Twinkie Dust & The New Creation

Creativity, Holy Spirity, Icons, Imagination, Love, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision, vision

“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?” 

~~ Isaiah 43:18-19

My favorite time in Vacation Bible School was the plaster handprint. When I was a child in the 1950’s, we were given our choice of one color to paint “our hand to serve Jesus.” When my daughter went to VBS in the early 80’s, her little hand had a rainbow of colors exploding all over it!

Those ladies are the unsung heroes in every generation, for they mixed and poured plaster into recycled pie pans and let all of us children put our hands into that goop so we could bring our “helping hands” home to our parents. They also cleaned us up afterward.

One summer Art in the Park teacher brought some real turquoise and real silver wire to a bunch of hot and sweaty kids sitting at a picnic table. My 10-year old hands make a piece of “jewelry,” which I still sometimes wear.  My Saturday art teacher took me under her wing as soon as I was able to write my name in cursive. I also have to thank my Mom for driving me all over town so I could do what I love the most.

Each one of those teachers stretched me as a child, but none stretched me more than two of my teachers at Georgia State University: Mr. Sitton and Mr. Perrin.  One week the head of the department would stop by and ask, “Are you working for me or Mr. Sitton?” Each time I would only reply, “I’m working.” Not letting that noncommittal answer go by, Mr. Perrin would keep asking until I had had enough of being interrupted and I burst out, “Neither of you! I’m working for myself!” It was the answer he was waiting to hear.

I do remember how these two pushed me to strive beyond myself and to grow as an artist. They encouraged me to find my own voice, my own style, and to not be an imitator of others. I could learn from others and study them, but to become an artist, I had to discover my own true vision.  So I had to press on to the new thing as yet unseen, and let the old fall pieces away behind me.

This is easier said than done. It’s much more comfortable to repeat a form than to move onward to the next one. The old one feels safe because it is known; the new one has risks because it is as yet unbirthed and unseen. It may arrive still born, and the work will seem as if for nothing. However the effort expended isn’t wasted, since the artist now knows that this path is a dead end and can try another with more confidence.

So, why is it we spiritual people have a hard time living this new and different life once we make our profession of faith in Christ? The world calls us “hypocrites” because we seem to live the same old lives as we once did before we knew Christ. There seems to be no outward transformation to match our inward change of heart and relationship. We do not become magically and radically different, but instead progress slowly into a newer and more perfect life in love. No wonder we have a hard time attracting the unsaved into our new way of life or into our congregations.  They don’t see a visible witness that our faith in Christ has made a difference in the person we are or in what we do.  We might “steal a church member from another congregation,” because they already know the drill: show up, go through the motions, and maybe one day, I’ll change into a better person. People of faith are afflicted with chronic optimism, for we “walk by faith, not sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

Now if “going onto perfection in love” really operated in this manner, I could just go to the gym and laze around, anticipating that one day my body would magically become buff and lean.  Having spent the better part of two years on a mandatory lifestyle change that has included giving up junk food, processed foods, lattes, double dip ice cream cones, large pizzas, and learning how to cook from scratch, I can say that there is no magic Twinkie Dust for weight loss.  Going to the gym means sweating, not standing around posing and looking nice.  I’m not very pretty when I leave, but I now understand the meaning of “working out your own salvation” (Phil 2:12).

Our bodies do not magically transform themselves anymore than we become perfect Christians by a mere profession of faith. We need spiritual guides, just as I have a trainer and a physician who help me through the rough spots of my remaking of my health and my life.  If I want to lose more than the 50 pounds and the 6 dress sizes I’ve already lost, my dietitian friend says I have to cut my calories to 1500 per day because of my age and medical needs.  This will require discipline, persistence, courage, faith, and suffering. It is a biblical model:  “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).

This might be a fun week to try out a new craft or a new theme in your art. You could try praying with the holy icons. I have an ICONS photo album on my Facebook page ARTANDICON that you can view on the computer or smart phone (they are for sale also). Spring is the time for renewing the Spirit!

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Finding the Rainbow at the Center of it All

Family, Holy Spirity, home, Love, Meditation, Ministry, Prayer, purpose, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized

“…he who has pity on them will lead them and by springs of water will guide them.” ~~ Isaiah 49:10

Last spring I was painting at an organic vegetable farm near Hot Springs. The owner’s dream is to grow food to help heal the world while taking care for the earth itself.

I took my old student easel, a 3 X 4 foot canvas and a lawn chair for my paint palette “table.” I set up beside the river to paint. The day was overcast until nearly 2 pm, but I had been there on brighter days, so I remembered how the light played across the water and the meadows beyond. I knew how the distant hills and trees caught the light.

The longer I stood and painted, the more the actual landscape began to resemble the painting I was creating before me. The sun was burning through the clouds and by the time it became fully bright, we were in sync.  The play of light on the natural world reflected the light I had imagined on my canvas, my vision of the world to come. As the two came together, I began to paint the river in a rainbow of colors as it ran alongside the dirt riverbank. The rocky river shore of the left bank, which was a jumble of dull white, beige, and brown rocks, became a collection of jewels spilled beside the waters, as if the rainbow had shattered into its separate pieces and was lying there, waiting to be picked up.

So my painting is a combination of “realism” and “visionary,” rather like a prophecy issued by Isaiah of old, or another of God’s chosen voices.  When I was younger, and painting abstract works, I called my style “metaphysical realism,” because I was painting about truths of being and existence that could only be intuited or felt, rather than scientifically proven. At the time I wasn’t a believer in God, but I was searching for a divine being or higher power.

When the owner came back later, I was still painting. In six hours I had nearly completed this large canvas! “Wow!” was all he could say.  I asked, “are you amazed that I could get this much paint on it in this little time?” His reply, “And make it look so good.” I laughed, “Well, it’s not brain surgery. I don’t hold someone’s life in my hands. It’s only a painting. If I don’t like it, I paint over it or throw it away and start over. I just put the paint on it. If it works, good. If not, oh well, I’ve learned what doesn’t work.”

That confidence and assurance when faced with a blank canvas comes from trusting God’s hand upon your own. The blank canvas is like a bare height for some artists, just like the blank page is a sheer cliff for scaling for a poet or a writer.  It is a challenge because of its emptiness.  Making the first mark changes the whole tone of the surface. This is why I first sketch very lightly, either in pencil or in light yellow wash. Only then do I begin to paint in the deeper colors, making sure to work from the center outward to the edges of my canvas.

In our spiritual lives, we are called to work from our centers out toward our edges. Our centering begins with our placing our trust in the one who guides us besides streams of water and provides food along the bare heights (Isaiah 49:9-10). This is where we gather strength for our labor in the world of our families, our neighborhoods, our faith communities, and our world. We can have a long ministry, hold someone’s life in our hands, and care for their immortal soul because God has placed his Spirit of caring and consolation in our hearts. If we want to find the beautiful rainbow that we call God, we need to seek the one who loved us first.  “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us; and his love is perfect in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:12-13).

To practice centering ourselves this week, choose one word that is most meaningful for you. It can be one of these: holy, one, peace, love, joy, hope, or another that you choose.  Sit in a quiet place and get comfortable. As you breathe in for a count of 5, think the word and imagine it filling you completely as you inhale deeply. As you exhale to the count of 5, imagine that same word going out into the world. Breathe in and out again, repeating this for five minutes morning and evening on the first day.  The second day, do for 7 minutes. Gradually increase until you can do 20 minutes morning and evening. This is a centering prayer/meditation that brings us closer to God. The deeper breathing also relieves stress, which is a good thing! Joy and peace to you this week!

Getting our Groove Back

Creativity, Holy Spirity, Love, Ministry, Prayer, purpose, Spirituality, Uncategorized

“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven

like a dove and it remained on him.”

~~ John 1:32

Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. When he came out of the water, the descent of the Spirit of God was visible and its presence was visible and its presence in the person was noticeable. Maybe he had a new strut, a confidence in his manner, a look in his eye, or a set to his jaw that said, “I know who I am and I know my purpose.” Maybe he was like the infamous Stella, who got her groove back, when she discovered what brought the most meaning to her life.

When we are in the midst of our passion and our calling, the Spirit seems to be upon us. We are in a “zone,” as the athletes say.  We are unaware of trying to achieve or produce, but energy seems to flow through us. We are “on target,” we hit the “sweet spot,” and move without straining. We are at the height of our powers, maybe even beyond our best! We are unstoppable! This might be a record setting crowd-pleasing day!

When preachers are “bringing the word” or “telling it like it is,” a power from above seems to fall upon us, for we lose ourselves in the stream of words that flow unbidden and unsought from the inner depths of our hearts, minds and souls.  This isn’t to say that we don’t prepare our texts, study our lessons, or spend time contemplating our scripture verses.  An unprepared preacher is a bad preacher, or at best, on who repeats the same sermon over and over.  We may carry an outline up to the lectern, podium or stage, but this merely serves to keep us on track and on the idea we are emphasizing that day.

People worry that crying babies will disturb their pastor:  more likely it disturbs the congregation.  When I preached, I was never aware of any sounds. I could see faces and their response to the message, so I knew when to elaborate a point and when to move on.  I was in a “zone” when the Spirit fell on me.  My voice changed, my posture changed, and I wasn’t the person I was from day to day.  My ordinary self notices noises, movements, and changes of light, as if I were hypersensitive to each alteration in my environment.  When I preach, I forget all about those things and focus only on the word God has given me for this time and place. From my personal experience, I would say, there is a visible change when the Spirit falls upon someone.

In our studios, we would like to have the Spirit fall upon us from the moment we walk in and remain upon us during the whole of our working time. We would like to be in that “zone of creative fervor” in which time and space does not exist for us, but only the conversation and interaction with our art matters at the moment.  We want to be with our paints, our clay, our wood, our fiber, or any other medium as if they are our beloved who has returned after a long journey.  We want to be at one with them and enjoy them so deeply that we fall together in a unified whole in a single burst of ecstasy, after which is birthed a creation of great beauty, an inspired work of art.

Why does this not happen? For that matter, why do we seem to lumber at our labors, both artistically and spiritually? We sleepwalk through our studios and doze in our faith lives. When I say faith life, I don’t mean the one hour we segment for weekly worship, but the 24/7/365 life we live as human beings before God.  If we want to live with purpose and passion, both as a spiritual person and as an artist, we need “outside help.”

“I can do it myself!” How many times have I said this since I was two years old? I seem to have raised my arm and stubbornly made time stand still, because my mantra is still “I can do it my self!” I don’t like to ask for help, not from other people, and not even from God.  I would save myself if I could, inspire myself if I could, do it all by myself if I could, but then I hit the wall. A task is too big, a goal unobtainable, I lack all the necessary skills, or illness strikes me down.  I discover that my “Lone Ranger” personality isn’t fully human and never will be divine. Even Jesus had the twelve disciples as friends and co-workers. Our one God has the fellowship of the Holy Trinity for comfort and shared work. We all need power in our lives, a power that falls on us from heaven and stays with us to unite us to God and God’s purpose for our lives: “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared before hand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10).

Today, give your life over to a higher power than yourself.  Let God be at work in you through his Spirit for good works, both inside and outside your studio. When the “I want to do it myself” words rise up, ask God for help instead. It will not make you less, it will make you more human and more in touch with the divine.  You may even “get your groove back!”

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!