How many colors exist in creation? Many more than we can buy in a tube at the art supply store and even more than the number of paint chips at our local building supply store. Recently I gave my adult art class an assignment to use their primary colors and white only to mix new colors, since I noticed they were not getting middle values in their paintings. I too enjoy the brightness of the primary colors, so this was also a challenge for me.
The following week I needed to do less geometry and more nature, but I came back to the cross theme once again, for these flowers are from a photo of the Easter “Living Cross” at my church. While we can’t see the arms of the cross, anymore than we can see Jesus today, we know the cross is there, just as we know Jesus is present for us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This makes Christ alive, not only in our hearts, but also in the lives of all who suffer: the poor, the immigrant or stranger in our land, and the oppressed. Even the land itself, which suffers from human caused climate change, can be a place where we meet the living Christ.
The Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem is a powerful place, for it was where Christ was handed over to his captors by a former friend. From there he went to death on the cross and resurrection for our salvation. This garden retains this energy of struggle: Jesus prayed to get his will in line with God’s will.
If the story ended here, we’d have no living crosses full of beautiful flowers on Easter Sunday. Out of pain and struggle comes great beauty. Most of us will avoid any challenge in our lives, thinking the easy way is the best way. Intentionally causing others to suffer pain isn’t acceptable for moral reasons: “do no harm” is a good adage, as is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Setting achievable goals and challenges are different. These cause us to grow. They may also cause us discomfort, but this isn’t pain.
On this canvas, Spring Flowers, I had to overpaint and scumble to create the textured grays of the background. I even had to repaint the wispy border flowers several times to get their petals colored and straight, plus to get the ground varied enough to make them stand out.
One of the artists I most admire is Picasso, for he was always reinventing his style. Today artists pick a style and stick with it. Perhaps this is lucrative and makes economic sense. Still, I wonder what happens to the creative spirit when it’s not nurtured, challenged, and expressed. Of course, this may be the difference between a great artist and a good artist, and only the centuries will tell which among us now will be great.
PRAYER: Listening to an Icon
Most of us separate our lives into doing and being: we are creatures of comfort at times, and then we expend energy doing chores or work at different times. We live bifurcated lives, even if we’ve heard the admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), we work without prayer and pray without working. Then again, some of us have little connection with the spiritual at all, so we miss the mystery and the awe of the dimensions beyond this mundane world. We’re unable to see even the glory and beauty of the creation, since we aren’t connected spirituality to a life beyond this world.
The iconographer is more than a painter or a writer: he or she is one who connects this material world with the spiritual world beyond. The icon is a window through which the heavenly and the earthly worlds communicate. It’s like a wormhole, of sorts, in sci-fi language, or a portal passage for direct communication. Of course, we can directly communicate with the Holy Spirit, but not being able to see the Spirit, we can see the icon’s representation of the image of Christ or a saint, and this helps us to focus our thoughts and prayers.
Some say a candle would suffice, or a text from Scripture, and I agree. Yet not everyone is able to live such a spare life, reduced of images, color, and beauty. Minimalism isn’t for everyone! This is why we have zen gardens as well as romantic English gardens. Some of us need architectural modernism and others like quaint country clutter. The icon tradition comes from the ancient church, for Luke was traditionally ascribed to be the first iconographer, as well as one of the first gospel writers. He painted Mary “the God-bearer” and Jesus.
Our art class is moving out of its comfort zone in the painting of icons. We can learn about the spiritual life in the art class every time we meet. In fact, every time we try something new or challenging, we learn about ourselves and the spiritual life. A close inspection of the gospels shows a Jesus who was always challenging the status quo. The only time he was comforting people was when they were dispossessed, marginalized, or disrespected. “Blessed are the poor…” was his first choice, not blessed are the rich or powerful!
When we are weak and powerless, when we struggle and fall short of success, and that will be. Every. Single. Day. In. Art—We are then most able to lean on the one who for our sakes became weak so we can become strong. Then we’ll come back and fail again and remember the times Christ stumbled on the rocky road to the crucifixion. What seemed like a failure to everyone gathered about, and didn’t make logical sense to wisdom seeking people, nevertheless served a higher purpose. By uniting all of our human failures and faults in one person, God could experience all of them in God’s own image, the icon we know as Jesus Christ.
If there’s any reason to attempt a Holy Icon in this modern world, we paint and pray to unite our work and spiritual into one. Usually only the clergy have this privilege, and they can too easily burn out if they do too much and pray too little. Lay people underestimate the amount of prayers necessary for effective work. The older I get, the more prayer time I need. Of course, work takes more out of me now, but I’m a refugee from the dinosaur age. I used to be an energizer bunny back in my fifties, but working thirty hours a week painting and writing is enough for me today.
Any art work, whether a landscape, portrait, or an icon, can be alive or dead, depending on how the artist approaches the work. If we draw the lines, fill in the colors, and never pay attention to the energy of the art itself, we’re just filling up time. If we’re thinking about our grocery list, what to make for dinner, or the errands we have to run, we aren’t on speaking terms with our artwork. On the other hand, if we’re paying attention, sharing in the conversation, listening to what our work is telling us, we can respond to the push and pull of the conversation. Our work will tell us what it needs if we’ll only listen to it. If we trust and listen to the Holy Spirit, we’ll paint a true icon, and the window into heaven will open for all who want to listen.
For some reason facebook decided that my 7 pages of art, cooking & spiritual formation seemed unconnected. They thought that my Page Manager App perhaps wasn’t really run by one person. How indeed, could one person have so many varied interests? How could they find all the ordinary aspects of this life relating to faith? Oh, I guess, only those who grew up reading that one good book and hearing the stories of everyday life spoken in the ancient parables and metaphors of a distant age and land would understand how to translate this way of speaking into a modern language.
I guess our world today is too one dimensional and too targeted, or perhaps facebook has fallen victim to its own splicing & dicing. We too often only share that part of ourselves that we think others want to see, or we hide that part that we think is not approved by others.
We forget that our weakness is often the key to opening the pain of others so that can begin to heal, or that our struggles are what help others to have the courage to try one more time when the going gets tough. Our world is so sold on the outward appearance of success that the inner self can be falling apart at the seams.
This is why we go through the motions of life, but the fire no longer burns inside. This is why we acquire many things, but have no satisfaction in their holding. This is why we yearn sometimes to have only a small garden, or just a backpack, or to be in a deer stand alone to see the sun come up through the pines. We may make a living, but we may not be making a life.
Once we lived under one umbrella and sought to find one large tent or tree to shelter as many as we could, but now we each seek a tiny pup tent for each person’s own comfort and solace. How many of us have progressively cleaned our facebook friends until we find just those who vote like us, eat like us, think like us, and are like us?
Soon we will no longer feel the fire, no longer want to burn up in the flames of power, and we will be content to watch the Hunger Games on our TV sets. The young will burn and catch on fire and we will be content to pass commentary upon it.
I hope I never get that old. I plan to always be hungry at CORNIE’S KITCHEN, making art at ARTANDICON & CORNELIA DELEE & celebrating faith at ART AND SOUL FUMC HS, ARKANSAS SPIRITUAL FORMATION ACADEMY, & TRIBE OF DAN.
The various named storms of this winter season are piling up like the laundry in my baskets, but the cold weather and the bad roads are keeping me inside and away from the commercial laundromat that I frequent. Since when did we start naming winter storms like summer hurricanes anyway? I must have been asleep, but until this winter in Arkansas, I’ve not paid much attention to the weather channel, for our best predictions here are “wait five minutes and it will be something else” and “nobody ever gets it right.”
“Cold and dark” are the two best Arkansas winter predictions, followed by “unusually sunny and warm.” These will follow each other as sure as day follows the night, for I remember the weekend a decade ago when most of my people skipped church to go to the lake because it was 70 degrees in NW Arkansas. However, the very next Sunday we were inundated with 3 feet of snow at Mount Sequoyah Retreat Center and everyone who was on the mountain stayed there. The workers couldn’t leave, so Mount Sequoyah gave them rooms to winter over the storm. Some of the extreme cold shut down the heating systems in the old buildings and the repair crew couldn’t drive up the iced mountain incline, so the staff gave us newer accommodations at no extra charge. A sudden virus began to work its way through our retreat group, but we had a doctor among us who was taking a week’s retreat before she began work at a new clinic for the uninsured. She made morning and afternoon rounds of the incapacitated in their cabins and dosed them with a preparation she had made at the local pharmacy.
This must be what life is like in a tended garden. We are cared for while strong and when we are weak. We are fed, kept safe from invaders, covered when it’s too cold, and nursed when we seem to weaken. Our gardener not only loves us, but cares for us and provides what we need. We may want gilding for our lilies, but our gardener knows the difference between needs and superfluous wants. We will have “enough,” of that we need not fear.
More money will not make us happier. We would give all the money we have in this world to have our child returned to life from a too early death, our spouse brought back from the living death that is Alzheimer’s Disease, or to save a loved one from the ravages of some addictive substance. Money will not buy these things. Money cannot buy peace of mind itself, for if we focus on money, then we will get anxious. The value of money goes up and down with every sneeze of the president, the arguments of congress, and the ebbs and flows of our economy. Yet we who are people of faith “live in a watered garden,” tended and cared for by a gracious and good God and we “shall never languish again.”
“…their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.” Jeremiah 31:12