but the warm breeze will awaken them and soon they will poke through. A cold snow may quickly bury them again, but they have arrived and they will not be denied! New life and new hope have broken through—the old has passed away and the new has sprung forth!

If your heart and mind feel like a walled garden into which no breeze can blow, it may be because you are too stressed. Take a “fasting break” for a week—turn off the TV, the computer, and the radio at home. Listen to the quiet. If this is “too loud” for you, put the TV or Pandora on a “tranquility station” that doesn’t require the mind to follow a tune or pay attention. Cook a real meal and eat at the table, even if you have to clean it off! Read a book, put your thoughts in a journal or a spiral notebook. Take a walk around the block after dinner or before. Cut back on caffeine. Give a space for the gate to open up, and let the breeze of the Spirit refresh your lives!