Autumn is just around the corner: I know this in my heart of hearts. My friends, who have lost hope in this endless pandemic, tell me, “It’s heat stress, nothing more.” I persist in my belief the bright yellow leaves scattered among the green canopies and the orange and red tinged foliage are the harbingers of the cool breezes of fall.
When the thermometer kisses 100 F and the heat factors have blown past that number like a NASCAR driver taking a hot lap for the pole position, my body only wants to swill decaf iced tea and stay close to the air conditioning. When I taught art back in Louisiana, my art rooms were in an old wooden shotgun shack. It wasn’t air conditioned because “it’s tradition, so it won’t be air conditioned, no matter how much you ask for it.” Private schools have their “traditions,” some of which aren’t healthy for either the teachers or the students.
Two days into the school year, I fainted from the heat. A visit to the nurse’s station got me glasses of sugary iced tea and cold compresses, plus it was air conditioned. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Someone drove me to my dad’s office in the Medical Arts building across from the hospital. I got the once over and was sent home to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and not go outside. My couch never looked so good to me. Mom and dad even kept my little girl so I could rest.
I learned later I had a brush with death. Passing out with other people there allowed me to be helped. People who are alone in the heat aren’t so fortunate. Heat can kill a person. The hurricane Ida is already taking out the utilities in south Louisiana, which means they might not be back for weeks. The hospitals full of Covid patients hope to have ten days of power and food, but that’s just to get them through until relief supplies can roll in.
I actually repainted this canvas a second time, since I wasn’t thoroughly pleased with it on the first go round. The Airport image above is the first incarnation of this painting. While I don’t mind the colors in the ground, the overall texture of the work didn’t appeal to my senses and the runway with its numeral stuck out like a sore thumb. It was either going into the trash bin of my work, or I’d leave it alone long enough to find the inspiration to cure it.
Painting is a journey in itself, as the white canvas disappears under the brushstrokes of color. We can think of a pristine sand beach in the early morning, and its well marked surface erased by the high tide under the moonlight, only to be marked again when the sun rises. As Benjamin Disraeli, the British Prime Minister in the 19th century once said:
“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”
Sometimes we can better solve a problem by ignoring it, for the the problem will find its own solution. Trying to impose our solution upon it just leads to more death, but not to life. Letting the painting come into being in its own time is a better choice, for it can’t be born before its time. In the spiritual life, kairos time is God’s time, while chronos is human time. When we work on deadlines or punch a clock, we operate on chronological, human time, but if we wait for the inspiration from the divine energy, we’re operating in the God moment, or the propitious moment for decision or action.
Along my life journey, I’ve made some unique handmade preaching stoles. When I decided I no longer had use for them in retirement, I decided to cut them up. This is why some of the pieces are the same rectangular size, such as the gold and silver diamonds pattern with the blue and white diagonal stripe in the upper left corner. Some of the pieces are the backings, and others are deconstructed sections. I incorporated several types of gold: acrylic paint, embroidery thread, and a metallic candy wrapper. I also used multiple textures of lace and fabric, some of which I overpainted. All of these come from recycled fabrics. In life, nothing is wasted.
Perhaps this no longer looks like a map of an airport, but more like a place remembered in a dream, when one wants to travel on the whiff of a breeze, which has brought a half remembered smell of a time in the past or a love long lost. Autumn can bring those memories to mind, as well as our hopes for a more beautiful future, for just as a leaf flutters free from its tree, our thoughts can fly away: golden leaves on silver breezes.
Look for the golden leaves, my friends, and let them call to mind those of fond memory and the dreams of journeys yet to come.
We’ve made it to May, the official door to summer, picnics, swimming pools, backyard cookouts, and slower paced lives. Or so we hope, as the temperatures warm and the pandemic wanes. Of course, this last is dependent not just on our individual responses, or even on our citizens’ cooperative actions, but it also depends on the developed nations of our world sharing our expertise and resources with the larger world’s need. If we ever thought we could build a wall and isolate our people and economy from the outside, our need for imported goods and our desire to travel on cruise ships seems to trump our need for isolation. India’s ongoing coronavirus catastrophe results from an inadequate health care system and a lack of vaccines, oxygen, and PPE. Less than 10 percent of Indians have gotten even one dose, despite India being the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer.
As we come out of our enforced hibernation, like bears we shed our winter coats and start foraging for foods in an ever widening territory. We’re looking for reasons to celebrate and tantalizing foods to taste. The yum factor and new environments suddenly become sirens singing irresistible songs, which have the opportunity to dash our small bark against the rocks if we’re not careful. Like Ulysses, the ancient Greek hero, we travel between Scylla and Charybdis, hoping not to wreck.
Fictional heroes make a big splash in May. On May 1, 1939, Batman, the caped crusader, made his first appearance in Detective Comics Issue #27. Star Wars Day is “May the 4th be with you.” On May 5, 1895, Richard F. Outcault published the first ever cartoon, The Yellow Kid. Since all those years ago, cartoons have seeped into our lives through every media outlet possible. If it weren’t for The Yellow Kid all those years ago, we probably wouldn’t be watching Iron Man and Captain America slugging it out on the big-screen. May 25 is a tribute to author Douglas Adams, who wrote the famed novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
It’s a rather easy day to celebrate and it’s done by taking a towel with you wherever you go: to work, school, or just to the shops. This way you can celebrate such gems of wisdom as, “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.” The only thing that’s truly important on this day is you don’t forget to bring a towel!
Oh, and the answer to the “Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything” is “forty-two.” In the 1979 novel, the supercomputer Deep Thought takes 7.5 million years to calculate the answer to this ultimate question. The characters tasked with getting that answer are disappointed because it isn’t very useful. Yet, as the computer points out, the question itself was vaguely formulated. To find the correct statement of the query whose answer is 42, the computer will have to build a new version of itself. That, too, will take time. The new version of the computer is Earth. To find out what happens next, you’ll just have to read Adams’s books. For a math geek discussion of the significance of 42, read the link “For Math Fans” below.
Having dispensed with heroes, we can move onto the significant May Days that truly appeal to me. “April showers bring May flowers” is a saying I’ve heard since my childhood ever so long ago. Historians believe this phrase may date back to a 1610 poem, which contained the lines, “Sweet April showers, do spring May flowers.” A longer phrase, “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers,” has also been traced back to 1886. Of course, this tidbit of wisdom depends upon your geographic location, for folks inland and north may wait until what we southern folks call “early summer” before they get their “springtime.”
“The month of May was come, when every lust heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit,” wrote Sir Thomas Malory in Le Morte d’Arthur. The early Greeks called this month Maia, after the goddess of fertility, many of the early May festivals relate to agriculture and renewal. May Day, celebrated on the first with the Maypole, is one such festive event that was more debauched in earlier times, but now survives as a chaste minuet of colorful ribbons woven around a tall pole by children dancing in an interweaving circle below it.
Other modern May festivities include No Pants Day on 5/1, originally an end of the college year prank at the University of Texas, Austin, which spread to other realms needing release, and World Laughter Day, celebrated on the first Sunday of May. This holiday helps raise awareness about the benefits of laughing and promotes world peace through laughter. Laughing can instantly help reduce stress and brings us closer to other people, as we share our happiness with them. Those who take part in World Laughter Day can help spread positivity and cheerfulness to help change the world for the better. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What potent blood hath modest May.”
No Diet Day is May 6, a good day to remember our good health isn’t based on a scale number or a pant size. Instead, our health is dependent on nutritious foods, adequate exercise, and sufficient sleep. Extreme weight loss, except under a doctor’s supervision, usually leads to yo-yo weight gain, with the body gaining back the lost weight and more after severe deprivation. Slow, long term, weight loss is more likely to be permanent loss, since we aren’t “dieting,” but changing our habits. May 11th is Eat What You Want Day. I suggest we don’t follow Oscar Wilde’s habit: “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four, unless there are three other people.”
Speaking of breaking a fast, May 12th ends the month of Ramadan, the holy month of observance for Muslims. It was during Ramadan Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, received the revelations from angel Gabriel that allowed him to compile the holy book of Quran. Upon arriving in Medina, Muhammad announced Allah had established two days of celebrations for Muslims, Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. The purpose of Eid Al Fitr was to commemorate the end of the fasting of Ramadan, and mark the start of the Shawwal month, as well as to thank Allah for giving Muslims the perseverance to fast during Ramadan. The customary feast day greeting is “Eid Mubarak,” which translates to “blessed celebration” or “Happy Eid.”
The dessert of May is apple pie. Originally invented in England, the earliest apple pie recipe dates all the way back to 1381. The original recipe is very similar to the one we currently know, but it also included figs, raisins, pears, and saffron. The Dutch also created their own version of the apple pie, and the first recipe was published in a 1514 cookbook. This recipe is very similar to the apple pie we know and love today. Apple Pie Day is May 13th.
English and Dutch settlers brought the apple pie recipes into the colonies of what would become the United States, during the 17th and 18th centuries. They had to wait until the apple trees they planted grew and bore fruit, so at first apples were mainly used to make cider. It was only in the 18th century, when the first apple pie recipes were printed in America, that the dessert quickly grew in popularity. Following this came the 19th century Legend of Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman. He crisscrossed the expanding American frontier to bring seeds for apple orchards for homesteaders. He also brought news and the gospel for fifty years.
Chapman, or Appleseed, lives on as a barometer of the ever-shifting American ideal. Some see him as a pacifist, others as an example of the White Noble Savage (so remembered long after the settlers drove indigenous peoples from the land), and others see a mere children’s book simpleton. Some see him as a frontier bootlegger, since he helped expand the hard cider industry. Others see Johnny Appleseed as the patron saint of everything from cannabis to evangelical environmentalism and creation care—everything, that is, but the flesh-and-blood man he really was.
Our heroes are too often cardboard cutouts, and we don’t spend much time reflecting on their shadow sides. Of course, much like a Flat Stanley, a two dimensional character doesn’t have enough density to cast much of a shadow, unless the light is just right. This is why continuing Bible study is so important: most of us stop in grammar school and never get an adult insight into the scriptures. When we meet grownup problems, we have to wrestle the questions of faith that we once easily accepted trustingly. Or we walk out the door and never come back.
One of the most difficult sermons I ever preached was on the first Mother’s Day after my mother died. One of my best clergy pals, who was a mentor in my ministry, had arranged for a single rose to be on the pulpit beside me on that morning. It was a gift of grace and an empowering symbol, for roses were my mom’s favorite flower. Every time I thought I might cry, I held on tight to the polished oak wood and inhaled the fragrance of the rose. Even now, nearly two decades later, I can clearly see this rose and pulpit, and while I remember where I was, I recall the congregation’s faces were a blur on that day. It’s always the second Sunday in May.
I talk about my fresh grief from years ago, for during this current Pandemic too many of us have had present grief and stress, but either have no words for it, or perhaps have no safe place to express it. Then again, we may be “managing the grief of others,” and don’t have time for caring for our own needs. I call this Deferred Maintenance Grief. If you have an old, leaky faucet, you can keep turning the handle tighter for only so long. You can keep the leak stopped for a while, but soon you’ll strip out the insides of the faucet. Once it’s stripped down, it both streams steadily and needs a completely new fixture to replace it, instead of a minor repair.
I experienced this DMG once after a spate of ten deaths in a week, or maybe it was seven in ten days, followed by the death of one of the old, beloved black clergymen in my community. As I lay on the parsonage couch watching a rerun of Babylon 5, I was crying as if old E.D. were my own daddy. I then realized I’d been too busy caring for others and doing the “work I was called for,” to do the grief work I needed to do for myself. I needed to honor my loss and give myself dedicated spaces to deal with my feelings, so I could be present for others. That’s Deferred Maintenance Grief in a nutshell. If I were eating Cheetos by the bucketful, I’d be in a deep hole of DMG and digging it deeper!
Most of the churches I served had a “Don’t fix it unless it’s broke” policy. I grew up in a Depression Era family, so I was familiar with this attitude. However, these same people didn’t live this way in their own homes. We usually had a long list of deferred maintenance projects in the church property to finish in my time there. Then I’d go to the next place and do it all over again. “Always leave a place better than you found it, both structurally and theologically. Teach people the law of love. As we learn in Romans 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Most of us human beings have “deferred maintenance projects” also: days off, doctor visits, exercise, healthy meals, quiet times, and family times. Taking time for ourselves means we’re refreshed and eager to serve from the quickening power of the Spirit. Without this resting or love for our own embodied image of God, we end up working from the dying embers of our body’s frail resources—burnout calls our name.
When we get this broken, our families and our ministries both suffer along with us. We know better than to drive our vehicles with the gas gauge on empty past every filling station on the road of life. We aren’t called to die on the cross to prove our worth to Christ or to anyone else. He’s our savior and we claim his work on the cross. Anything else is workaholism or salvation by works. We need to name and claim this.
For clergy moving to a new appointment, this is an opportunity for a reset. For those who remain in place, I suggest a planning book. Mark off in advance quiet times, office hours, and visitation times. Take educational events, even if zoom is the only offering. Read for pleasure. Take a day off out of town. Don’t answer the phone after 9 pm unless it’s an emergency. Boundaries are blessings. I always told people up front, “I take my brain out of my head and put it inside a brain box at 9 pm. I put it back in at 9 am. If you call me between those hours, somebody better have died, be on the way to the ER, or the church is burning down.” They laugh, but I’ve had friends who wanted their pastor to be their bedtime Bible expositor. Boundaries keep us from burning out.
Speaking of burning, the official door to summer begins with Memorial Day Weekend. This holiday celebrates those who gave their lives in the great wars of our nation. It began after the Civil War in 1865 as a way to deal with the shared grief of a nation, which lost 750,000 people, or 2.5% of the population, in the struggle. If we were to translate this to today’s world, the number would equal 7,000,000 deaths. War is a pandemic all its own.
As a parting commentary on Memorial Day, the Pandemic, and Extreme Care Giving, I leave you with a portion of the 1865 Walt Whitman poem, “The Wound Dresser,” which he wrote after serving as a hospital volunteer in the Civil War.
But in silence, in dreams’ projections, While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on, So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand, With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up there, Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart.)
Bearing the bandages, water and sponge, Straight and swift to my wounded I go, Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in, Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground, Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital, To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return, To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss, An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail, Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d again.
I onward go, I stop, With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds, I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable, One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you, Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.
Remember to wear sunscreen to protect your skin if you plan outdoor activities on the first three day weekend of the summer and watch the temperature of the grill. We don’t want anything to burn if we can help it. Charred meat and burned skin are both indicated for cancer risks. Be safe and continue to mask up in public. Get vaccinated as an act of love for your family, your neighbors, and the world community. Since we’re all wound dressers, as well as the wounded also, we want to give as much care to healing our own wounds as we do to the wounds of others.
Metaphors make the world go round, or at least make it spin with interest. Our conversation would be boring if we stuck with flat, non descriptive words to share our thoughts and feelings. Likewise, our artworks die on the wall without emotional inspiration or contrasts in shape, color, value, or dimension.
This Pandemic has stripped many of us of our support structures and social experiences, so we may have become anxious, either because of loneliness or from fear of contracting COVID 19. Others are essential workers on the front lines, who daily risk their health and lives to care for the rest of us. People have taken on tutoring their children or grandchildren. I can remember working with my daughter years ago on fractions, using the “old math.” It was a traumatic experience for both of us. She could have used a paper bag to breathe into to help her calm down instead of hyperventilating. I’ve been on some rough airplane flights for which the paper bag was a comforter.
I have fond memories of the pre Covid days when I could visit the bakery. Entering the front door was a joy, for the mixed smells of hot coffee, fried dough, and sugared toppings could transport me to a happy place just by inhaling those aromas. My anticipation only increased as I hovered before the glass display case, for I was waiting to hear which sweet treat would call my name. Usually it was both the bear claw and the chocolate éclair, but those were the days when I was indulging in over nutrition.
Now comes the Pandemic, and while we can still get our food in a takeout paper bag, we don’t get the opportunity to smell or see the foods. We also miss the interpersonal contact with the workers and with the friends we used to meet for lunch. That same paper bag takes on different meanings depending on its context.
Our first art class back in person was Friday, 130 days since Arkansas entered the Covid Emergency, which was declared on March 11, 2020. That’s about four months, but it seemed longer. Some of my friends have said one day now seems just like another, just like a white paper bag seems to have nothing to distinguish it from the next bag in the package. I’ve set my own personal schedule so I do something different every day. It gives me a reason to look forward to the day, and I don’t get bored.
I have great memories of long, hot summers as a child when I’d make the grave mistake of telling my mother, “I’m bored.” She’d pause her stirring at the stove, look down at me from her grownup height, and reply. “If you’ve got nothing to do, you could dust those shelves full of knickknacks you collect.” Her suggestions were actually directions, but that was how I was raised. After dusting all morning, I’d be glad to entertain myself for weeks without bothering her. My mother might have been the source of my creativity.
If we only see an object or a person for its outward or most functional use, and never dig deeper to know it better or consider it in another environment, we miss its complexity and its richness. If we paint only the outward visage of a portrait, but miss the inner spirit of the person, we’ve done just half the work. If we need practice in this skill, I recommend lying on your back and watching the clouds in the sky above. As the winds above blow, they’ll change shapes. Notice these shapes, call them to memory, associate these shapes with past experiences or make up new stories.
Each person got their own paper bag, so they could hold it, touch it, crumple it, blow it up, fold it, pose it, or whatever they wanted. Because it’s all white, they could choose to paint it in grays, colors, tints, or a monochromatic value scheme. This bag is also a basic perspective lesson also, depending on the point of view. How each person solves it depends on how it speaks to them. Some of us have our art ears plugged up, for listening to the silence of objects is an acquired skill.
Remembering white comes forward and dark recedes is helpful. Sometimes our eye fools us and we paint the opposite of what we see. We get the shape down, but then don’t look again to see where the values are. We just lay on paint. Then we wonder why our image doesn’t match up with our model. Learning to look, paint, look, paint, look, and paint some more is important. We need to be in a continual conversation with the object and our painting.
Glen used to do mechanical and perspective drawings, so he knows how to do this work, but he hasn’t yet found the hidden key to unlock what he already knows from his career so he can apply it to this new activity. This “transfer of learning” means he has skills, but he needs encouragement to use them. I believe he’ll find the key, which is most likely in plain sight.
Gail crumpled her bag and worked quietly in blues to render the various surfaces. We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about our paintings, but hers seemed to be either a stormy sea or a rugged mountain. Life in the Pandemic has given all of us new challenges.
After a lifetime of five different careers caring for other people and working sixty plus hours per week, I’m glad for retirement and the slow lane. I enjoy the quiet and isolation, for I feel like I’m on a long term spiritual retreat. This is a time of joy and creative production, so if my paper bag glows with rainbow tones, this is my pandemic experience.
I’ve always told my students, “Each of you are unique. You look at the world through different eyes. You should make your work as special as you are. Don’t copy anybody else. Be your very best. After all, if our fingerprints are unique and our DNA is singular, why wouldn’t our art work be individual also?”
While the pandemic has given us masks and spread us out for the class sessions, it can’t damage our enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to painting flowers next week.
With the death of the esteemed scientist Stephen Hawking on Pi Day, I wondered what do The Corpus Clock and the Banksy Rat Clock say about these artists’ concepts of time? All musings about chronological time lead me to ask, Does God experience time in the same way we mortals experience time? Is time the same for all persons? Do all people in the same event experience time in the same manner? What do we humans do with our time? Moreover, do people of faith have a particular calling from God to use time in a certain way?
We might fill a book with the fully fleshed out answers to all these questions, but let’s just sketch out a few points on each.
THE BANKSY RAT
The Banksy rat running in a 14th Street clock face, as if in a hamster wheel, is believed to be his first work in New York since 2013. One of Banksy’s trademark rats was found painted on the face of a clock adorning a building façade, on Pi Day, 2018, with the distinctive silhouette of the Empire State Building looming in the background. The clock in question adorns a former bank and post office at the northwest corner of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street in Greenwich Village. This building is currently slated for demolition.
Banksy seems to think time is a circular and continuous event, ever repeating, and perhaps monotonous. If the wheel goes nowhere, we can be very busy, but gain nothing for our efforts. Therefore our lifespan, the time we have on earth, is an exercise in futility. Do we know this, however? If we’re rats in a cage, do we have the cognitive awareness to perceive this? The good news is, we are more than rats, and for this I’m grateful.
Of course, pi/π is an irrational number and irrational numbers don’t repeat forever. If you write out the decimal expansion of any irrational number (not just π) you’ll find that it never repeats. That means that π is irrational, and that means that π never repeats. It also never completes, or comes out even, as my old third grade teacher Mrs. Dickey used to say, under the old math I learned in elementary school. In November 2016, y-cruncher, a computer for large calculations, took the value of pi out to 22.4 Trillion digits. I was always doing well to remember “yes, I have a number,” for my math classes.
Since Banksy’s Rat appeared on Pi Day, his wry humor might be evident in the rat race is never ending for all time. If it’s on a building meant for destruction, however, it shows he has hope for a change in this world and a creation of a new world. We need to take care to create a better world, rather than the same old world which we destroyed.
THE CORPUS CLOCK
The Corpus Clock, created in 2008 by the inventor and horologist John C. Taylor, doesn’t look like a clock. Its shiny gold disk features 60 notches that radiate from its center. Lights race around the edges of the disc, and a spherical pendulum swings slowly beneath it. The Corpus Clock has no hands or digital numbers, but has three rings of LEDs, which reading from the innermost ring show the hours, minutes and seconds. When an hour is struck, no bells chime, but chains shake and a hammer hits a wooden coffin. Time passes and we all die, a fact further represented by the Latin inscription underneath the clock, mundus transit et concupiscentia eius, meaning ‘the world and its desires pass away’.
The most eye-catching detail is the fierce-looking grasshopper sitting atop the disc. Taylor called it a “chronophage,” from the Greek for time-eater. Like a locust devouring the harvest, the chronophage opens its mouth. Ordinary clocks emphasize the cyclical nature of time. The hands, moving in a circle, always make it back to the same place and suggest if we lose track of time today, we’ll always have tomorrow. This, of course, is only partly true. As the chronophage reminds us, we can never regain lost time.
Weirdly, the pendulum of the Corpus Clock slows down or speeds up. Sometimes it stops, the chronophage shakes a foot, and the pendulum moves again. Because of that, the time display may be as much as a minute off, although it swings back to the correct time every five minutes.
“There are so many expressions in everyday life about time going fast, time going slow and time standing still. Your life is not regular; it’s relative to what’s going on,” Taylor said.
He noted Albert Einstein’s observation: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”
“Time is a destroyer. Once a minute is gone you can’t get it back.”
As a note of irony, Prof. Stephen Hawking, cosmologist and author of the global bestseller, A Brief History of Time, was due to unveil the clock at 5.45 pm, but in the end the curtain covering it didn’t fall until 5.59.55 pm.
Two theories of time
Actually, philosophers have multiple theories on time. Scientists hold a few more yet. Two of the main ways of looking at time are movement and stasis.
1. Time moves. The A-theory (or the process theory) holds that time moves from one point to another in a unidirectional line.
2. Time stands still. The B-theory of time (or the stasis theory) holds that time essentially stands still. B-theorists holds that the process of time is an illusion and time itself is rather static, or unmovable.
Does God experience time in the same way we mortals experience time?
God is absolutely timeless and exists beyond the scope of space-time. Since God’s not mortal, and not a created being, the laws of creation don’t apply to God. God is the creator, the uncreated one. We, who are the created ones, can’t experience time in the same way as God. In a sense, all time is the same for God. The past, the present, and the future are all the same for God, since all things seem as “now” to the one who is. We never say “God was,” except in reference to our own experience. For God, all events are always happening concurrently, as it were, with the present, and with all the possible futures.
We too can experience time, somewhat like God, in those moments when memories flood into our present experience, such as when a certain smell reminds us of a loved one, or a melody brings to mind old friends and old haunts. Even unpleasant associations can bring the past into the present for us. While we’d rather only have positive feelings and thoughts, at least we can know we are in the same mysterious time stream with God when our time sense begins to meld the past and present together. If we’re in the same space and time with God, we’re sheltered from any harm. If we relax in these times, we can put our focus on the God who’s cared for us before we were born and will carry us through any storm.
For us, in an excruciating time, we might sense time stands still, or moves as slow as molasses. Slow motion is a description of the telescoping or expanding sensation some of us feel. Actually, Time happens at the same speed, but our sensation or experience of it is different. The expression “Time flies when you’re having fun,” is an example of the how fast moving time is when you’re enjoying yourself. Ask a child how long it is till Christmas, then ask the parents the same question. The child says”Forever!” Mother or Daddy swears they need another month at least. My well worn Advent calendar had many little doors, which I opened daily as a child to help me count down the days until Christmas. My parents had crafts for us to make for the holidays to help pass the time and give our eager hands an outlet for our energy.
Is time the same for all persons?
I think most of us count time linearly, for we begin at our birth and count our days and years until our death. We see this life unfolding along a single line. If we were to view our lives from beyond this world, we might perceive our lives as a circular spiral which orbits around our sun as the sun makes its route around the outer edge of our galaxy. The first seems to be a straight line like a ship crossing an ocean, while the latter is more of a spiraling circle on a larger circle.
Most of us are just trying to make it to the weekend or to payday, so our concepts of time aren’t vast at all. If we think about time, it’s about quitting time, lunch time, coffee break time, or time for bed. Thinking ahead to vacation time or retirement is a future too far, so wrapping our minds around infinity or eternity is too great a stretch. God can see all our possible futures, for we all have choices and there are always events beyond our control which will affect us. Nothing is preordained or fixed, except God’s generous love and grace. If we could stand out beyond our galaxy and see our small world, I wonder if we would see our lives in a different manner?
Do all people in the same event experience time in the same manner?
If we come from different places and upbringings, we won’t take from an event the same experiences. When one person sees the flickering candles of a worship center and feels fear and shame, while everyone else feels joy and serenity, the pastor has to ask what’s wrong. The association for this person was from a cult with ritual sexual abuse on the altar. Yes, things like this happen, and thank goodness this person came out of that environment. Yet the same setting was a trigger for old memories, and an opportunity for compassion, prayer, support, and the offering of healing.
For those who found the experience uplifting, the time passed quickly. For the suffering, Time was agony, for it united the ugly past with the present. The present ministry of those who sat with her eased her pain until she could return into the present once again, and begin to have hope for a better future.
What do we humans do with our time?
Too often we overvalue work and undervalue relationships. As a city person pastoring in a country church, I often felt they didn’t value the work of ministry among the people, since God calls all to be priests (priesthood of all believers). My people felt I didn’t value relationships very much. Maybe we should have met each other in the middle. What we do with our time is more than being honest in our business dealings, doing good in our community, and being faithful to our spouse. It has to be more than giving a tithe to our place of worship. Are we rats in a hamster wheel, or mere cogs in a great industrial production machine? When we spend our time at work, have we lost it, and only get to live on the weekends or when we retire?
Does God call people of faith to have a purpose for our time?
If our time at work is only a means to an end, but the time spent there has no meaning at all, we might want to consider a career change. One person I know said, “It just wasn’t fun anymore.” Another’s eyes only lit up when she spoke about her work with the hospice patients, but she gave the pat answers to “how’s your church doing?” I knew before she did her call had changed. I taught school and sold Insurance before I became a pastor. Now I cook, paint, and write in my retirement years. I get to study anything that suits my fancy, which is perfect for one who’s a professional student!
What is God’s call for your life? It doesn’t matter what age you are, the time to answer it is now, at the present moment. Tomorrow you’ll be a day older, and this day will be long gone. It will be only a memory, but not for taking action. Like the chronophage, the monster which eats time, each moment is precious and worthy. Seize the Day! Do the work God’s got for you!
When I was young, I thought I had to be Wonder Woman in order to please my parents. You know, the perfect daughter, the smartest child, the best artist, and the best behaved of all their progeny. After all, I was the first born and the only girl, so I’d had my parents’ undivided attention for those crucial early years. I thought if I worked hard, I could overcome any obstacle, and make any situation better, just by my force of will.
This is magical thinking, however. It works for comic book heroes who live in hard edge black and white moral worlds, but we live in the real world of fuzzy grays and complex moral choices. My family history of long marriages wasn’t going to extend to my generation, for I could no longer live with my alcoholic husband. I felt less like Wonder Woman and more like a failure. I told my mother I thought she and daddy always wanted me to be “perfect to earn their love.”
She looked dumbfounded at me, paused a moment and spoke, “Honey, we only wanted you to do your very best at all times. We knew you had more in you that you hadn’t tapped yet!”
This is the moment I forgave my parents for my Wonder Woman complex and learned to live with her. Not every person has had my parents. Some parents have no dreams for their children, so we must dream for them and encourage them to be superheroes in our classrooms, in our neighborhoods and wherever we meet them.
Other parents lack imagination. They see their children repeating their own lives as good enough. Yet, they too only want the best for their children so if they can only imagine their life repeated for them, we shouldn’t fault these parents for their lack of imagination. They never lived in our age or times, nor in our bodies or minds! We children can become the best we can be, for our world is far grander than theirs ever was! We won’t always live up to the expectations of our parents or the plans they imagined for us, but we will be superheroes anyway.
My daddy once told me I was learning in high school chemistry what he studied in college chemistry classes. This is why your six year old nephew or niece can work your smart phone faster than you can! The world’s knowledge explodes now, doubling every year, but with the internet it will soon double every 12 HOURS!
We won’t need to learn all this information, or keep it stored in our minds, but we will need to know how to access it. Asking the best questions, knowing what is necessary, and the sense of discernment to winnow the good from the chaff will be what separates the best answers from the better, the good, and the ordinary ones.
My latest painting is a self portrait as “Wonder Woman during the Great American Eclipse.” I traveled to Kentucky to see this wonderful event at Land Between the Lakes. We can all be superheroes at every age and in every body shape. Just as the eclipse united all of America in the joy of celebrating a coast to coast mass experience provided by nature, we each have a divine image within us that unifies all of humanity as one, for we’re each made in the image of God. As the Jewish queen in scripture was reminded, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)
How we become the best persons is a matter of becoming a superhero or “coming to royal dignity for such a time as this!” We’ll always be fine tuning our spiritual lives, our education, and our professional achievements. Even when we retire, we’ll find engaging opportunities for service to others and self improvement both. Most likely our spiritual lives will deepen and our family and friendships will take on more importance. I hope you all seek your best life possible, beginning today.
Join me in being a Superhero! You can be a hero for someone who needs you today.
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
I walk on Thursday evenings in the historic downtown district of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Most of our buildings are from our salad days of the Victorian period and early 20th century. We are building new construction, such as this new Regions Bank Tower, which will replace the one directly behind my back. I often leave my car under this overpass while I huff and hustle my way up to the cold spring at the entry to the mountain route to the observation tower. From there I walk past historic hotels, small and large, until I get to the site of the old Majestic Hotel, which burned to the ground in 2014. If I turn around for the start again, I can put in nearly 2 miles on a good evening. Even if I’m the last to finish, I’m still faster than the ones who never started.
Our creative and spiritual lives are like my walking discipline in my downtown, which is both dying and being renewed. I notice some shops have closed, but new ones have taken their place. These aren’t all tourist shops, but some are tradesmen serving the needs of downtown dwellers. Each of us needs to take care of our long term needs, not just our whim wants.
For our spirit, paying attention to our relationship with God through silence, contemplative study of scripture, and service with the poor will help ground our identity in God rather than in our own self. In our creative work, keeping the disciplines of our trade can be important. By this I mean, remembering to draw, to use color, value, to work a series, or to explore a subject fully. If we write, we pay attention to the skills of this craft, or if we are musicians, we never neglect our scales or any other skill sharpener in our toolbox.
Sometimes we get to the place in our lives when everything burns down to the ground. Like the storied Majestic Hotel, once a home to professional baseball players during spring training and mobsters down for the gambling, our life as it is won’t stand up to the elements or to the vissitudes of fate. A stray cigarette or a frayed wire takes the whole building down, along with all its memories and its derbis inside.
Sometimes we too have to start from scratch by making a fresh start. Yes, saving a historic treasure would be nice, but sometimes not very cost effective because the structure isn’t sound. Then it’s best to turn our back on that old life, grieve for it, and find a new hope and a new vision for the future. “If only we had done something with it 30 years ago!” Yet the will wasn’t there, was it? We can’t turn back the hands of time.
In 1992, I answered God’s call to ministry. I spent twenty-two years away from my original calling, art. When my health took me out of parish ministry, I took up painting again in 2009. Five years in my studio relearning color, value, shape, composition, and emotion has felt like burning down a great old edifice and building a new one in its place. To date I’ve stayed close to the subject, except for the color. Lately I’ve felt constrained by those boundaries, and I’ve moved to s freer brushstroke. Will it stick? I’m enjoying it, but I feel emotionally exhausted afterward. I’m tearing down a boundary and am about to climb over a barricade. I’m excited about this adventure, even if it tastes of danger.
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.
Everyone should take at least one accidental vacation, at least once in their life. This event will throw you off your game plan, sweep away your plan B, and leave you up a creek without a paddle. This is your Kobayashi Maru, your Waterloo, and your Little Big Horn all rolled up into one. Most of us think we trust God, but we really trust our own strengths, capabilities, support systems, and friendship ties. We aren’t prepared to “go to a land God will show us” or to go as the 12 were sent, taking “nothing for our journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, not even an extra tunic.” (Luke 9:3) I planned to be gone to visit my nephew’s organic farm for 2 weeks; I was gone a whole month. I got bit by an attack telephone pole on my way out of the gas station. It’s my story, I’m sticking to it. Once I got the big red Ram rental truck, I headed out of Dodge in my Dodge. By the next day, I was on the beach in North Carolina.
Like a pirate, I stayed as long as I had a room, and then I moved on. Some accommodations were great, but some I bought cleaning products for my personal safety. I found a welcome everywhere. I ate mostly from the grocery and the icebox in the rooms. Fresh fruit, cheese, cottage cheese, spinach, carrots, mushrooms, avocado, and bread made up my living off the land menu. One night I did get fresh cooked shrimp from the deli for a great salad. My last night on the beach I treated myself to a fake pirate’s ship venu restaurant, but it was a fine meal. I ate the appetizer sampler platter and a salad, so that was more than enough rich food for me!
When I came back to the tiny town where my busted baby sat, I stopped in the arts coffee shop to ask the barista if she knew a nicer place than the motel on the highway. They called Yvonne at the bed and breakfast, and talked her into giving me a discount since I would be an extended stay and was here as a “victim of circumstances.” I was glad, for the highway motel looked suspect and I was ready to be treated as a princess for a change. I guess all my pirate swagger had “swigged” out on the trip back. I was ready for lace curtains and 48 acres of piney woods quiet, not to mention three course breakfasts in the morning. Those breakfasts were to die for! My spirits were being revived daily.
While I’m not much of a drama queen, I do tend to worry. This is one trip that I did not worry, for I realized that I was getting a beach vacation out of this, due to my prime of life coverage, as well as the rental car. I might as well enjoy it to the fullest of my ability, within the limits of the finances available to me. The beach provided long walks for the morning and evening. Then of course, I did have to climb America’s tallest lighthouse, just to say I had done it.
The second week at the B&B would be on me, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that, so I could be thankful that I got a great price from the locals who showed hospitality to me. I vacationed in town, ate there, took photos, wrote, drank coffee in the cafe, and hung out. I was relaxed. I did pay some bills and wire some money to the bank, just to be safe. I washed clothes. An ordinary life.
What isn’t ordinary is leaning on others and receiving from them more than I gave in return. As a giver, I am always on the pouring out side. This time I was on the receiving end, and I have never been so filled in my whole life! From the day I hiked up the Rainbow Falls Trail, I discovered that while I might be able to almost get there by myself, I sure couldn’t get down without help. Thank God Trevor, Angie & that unnamed angel turned up with the hiking stick to help me down! The clerk at the hotel upgraded my room to the jacoozi when he heard my story, and I was again thankful.
Most of us don’t receive well, because it puts us in the weak position. We would rather be in the giving or strong position. That’s why we like that verse “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (acts 20:36) it claims to quote Christ, but no gospel contains that quote. Someone always has to receive, however, for the giver to get the blessing. If we aren’t on the receiving end, we rob the giver of the blessing of generosity. If we aren’t in the receiving end, we rob ourselves of the blessings of humility and poverty. These are blessings because in them we can share he nature of Christ. It was for our sakes, that though he was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
So I commend to you the idea of an “accidental vacation.” Perhaps you won’t need to bash in the front end of your vehicle to get the message, but some of us are like ornery mules: God needs to get our attention in a big way. Even the worst events God can use for good, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes. I discovered that each person I met on this trip was at a crux in their life, just as I was. They were at a decision point, a transition point, or a new calling was taking hold in their lives, just as it was in my own. Perhaps what seemed to be only an accident to some, God was able to make into a greater design for good: not just for me, but for the people who shared their stories and lives with me on my accidental vacation. I’m looking forward to retirement, but for me that just means redefining my calling to “word, sacrament, & order.” My word will be my creative endeavors, both painting and writing, serving the sacraments in the congregations and communities in which I fellowship, and being faithful to my brothers and sisters in our order of the elders.