Spring forward has done me in & brought me down. I have succumbed to the couch, with the shades drawn against the extra light pouring in through the windows. No amount of espresso in the morning will overcome this lethargy. The promise of a chocolate bunny isn’t enough to drag me off my recliner.
I have unfinished art works on the easel, finished works awaiting hanging hooks and wires, and a chapter in my scifi spiritual journey novel to post on line, but I’m not rising from the couch to attend to these interests. This is the fifth month anniversary of my daughter’s death, a grief I thought I was past, for the most part.
Mostly yes, but completely, no. Art is a process, for a work isn’t completed in an instant. Grief isn’t finished in a short time either, for it’s a journey which is sometimes straight forward and other times circuitous. Sometimes it seems like our own grief journey is a death spiral! Like a heroic pilot, we pull our airplane out of the fall just before we graze the ground. We soar so high into the bright sky until we nearly stall and fall, but we dive back down again. This up and down upon the unseen hills and valleys of the air scares our audience, amd if we had any sense, it would scare us too.
We are mostly too numb to know the difference, so we aren’t aware of the effect we have on others. This is the blessing of grief, our oblivion of experiences beyond those most important and nessary for existence. Life gets simpler in grief: we narrow our choices, things don’t seem to matter as much, and we enjoy the basics more often. Seeking out a one of a kind item takes too much effort.
Grief allows us to note the simple things, which we once took for granted: smiles, laughter, silence, and a loving touch.
A butterfly alighting on my hand tempts me to visit a field of flowers, but only in my dreams.
When I was a child, we would test ourselves at the neighborhood swimming pool. Holding our breaths, we would submerge our bodies with our eyes open. The first one of us to give out of air burst up through the surface of the shallow end of the pool. The few of us remaining below paid no attention to the giant whale crashing a few inches away. We were in another world and our friend was in another ocean.
The agony of holding our breath was only outweighed by the ignominy of losing this contest of wills. I would hyperventilate before going under to extra oxygenate my blood those of us who led active, outdoor lives had an advantage over the “greenhouse lilies,” as my mother so quaintly referred to my less active, housebound friends.
In the art studio, as in life, there are moments of tension in which people can’t decide whether to keep holding their breath or burst out of the water with a mighty crash. Holding involves tensions and distress, but letting go means giving up. Most of us want to win easy and have losing be inconsequential. This is another world and a different ocean
I’ve been restless over the summer because my family has lost contact with my adult daughter who lives on the street in San Francisco. Mental illness is a part of many lives, so much so that the only way to explain families like ours is another world and a different ocean I live in one world and my daughter swims in a different ocean of her illness. Yet her life’s crashing and thrashing tides still affect my world.
Once I have done what I can to remedy the situation, all I can do is wait. It’s good I learned to breathe deeply, to hold my breath and wait, for giant whales of crashing emotions fall from day to day. I couldn’t settle down to paint calmly, so I took a layout app photo of an opal stone as my preliminary sketch, and made an abstract painting from it.
Once I got the basic shapes and colors laid in, I left the photo and worked the painting. As the shapes materialized, I discovered both a landscape and a butterfly within it this was painted at the end of July, which had a blue moon. “Once in a blue moon” means rarely or not often, I don’t know if I’m moving into a new direction with my work or if this is just a one off event. I think I’m being called in a new direction, one of purer color and less structured images.
Perhaps the promise of this text will one day ring true for all of us, whatever world we walk upon and wherever we swim in an ocean:
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” (Isaiah 25:6)
A few months ago, I woke up with this Franz Marc blue horse in my mind. Clouds were overhanging the Rocky Mountains in the distance. On the high plains stood a solitary tree that had several Spirit feathers attached to the limbs. Red threads fluttered in the breeze. This horse, which I knew by now was my own self in a spirit animal form, was coming close to this tree.
So, is it a Tree of Life? An Ancestor Tree (burial site)? A Good Luck Tree for Travelers and Wayfarers? Or is it a Marker Tree that says “Killroy was here”? Maybe it’s just my brain “taking out the trash of the previous weeks and days,” so that I can deal with my waking life more easily!
I’m still pondering the meaning. I had to paint this image to get it out of my mind and into the real world. Maybe here I will discover its truth for me.
I also needed to work on something that I could finish quickly and feel the joy of immediate accomplishment. I’m involved in a number of long term projects in my creative life right now. I’m on the third draft of THE WANDERING SOUL, my first installment novel, which I’m posting as weekly chapters at http://www.souljournieswordpress.wordpress.com. I’m also writing a second novel, THE ACCIDENTAL VACATION, which is in the journal or handwritten stage just now.
I have been painting butterflies, but have a commission for an icon. With my own work, I can go crazy and push the paint wherever the Spirit moves me. The icon, however, falls within boundaries and rules. I have to have my mind and heart still in order to submit to that discipline. It’s not my first nature! I do it, however, because this focused work allows me more power and freedom when I return to my own creative process. It’s a mystery, but sometimes we go left to turn right.
Greetings! You haven’t heard much from me lately because I’ve been writing a spiritual journey sci fi novel that I’m posting by chapters as a weekly serial on http://www.souljournieswordpress.wordpress.com. I invite you to visit me there. It isn’t a blog, however, it is a work of fiction: think DR. Who and The Way of a The Pilgrim.
This photo is my latest work. I’m in full spring mode doing a butterfly series! This is Stage 4: Blue Morpho– my most recent work on the easel. The outer wings have to become darker, that right wing with the white splotches is only in its first stage of paint and the background has been laid in, but not articulated.
As an artist I have to live with a work on my easel that is in various stages of completion. I make a sketch on the canvas, then I begin to paint. Even here I often realize that I’ve not drawn my subject well, so I change the form as I paint. Just because I drew it off kilter doesn’t mean I’m locked into coloring inside those lines. If I drew the lines, I can draw others. These lines aren’t “fixed!”
Just so, our lives aren’t fixed by the decisions we have made earlier in our lives. Others will try to tell us this. It’s true if you burn your bridges behind you, it’s hard to cross those bridges again.
However, creative people will find a way to swim the river or hire a boat to cross to the other side. The lack of a bridge doesn’t stop them from going back and making amends so they can start over again.
God is the great creator who is making all things new. God can give us a new heart, a new hope, and a new spirit. We can be in the process of being recreated like the Blue Morpho–from a crawling caterpillar to a quiet chrysalis and finally to a beautiful butterfly.
I’m not a fast walker, for my first goal in walking isn’t to break any record for my usual 1.5 mile jaunt around Mercy Hospital here in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Neither do I stroll, for Bon Jovi and the Boss sing a strong striding cadence in my ear. I can manage the hills better in one direction than another, for at least one is nearly 45 degrees. I go up this hill once a week. It never gets less steep. The rest of the week I go down that hill. At my age, there’s no sense taking any more years off my life than necessary!
My goals as I walk are to be more conscious of my body, to care for it better, to build my body for endurance and health, to be outside in the sunlight (natural vitamin D), and to develop a better attitude (exercise releases endorphins that lift one’s mood). Walking also seems to clear my mind of worry and anxiety about others.
In that large hospital, I know that healing is going on. While some may be “losing the battle” against whatever dread disease has attacked them, they have “won the war” and received their final healing from God. We think our life is over when we close our eyes and breathe no more, but our life is just beginning in a newer and more wonderful way!
As I make my rounds about the hospital grounds, the wind blows through my hair, the sun falls on my face, and I see the sun shaped shadows of the pines and the pear trees. Even the ornamental lake reflects the colors of the sky and clouds. Heaven and earth are more connected here even though my path is just beside the eternally busy bypass of Highway 270.
There are nodes in space and time at which the intersection of heaven and earth seem to open up to one another. The Celtic tradition calls these “thin places.” All across the world we can find sites that were considered holy by one successive people & faith after another. When you walk into such a place, you can feel the years of prayers within the space.
This route I take, while short, has become a holy node for me. It was the reason for two found object works: The No Room Inn and The Healing Christ. I also did a landscape of that decorative pond. Now I am painting the various butterflies I have collected on my journeys. These are symbols of the new life to come because they wrap themselves in a cocoon (grave cloths). I think of them as an icon of the new life we live when we see the light of what is possible in Jesus Christ himself:
“I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” — John 12:46
My usual walking route takes me from the local YMCA around the Mercy Hospital and Physicians Buildings until I make the mile and a half loop back to the gym. I take this walk on the days it’s not too hot or humid to be exercising outside, for I like the transition of the landscape against the sky, the changing shapes of the buildings as I walk past, and the patterns that the occasional breeze makes in the tall grasses of the ditches beside the access road that is my outdoor track.
This summer has been a blessing, for our usual 100 degree days didn’t appear. While we did have “heat factor 100 degree and then some” days, our early mornings were still bearable in the outdoors. It was on such a walk as this that I found this beautiful butterfly. Usually they are fluttering about with vigor on whatever imperceptible currents of overheated air that we call late summer in Arkansas, but this one was lying on the asphalt, no longer going about its appointed rounds. It had joined the cast off cigarette packages, the empty 5Hour Energy bottle, the smashed turtle and the carcass of the bird that marked the stages of my journey.
Gently I took it from the ground. This could not be its final resting place, for something so beautiful needed to be remembered and to be celebrated. I carried it with me as I thought of our great cities and their historic beauty. We tend to tear down our old architecture and put up new in its place with great abandon, yet we pay dearly to go to Europe and Asia to see ancient cities. I live in a 1960’s era high rise condominium on a lake that is near a bridge where bats live. Because some of these endangered species have made a nuisance by nesting in a few of the condos’ decorative cinderblock patios, our board proposed covering all these balconies with painted sheet metal. We live in the oldest and tallest solely residential building in Arkansas. We are a cultural and architectural icon. We wouldn’t want to look like a ten story trailer park!
Do we hold our traditional skills in honor any more? Are we willing to invest the time, effort, and sweat to fully develop our craft? Will we live below our means so that we can enrich the world with the products of our imagination and our spirit? Will we mentor anyone to follow in our footsteps, or will we be the last ones of our kind? Do we honor the living treasures or do we fawn over only the latest hot shot?
In this life, we may have many walks, along many paths. We can choose our direction, our companions, and our departure dates. We may think that we are self sufficient, but we are just butterflies in a moment of time, for in God’s “hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:10).