WOUNDS, HEALING AND LOVE: THE MYSTERY OF THE JOURNEY

Food, Forgiveness, Health, Icons, Imagination, Italy, Love, Meditation, Ministry, mystery, poverty, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Strength, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, Work

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At dinner Friday night with some friends, I met a lady from their church. I remarked that I needed to find something on the Mexican restaurant’s menu that wouldn’t damage my wellness plan. I’ve been pre-diabetic for eight years now, but I’ve managed my condition with diet and exercise. I even have a Fitbit exercise monitor that links to my sparks people food record. “Gosh! That’s so much trouble” she said, “why do you worry with all that?” I looked at her and replied, “Because I have a family history of diabetes, I’m pre-diabetic, and my younger brother is insulin dependent and already had congestive heart failure. I don’t want to go there too.” “Been there, done that. It’s all part of life,” she said.

I have been on a healing journey for years. What, you say, are you just spiritually slow, recalcitrant, a backslider, sluggardly, or just too busy to take care of yourself? If our healing journeys are toward our recovery of our original image of divine creation, I’m not yet there, but I persist by the grace of God.

I don’t berate myself for not yet arriving, but the last few years I’ve had a hardness of my heart regarding others who have gone “so far, but no farther.” They have in effect become settlers and comfortable at some village located in a cozy hollow beside a pleasant stream. They have nice neighbors and maybe a few quaint nut cases to liven up the town gossip mills. I confess that as one who can hardly wait for the next adventure, the next project, or even the next day, I’m not big on being “settled.”

This is why I’ve had six careers in my working life: artist, real estate investor, art teacher, insurance sales, wife and mom, and ministry. Now that I’m in retirement, I’ve taken up writing and resurrected my artistic endeavors. I’m not settled enough to sit around, drink coffee and rehash my glory days or even talk about current events. I’m too involved in making current events!

This icon, “He Healed Others, Cannot He Heal Himself?” Is made of found objects which I picked up while walking around Mercy Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This 1.5 mile circuit from my local YMCA takes me from one healing place past many others: doctors’ offices, cancer treatment sites, home healthcare training schools, pharmacies, and clinics of every type. Across the street one can get food for the body. The busy roads and highways are a bountiful source for the castaway chunks of this human life.

As I picked up these assorted pieces of debris, I thought of the cast off people in this world: the hungry, the dying, the disabled, the terminally ill, the deaf, and the blind. The greatest healing sign was raising Lazarus from the dead! I had an old postcard from a trip to Italy I could use, along with some old embroidery hoops from the grandparent’s house that I’ll never use on a cloth, but I’ve “saved for the memories of their name.”

In the first three Gospels, the “chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:41-42). To “save” is to heal, to preserve from harm, or to get well. We speak today of “being saved” as if it were a one and done, but in fact it is both an instantaneous and a long term process.

We want our wounds to be healed NOW! By golly, and don’t leave any visible scar as a sign of our past pain, but remove all signs of our imperfection from our hearts, minds, and souls. Just as the Son of a God took a human body to taste all of our peak and low experiences, even to the abandonment of death, I think God may have a purpose in leaving us with our scars as we continue on our journey.

The scars we bear are signs to others of the journey we’re still traveling, much like the stamps in our passports. They are the marks of our past pain and brokenness. If God were to wipe those identifying marks away, no one would know to seek us out as guides along their own journeys. God may be leaving these wounds open so that we can pour God’s love out through our brokenness into the lives of this hurting and hopeless world.

Our world is full of people that have been told that they need to get well before God will love them, but what they are really being told is “My wounds are covered over with a fake skin of perfection, so until you adopt your fake skin, find another place to worship.” Our open wounds that let God’s love flow through to all people, the wandering wounded and the settled saints both, is what will bring us closer to God as we come closer to our neighbor. Sometimes it’s easier to love a holy God than an unholy neighbor, but loving God’s creation should be a goal of our spiritual journey.

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A DEEPER SOURCE OF WATER

Creativity, Health, Imagination, Italy, photography, Spirituality, Strength, Stress, Travel, vision, Work

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I’m sixty five years old. I have an iPhone. When I see an interesting image, I stop and park my car. I take a little walk, getting in a few more steps for my otherwise sedentary life. The viewpoint then becomes important, otherwise I’m just taking snapshots. The place has “called me,” as we say, for I’ve driven past hundreds of trees on my way home, but this one tree stands by itself, calling for a visitor to commune with it. As I clambered down into the stream bed, I noticed the water flow was weak due to our lack of rain. The large black basalt outflow rocks were quite dry, so I sat down for a lower vantage point. This was good, but I decided to lie down, to get one last view.

Did I mention that I was wearing bright red pedal pushers and an equally bright yellow blouse? The sight of a gray haired gal taking photos while lying down in the midst of a stream did get celebrated by a number of the passing vehicles. I waved back, it’s Arkansas. Folks don’t often do out of the ordinary here.

When I was an art student, I had the privilege to study art history for a summer in Italy. Two days a week our professors took us on bus trips to see art in situ and three days we worked in the studios over the town square of Cortona, our home base. In a historically rich and artistically wealthy nation, the Italians don’t bat an eye when they see an artist sketching or painting in front of a monument, sculpture, or landscape. I even found that putting my tool box with coins and paper money down near my feet would bring additional gifts of appreciation from passers by.

In fact, the Italians are downright spoiled by the beauty that surrounds them. (There’s a Borromini church! Uh? Oh, so?!). We too are sated by that which surrounds us, but it isn’t a reverence for the cultural treasures of antiquity. The Italians have an art history that extends back through pre Etruscan times (1000 BC). Our history begins in 1620 at Plymouth Rock. We are a people who would rather tear it down and build something new. When I see this tree standing strong, offering its branches and shade as a shelter to any who come near, I think of an old home or an old church that has protected and provided for generations of families that have come under its “roof.”

Just as I had no fear when I lay down in the middle of the stream, the tree has such deep roots that even when the stream itself drys up, it has a deeper source of water to tap. This is where most of us fall apart in our daily lives, our creative lives, and our spiritual lives. I speak as if these were three separate items, but in fact, each one is only a facet of a singular treasure. When our daily life is stressed, our creative and spiritual lives suffer. When our spiritual life is ignored, our creative and daily life withers. When we aren’t creating, we don’t feel alive spiritually or humanly.

We each need to find the deeper source of water, that will refresh our thirsty souls and spirits.

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
~~ Jeremiah 17:7-8

The Shining River

Creativity, Icons, Imagination, Italy, Ministry, mystery, photography, Prayer, Spirituality, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, vision, Work

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  ~~ Revelation 22:1-2

I have never visited a more beautiful city than Venice, Italy, with her

The river of God, flowing from the throne of God, with the tree of life bearing fruits in every month & leaves for the healing of the nations.

The river of God, flowing from the throne of God, with the tree of life bearing fruits in every month & leaves for the healing of the nations.

ancient mansions on the canals, her grand piazza opening up to the lovely Basilica of San Marco’s domes, and her delightful bridges, museums, and churches. Most tourists who visit here love to feed the pigeons, while I think they are a public nuisance. Then these birds take flight heavenward and I’m inclined to think of angels’ wings and brushes of glory.

With all these earthly visual delights, my eye still is drawn heavenward to the sky, for the clouds and the atmospheric haze of Venice give this city a unique ambience. If a painter were to lay the colors of the South Italian sky upon the watery bogscape of Venice, the discord would be marked immediately.  At dawn and twilight especially, travelers don’t need a GPS to recognize the location or even a town sign to mark their arrival, for the sky alone says, “Welcome to Venice, weary traveler! Rest your soul!”

Most of us are used to living on a city lot with trees and grass that is bounded by a concrete walkway, a grass “neutral ground,” and a street that separates us from a mirror image of our own property across that same road. Venetians live on canals in multistory buildings that double as homes and warehouses. The lower floors were for work, for the cargo hauling gondolas easily accessed these, while the upper floors were for the family retreat, since they were more private. Everything in Venice moves by some form of floating contraption, since the city was built on marshy land in the middle of a lagoon between several small islands.

Because there aren’t any motorcars, there is a different feeling to the city. On the larger canals, the big boats ferry people on the tourist routes and smaller motorboats act as taxis. The classic gondola with the human powered oarsman is a premium priced experience, much like a carriage ride in downtown Hot Springs or Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Travelling to the nooks and crannies of this jeweled city is by foot over one of the many bridges and side paths, so it is a sightseer’s paradise.

This slower travel allows a visitor to feel the rhythm of the place, to smell the air, to note the patina on the marble facings of the homes, the worn indentations on the entry steps of the ancient homes, and the variety of colors in the handmade bricks. Walking down the narrow corridor between the homes doesn’t prepare the visitor for the sudden opening into a larger space and the overwhelming, all enveloping softness of lush rose, moist yellow, and puffy crème that make up the clouds of a Venetian sky. Perhaps someone else sees only a cerulean blue sky and a titanium white cloud, but I know what I see. I visited this beautiful city only once, some forty years ago, and I still remember images from those blessed days.

As I think about this crystal clear memory from my past, I wonder how we see our own world today and how we envision the world that is to come. Many of us have a very negative view of this world: the problems, the people, and the pains are all overwhelming. We have divided our world into an “us vs. them” place: rich or poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat, Developed world or Emerging world, Christian or Muslim, and the list of dualisms goes on and on.  Even in the Bible, folks were divided, until Paul set them straight, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

We aren’t meant to separate ourselves from one another but to find a way to come closer to each other. “If only we were all Christians,” you say, “and everyone belonged to MY church/denomination.” I think that what Paul also means by “one in Christ Jesus” is that all human beings share the image of God, no matter what church they belong to, and no matter what God they call upon. No matter how different they look from you and me, they still hold the divine image and imprint within them. If we are to truly live out our call to be “the living image of God in the world,” just as Jesus Christ was the living image of God in the flesh as the Incarnated Son of God, then we have to take that incarnation in our lives and the recreation of this world seriously.

In the Celtic Tradition, heaven and earth are only three feet apart. The “thin places” where we feel the presence of God are even closer. What if God intended all creation to be a “thin place?” The Garden of Eden seemed to be such a spot, for Adam and Eve not only lived and cared for the land here, but they had daily walks with the LORD in the cool of the evening breezes (Genesis 2-3). Unfortunately, our spiritual forbears decided that equality with God was more desirable than companionship with God, so they lost their daily privilege of the presence (Gen 3:22-24). This is called “The Fall.”

Ever since this Fall, all of human kind has attempted to recover the intimate relationship with God and nature that we once had in the Garden. Today some focus only on their spiritual lives and separate their souls from their flesh. Both Christian and New Age groups will do this: we deny our body sleep, good nutrition, or healthy exercise. We also see it when a proponent of some “spiritual doctrine” proclaims that the body is unimportant, so that it can be treated either well or ill, or can be used by the cult leader for “higher purposes.”  Or we claim that since our bodies don’t matter, we can use them for any purpose we want, for only our soul matters.

Since God created us with both a body and a soul (Gen 2:7), both must be valued by God. Moreover if God sent his Son into the womb of a teenage Virgin, so that he might be born fully human (both body and soul) and fully divine (still the Son, still part of the Holy Trinity), then God distinctly values the human body, both female and male. God sent his Son in human form to the earth, not just to redeem humanity, but to set all creation free (Rom 8:21).

When we spend time in a thin place, most often we are isolated and silent. Most of us need that time away from the hustle and bustle of life to settle our minds so we can hear or feel the presence of God. We need a “Garden of Eden” that is our place to meet God daily until we are able to meet him in the midst of the fallen world in which we live. How can we learn to feel the presence of God while we are within the “maddening crowd?”

I practice times of “tuning out” or letting my mind drift. Some call this daydreaming or a failure to stay on task. Creative people are task slaves until their idea has fully formed well enough to get them excited about working and then you can’t tear them away from their fever until they drop from exhaustion or realize they are about to overwork their piece.  We know our own work habits, and it usually isn’t on anyone else’s time clock. The creative idea is their master, not the schedule, the calendar, or some outside influence.

I will be in the car at a red light and hear a voice in my inner mind prompting me to look up and photograph the sky. I do this for no particular reason, other than I feel impelled.  It’s not an actual voice of a person; it’s more of an intuitive feeling that now is the time to take this photo. Perhaps I’m just bored, or I have better peripheral vision, or I need something to occupy my time so I don’t go silly waiting at the back of this long line. I think of these moments as “intersections of heaven and earth,” for these are windows in which our everyday world opens up into a world in which God is present and touches our world and our space and our time.

The painting which graces the headline is from a photo of the street outside of my condominium, beyond the small creek, looking over into the wooded lot beyond. The old asphalt road has become the River of Life, bright as crystal. There are many trees there and the golden sky tells us that we are in the presence of the glory of God. I go in and out of this gate every day, into a world in which God is ever creating and recreating. I have a much better attitude toward all the ugliness I see out there when I know it is passing away before my very eyes.