Eternal Youth and the Aged Superman

Alexander the Great, arkansas, art, change, Faith, Family, Healing, Health, inspiration, Meditation, Ministry, purpose, renewal, Retirement, Spirituality, Strength, Superman

DeLee, Memories of a Certain Springtime, mixed Media, 2021

Springtime is the season of youth, growth, and promise. It’s full of hope and anticipation for the future. It’s the season of our youth, for we identify with the vigor of nature’s growing and fertile surroundings. Winter isn’t the season for most of us, for it’s cold, dark, and the world is buried under ice, snow, or an interminable rain. It reminds us of our own mortality, our own aging and weakness, and our lack of power over our circumstances. No wonder people have searched for the fountain of eternal youth in many cultures across the ages.

As a pastor, I know people die in every season of the year, but somehow the deaths in winter seemed to strike me as more difficult to deal with than those of summer. In recent years, U.S. death rates in winter months have been 8 to 12 percent higher than in non-winter months. Much of this increase relates to seasonal changes in behavior and the human body, as well as our increased exposure to seasonal respiratory diseases. Cold temperatures exacerbate preexisting diseases, plus this weather brings on strenuous activities we don’t do at any other time of the year. Some people work outside all year round, so they’re always subjected to extreme weather conditions. I’m not sure which is worse: extreme heat or extreme cold. I’ve always used the premise, “We can always put on more clothes; taking them off is risky business.”

Drinking from the Water Hose

Of course, summer heat now is more extreme than it used to be. The dinosaurs among us keep saying, “When I was a kid, we played outside all day long and drank from the garden hose. We came inside for lunch, rested during the hottest part of the afternoon, and went back outside to play until it was almost sunset. Then we had a late, light supper, took our baths, and we were in bed by the time the stars came out.”

Weather records back from 1954 tell a different story. It was actually so hot, the extreme heat caused a Kansas City weather beacon to malfunction and forecast snow (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12 July 1954). The Dinosaurs’ memories of their childhoods aren’t fossilized in stone. They remember what they want to remember. Most of us forget the difficult times and remember the times of joy instead. I remember this era as so hot and humid, my daddy would stand in the back yard with the water hose on full blast as he cooled down the west facing brick wall of our house. The overflow water nurtured the orange day lilies in the flowerbeds below.

I think some of our Dinosaur generation’s memories might have moderated over the years, just as the extremes of any pain—childbirth, war, or cultural changes—have been moderated by the joys of survival and bringing a new generation to adulthood. Also, we tend to remember the better parts of our lives if we have an optimistic outlook.

I wasn’t around for the “The Great Heat Wave of 1936,” which affected around 15 states during its three-week run that brought temperatures above 100 degrees. During the summer of 1936, The United States endured its worst heat wave on record. Ozark, Arkansas exceeded 100F every day from August 3 – 23 and reached a chart topping record 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Also known as the “1936 North American Heat Wave,” it exacerbated the levels of human suffering during the ongoing Great Depression. During this time, the all-time highest temperature in Arkansas was 120° F (Ozark on Aug.10, 1936). For comparison, in 2010 Little Rock, Arkansas had to endure its hottest summer between June and August when the temperature went above 90 degrees for two months. The Western states, currently under a mega drought that’s the worst the area has seen since 800 AD, hope to see rain and cooler temperatures soon.

Once upon a springtime

It’s not just the weather I connect with the cycles of life, but also the changes in my body. Gone are the days when I could stay up all night talking or frolicking and then go to work without missing a beat. Of course, I was once an energizer bunny, or maybe I didn’t get all that much done when I was “working.” It was a mark of hubris for me that I could still work, no matter how foolish I was the night before. My friends and I thought of ourselves as heroic.

Arthur C. Clarke speaks of youthful infatuation with heroes, who in their minds should benefit from the eternal bloom of everlasting youth. Age and decrepitude shouldn’t affect heroes, for they’re either blessed by god or nature has given them have supernatural bodies. As Clarke describes the movie star walking on the low gravity space dock in his science fiction novel Islands in the Sky,

“Tex Duncan followed close behind. He was trying to manage without an escort and not succeeding very well. He was a good deal older than I’d guessed from his films, probably at least thirty-five. And you could see through his hair in any direction you cared to look. I glanced at Norman, wondering how he’d reacted to the appearance of his hero. He looked just a shade disappointed.”

George Blanda, the oldest football player and record holder

Young folks think 35 is ancient. They never met George Blanda, the oldest NFL quarterback. Blanda played for 26 NFL seasons, the most seasons played by a single player in NFL history. During that time, he broke numerous other records as well. He held the record of most pass attempts in a single game, 68, until Drew Bledsoe broke his record in 1994 with 70 attempts. Blanda also was the first player to score more than 2,000 points, and he’s one of only two players to play in four different decades before he retired at age 48, one month shy of his 49th birthday.

Tom Brady, age 45, is the oldest quarterback to ever start an NFL game, but to break George Blanda’s age record for playing, Brady would have to play for four more seasons to break the age record and play until age 50 to break Blanda’s record of 26 seasons. Brady also has yet to throw seven touchdown passes in one game, a record Blanda and seven other NFL quarterbacks hold.

My old daddy often watched in agony while many young quarterback desperately tried to move a team downfield until the coach sent in Blanda, who somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

“Finally!” he’d shout at the tv. “How ‘bout that old man?” he’d exclaim to the rest of us. Agonizing over a football game was a family affair.

Tired Superman

We humored my daddy, who was just past his mid century mark. As young and vigorous twenty something’s, we kids knew mortality’s chill breath was on his neck, while we were still able to outrun any shade creeping up on us in the night. As young people, we were still at the age when we began to see our parents less as heroes, and more as the flesh and blood realities of their true selves.

Not everyone survives this transition gracefully. Some need to see their parents as “forever heroes,” and are disappointed when the folks don’t measure up to this lofty standard. Likewise, we can transfer these same “forever hero” desires to God, and want God to be our superhero to rescue us from dangers and keep us from harm. We don’t take responsibility for our own lives, but wait for the external power to fix our lives in a dramatic way. We’re forever dependent on the superpower for every thing good.

Johann Baptist Hagenauer: Christ at the Column, ca. 1754–56 , Alabaster, polychromed and gilded

There came a time in my daddy’s life when Parkinson’s disease and dementia weakened both his body and his mind. This wasn’t all at once, but a slow progression. He once had a strong handwriting, firm and legible. As his fine motor skill diminished, this beautiful signature became cramped and small, but it had the same stroke pattern as his original. My mom would fuss when he could no longer open jar lids for her, but I reminded her, “He wants to do this for you, but his hands can’t manage it. It’s a case of the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak.”

She wasn’t used to hearing this verse quoted in this context. I did get her piercing look, like I’d stabbed her to the heart, but she stopped fussing at him for what he couldn’t do and began to enjoy what he could still do. She too had always thought of him as a Superman type because he’d always been there for her. She now understood she would have to be there for him as he began to lose his powers.

“Kryptonite“

We all have our own personal kryptonite, the mineral from our home planet that can drain our super powers the way it does for Superman. For some of us, it’s toxic substances, toxic environments, or toxic people. Some of us make poor choices about the people or places we hang about in, some of us think we need to please everyone, and some of us work too much to avoid emotional involvement.

The heart of Superman is forever young

At an advanced age, after multiple attacks from criminal types, and the burden of saving the planet over the years, even Superman gets tired. We Christians take the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” as a Superman quote, forgetting all the other verses which reflect the humanity of Jesus: he was tired and hungry, so he rested at a well in Samaria; he was moved by the death of a friend, and wept at the news. We might need to recover the superhuman courage of the disabled and the aged instead. These find their strength in their weakness, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:25—

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

The older people I know all believe, “If I get out of bed, I’m going to have a good day. It’s my choice and I’m going to make it a good one. At my age, I don’t have time to waste on bad days!”

If I roll out of bed singing and wondering where my coffee cup is, I know it’s a good day. Then again, I always have a daily plan to do something creative: paint, write, quilt, cook, and if I must, make the condo more beautiful by cleaning it. I share my spiritual thoughts over several media platforms. It’s good to do ministry this way, since I have to keep a low profile due to my seizure disorder.

When we get to a certain age, people begin to ask, “Can he or she still do the job?” We make several assumptions when we ask this question:

  1. The way we imagine the work of ministry requires lots of energy.
  2. We prefer a young person to do this work because of our preconceived ideas about the nature of the work.
  3. We want a fresh face to represent us in the community because a young person reflects well on us.
  4. We think like attracts like, so a young pastor will attract young families.
Alexander the Great, a model of the ever youthful hero

However, we sometimes get more than we bargained for when our Wonder Woman or Superman “young hero” pastor prayers are answered:

  1. We don’t want to move as fast as the energetic young leader.
  2. Young leaders have novel ideas, but we’ve never done it that way.
  3. Young leaders often believe everyone should be in ministry.
  4. Young leaders remind us the congregation is the best representative in the community because they continue, while clergy come and go.
  5. The leader doesn’t change us, for we can only change ourselves.
  6. While a leader may attract new people, those who are part of the ongoing system will keep them by integrating them into the faith community.
Michelangelo: David, the youth as hero

One of the interesting aspects of working with the differently abled is an employer’s willingness to restructure the workplace setting or requirements to mesh with the employee’s abilities. We still have a notion of ministry that hasn’t been seriously reimagined since the 1950’s, when married clergy men were the norm and non working clergy wives were taking care of the children, house, and volunteering in the church and community.

One thing never changes, however: clergy bear the existential burdens of ministry—they carry the weight of others’ emotional and spiritual burdens, they’re overwhelmed by others’ needs and the importance of ministerial issues, and they’re expected to solve unsolvable mysteries of life in relationships.

Wonder Woman, still a hero

This would age any Superman or Wonder Woman, but they persist in their callings to love and serve others. As Paul would say of his own people, “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). We are all called to serve by virtue of our baptism into the life, death, resurrection, and ministry of Jesus Chris. Therefore we each have gifts, and these we must use for God’s glory as long as we have breath and strength.

Maybe we won’t be the starting quarterback anymore, but we’ll wait our turn on the bench to take on the last ditch two minute drill, or comfort the grieving when they come off the field in whatever loss they suffer. God will use us as long as we have breath, and God will put us in the right place, at the right time, to be the hands and heart of Christ for those who need us at that opportune moment.

Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer, wrote about aging in this way, basing his commentary on Job 12:12 (NIV), “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?“ He said,

“Much violence in our society is based on the illusion of immortality, which is the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not a gift to be shared. When the elderly no longer can bring us in contact with our own aging, we quickly start playing dangerous power games to uphold the illusion of being ageless and immortal. Then, not only will the wisdom of the elderly remain hidden from us, but the elderly themselves will lose their own deepest understanding of life. For who can remain a teacher when there are no students willing to learn?”

Joy, peace, and May you find your inner superhero,

Cornelia

Unknown Artist: Alexander the Great, from Alexandria, Egypt, 3rd cent. BCE, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen (5), CC BY 2.0,

Michelangelo: David, 1501-1504, marble, Academia Galleries, Florence, Italy.

Climate Change Indicators: Cold-Related Deaths | US EPA
https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-cold-related-deaths

The Prolonged 1954 Midwestern U.S. Heat Wave: Impacts and Responses in: Weather, Climate, and Society Volume 3 Issue 3 (2011)
https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/wcas/3/3/wcas-d-10-05002_1.xml

See the most extreme temperatures in Louisiana history
https://www.ksla.com/2022/04/11/see-most-extreme-temperatures-louisiana-history/

Arkansas annual temperatures and records
https://coolweather.net/statetemperature/arkansas_temperature.htm

Arthur C. Clarke: Islands in the Sky, 1952. An early novel of space travel, as seen through the eyes of a young contest winner.

Is George Blanda the Oldest NFL Player of All Time? | Stadium Talk
https://www.stadiumtalk.com/s/george-blanda-oldest-nfl-player-789d32390d914687

Nouwen Meditation: The Illusion of Immortality
September 7, 2022 at 4:02:09 AM CDT
Henri Nouwen Society email_lists@henrinouwen.org

Tom Brady Continues Chasing George Blanda’s Records – The Virginian Review
https://wvdn.mynews360.com/news/17796/tom-brady-continues-chasing-george-blandas-records/

The Mosaic Christ

art, Creativity, Faith, Historic neighborhood, Holy Spirit, hope, Icons, incarnation, inspiration, Italy, mystery, Painting, perfection, Ravenna Italy, Reflection, renewal, Spirituality, Travel, vision

The Body of Christ is All of Us

The Body of Christ represents the perfection of all humanity as the image of God. The body of Christ we know as the church is made of many individuals, just as a mosaic design is constructed of many pieces to make a whole. I think of these as the “two bodies of Christ,” even though the literalists among us might think Jesus has only one body. The mysterious body of Christ is what Paul speaks about in his letter to the Romans:

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (12:4-5).

I Am the Bread of Life: Macaroni Christ Icon

Since each one of us is made in the image of God, but of ordinary materials, together we become a mosaic of the whole Body of Christ, going onto his perfection as we encounter and encourage one another within and without the church. After all, the body of Christ isn’t limited to the walls of our buildings, for Christ said in Matthew 25:40—

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

I have a penchant for recycling canvases and paintings which no longer please me. I’m willing to destroy them and make something new. They die and are reborn into a new life. I learned something from that former experience, but now it’s time to move on. When I read my Bible, I’m always getting new inspiration and ideas from the same verses. I have texts I’ve preached on at least a dozen times, but I always came at it from a different angle. This is how we know the Bible is a living document and the Holy Spirit is always at work in us to reveal what we need to hear for our time and place.

Basilica of Sant’ Apollinaire: The Good Shepherd

We Christians in the Western world have tended to limit God’s self revelation to the spoken word and, to a lesser degree, to the Eucharistic elements in the Institution of the Lord’s Supper:

“While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” (Mark 14:22).

Unfortunately, when we emptied the world of images of God, we also emptied the created world of God. This is why art is so important and necessary to bring us back to appreciate not only creativity, but also the creating God.

Likewise, images in art are beautiful and inspiring. Some which I’ve had the privilege to see in person over the years have made a difference in my artistic and spiritual journeys. These are a few which have inspired me: Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, Pompeiian artifacts buried by Vesuvius, and the sacred treasures of the Vatican.

Emperor Justinian

I’ll focus only on the mosaics in Ravenna, which is the site of the Mausoleum of Theoderic (c.520) and the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinaire Nuovo (500-514), both built by Theodoric the Great (454-526). Here too is the Basilica of San Vitale (c.527-546), begun by Queen Amalasuntha (495-535), Theodoric’s daughter; and the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe (c.535-549), built by the Greek banker Julianus Argentarius, who also financed the church of San Vitale. These were all very important people of their time.

San Vitale, Ravenna

Although many of Ravenna’s surviving structures have been heavily restored, the city remains the most important site of Byzantine art outside Constantinople, notably for its exquisite decorative art, including mosaics, relief sculpture, mural pictures, ceramic art, maiolica, ivory carving, marble inlays, goldsmithing, ornamented sarcophagi and much more. This treasure house of art objects made Ravenna a must see on our itinerary during my summer in Italy.

My parents gave me the choice of a car or a trip to Italy with the University Systems of Georgia for my college graduation present. Of course, I took the trip. Cars are everywhere and I could get my own one day or ride the bus if I needed to get somewhere. Italy was a trip of a lifetime, for we’d spend a whole summer in the studios in Cortona, and travel about the countryside on day trips during the session. I even got good enough with my Italian to hold small conversations with native speakers. People even invited into their homes for lunch, where I got my first taste of rabbit. These animals were sold live in the farmer’s market in Cortona’s town square on Saturdays.

At every site we visited, I stood amazed in the presence of some ancient and inspiring work of art. In the historic churches, the best artists and craftspeople of the era had the opportunity to put their skills to good use, for they were not only working for notable patrons, but also for God. Money wasn’t an object either, for extravagance for God was considered a good work worthy of a heavenly reward.

Of course, seeing the art works and experiencing the spiritual impact of the works in their setting are two entirely different things. On a tour, when huge groups of people are tramping in and out of the sanctuary, tour leaders raise their flags, signs, or ubiquitous water bottles to quiet their group before they give a lecture, and then they turn en mass like a flock of ducks, everyone exiting together to clamber onto the bus or to walk to the next place to view some sacred site.

Golden Mosaics in San Vitale

As a person on a spiritual pilgrimage, this experience can be quite jarring unless you prepare yourself in advance. Even though in that period of my life I wasn’t a believer in a personal god, nevertheless I was still seeking the mysterious experience of the presence of God. I found if I took a few moments of personal quiet to put my spirit in a receptive mode before I entered the holy spaces, I was able to ignore the chaos around me. No longer did I focus on the comings and goings of the people around me, but I looked up instead at the beautiful artworks and the glory the ancient artists wanted to give to God as they rendered the images on the walls or sculpted the images.

These mosaics are fantastic works of art, with each image made of thousands of tiny pieces of stone and glass. In the early morning light, the golden tesserae shimmer and reflect the sunlight streaming inside. When viewed in this light, the figures would see to float in a heavenly light.

6th-century apse mosaic of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

The icons of Christ always have an other worldly look about them, as Jesus said,

“My kingdom is not from this world.” (John 18:36).

We always see in the icon the resurrected body of Christ, the heavenly body of Christ, not merely the physical body of Christ. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:44—

“It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.”

This is why the icons have elongated faces, small mouths, and large eyes. Their facial proportions are not “realistic “according to “actual proportions.” In western art, representation of physical reality with perspective, foreshortening, and shading gives us a sense of earthly realism. Icon “writers” reject perspective, and other cues of reality to give their works a sense of “other worldliness.”

Mosaic Christ Painting

In other words, we see what we are going on to be, rather than what we are now. The icons are a window into the spiritual or heavenly world. If we have an icon in our home, it is a conduit to that heavenly world, much like a wormhole is a conduit to another point in space. Christ’s eyes have a far away look, as if he sees beyond this moment of now, in which we so firmly fix ourselves, to see the future hope of which the prophet Jeremiah speaks in 29:11—

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

This Mosaic Christ woven canvas art work has a light coat of gold acrylic paint over the multi colored background, so the colors show through. Because the brushstrokes don’t cover the whole square, the grid colors show up as colored mortar. The shape of the face and the hair aren’t treated subtly as in a painting, but take on the look of a mosaic.

When I paint an icon, I lose all sense of time. I enter into that holy time in which God IS, and where Jesus is when he says, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58) In other words, I lose all concept of chronological time and enter into the kairos time of God: the right and opportune time, which is known only to God. I stop painting when I sense I’m taking back control of the brush, for then I’ve left kairos time and reentered chronological time.

I look at the clock and think, “Snack time.” It’s time to stop, take care of my physical body, until I’m once again able to renter that spiritual space where time has no meaning, for I’m at home with God. Painting a holy icon is a truly spiritual experience, for those who make their hearts open to the opportunity to experience the holy encroaching into this world. I hope your eyes now are more opened to seeing the holy image of God in-breaking into this earthly realm.

Joy, peace, and sugar cookies,

Cornelia

The Chair

adult learning, art, Creativity, Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, hope, Imagination, incarnation, inspiration, john wesley, ministry, Painting, perfection, photography, picasso, purpose

The everyday objects around us are like so much white noise: we know they’re present, but after a while, we tend to ignore them. A running joke among the clergy is “Never move anything at the new appointment for six months because you don’t know what objects are the sacred cows.” I learned this the hard way in my first full time appointment when I suggested we rid ourselves of an aging, olive green, velvet curtain hanging on the back wall of the fellowship hall stage, since “It was just hanging there for no purpose.” Oh, the outcries of rage! Little did I know this was the one and only curtain to survive the fire which destroyed the old church building. The people saw this ragged banner as a symbol of hope for the church they were rebuilding for the future. They had invested spiritual meaning into this curtain, even though it no longer served a spiritual purpose.

Picasso: The Chair, 1946

In the same way, we treat our Bibles as holy objects because they contain the inspired writings handed down over the centuries. We recognize they tell us important truths about God, humanity, and our relationship with the God whose steadfast love for God’s creation never wavers. In worship, we often say after reading from scripture, “The word of God for the people of God.” When many read John 1:1—

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

These same readers connect the “word of God” with the ”Word and the Word (who) was with God, and the Word was God.” The English translation of LOGOS to WORD derives from the Greek principle of Logos, or divine reason and creative order, which is identified in the Gospel of John with the second person of the Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ. This is how the early Christian writers argued for the preexistence of Christ and for the existence of the Holy Trinity. When we refer to the Logos/Word of God, we are speaking of Christ. If we read the Old Testament, we’re speaking of the one God who has spoken through the ages, but only revealed God’s Son to humanity during the New Testament era. The Spirit has been active always.

This reminds us to honor the Bible for revealing the Incarnate Christ through inspired words, but not to idolize the Bible as a object greater than the God it reveals. After all, over the centuries, the Bible has been interpreted differently by various schools of thought. This brings up the question of how do we know what we know. There’s a whole body of philosophy dedicated to how we know what we know, called epistemology. There are various kinds of knowing:

  1. Sensory perception or observation of facts
  2. Reason or logic
  3. Authority of tradition or common wisdom
  4. Intuition, revelation, or inspiration

Some of us use one way more than others, but each has both good and bad points. In the case of the authority of tradition or common wisdom, for instance, some have been time tested across the ages, but deference to authority without critical thinking can be a mark of intellectual laziness on our part.

Wesleyan Quadrilateral

John Wesley’s famous understanding of what we now call the Quadrilateral comes from Albert Cook Outler’s discussion on how Wesley understood authority. When challenged for Wesley’s authority on any question, Wesley’s first appeal was to the Holy Bible. Even so, he was well aware that Scripture alone had rarely settled any controversial point of doctrine. Thus, though never as a substitute or corrective, he would also appeal to ‘the primitive church’ and to the Christian Tradition at large as competent, complementary witnesses to ‘the meaning’ of this Scripture or that.

However, Scripture and Tradition would not suffice without the good offices (positive and negative) of critical Reason. Thus, he insisted on logical coherence and as an authorized referee in any contest between contrary positions or arguments. And yet, this was never enough. It was, as he knew for himself, the vital Christian Experience of the assurance of one’s sins forgiven that clinched the matter.

Anglican Meme

In reality, Wesley’s diagram for how we know is really a triangle— consisting of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason—which leads to the Christian Experience of being a Child of God, forgiven for our sins. It’s based on the Anglican tripod of the faith: scripture, reason, and tradition. Wesley took the tripod and added the firm “seat of experience” of God’s loving mercy to forgive all our sins. This insight came out of Wesley’s life changing Aldersgate experience, which he recorded in his journal on May 24, 1738.

“In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Wesley understood he could spend his whole life learning about God, reading about God, and even serving God to the best of his ability, but he was in his words, an “almost Christian” because he didn’t have the faith of a son or daughter who served God out of love, but had instead the faith of a slave or a servant, who served only from fear of punishment. One of Wesley’s Standard Sermons is the “Almost Christian,” which you can read in its 18th century glorious English at the link below. Most of us would be glad to be accounted in the “almost” category, but Wesley asks, why don’t we go farther and become “altogether Christian?”

In Methodist terms, this is “entire sanctification,” or “going on to perfection.” We don’t talk much about this any more, but it’s the purpose of our Christian life to be conformed to the image of God. We aren’t trying to be like Beyoncé, JayZ, Taylor Swift, or Jake Owen. Instead we have the promise in Romans 8:29—

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.”

David Hockney: Walking Past Two Chairs

We don’t do this on our own, but with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. That’s why the Spirit is called a helper, for it’s a coworker in the process of perfection or sanctification. This epistemology for knowing is useful for art classes also. Some of us believe we need to be perfect from the get go and can’t accept our raggedy messes we produce as we learn the techniques of color mixing and shading, much less the fine motor coordination required to connect our thoughts with our hand movements. If we aren’t able to endure the rough edges of imperfection as we “go on to perfection,” we won’t last long in art class. Just learning how to see the three dimensional world and translate it onto a two dimensional surface is a Mount Everest accomplishment in itself. Some days we have no energy to cope, and that’s when we need to come for support and encouragement.

Last Friday we painted chairs. Every artist’s work we viewed for inspiration had a different take on the chair. We no longer have to make a photographic rendering of an object because we have cameras for this purpose. We can use the chair as a reason to break up the picture plane and organize the spaces. I found a funny little poem called “The Chair,” by Theodore Roethke:

A Funny Thing about a Chair:
You Hardly Ever Think it’s There.
To Know a Chair is Really It,
You Sometimes have to Go and Sit.

Sally’s Chair

As the class went on, Sally decided she wanted to copy one of the inspiration images. She’s new, so she was practicing color mixing with her limited palette. When she couldn’t get the bright turquoise color, I brought my manganese blue over and mixed it with her titanium white. The color she wanted came popping out, much to her delight. “I’m going to buy me some of that color.” Sometimes all we need is the right materials.

Lauralei’s Shower Chair

Lauralei’s humor takes the cake with her shower chair. She can imagine the model chairs in a new environment. She doesn’t let the reality limit her options.

Gail’s Chairs

Gail divided up the canvas into various planes of colors, which sing for joy. I think she had fun. As the only one of our group who took the challenge of the entire scene, Mike took a bird’s eye view of the table and chairs. I hear he may be traveling again, or at least yearning to fly away from the day to day grind of full time work to something closer to retirement.

Mike’s Chairs and Table

I can understand that feeling. After years of teaching school, I look forward to summer vacation. We’ll have art class on the last two Fridays of May, and then take the summer off. Our current plan is to return on September 9, the first Friday after Labor Day. In the meantime, if you want to know how God really is,

“Be still, and know that I am God!” ~~ Psalms 46:10

A fun summertime activity is building a chair fort or a chair cave. All you have to do is turn over a couple of chairs on the floor and throw a sheet or blanket over them. This provides a quiet place for a child of any age to have a “time out” alone during a long summer. I recommend a quiet place for children of all ages, even those who’re long of tooth.

Cornelia’s Chairs

Joy, peace, and a quiet place,

Cornelia

Experience in the so-called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” | Kevin M. Watson
https://kevinmwatson.com/2013/05/13/experience-in-the-so-called-wesleyan-quadrilateral/

The Wesleyan Theological Heritage: Essays of Albert C. Outler: Albert Cook Outler, Thomas C. Oden, Leicester R. Longden: 9780310754718: Books
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0310754712/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0310754712&linkCode=as2&tag=deeplcommi-20

Sermon—The Almost Christian by John Wesley via Words Of Wesley Quotes
http://www.wordsofwesley.com/libtext.cfm?srm=2&

Great Blog by Adam Hamilton on biblical authority and how we read the Bible in different eras
https://www.adamhamilton.com/blog/the-bible-homosexuality-and-the-umc-part-one/

Icons for Holy Week

art, butterflies, Creativity, Easter, Faith, holidays, Icons, Imagination, inspiration, Mandylion, Ministry, nature, Painting, renewal

As we approach the days of Holy Week, life can get busy for people of faith. For those in leadership roles, you likely don’t have time to read. That’s OK. This is a time for you to use your meditation and prayer time to rest in the presence of God’s Spirit. Palm Sunday, April 10, begins the mad dash of multiple planned worship experiences in most churches, and the week usually gets more complicated by the human conflicts that also arrive during the high holy days when more is expected than than can be accomplished by Easter Sunday.

Some of these disasters will be small, such as the child who goes out to make a violet ink from new irises growing by the back porch and messes up her pretty Easter dress. Others will be actual chaos, involving runaway ex-spouses with the non-custodial child. Yes, the holidays can get crazy for families, ordinary and church families both.

The tradition of the icon says these images are “windows into the heavenly spaces.” I offer seven of my interpretations of these windows: Mandylion, or the Image Not Made By Human Hands, Resurrection of Christ, Christ is Lord, The Good Shepherd, and the Mandylion of the Ecological Christ, who proclaims, “All creation shall be renewed.”

Mandylion Icon
Mandylion Icon
Mandylion Icon
Resurrection Icon
Resurrection and Baptism into New Life
The Good Shepherd
Ecology Mandylion: All Creation Shall Be Renewed

Joy, peace and be still in the presence of God,

Cornelia

Writing a Holy Icon

adult learning, Altars, art, crucifixion, Faith, Holy Spirit, Icons, inspiration, john wesley, Love, Mandylion, mystery, Painting, Pantocrator, salvation, Spirituality, St. Athanasius, Stations of the Cross, United Methodist Church

Cartoon for an Icon of the Resurrection

In art class, I taught our group the time honored technique of using a cartoon to transfer an image to another surface. Of course, their first reaction was, “Are we watching Saturday morning cartoons today?”

“No, it’s Friday. We’re going to make our own carbon paper,” I said, as I showed them how artists of old would rub graphite on the back of their drawings and then outline the major lines onto the wall or the canvas to transfer the image. The J. Paul Getty Museum has a great video on YouTube explaining this process.

“You mean we’re going to paint by number?”
“Not a chance. You still have to make your own color decisions and shading choices.” Really, by now you’d think they know my opinion on the easy way. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:13—

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.”

Reverse of Crucifixion Icon with Graphite over Outlines

I didn’t bring any complicated images of the holy icons. I brought only ones with simple outlines. I knew this project wasn’t going to be as easy as people first thought. It’s not as simple as coloring within the lines.

An icon is an image of a holy person, but it isn’t a mere representation of the individual. When we make photographs or even painted portraits, we seek to make “likenesses” of the individual, and capture their outward details and idiosyncrasies. If we can also capture their inner spirit, we take the image to a master level. Icons, however, are more concerned with representing the inner, spiritual nature of the person, rather than their outward nature. After all, we don’t have any images of how the holy ones from the earliest days of faith actually looked. We only have their acts and the symbols connected with them, so in the iconography we can identify them by these qualities. The word iconography comes from the Greek: eikōn ‘likeness’ and -graphia ‘writing’, so when we paint, we’re actually “writing a likeness” of the holy image.

Dusty spent his day off on the Pantocrator Icon

In the iconographic tradition, all of the faces are broad across the brow, to represent the holy wisdom of God residing in the saints, just as their elongated figures and extremities accent this holiness. The eyes, windows into the soul, are large compared to a natural face, while the mouth is small. The small mouth indicates the saint has conquered bodily passions. There’s always an ear open on an icon, for the icon needs to “hear our prayers.” Not that the icon is alive, but it’s more like an open window into heaven. Therefore, the saint’s ear is the open window through which our prayers flow into the golden light of the mysterious world beyond this material one in which we dwell both in shadows and light.

Freehand drawing of Mandylion Icon

The color in icons also plays an important role. Red belongs to martyrs. Blue stands for wisdom. White symbolizes paradise and chastity. Green is the color of the Venerable Fathers. Gold symbolizes sanctity.

The icon painter and teacher of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University, Svetlana Vasyutina once described an experience before the iconostasis or screen of images of the saints in the church. “A while ago, I was tortured by the question why it is golden. Once I was standing at a church, looking at the iconostasis. Suddenly, they turned off the electric lights, and only candles before the icons were burning. The golden traces were shining, giving back the light. It was as if, not the candles, but the halos, were radiating light. I was amazed; the light seemed not material, not as comes from a candle or a lamp. The golden color shows the person painted in the icon was granted a different kind of light.”

According to St. Paul, glory (doxa) appears where the form and the idea of God, which inhabits it, become one. This is especially true where form becomes a place of theophany (a visible manifestation to humankind of God or a god), where the body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit. This glory is represented by the nimbus or halo of the saints. We hear Paul speak of this power in Philippians 3:21—

“He will transform our humble bodies that they may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”

The disciples first saw this glory descending upon Christ on the Mount of the Transfiguration, as recorded in Matthew 17:2—

Icon of the Transfiguration

“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

To become completely transformed by the Holy Spirit wasn’t only a special gift given only to the saints alone, but it was meant for all believers. As Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 4:7 (American Standard Version)—

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves.”

A famous story in the Eastern Orthodox Monastic tradition follows:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Mike’s Icon of the Via Dolorosa

Many of us are barely alight with the fire of Christ, and we wonder why the glory of God doesn’t shine through us. Others of us hide our light under a bushel so we don’t stand out from the crowd. If we wonder why we aren’t going onto Christian Perfection in love of God and neighbor, or being a witness to Jesus Christ for others to follow, then we might need to read Abba Joseph’s recommendation once again:
“If you will, you can become all flame.”

When we paint an icon, we participate in a spiritual endeavor in which we are coworkers with the Holy Spirit. We enter into a kairos time, or God’s creating time, and are no longer only working only in human, chronological time. This is a mystery, not to be understood in ordinary terms, even if we begin at 10:15 in the morning and stop to cleanup at 11:45. Like the golden background, time has no meaning while we paint the icon. Our cares and concerns of this world can be given to the icon, and thus to God.

Gail’s Icon of the Crucifixion

We make our prayer gifts in two ways: we hope to become more conformed to the image of God and we hope our images conform better to the icon before us. We’re going on to perfection, one bit at a time. In faith, we expect to be made perfect in love in this life, by the power of the Holy Spirit, or at the moment of our death, as the classic Wesleyan teaching states. The Orthodox doctrine of theosis, union with God, from which our Methodist teaching of sanctification derives, teaches we can have real union with God, just as Jesus had, being fully human and fully divine. We don’t become gods, but we participate in the full image of God, in which we were first created.

Sally’s Crucifixion Icon

We can contemplate these beautiful words of St. Athanasius of Alexandria (+373), in his treatise On The Incarnation, against the Arian heresy:

‘God became “sacrophore”—bearer of our flesh—so that mankind might become “pneumatophore—bearer of the Holy Spirit.’” (Michael Quenot, THE ICON, p 55)

When we keep our heart set on the image of Christ, we remember his undying love for all creation. Then we learn the meaning of the faith of a loving son or daughter, in comparison to that of an unwilling servant. This is how John Wesley saw his own conversion at Aldersgate:

“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Mandylion Icon—Towel with Image of Christ

Once we realize the law of sin and death no longer holds us in chains, we can freely live in life and love, now and always, if we conform our image to Christ.

Joy, peace, and divine light,

Cornelia

Paul Evdokimon, translation by Fr. Steven Bigman, The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty, Oakwood Publications, Pasadena, CA.
https://kyl.neocities.org/books/%5BSPI%20EVD%5D%20the%20art%20of%20the%20icon.pdf

Sharing in the tabor light | New Camaldoli Hermitage
https://www.contemplation.com/sharing-in-the-tabor-light/

The Icon: Window on the Kingdom Hardcover – Import, March 19, 1992
by Michael Quenot (Author), A Carthusian monk

John Wesley Quotes, Oxford Reference
https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780191843730.001.0001/q-oro-ed5-00011419

John Wesley’s Quotes – Seedbed
https://seedbed.com/on-john-wesley-quotes/

John Wesley: Journal of John Wesley – Christian Classics Ethereal Library
May 24, 1738– I Felt My Heart Strangely Warmed
https://ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal/journal.vi.ii.xvi.html

Sunflowers and Shadows

adult learning, Alexander the Great, art, Carl Jung, Creativity, Faith, grief, Holy Spirit, Imagination, inspiration, Ministry, Painting, perfection, Plato, Prayer, Socrates, Stress, Ukraine

DeLee 2019, Drying Sunflowers

A sunflower follows the sun. Actually, only young sunflowers track the sun across the sky, while mature sunflowers face east. Why is this? Why do we care? As sunflowers fill our Facebook feeds and social media posts, most of us are looking at flowers so we can ignore the awful consequences of this unprovoked war. Right now, many of us are heartbroken because of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. I had only a passing knowledge of this country because of its well known naïve artist, Maria Primachenko and her paintings of fantastic imaginative animals in gardens. They have always been a delight to my soul and a joy to my spirit. Many of her works include the sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower. Sunflowers have been grown in Ukraine since the mid 1800’s, and are not only an important export crop, but also a symbol of peace. When Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, people planted sunflowers as a symbol of the peace they hoped would follow.

Maria Primachenko
A Dove Has Spread Her Wings And Asks For Peace (1982)

Sunflowers, when young, follow the sun on a 24 hour circadian cycle, just as our bodies have a similar cycle keyed to the light and dark. When the flowers are growing, they maximize their time facing the sun, but once they’re mature, they set their face toward the east, since this gives the head maximum warmth. Bees love warmth, so keeping the buzzing crowds near is in the sunflowers’ best interest for pollination and reproduction.

Heat map of sunflowers at different times of the day

Most of us prefer the sunny days. Clouds, storms, and distress aren’t our first choices. After the last few years of pandemic stresses, we’re unprepared for yet another crisis, even if it seems to be on a distant continent. Our own supply chain for reserves of caring and concern have been stretched thin by the nearly million deaths from COVID in our nation alone, not to mention the worldwide death toll of over 6 million. On Friday in Sam’s Club, I met a lady who complimented me on my flowered pants, which I was wearing in honor of the Ukrainian folk painter, whose museum had been bombed by the Russian army.

“I can’t bear to even listen to the news any more. It’s all so awful,” she said.

I should wear this shirt on Friday at Sam’s Club.

“I know. It reminds me too much of domestic violence cases, where the man decides he’ll punish the ex by killing all the children and taking himself out also.”

My blood sugar usually drops low on Friday after art class, before I eat lunch, so I don’t have my usual, civilized filter on my mouth. The look of awareness on her face was the sudden recognition of a truth she had refused to see before. Sometimes we need to face our fears and deal with them. This is the hero journey. None of us can travel it alone, but far too many fail to ever set out on it at all, even with a spiritual companion or guide. My failure to snack at art class upset her comfortable apple cart and caused her distress. She ran out of Sam’s in a heartbeat. I was able to chat with a baby and her mom later on, who was amazed her child wasn’t at all afraid of this stranger. Food is a medicine for my mood and a bridle for my mouth.

Morandi: Still Life of Bottles with Strange Shadow

On a sunny day, we can see our shadow. Most of us are afraid of our own flickering shadows. We don’t want to see the darkness within us, even though we’re ever ready to see the sinister images of others. Like a sunflower, we’ll turn instead to the light and only see the good, the beautiful, and the true.

A story I remember from my classical art studies regards Alexander the Great and the shadows. His father Phillip II, the ancient king of Macedon, had a difficult, high strung horse, which no one had been able to ride. In fact, it was downright vicious and unmanageable, which made it less of a “gift” to the ruler. Alexander, even though a youth, noticed the handsome horse was disturbed by his own shadow, so he turned the animal’s head into the sun, attached the bridle, and was able to mount him. Alexander rode Bucephalus until the horse’s death at the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 B.C.E. In his honor, Alexander named a local city, Bucephala (sometimes identified with the modern Jhelum, in the Punjab province of Pakistan), after him.

Mosaic of Alexander the Great and Darius in Battle from the House of The Faun, Pompeii, 3rd century BCE

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes,” Carl Jung wrote to one Fanny Bowditch, on the eve of his entry into military service during the First World War. Jung believed as long as you looked at other people and projected your own psychology into them, you could never reach harmony with yourself. Jung taught all persons had a shadow side to their personality, or those aspects of ourselves which we’ve repressed. These may be both bad or good aspects, for some of us have yet to realize our own brutal natures, as well as the heroic figures which we’ve also buried inside.

DeLee: Endless Nights of Pain, Ireland, 1973

My old granddaddy was fond of saying, “When you point out another’s failings, you have three fingers pointing back at yourself.” I came to learn I couldn’t recognize the fault in others unless I could claim it also in my own self. This keeps one humble for sure, but it also keeps a person from thinking he or she has any godlike or dictator qualities.

This brings me to another famous shadow story involving Alexander the Great. After his father’s death, he visited Corinth, where Diogenes the Cynic lived in 326 BCE. Diogenes was famous for carrying a lamp in the middle of the day in his “search for an honest man.” In the most famous exchange of this meeting, Alexander asked Diogenes whether there was anything he could do for him. Diogenes, who was enjoying the warmth of the autumn sun, answered, “Stand aside to stop blocking the sun.”

Statue of Diogenes and Alexander

This abrupt response, showing Diogenes’ utter contempt for the power and prestige craved by Alexander, inspired many artists over the years. Although Alexander’s attendants took offense at Diogenes’ rudeness to their king, Alexander himself wasn’t displeased. Leaving, Alexander was said to reply, “If I were not Alexander, I would want to be Diogenes.”

When I brought these delightful images from Maria Primachenko to class, Gail and Mike were amazed at how bright, flat, and clean her designs were. Partly this is due to her use of gouache, an opaque water based color paint. She also uses repeated motifs, symmetry, and clean lines with sharp color contrasts to make her images “pop,” as the decorators say. Mike, who favors textures, was thrilled to see another artist who paints like he does. Gail was glad to process the distressing news through flowers and the yellow and blue of the national flag of Ukraine.

Gail’s Unfinished Painting

Often we don’t feel “safe” speaking about dark or upsetting experiences, preferring instead to bury them deep inside. This is maybe the worst decision we can make, for like a poison or an infection, what we refuse to bring to the light will fester and grow. Then it further sickens the body or the mind until it becomes unrecognizable and unhealthy. Perhaps this is when we move from being rational to irrational. As I always tell folks, “Just because you think the world operates on reason and order, doesn’t make it so.” By this I mean, we live in a world with accidents, change, disease, sociopaths, and greed. In biblical terms, we live in a broken and fallen world, one in which even those of us who are “saved by the blood of Christ” from the wages of sin are “not yet perfected in the love of God and neighbor.”

This is what it means as a Christian to carry the Jungian shadow within us. If we believe keeping a law is the best evidence of our faithfulness, we can overlook the moral quality of the law itself and find ourselves carrying out harm, rather than doing good. As the writer of Hebrews explains in the platonic argument of Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All:

“Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.” (10:1)

Mike’s unfinished painting

If we want to be law keepers, we can’t be picking and choosing which laws we want to keep, as if the law were a cafeteria or buffet table. Jesus certainly knew what potholes lay ahead of him after his baptism in the Jordan River. A forty day fast in the wilderness is great for getting your head together and dealing with our human nature’s dark side of desire for security, power, and equality with god.

Maria Primachenko
Don’t Feast Your Eye’s On Other People’s Bread (1983)

I post my Artandicon blog on LinkedIn as well as on my various spiritual formation Facebook pages which I manage. I sometimes get a message from folks there. One was from a friend, who mentioned she really wanted to get back into her art, “for it brings her peace.” I tell people, “the process of making art brings satisfaction, but we’re not ever satisfied with the work itself.” If we were ever to be satisfied with the work, if we thought we could reach no higher, or if we thought so highly of ourselves that we’d made the last best artwork for all times, then we’d have to quit and make pancakes, until we’d perfected those. And then we’d find a new obsession.

Cornelia’s Painting with Nuclear Monster Destroying a Church

My favorite monsters are those from the Japanese nuclear monster movies of the 1950’s. They are both kitschy and scary. The sunflowers destroyed by these monsters of war will fall to earth and be reborn once again in ever increasing numbers. If hope is the last to die, it’s also the first to rise again. As long as one has breath, one can hope. As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome long ago,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (15:13)

Making art is a metaphor for the hero’s journey. Jung believed art was important because often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain. We don’t know what battle or monster awaits, but we also don’t know what divine spirit will come to our aid. Along the fantastic inward journey, we’ll meet the very same creatures who are outside of us. They arise in our dreams, but they were planted in our awakening moments. We may have been turning our faces towards the sun, like the baby sunflowers or the horse Bucephalus, but soon enough we’ll trust the one who guides us and we’ll go wherever it’s necessary.

The journey toward Christian perfection in love is a heroic journey, one which we can only undertake with the help of the Holy Spirit. Along the way, we also travel with others on same road: mystics, saints, and holy persons from yesterday and today. As the old camp song refrain goes,

“And they’ll know we’re Christians by our love, by our love,
They’ll know we’re Christians by our love.”

Maria Primachenko:
May I Give This Ukrainian Bread To All People In This Big Wide World (1982)

The following prayer, Psalm 23, has comforted people for thousands of years in times of trouble and grief. Here in the English Standard Version, if you have fears, trepidations, or trembles, it might help you to calm your spirit. As you speak it aloud to the rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation of breath, remember those who have given up their lives rather than reject their faith: Christian martyrs in the Roman coliseum, Jewish martyrs in the holocaust, and democratic freedom fighters around the world. Let your voice be heard, even as their voice is being silenced:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

Joy, peace, and sunflowers,

Cornelia

The Mystery Of Why Sunflowers Turn To Follow The Sun — Solved : The Two-Way : NPR
https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/05/488891151/the-mystery-of-why-sunflowers-turn-to-follow-the-sun-solved

Alexander and Bucephalus | Department of Classics | University of Colorado Boulder
https://www.colorado.edu/classics/2018/06/19/alexander-and-bucephalus

Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine Is a Sin All Russians Will Bear
https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-02-24/putin-s-invasion-of-ukraine-is-a-terrible-sin-that-all-russians-will-bear

Carl Jung: “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.” – Carl Jung Depth Psychology
https://carljungdepthpsychologysite.blog/2020/02/08/carl-jung-i-am-afraid-that-the-mere-fact-of-my-presence-takes-you-away-from-yourself/

Carl Jung – Archetypes – Shadow
https://www.carl-jung.net/shadow.html

Carl Jung: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” – Jung Currents
https://jungcurrents.com/jung-hands-intellect-mystery

They’ll Know Are Christians by Our Love
https://www.hymnlyrics.org/newlyrics_t/theyll_know_we_are_christians_by_our_love.php

This is the Way

adult learning, art, beauty, change, Children, Creativity, Faith, Holy Spirit, Imagination, inspiration, ministry, mystery, nature, Painting, purpose, Reflection, risk, shadows, Socrates, Spirituality, vision

Are we our works? Are we valued by our works? Is work a noun or a verb? The child in me asks these questions until the parent in me wants to answer, “I don’t know. Go ask Alexa!”

Alexa Meme

We’ve all been there with the rug rats of our families and kinfolks. Children are curious and for this we’re grateful. This incessant questioning is their way of learning about the world. It’s altogether better than a puppy’s chewing on every new object it comes across. If families are to encourage their child’s interest, they get them a library card so they can have internet access and books to read, and they answer as many questions as possible. If they don’t know the answer, “Go look it up in Google or the encyclopedia.”

In ancient Greece, Socrates taught by asking his students questions, a technique we call the Socratic Method. Some of us teach art in this way also. When we see the student at a stopping point, we teachers ask, “Are you having a problem and not figuring out a solution?”

Raphael: School of Athens , Vatican City, 1509-11.

The student can usually point out what they want to change on their work, but they don’t have the experience or prior learning to drawn upon to solve it. For instance, if the flower petals all look flat because they’re painted in one color, the beginning student knows this doesn’t look right, but they need a trained eye to point out the variety of values in the petals. Once they see the gradation of light to dark, it’s never again unseen. We know it’s there.

Teachers can point out the range of values from dark to light that make up the visual vocabulary of shading a two dimensional image so it looks like a three dimensional shape. Students can learn this technique and master it over time. Mastery then becomes a matter of hand and eye coordination. In a sense, we have to lose ourselves in the subject matter so we can let its energies enter into our hearts and minds, and quicken our hands. The rest is a matter of practice and learning how our egos can quit controlling the outcome.

Old Farmland off Higdon Ferry Road

The spiritual writer and Jesuit priest Richard Rohr speaks of the three eyes in his book, The Naked Now. The first eye grasps what the senses can understand, the second eye understands the science and poetry, while the third eye is aware of all of the above, but especially how all things connect as part of God’s great mystery. When we enter into this “now,” we’re present not only to God, but to all creation, as well as our own selves. This is the contemplative spirit for which the artist strives, and not just for the mastery of the materials or for the rendering of the subject matter.

If we allow this energy to move our hands, does that mean our work also becomes part of us? If we baked a simple yellow cake out of a box, we might not ask that question. When we start decorating a cake made from scratch and adding frillies of frosting, then we start identifying with the cake. Should someone smash the cake enroute to the soirée, there’ll be hockey sticks to pay.

I remember almost fainting in Italy when I saw a glue blob on one of my delicate watercolor paintings, which had just been framed for an exhibition there. A stiff shot of some unknown alcohol brought me back to life. The framer made it good, for the glue was water soluble, so we could gently lift it up. I was more of a drama Queen in my 20’s also. I take things as they come these days. I also was more immature, for I didn’t separate my work from my identity.

Some say we are what we eat, so then are we what we create? Jesus had an answer in Mark 7:18-19 for those who thought certain foods were unclean, or forbidden to eat:

“He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)”

That fancy dinner we ate two nights ago leaves us after a few cups of coffee in the morning. We don’t recognize it and most of us don’t even inspect it as we flush it down the toilet on its way out the sewage pipes to the sanitation station. Of course, only parents can get excited about their two year olds who manage to do their “business” in the toilet instead of in their diapers. I know I was one of those. If Facebook had been invented back in the day, I’m sure I’d have posted an update.

As we grow older, we enjoy making and crafting for the experience of the textures and the command of the materials. Children have fun pushing the paints, papers, and glue all around the surface of their artwork. Parents often look askance at the grey, scribbled messes their children excitedly present to them for the honored place on the refrigerator display, but these muddy creations are the result of a dramatic story of their child’s imagination. “Interesting, why don’t you tell me what’s going on here?” Is an adult’s best response in this situation.

Art Lesson: Cut a Snowman on the Fold

I’ve had kindergarten children meltdown because they had difficulty cutting a snowman on the fold. It’s hard to be five years old and live in a home in which the parents don’t want their children to make a mess. These children, as a result, have poor fine motor skills, have difficulty writing, and handling scissors. Even folding a piece of paper is tough. Then they miss the important information: hold the fold, and cut on the flaps. If they hold the flaps instead, they end up with two halves of a snowman. And a meltdown into tears.

“I’ll never be able to make a snowman! My snowman is cut in two pieces. Why can you make a perfect snowman and I can’t?”

Therapy Hat

This lesson always called for me to wear my therapy hat, and remind my five year old students I’d been making folded snowmen for a very long time and my first ones looked just like theirs did. There was hope for them. We just needed to go over the directions again and make one together. Sometimes we miss a step, and that’s ok. It’s just a piece of paper. It’s not like we took away recess from everyone forever.

Usually when we went over the directions again, I could remind them of the way to hold the fold and cut the flaps. Then they’d all be amazed at how easy the project was. “Everything is easier when you follow the directions.” They’d laugh and start decorating their snowman, all their meltdowns forgotten.

Most of us aren’t successful the first time we attempt a new experience. If we were all extraordinary artists right off the mark, none of us ever would get excited about Michelangelo, Rembrandt, or Picasso. If we could all pick up a musical instrument and play it well right off the bat, who’d have the need for civic symphonies or even bar bands? We’d all be happy making our own music. The truth is some of us not only have the interest and inclination, but also the will to spend not just hours, but years, honing our craft, until we sing our notes purely or paint with a master’s hand.

Woven Canvas: Greenway Park

If we all aren’t masters, we all can enjoy the journey if we learn to detach our egos from our products. When I wrote papers in seminary, before I opened up my graded work, I’d repeat the mantra, “I am not my grade. I am a daughter of the living God, chosen for God’s work.” Then I’d look at the markings on the inside. This helped me to remember who I was, whose I was, and what my purpose was. I was also two decades older than that fainting child in Italy.

As I would tell visitors to Perkins, “If your well-being is wrapped up in your grade average, you might want to rethink either that notion or choose another school.”
“Oh, really?”

“Yes, if you’re going on for a PhD, you’ll get over a 90 in your classes. The top grade for the Mdiv is 89. If you get any grade higher than that, the professor thinks you could do PhD level work.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” they said.

“It’s a curve. If you go elsewhere for a DMin, those schools know Perkins’ grading system. Think of it as an A at 89 and don’t worry about it.”

Some people can’t restructure their world so their 89 is an A, but if that’s the system they’re in, that’s how it is. If they have in their mind nothing less than a 95 will validate their worthiness, then if they do their degree work at Perkins, they’ll always be up against the immovable wall. When they go out into ministry, they’ll discover everyone they meet has a grading system. That can drive a person crazy, unless he or she decides the ultimate approval they seek comes from the one who says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Likewise, if we’re beginners in art, we have to suspend our criticism of our imperfections in our work. Instead, we reframe our critiques into “areas which need improvement.” Even now, after decades of working in my studio, I’ll let a canvas rest near me in my living room. I’ll eye it in different lights, until I hear it call my name. I’ve totally repainted some of these, and others I’ve destroyed. A few I leave alone. All of us will keep learning something new, both from our “good paintings “ and our “need improvement works.” Most likely, artists quit painting when they they think they have nothing left to learn, or when they lose the courage to risk moving into the unknown mystery, as it’s written in 1 Corinthians 2:9—

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Paul also writes in Romans 8:27-28,

“And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Poverty Point World Heritage Site, Louisiana

So we too ask the Spirit to work more in us and free us from attachment to our need to be loved and affirmed by our works, since God is already working for good for those who love God and who are called according to God’s purpose. As we drop our old ideas and preconceived notions of the good, we become open to God’s good and God’s purposes. Releasing control to God is an act of humbleness and faithfulness, both of which are contrary to our modern belief in self-actualization and autonomy. This is the way of the mystic, or the contemplative, and the inspired artist.

Gastrointestinal Transit: How Long Does It Take?
http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/basics/transit.html

The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See – Kindle edition by Rohr, Richard. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com. (Also available in iBooks, for more money)
https://www.amazon.com/Naked-Now-Learning-See-Mystics-ebook/dp/B011H5IKU8/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2GSFR51RZ25BM&keywords=richard+rohr+naked+now+ebook&qid=1645568603&sprefix=richard+rohr+naked+now+ebook%2Caps%2C107&sr=8-1

The Heart of the City

arkansas, art, change, city, cognitive maps, Creativity, Historic neighborhood, hope, Imagination, mystery, Painting, trees

Cities are growing organisms, each having their central growth from their place of origin. Some begin on a waterfront, as a place of trade. Other communities began along a creek, where people would meet to connect, trade, and settle differences in peace. These were safe spaces, welcoming places, but they existed only so long as everyone acknowledged them.

In our cities today, safe spaces are rare. Some reasons are we don’t know everyone anymore, since our populations are so large. We don’t know who to trust, so we trust no one. If we’re anonymous, we think can do what we want, since no one knows who we are and we don’t know whom we harm. Of course, this is absurd, for if we do harm to another, we aren’t living out our best life, not to mention we’re not living out the wisdom of “Do unto others what you want done unto yourself.”

“Who knows what lurks in the heart of man?” the old radio program asked. “The Shadow knows,” was the answer. Most of what we know as the city is hidden behind the layers of paint, wallpaper, and various accretions of dust in our historic district. In Hot Springs, we can eat hamburgers in buildings where mobsters would hang out, walk the streets where old time baseball players strolled, and take hot baths where our ancestors took the “cure” for every disease known to humankind. They got clean, but the cure didn’t take.

Autumn Facade, Downtown Hot Springs

We have a civic interest in renewing our old buildings, for they attract tourists and provide incomes for owners and workers in our restaurants, shops, and hotels of all sizes and qualities. We have dive bars and first-class accommodations within a mile of each other. This is a sure sign of a community in transition. I won’t name either, but if Hot Springs were to be the setting of an old-time radio show, it wouldn’t lack for interesting characters or venues.

During this pandemic era, for it’s stretched long enough now to be called such a lengthy time, I’ve been working on a group of cognitive maps. A cognitive map is any visual representation of a person’s (or a group’s) mental model for a given process or concept. Cognitive maps have no visual rules they need to obey. There’s also no restriction on how the concepts and the relationships between them are visually represented. If we were to take a number of people to the same place, we’d most likely end up with the same number of maps. Some parts might overlap, but everyone would notice different aspects of the landscape.

My own cognitive maps start with a screen shot of a google map of a place I’ve been prepandemic, and work in process through sketches, then several layers of paint, and finally, the end product. This last stopping point sometimes comes only after I think I’ve finished the painting, but I leave it sitting out where I can look at it some more. In the looking, I discover, I’m not ready to release this image out to the world. It lacks unity, power, focus, or some other defining quality I can’t put words to. I only know I am unhappy with it the longer I look at it.

When I cook a recipe, I have a certainty if I follow the directions, I measure correctly, and my oven is true to temperature, I’ll come out with a good approximation of the original recipe. Afterall, I’m recreating someone else’s process and instructions. Making something new, from the imagination is part of the creative process. Sometimes the end product arrives easily, but other times, its birth is a struggle, and the child arrives crying to beat the band.

Creekside Landscape, Hot Springs, 2021 springtime

Most of us are used to seeing the landscape from our upright view, for we walk through our world with our head up every day as we reconnoiter along our daily paths. Some of us keep our heads buried in our phones, so we depend on the good nature of others to keep us from bumping into them, or these people must have particularly good side vision to avoid collisions with other walkers. We don’t have the bird’s eye view of the city, so we don’t see how the streets connect or how they follow the elevation changes. We also don’t get to see the patterns of tree growth, or the hidden waterways. Mostly we have a patchwork vision of just the immediate areas we inhabit, but not a vision of the whole.

Greenway Park Map: Apple Pencil Drawing on Google Map

I saved a screenshot to my iPad so I could draw on it. Color for me has emotional energy, so as I drew, I over laid the first colors with others. The changes the drawing went through prepared me for the changes through which the painting would transition. This pandemic has certainly been a time of change, but life has always been changing. One of my old friends always said, “Human beings are meant to change. We’re brand-new people every 27 days! That’s how often we get a whole new skin.”

I spent many years in the church, an organization not noted for changing. It’s not the organization that doesn’t want to change, but the people. We find those same people resistant to change in NASCAR fans, football fans, and any other group you want to name. As one wag said, “It was the 56th Super Bowl and they finally had rap music in Los Angeles, and NASCAR had Pit Bull at the LA Coliseum for the Clash for the first time in 43 years. If you have a point, it’s time to make it.” If we don’t like change, we should quit washing our bodies, since we’re just hurrying those dead skin cells off to their final demise.

First Stage of Greenway Park Map Painting

Artists must embrace change, however, for the moment we put a mark on a canvas or tap a stone with a chisel and hammer, we’ve changed the surface before us. We can’t be afraid to go into the emptiness or the unknown, for there we’ll find the beauty of the unspoken or the hope of the silence in which we work.

This stage of the painting adheres closely to the drawn image. The blue streets define the city blocks and a few building shapes are notated. It’s a complicated street map from one of our older sections of town.

Second Stage of Greenway Park Map Painting

On this repainting, I balanced the colors better, but kept the greens and oranges. I signed it, for I thought I was “finished.” I set it down in my living room to observe it for a while. I often do this with my work, for if it still looks good after six months, I think it’ll survive for a year. If it lasts a year, I think it’ll last longer. If I look at it three years later and it doesn’t survive, I’ll destroy it. This was painted during the winter, with the worst low light of the season. No wonder it looked grim under the brightening light of the returning sun.

Final Stage Greenway Map

Some sunshine has come into my life here in the middle of February. I’m very sensitive to the transition of light across the seasons, so when it begins to leave in October, I start shutting down. When the light begins to return again, I awake, as if from a hibernation. Perhaps this is the reason I took all my yellows and reds and overpainted the other colors on the canvas. Now my canvas is almost monochromatic, except for small streaks and blobs of color in places. You can still see the city blocks and streets, but now the over all feeling is less of a map and more of an energy record of the city area.

This is the city as it grows, as it lives, and as it changes. The dynamics and life blood of the city move and pulse as it transforms. Hot Springs is unique in that we keep as much of our old as possible and build new when we must. I’m thankful for this city, for its love of the arts, and its honor of its history, as well as its embrace of the future.

After all, that’s all any of us can do, is remember who we are, whose we are, and give thanks to the one whose steadfast love remains forever.

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

How Often Does the Epidermis Renew?
https://www.webmd.com/beauty/cosmetic-procedures-overview-skin

Color Theory Paintings

adult learning, Altars, art, color Wheel, Creativity, Faith, Hilma af Klint, Imagination, inspiration, Ministry, mystery, Painting, shadows, Spirituality

Cezanne: Four Apples, 1880-1881, oil on canvas

Cezanne once said, “We live in a rainbow of chaos.” Perhaps he meant we’re surrounded by colors, in various and sundry shades, and through art, we try to find some order to this chaos, even if our resulting work seems outwardly disorderly. In his own lifetime, Cezanne was accused of being a madman, “afflicted while painting with delirium tremens.” His response was to shrug off the guardians of the Academy: “With an apple I want to astonish Paris.” He worked in isolation for a very long time, only gaining financial success in the last ten years of his life.

Jackson Pollock: Number 32, 1949, auctioned in 2018 at Sotheby’s

Another artist who broke ground is Jackson Pollock. When we view a Pollock action painting, we realize there’s actually an order to this chaos. The drips and pours are more like calligraphy and live in tension with one another. They vary in color, size, and energy, not unlike a song. The action paintings are not just “drip paintings,” but energies expressing emotions by means of fluid dynamics. This is why we don’t say, “My grandkid could do this.” People try to forge Pollocks and fail. Even Pollock had difficulty creating these unique works, the best of which belong primarily to a two year period when he refrained from his alcohol habit, which affected his depressive disorder.

As compositions, each of Pollock’s drip pictures simultaneously dissolves into a chaotic jumble of individual lines, while also coming together as a structurally uniform, whole field. We’re mostly used to works best viewed from a single fixed point, such as a High Renaissance painting. Instead, to view a Pollock, we must move across the whole surface, and look deep into the layers. His works draw their audience in to inspect the details closely, passage by passage, and at the same time overwhelm the viewer with their monumental size. Their coloristic and textural richness emphasizes the expansive surface, yet the elaborate and totally visible overlay of multiple layers of paint (and sand, cigarette butts, glass, and other materials) create a very real depth and space. It’s definitely not your grandchild’s artwork.

HANS HOFMANN: Elysium, 1960, oil on canvas, BLANTON MUSEUM OF ART

Hans Hofmann, a 20th C American abstract expressionist, once said, “Colors must fit together as pieces in a puzzle or cogs in a wheel.” Often we use the colors straight out of the tube, or we flail around trying to figure out which yellow and which blue will give us the shade of green we want to use. Experience is the best teacher, for learning how to see the colors of life is like solving a puzzle that doesn’t have a photo for a guide. Once we begin to recognize their composite colors, we begin to see the order in the midst of chaos. Then we have the cogs to the wheel and it will turn the next wheel in good order. Experience becomes our Rosetta Stone for decoding the other mysterious languages of color we hear around us every day.

Color Wheel with Neutral Grey at Center

One of the cues we’ve come to recognize in our painting class is the color of our brush wash water. If it’s a lovely neutral gray, like the center circle in the wheel above, we’ve balanced the warm and cool colors on our canvas. Most of our group in attendance chose colors from this wheel.

Paul Klee: Watercolor Word Study

We saw a number of color theory examples from history, including Paul Klee’s geometric watercolors, which vary from color blocks, landscapes, and written images.

Hilma af Klint: Primordial Chaos, Number 7

A little known colorist is the Swedish artist, Hilma af Klint, who was one of the earliest abstract painters. She developed a language, or visual imagery, to share the spiritual experiences she received during her participation in automatic drawing. As with many others of her era at the turn of the 20th century, she and her friends, in the group called The Five, mixed elements of traditional Christianity with seances and beliefs in a mystical guiding higher spirit. If she lived today, we’d likely call her beliefs “new age.” She also incorporated new advances in science for her time in her explorations.

Hilma af Klint: Altar Piece, Number 1

Her work for The Temple was heroic in size, with each of the 193 paintings measuring about 7 x 9 feet.These were completed between 1906 and 1915. The whole sequence can perhaps be understood as af Klint’s pursuit of an original “oneness,”or the basic unity which she believed existed at the world’s creation. She believed this integrity had since been lost, giving way instead to a world of polarities: good and evil, woman and man, matter and spirit. In her work after 1912, af Klint seemed to move stylistically away from techniques related to spirit channeling, such as the fluid lines of The Five’s automatic drawings. Her use of Christian iconography and geometric forms increased. By 1917, af Klint stopped producing art through a spirit altogether. Her 2,000 plus works are owned and administered by The Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden.

Dusty: Circle in Space

Dusty used a plastic plate to draw his circle. This plate served a secondary purpose as well: it was also his palette to mix his colors. “Art imitates life, even in abstraction.” He used the ruler to measure out equal pie shaped segments, and divided the background planes. I almost stopped him in the midst of his planning, but I wasn’t about to stop that train of thought. I could only admire it for its balance and symmetry. He mixed the shades of the colors, and filled in the spaces. Then he added a few “motion” marks to indicate the movement of the disc in the atmosphere.

Gail: Sun and Waves

Gail pulled a plastic French curve drawing shape out of her toolbox to make the unique shapes in her painting. The blue and green curves are the waves of the sea and the central oranges of the resulting negative shape is the sun above the water. I always appreciate her paintings, which connect to her love of nature and have a sense of order to them.

Lauralei: Geometric Shapes

I think I have this painting right side up. I followed the path of the brush strokes. Lauralei wins the prize for most different number of colors mixed on the palette. So often we get accustomed to using the same familiar colors over and over. Everyone had a café au lait colored interior two decades ago, then we all went white, and gray predominated for a while. Maybe soon we’ll paint our homes actual colors instead of following the crowd.

Mike: Rainbow Cross

Mike had this idea percolating in his mind before he came to class, but didn’t have time to work on it at home. As soon as he saw our inspiration works, he decided to follow his inner guide, which had opened this image to him. He took the ruler to mark off some guide lines, then focused on bringing this idea to life. The radiating energy bolts of dynamic rainbow colors coming from the cross remind us of God’s love in Jesus Christ for all things and all people. We’re also one in Christ and belong to the one family of God, no matter how we worship, or what our understanding of God is.

Cornelia’s First Stage: Light and Dark

I began my little painting as a homage to Klee, but I didn’t get far in the 90 minutes we have for painting. I attempted to leave the negative space for the letters, but my brush was either too large or my painting surface was too small for the text I chose. I brought it home and worked another six or seven hours on it in the following week.

Cornelia’s Final Stage: Light and Dark

In the quiet of my studio, I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the emotions of the words, but only to the technical aspects of mixing the colors. I reread again my text from Luke 1:78-79:

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

At this time, I saw the upper half needed to be light, while the lower part of the painting needed to be in darkness, since the two verses broke in this direction. This also gave my painting a landscape feel, as if the dark earth hadn’t yet seen the dawn of God’s light. As I painted, I began to lose the sense of the letters and the words, and the patches of color became more important than trying to keep the sentence legible.

I’m very impressed with this group, who’ve taken to heart my teaching mantra: Everyone will find their own voice if they engage in creative thinking and do the work. In the spiritual life, we’re saved by faith, but in art, we do find “works righteousness.” Amazingly, we get better the more we practice, especially if we have positive critiques and goal oriented lessons designed to help us grow. This provides fertile ground to awaken the spirit living within each of us, so that we can become co-creators in God’s renewal of the world. Maybe Hilma af Klimt was on to something special after all.

Our next class will be The City. We can either treat this as a lesson in perspective, poster design, abstraction, or a close up view of a building. Vacation photos are a good resource to bring, if you have a special place you want to remember. Antique photos are good too. Till next time, keep your hearts full of

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

The Fascinating Physics of Jackson Pollock’s “Drip” Paintings
http://hyperallergic.com/526383/the-fascinating-physics-of-jackson-pollocks-drip-paintings/

Jackson Pollock’s Paintings: Characteristics of Drip Painting Technique
http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/jackson-pollock-paintings.htm

Paintings for the Temple | The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation
https://www.guggenheim.org/teaching-materials/hilma-af-klint-paintings-for-the-future/paintings-for-the-temple

Hilma af Klint The Paintings for the Temple 1906–1915 ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 2021 Catalog Bokförlaget Stolpe 9789189069114
https://www.artbook.com/9789189069114.html

Pomegranates and New Life

adult learning, Altars, art, change, Creativity, Faith, greek myths, Habits, incarnation, inspiration, Israel, mystery, New Year, Painting, Persephone, pomegranate, renewal, shame, vision

Pomegranates are one of those seasonal fruits which show up at my grocery store along with tangerines and other Florida citrus fruits. When I was young, these were rare and extraordinary foods, unlike today, when we have fresh fruits from all corners of the world all year long. The only difference is the cost: if they come from nearby, they cost less than if they come from afar. When my daddy was a boy, fresh citrus at Christmas were a treat indeed.

Those that want to go back to the “good old days” often forget food was sometimes hard to get, for earlier generations also had supply chain disruptions as well as economic collapses. In the Depression Era, food became a gift, for it was often hard to come by. Oranges had a secondary meaning, for since they had segments, they could be shared. The lesson was all gifts were meant to be shared with others.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Proserpina, 1874

In art, the paintings of the saints follow a certain iconography, or visual images and symbols used in a work of art. Once we learn this language, we can “read the icon” and understand its meaning. The pomegranate typically stands for the Christian church, for it has many seeds within one fruit. In earlier Greek and Roman mythology, the fruit stands for Persephone/Proserpina, the daughter of Demeter/Ceres, the goddess of harvest and agriculture. Pluto, the god of the underworld, abducted Persephone for his wife. Ceres became despondent and nothing above ground would grow. The Olympian gods arranged Persephone’s   release, but she eaten a few seeds of a pomegranate. Therefore, she could spend only part of the year above ground. This is how the ancients explained the seasons.

Pomegranate from Torlonia Catacomb

This story illustrates how Persephone became connected to the idea of dying and rebirth, so her symbol, the pomegranate,  also transferred over into Christian art as a symbol of immortality and resurrection. The term for appropriation of another culture’s symbol is syncretism. In a similar manner, in mythology, the dove was an attribute of Aphrodite/Venus; but in the Old Testament, Noah’s dove signified God’s covenant with mankind; and in the New testament, John the Baptist likened the dove to the Holy Spirit, which descended upon Jesus at his baptism. Painted pomegranates can be found on the frescoes of the Roman catacombs of Torlonia.

5th century CE church mosaic with pomegranates and fish, Israel

The imagery continued into the 5th century in a floor mosaic with a cross, stylized fish, pomegranates, and three chevrons representing Golgotha. Death on the cross is connected with the resurrection appearance of Christ and the disciples’ meal on the beach at Galilee.

Fra Angelico: Virgin and Child with Pomegranate, c. 1426

Fra Angelico’s Virgin and Child with Pomegranate is a beautiful example of a late icon. The Virgin of the Pomegranate takes its name from the pomegranate held by the Virgin and which attracts the attention of the Christ Child, who touches it. In this context the fruit has a double meaning: in the Virgin’s hands it refers to her chastity, while by touching it the Christ Child prefigures his own death and resurrection. It reminds us of Ephesians 5:25-26–

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word.”

This iconography of chastity, cleanliness, and sacrifice was widely used in 15th-century Florence, where it interested artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci.

Unknown Artists: Unicorn In Captivity, 1495–1505

The unicorn, a mythical animal to all but eight year old girls (and those of us who retain our eight year old hearts inside our full grown bodies), is a creature of fantasy, both then and now. From the same era as the Virgin of the Pomegranate is the beautiful tapestry of “The Unicorn in Captivity,” now at the Metropolitan, which may have been created as a single image rather than part of a series. In this instance, the unicorn probably represents the beloved tamed. Tethered to a tree and constrained by a fence, we see he could escape, for the chain isn’t secure and the fence is low enough to step over.

Clearly, however, his confinement is a happy one, to which the ripe, seed-laden pomegranates in the tree—a medieval symbol of fertility and marriage—testify. The red stains on his flank don’t appear to be blood, for we see no visible wounds. Instead, they represent juice dripping from bursting pomegranates in the tree above. Many of the other plants represented here, such as wild orchid, bistort, and thistle, echo this theme of marriage and procreation; they were acclaimed in the Middle Ages as fertility aids for both men and women. Even the little frog, nestled among the violets at the lower right, was cited by medieval writers for its noisy mating.

Botticelli: Madonna and the Pomegranate, c. 1487, Uffizi, Florence.

Botticelli also painted his version of the Madonna and the Pomegranate about 1487. This painting now hangs in the Uffizi, in Florence, Italy. The Virgin seems aloof, reserved, or far away, as does the Christ child. The angels in attendance also seem not connected to one another or engaged with the viewer. They carry roses and lilies, flowers connected with purity. One angel has the Latin words of the beginning of the rosary on his clothing, which is notable since this prayer became popular in devotions in the 15th century. The baby holds a pomegranate, cut open to reveal the multiple seeds of suffering.

Botticelli was influenced by the loss of his patrons, the Medici family, and the rise of Savonarola, a Dominican monk, who wanted to not only reform a corrupt church, but also redeem a materialistic and humanistic society. He was the very opposite of the trade oriented and culturally progressive Medici family. Moreover, as the year 1500 approached, Savonarola preached an apocalyptic message of the end of the world. Botticelli’s delightful Birth of Venus would give way to the 1497 Mystical Crucifixion. Things didn’t end well for Savonarola, who was tried, convicted of heresy, hanged, and burned in 1498. Florence then returned to the city’s prior communal ideals, led by the next generation of the Medici family.

Lorenzo di Credi: Madonna and Child with Pomegranate

Often attributed to Da Vinci or Verrocchio, this Madonna and Child with a Pomegranate by Lorenzo di Credi, now in the National Gallery of Art, was painted in 1475-1480. He and da Vinci apprenticed under the same master, so their styles show some similarities. He’s better known for his portraits.

Lucy’s Italian Movie, 1951

I brought the pomegranates to art class because the new year deserves a new start and a new way of thinking about our lives. In the sacrament of holy communion, we recognize “many are made one,” for how many individual grains are ground for the bread and how many grapes must be crushed to fill a cup? I keep thinking of that Lucy and Ethel skit from I Love Lucy—you just knew walking in a circle in a grape vat would not end well, but you held your breath waiting to burst out laughing. Lucy’s comedic genius never failed us.

Mike’s Pomegranate

The joy of abundance jumps out in the bold brush strokes and colors of Mike’s painting. He loves coming to class, for it’s a time when he’s free. No one’s life depends on him in this time. He can give expression to this sense of freedom.

When we elevate the elements over the altar, we remind ourselves, “the one loaf is broken for all, just as the one cup is offered for all.” The pomegranates have many seeds, but they’re one fruit. The pomegranate reminds us of the mystical body of Christ, which we call the church. When we take communion, we receive the symbolic body of Christ, but we also receive the mystical body. We often limit ourselves to thinking the body of Christ is his actual body or perhaps only our church fellowship. We often forget there’s a greater body of Christ beyond our doors, and it’s not just formed of all the believers. The greater body of Christ is all of humanity, for we all share the same incarnation of his  spirit.

In several ways we can open our eyes to the “many within the one.” We can trace the history of the symbols we use to communicate our hopes and dreams with one another. Some of these are positive and worth keeping, but others might need retirement, under the “it’s good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (Romans 14:21). We get attached to the visible symbol, failing to realize others see the same symbol as harmful. For instance, some are so attached to their “authorized version” of a scripture translation, they idolize it above all other translations. In doing so, they make the vehicle more important than the content. No one would ever make an Amazon Prime delivery truck more important than its content, but we sure get distressed when our package gets mangled in shipping. I personally use an ebook for my Bible now, since it has more recent and multiple translations plus a Greek New Testament. Nevertheless, the God revealed is more important than the object itself, as we’re reminded twice in Exodus 20:2-3 and Deuteronomy 5:6-7:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

Gail’s Pomegranate

Gail is always careful to look closely for the details in everything she paints. Naturalism is her calling. In our brief time together, she might not finish her work, but finishing isn’t the goal. Learning to see is our goal and the secondary goal is making a likeness. The detail on the crown of the pomegranate is superb.

Sally’s Pomegranate

Sally has a good rendering of the pomegranate, yet she was unhappy with the background. We solved part of that together by identifying how the horizontal line dipped down at the intersection with the outer edges of the fruit. It’s a straight line now, because she fixed the places where the Hulk had hit the table behind the pomegranate. (If only we could do this in real life, disaster recovery would be a piece of cake). She has a circular pattern working, since she’s working on another piece with this same idea. It’s another example of how art is a continuity, not an isolated moment in time.

Cornelia’s Pomegranate

I went home to finish my painting. I took a photo to have a reference, rather than just painting from memory. As soon as I was in my quiet place, I realized my perspective was off—I could tell because the plate on which the fruit was resting didn’t break at the right height of the fruit. White overpainting fixed that problem. Our blue table cover, which has paint stains on it, became my background. As I told the class, my painting is brighter because it’s a primary color scheme: red, yellow, and blue. I also painted the juices, the secondary shadows, and the highlights of the nibs. Adding earth colors or black to a painting darkens its tone considerably.

Can we break old habits right away? If those who start a diet in the New Year have anything to teach us, restricting our eating lasts for about 10 days at best before we begin to cheat on it. Strava, a fitness brand, named  January 19th “Quitter’s Day,” since most people ditch their fitness resolutions then. Our question then becomes, how do we learn something new? How do we make progress? Perhaps, are we teachable, or willing to grow beyond what we know? The last question calls us to step out of our safe places, as Peter did when he stepped out of the boat onto the storming waves. When he was frightened, he called out, “Lord, save me!”

The good news about art class is no one will drown if we struggle to make what’s in our mind come out on our canvas. Sometimes our ideas are ahead of our technical abilities. Some days we’re tired or distracted. If I’m coming down sick, but not “sick sick” enough to be home, my work looks dead. It’s a sure sign I need to visit the doctor soon!

Next week we’re going to do color theory. We need to revisit the color wheel and make some of the interesting colors that don’t come straight from the tube. We’ll paint in squares, so this is a “entry level” class. Actually, all classes are entry level. Like a one room schoolhouse, you enter at your own level and progress from there. Your only competition is you. There’s no grades, no pass or fail. We come to give our best self a chance to grow and shine.

We’ll also be wearing masks again, due to that pesky omicron variant.

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

Signs & Symbols in Christian Art – George Ferguson, George Wells Ferguson – Google Books

https://books.google.com/books/about/Signs_Symbols_in_Christian_Art.html?id=GF4XDp-eSTwC

Jewish Catacombs: The Jews of Rome: funeral rites and customs – Elsa Laurenzi – Google Books

https://books.google.com/books/about/Jewish_Catacombs.html?id=PmKBBj_qRbwC

Vaults of Memory—Roman Catacombs

http://archives.catacombsociety.org/vom/vomframes.html

Why We Put Oranges in Christmas Stockings

https://www.thekitchn.com/heres-why-we-put-oranges-in-stockings-at-christmas-holiday-traditions-from-the-kitchn-213985

Sandro Botticelli | Biography, Paintings, Birth of Venus, Primavera, & Facts | Britannica

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sandro-Botticelli

The Museo del Prado acquires The Virgin of the Pomegranate by Fra Angelico for €18m 

 

A Study of 800 Million Activities Predicts Most New Year’s Resolutions Will Be Abandoned on January 19: How to Create New Habits That Actually Stick | Inc.com

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/a-study-of-800-million-activities-predicts-most-new-years-resolutions-will-be-abandoned-on-january-19-how-you-cancreate-new-habits-that-actually-stick.html

Guido di Pietro, known as Fra Angelico: Virgin and Child with Pomegranate,  or The Virgin and Child with two Angels, or The Virgin of the Pomegranate, c.1426. Tempera on panel, 83 x 59 cm, Prado, Madrid.

Unknown Artists: The Unicorn Rests in a Garden (from the Unicorn Tapestries), weaving, Made in Paris, France (cartoon); Made in Southern Netherlands (woven), Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts, 1495–1505, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937, Accession Number: 37.80.6.