Reflections of God

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I carry my phone when I walk, so I always have a camera for the scenes of beauty which catch my eye. Since light is ephemeral and these moments are fleeting, catching them as they occur is important. When I come home, I often photoshop the image on my computer or in Instagram to get the emotions, which I experienced when I took the photo.

Winter Lake Reflections

Several winters ago, I took this photo. By the time I painted it this year, I was feeling more optimistic. Back then, I didn’t know if my daughter was alive or dead. I lived in hope, but I also was holding onto some fear, for I knew her drug addiction was going to be difficult to overcome.

The Cloud Rising

This is my most recent landscape. The cloud always reminds me of God’s appearance! Then I think of this verse in Job 38:34, when God asks Job, who’s been questioning God’s intentions and reasons—

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,

so that a flood of waters may cover you?”

Poor Job, he’s not God. And neither are any of us. We’d like to make sense of the senseless, right all the wrongs, put order to all the chaos, and make things the way they should be. Of course, if we were in charge, the world would have gone to hell in a hand basket much sooner than it has already.

Maybe we should reread Job 42:3—

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

In our world today, many changes are happening. Some of us want things to be “the way they used to be.” This would make us feel better and be more comfortable with a known world, but God is always recreating God’s new world–

“For I am about to create new heavens

and a new earth;

the former things shall not be remembered

or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

If we are people of faith, we can trust in our God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If Christ is the same, then God is the same, and so is the Holy Spirit. Does this mean our understanding of the Holy Trinity never changes? No, this means God’s love and mercy for us never changes! We think we can fall outside the bounds of God’s love, but this is only because we have short arms and can’t include all others within our embrace. Just as the water reflects the sky and earth above it, so we’re to reflect the attributes of the holy image in which we’re created and demonstrate the qualities of the heart and the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).

Job, who was well respected and honored in his community, was enamored of his ability to assist others with their needs. He was a big man who used the blessings from God for good purposes. When he lost this status, he was upset. Once he met God face to face, he realized he’d been giving lip service to God, but didn’t actually know God. Many of us today know about God, but haven’t had an encounter or experience with the living God. We can’t reflect a love which we’ve never received, and we can’t share a forgiveness we’ve not known. Perhaps our first work is to seek God’s generosity for our own lives, so we can reflect it outward in the world toward others.

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ICONS: A Moment of Mystery

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Making Found Object Icons is an art project that evolved out of the Great Macaroni Multimedia Traveling Artandicon Show. In seminary during Art Week our fellow students were horrified we were making sacred images out of edible products, such as macaroni, lentils, peas, and beans.

Jesus is the Bread of Life

“That’s sacrilegious!”

“Jesus is the bread of life, and macaroni is just another form of wheat,” we replied.

“But it’s so ordinary!”

“Clay is ordinary, and so is stone. Can an object only be worthy of God if it’s made of expensive materials?”

“Well….”

“The value of all the chemicals in a human body is about $5.18, but we’re worth far more than that in the eyes of God. Some say God doesn’t make junk, yet too many people of faith despise and debase the body. I’ve always wondered why this was so, since the Son of God came to earth in human form, and as the great hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV) says—

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Jeweled Cross

When we meet Christ at Christmas, we can get all warm and fuzzy because who doesn’t like a warm, cuddly baby? Maybe I have a soft spot for babies, but I really don’t trust people who don’t get a little ga-ga when the little ones coo and smile. I can understand folks getting squeamish at Good Friday and the cross. Most of us avoid as much pain as possible. Humility and obedience to God are not high priorities these days for many people. 

Flight into Egypt

Many tend to ignore this wonderful call to the Christ-like life, preferring instead the cop out of “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14:38, NRSV). “Forgive us,” we say, but we hold others up to high standards. 
We make a distinction between our dual natures of the flesh and the spirit, a concept inherited from the Greco-Roman culture. It’s notable that the often quoted verse, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit,” is found in Galatians 6:8 (NRSV), for this was a Roman province. 
The ancient Mediterranean area had a knowledge/mystery tradition. The Greeks had their cult of Bacchus, the Egyptians the cult of Isis, and the Jewish had their mystical Kabbalah. The Romans had their dying and rising god cult of Mithras, the bull. Entry into all of these groups was by word of mouth only, given to a special few, and all had secret rites known to the members only.  Most promised salvation through secret knowledge, and the true world for them was spiritual rather than the physical world in which we live today. Ecstatic worship separated the believer from the body and the ordinary world. 
You might recognize these traits in your own church or worship community today, except for the ecstatic and enthusiastic worship brought about by mood altering substances. That’s not my church anyway! How do we come close to God? Across the centuries, the tradition has discovered contemplative prayer, singing, searching the scriptures, serving the poor, attending the sacraments, and creating art for God or the Holy Icons.
Making an object for the glory of God, to enhance the worship experience, and to honor God is a gift of the artist’s time and talent. No artist is ever paid what their training and talent is worth, for it’s a treasure from God to begin with—it can’t be valued. Artists have learned over the centuries to live simply, accept fame if it comes, and put a fair price on their work. 

Gail’s Cross

They get value in the spiritual real from the work they do, for the icon opens a window into heaven. As they arrange the jewels and found objects, and move them to a better position, the icon comes alive under their hands and begins to breathe. Only the person, who will be still long enough to hear the silence from beyond the open window, can hear the voice of God in this world. For this person, the icon is a treasure, and a place of holy focus, no matter how small or how simple the materials. 
This is the reason the artist makes an icon—to have a moment of mystery, a time of intersection, and a communion with the holy. In today’s hurried world, each of us wants a place in which we can experience for a moment the timelessness of heaven. 
When we return in the New Year, we’ll begin painting our own holy icons. The process is a spiritual journey, more than a destination or the attempt to reach perfection. We only need to “go toward perfection” each day!

Apples and Starving Artists

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DELEE

Famous artists throughout the ages have chosen apples for their still life paintings. Apples are known for sitting still, they have a long shelf life, and they work for cheap. Moreover, when the painting is done, they make an excellent pie. We can’t do this with our human models, since this involves non ethical principles such as “Do not take a human life or do not murder.” So, apples are good for starving artists everywhere.

DIANA

In art class last Friday, the adult students learned even a simple apple and its shadows can be challenging, but the fruit of the quest is worth it. Integration of the object and the ground isn’t easy! If we focus only on the form, it’ll float like a butterfly above the ground. The shadow ties the form to the ground and tells us more about object’s shape and location in space. The line behind the objects determines the point of view. It becomes our horizon line, so we know if we’re looking above or below the objects.

GAIL

We can use our brushstrokes can to shape the apple’s form too. Then if we use the same brush technique for our ground, we haven’t separated the object from the ground. We end up with the famous magic “cloak of invisibility,” which is great in a Harry Potter novel, but not so great if we want to separate our apple from the ground.

RUSS

These are all areas of growth, however. As my old teachers all said, “There are no mistakes–only attempts to gain mastery over the techniques until you find your own voice.”

Next week we’ll look at negative space. So far we’ve been drawing the objects, but now we’ll look at the space in between them! Oh–who knew we’d pay attention to the empty spaces or they’d have so much meaning!

“Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings…”.

~~ Psalms 17:8 (NRSV)

Homage to Van Gogh: Sunflowers

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DeLee: Sunflowers in a Green Vase

Flowers please us because of their colors and forms, but also because of their fleeting beauty. While the class was painting, I threw some colors on an old canvas. It is a sketch, since never got to the dark accents of the petals. The paint was wet, so I would have had mud, not two distinct colors!

In our weekly adult painting class at church, we talked about Van Gogh’s sunflowers, Gauguin’s friendship with him, and how other artists have approached the subject of flowers. Not painting every petal or detail, but capturing the energy and emotion of the flowers is more important.

Art Class and Sunflowers

This requires a leap of faith! Of course, if we aren’t sure of how to mix a color, or how to draw a shape or make a form, a student is loathe to move off a safe path. Van Gogh had this struggle also. His early paintings were dark and lacking the energy of his late works.

Still Life with Earthenware, Bottle, and Clogs

Van Gogh, Sunflowers

Unfortunately some of Van Gogh’s most iconic floral artworks in the Van Gogh Museum, painted in 1888 and 1889, are now facing the test of time.

Vincent Van Gogh painted his iconic Sunflowers in vibrant yellows and golds, but after 130 years, his bright lemon-yellow hues have begun to wilt into a brown muddle. A new X-ray study confirms what researchers and art lovers have long suspected: Van Gogh’s paints are fading over time. In 2011, Sarah Zielinski at Smithsonian.com reported that chemists were looking into how the old colors were holding up. They found exposure to UV light—both from sunlight and the halogen lamps used to illuminate paintings in some museum galleries—had led to oxidation of some paint pigments, causing them to change color.

A 2016 study looked deeper into the matter to find one of the bright yellow paints Van Gogh liked, a mix between yellow lead chromate and white lead sulfate, was particularly unstable. Under UV light, the unstable chromate changed states and the sulfates began to clump together, dulling the color. Unfortunately, the process is not currently preventable. Currently, the darkening of the paint and the wilting of the sunflowers is not visible to the naked eye.

As the book of James (1:11) reminds us about impermanence:

“For the sun rises with its scorching heat

and withers the field;

its flower falls, and its beauty perishes.”

In class, we talked about light permanence and pigment choice. If we want to make works of art for posterity, we should choose pigments able to stand up to the test of time. I choose lightfastness I when I work. Likewise, if we are going to be in business or relationships, we want to use the highest ethical principles so we can have long lasting interactions and high quality products. Cutting corners with people or resources will always come home to roost eventually.

The rest of the verse in James continues,

“It is the same way with the rich;

in the midst of a busy life,

they will wither away.”

Of course, if we put God first in our lives, rather than our own priorities, we will pay attention to the “first things,” and fading away like a sunflower will be the least of our worries.

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

To read the whole discussion on paint discoloration and how museums are conserving art works to prevent further damage from light read:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-van-goghs-sunflowers-will-wilt-180969224/

Madonna of the Cold Brew

art, Faith, Icons, Imagination, Ministry, ministry, poverty, Spirituality, United Methodist Church

I’m at my annual conference for my church. I have a display of my art work up. I just sold this found object icon.

Icons are not just images of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus, but they represent windows into the holy dimension. They aren’t meant to be realistic renderings of the people or the landscapes as we think of western perspective and conventions.

I found all the materials either on the street while I was out for a walk, or at the grocery store. Yes, those are beer tops, a canning lid, a tag from a bag of Mississippi potatoes, and a crushed Mountain Dew can. Some would call these the debris of everyday life, or the castoffs of human activity. I’ve met people in my ministry who feel this way, and some of them come from fine families, but they’re going through a rough spot in their lives or careers. Others have lived on the margins of society most of their lives and don’t know any other way of being.

This icon foretells the miracle of the water changed into wine at the wedding at Cana. What was ordinary became extraordinary when Jesus entered the picture. We too are changed from our original condition into something very much more when Christ enters our life. We are his found objects, made into fine art. Everyone of us needs this change and transformation: some of us so we can meet the street people with compassion and others of us so we can be made whole again.

Crossroads and Callings

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img_9852

Road to Damascus

Nine years ago…how time flies when you’re having fun! I was at a crossroads in my life, however, with a preexisting health condition I’d managed to live with successfully through three high stress careers since 1977. Accumulated stress isn’t good for the body, so my seizure disorder began to make itself visible.

When my neurologist told me I’d never be able to do the work of a full time church pastor again, I had to revision and rehear my calling from God. If we define a role so strictly it’s a one way highway, it can become “my way or the highway.” This extreme dividing drives clergy and laity into producers and consumers, instead of encouraging shared ministry experiences.

If being a “source of all blessings for everyone” is a short term good for a pastor’s ego, it can also lead to a long term harm in health costs or emotional burnout. For the laity, losing the opportunity to live out their shared witness to the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ means they don’t fulfill their roles as the priesthood of all believers.

ARTANDICON in 2009: Bravely Smiling

The basic teaching of “make disciples of all nations” doesn’t have much effectiveness if we first are not disciples ourselves. So the old saw is true, we may be saved by the grace of God, and not by our good works, but if we want to become learners or disciples, our spiritual life takes some work, just as doing good for others is a hands on job.

I count myself fortunate to have a creative and curious mind, for I’ve always been the child who asked, “Why,” or went, ”Oh, I need to look that up and learn more about it!” Learning for the test, only to forget it later, has never been my strong suit.

The system as a whole also interests me more than the individual parts (I confess this is my shortcoming in relationships, since I have a few deep friendships, many good friends, and lots of friendly folks I like, and many people I know. Not enough people to count on one hand to say I totally dislike, although some I’ve set boundaries for their presence in my life because of their addiction issues).

When I set my preconceived notions of my ordination aside, I listened for a new calling from God. If I couldn’t serve IN the church BUILDING , perhaps I could still serve in the church as the BODY OF CHRIST. The body of Christ exists everywhere, both within and without the edifice we call the sanctuary, for we come and go.

In fact, we have people without churches, people who believe in god, or who are merely spiritual, all around us. Most of us are too busy dealing with our own congregations to reach out to these people. They don’t need traditional stories or sermons. I started a science fiction journal on faith.

Why not? Who else is doing it? Will it make money? Who cares? Do I get feedback? Not often. If we’re in this for the affirmation from human beings, we’re worshiping a false god. Idolatry. I can say things like this and not worry about ruffling the big givers. The taste of freedom is sweet.

Of course, I said this type of thing anyhow my entire ministry career, so I moved a lot, but the churches had good stewardship while I was there and repaired all their unmet facility needs. I left it better than I found it because the people came together to make it happen.

In the solitude of your own studio, writing room, or hangout, there’s no people to gather together to make it happen. A person only has the thoughts of what once was, what has been lost, and what will never be again. It’s the first stage of grief, a shock. It can turn into despair or depression, for everything is overwhelming.

Medication, or “better living through chemistry” can help lift the brain fog so a person can get their ducks in a row. This is no easy task, if you’ve ever tried to herd ducks. Worse than herding cats. Ducks will turn around and peck you. Trust me on this. Childhood memory.

Some people think a prescription is a faith cop out, since they should trust God’s grace alone to sustain them in a difficult time. I think God’s providing grace gave us the knowledge to create the medicine to help us heal our bodies. God can heal by ordinary means, such as health providers or medicines; or extraordinary means, such as miracles. More often God’s working in the ordinary, or we wouldn’t use the exclamation point after miracle!

I also returned to my art, for I find painting the holy icons and natural landscapes both bring me closer to God. As I got more used to being on the computer, I taught myself how to set up WordPress blogs and Facebook Pages for my special interests in health, spirituality, and art. Actually all of these get combined together, because of “systems thinking,” since we can’t lop off art from spirituality, or health from cooking, or any other combination thereabouts.

img_4942.jpg

Antique Aluminum Jello Mold

Now nine years later, I’m in a good place, enjoying my new callings, and in much better health. I will always have my condition, but my condition does not have me. Of course, I have to maintain a disciplined lifestyle, unlike the rest of the world, which runs at pellmell pace until it runs out of gas and crashes. But of course, you wouldn’t do that—you have too much good sense for that, I’m sure.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

PLANNING TO FAIL MISERABLY

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How to do it as an artist or any other professional.

Or lollygagger in the workplace.

I personally like #8—Why don’t you ever paint landscapes in normal colors?

I get this question all the time. How do we know our greens and blues of today are “normal?” We live in creation after the fall, not in God’s original creation, as God’s hand first formed it and God’s mind first imagined it. What if all the rainbow of colors was God’s Plan A for the earth?

Of course, I get a blank stare from almost everyone, since most aren’t used to thinking about the created order and our relationship to it. Even fewer think of the fall, or what that means, for this world is all they know.

If they press me on it, I tell them, “I like colors and the emotional joy they express. And I’m not fond of wide swaths of green.”

They nod. I nod. They walk away. They probably haven’t quit talking about me. A voice comes into my head, “These are not the patrons you seek. Move along now. The Force will be with you.”

We hear that same word from the Apostle Paul, spoken long ago to the people in Galatia:

“Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

At some point in time, we each have to hear the inner voice and make the choice to take the well trod path or the path less travelled. Each one has its own consequences, both for ill and for good. If we make fame or prosperity into a god, we might start churning out well pleasing pieces for our market, but our creative inspiration might begin to suffer, to the detriment of our souls. This can lead to various self medicating behaviors, none of which are good. It also leads to depression or anxiety, as 1, 3, 7, and 10 incite these conditions.

We can develop the good qualities needed for our futures. Independence is a character trait of leaders. An artist spends a good amount of solitary work inside the studio, and faces rejection for many years. Cold calling for Insurance might be the only worse occupation for rejection. I’ve done both.

My old teachers used to egg me on when I was studying in art school. “Who are you working for, me or the other class?” I’d be bothered, but I’d answer, “I’m working in my sketchbook.”

About the third time he passed by to interrupt my work, I’d had enough of his gruff. “I’m working for myself–go away and leave me alone!”

“That’s what I was waiting to hear you say,” he smiled and stuck his pipe back in his mouth as he strode off. I didn’t see him anymore except when I was in class with him.

Doing art in solitude is preferable to cold calling because the rejection is at the end of the process and you have beautiful work to appreciate, whereas with cold calling, all you get is a list of numbers crossed out and the hope 3% of the people will give you a reason to call back. In all this we remember,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

PROMISE OF HOPE

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Today is an official snow day here in our town. While other parts of our state got up to 5 inches of the fluffy white stuff, we got a mere dusting. However, our temperatures fell into the low teens with wind chills in the single digits. Those of you from our northern states might think we’re silly, but our schools don’t have heating systems adequate for these temperatures and our school buses don’t have special tires for icy back roads. I’m not leaving for nothing!

Today is a good studio day, since the sunshine is bright here in my sixth floor home overlooking the lake. I’m working on a new icon of the entombed Christ. These take a common form of the figure in repose, with the eyes closed as if in sleep, but the viewer reads the image as the sleep of death. The compact body lacks all physical power, so the truth of death is real. Christ doesn’t pretend to die, but suffers death for all creation.

We in the western world have limited the new creation to humanity, but scripture speaks of a renewal of this world at the Great Day of the Lord:

“But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” ~~ 2 Peter 3:13

Too many today are waiting for God’s destruction of this world so they can get on to the better world beyond. Instead, the icon of the entombment calls us to grieve over this world and hear the Easter call to make it new and fresh again.

When Good Friday’s sadness leads us to the joy of Easter’s resurrection, we discover the same cycle works out in our own life also. Most of us want only to go from joy to joy, but we forget the power of suffering. The prophets saw suffering as an opportunity for change and transformation, as well as hope. If we meditate on the entombment icon, we’ll hear the call to bring hope to the poor, justice to the marginalized, and joy to the suffering.

If we go from Christmas to Easter, we’ll always celebrate the festivities and parades. If we never look at the flight into Egypt, we miss the refugee holy family bearing the gifts from the three kings. If we only eat the hot cross buns, we dismiss the suffering servants of every age and every continent. If we only celebrate our success and prosperity in Christ, we are complicit in the suffering of our world and our failure to be God’s co-creators in the New and better world.

As an artist, I’m always creating a “new thing,” so perhaps this is why God’s message about humanity’s role in caring for the world and our neighbors, no matter where they are, is important to me. This painting will look different when I put the blues and greens on it, but right now it looks like a blaze of sunshine! I hope you will be a ray of sunshine in your corner of the world today.

Friendship and Art

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THANK YOU FRIENDS!

I can’t express to you how glad I am to be with people who understand the scriptures which underpin my art. Others appreciate the art itself, but not the faith walk behind it. Y’all get both.

Thank you again. As an extrovert, your affection and affirmation encourages me in my journey and in my spiritual practices. I would do my work anyway, but like everyone, I enjoy the sharing of our lives and our ministries across the years. This makes our annual conference a means of grace for me. I hope it does the same for you.

THE MOMENT BEFORE

I’m glad to report I’ve made two new patrons of the arts today. These paintings will go to new homes to bless those spaces and provide an island of peace or a place of spiritual focus for those who come into their presence. Also a former patron showed up to take home the silver PIETA.

The purpose of the icon is to open a window into the holy, so we can see the face of Christ more clearly and know the presence of God more nearly. If my art can do this for folks, then it is also a modern icon. Thank you for being part of ARTANDICON, my friends. I’ll be back at the arena Wednesday morning until noonish.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia.

Making Sense of Grief

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“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”~~ Jeremiah 31:15 

Reflections of sky and sun in  a pool of water.

Reflections of sky and sun in a pool of water.

We crossed the Isthmus of Corinth to the Old City to hike among the ruins of Acro-Corinth. Two famous and sacred springs flow there beneath the renowned Doric Temple of Apollo.  Its spare monolithic columns rise above the old city center’s area of commerce and religion. One spring is the Peirene Fountain, the city’s major source of water. It was named for the woman who wept so hard when Artemis accidentally killed her son in a hunting accident that the goddess took pity upon her and turned her into a spring of water. Nearby is a hidden spring of water, sacred to Artemis herself and located underground beneath the ancient Temple of Apollo. Because Artemis was both a protector of youths and the bringer of harm to them, devotion to her cult of “protection” became interwoven with that of the “fates,” mythological beings who controlled the lives and destinies of humankind.

Into this underground shrine and spring, devotes of Artemis would come for protection during childbirth, bring their young children for blessings of protection, and families would come to celebrate the great transitions of life just as we do in our faith communities today: hatching, matching, and dispatching. After invoking the goddess’ blessing, they would sacrifice a living animal. Having appeased the god’s power, the people went off to live their daily lives. A sign in the underground sanctuary said “Do not enter: forbidden—Eight coin fine.” Even today this warning holds true, for we can’t access this tunnel.  It has yet to be excavated. It may have led to the hidden chambers for the priests and priestesses of the Artemis cult, it could have been a passage between the spring and the Temple of Apollo, or it could have been the passageway into the rooms for the initiates into the mystery cult of Artemis.

Artemis as “protector” brought prosperity to fields and crops, herds and wild beasts, as well as long life, peace and health to her human devotes (Callimachus, Hymn 3 to Artemis, 3rd C BC, www.theoi.com/olympios/Artemis.hmtl). However, just as she could protect, so also she could bring down, for she was a hunter and her arrows were swift and true. One never knew if today’s blessings would continue on the morrow. Over the years, the Greeks developed a mythological concept of Fate or Moira to further explain their understanding and meaning of life.

The Fates were illustrated as ancient women: one spun the fiber of our lives, one measured the length of the thread, and the last cut the thread with shears to determine the end of our lives. “Moria/Fate brings good and ill to mortals and the gifts of the immortal gods are inseparable” (Solon, Frag. 13, 6th C BC). They didn’t believe in a person’s freedom of will to choose, for they believed a person’s destiny was set at birth (people who believe in astrology and horoscopes are examples of this type of thinking).  “But mortals are not free to choose prosperity nor stubborn war, nor all destroying civil strife: Aisa (Destiny), giver of all things, moves a cloud over this land, now over that” (Bacchylides, Frag. 24, www.theoi.com.Daimon.moirai.html).

We all deal with death in our lives.  Our own bodies are dying every month: at least our outer layers of skin are, which we shed every thirty-five days. In a sense, we are “new people” about eleven times a year! This loss happens so often that we ignore it until the house needs dusting. However, when we are struck with a great loss, a huge grief, or an inconsolable sorrow, we can become like Peirene weeping and wasting, or Rachel refusing to be comforted.  It doesn’t matter what our loss is: death of a child, loss of a breast, demotion at work, disability, terminal diagnosis, loss of limb, death of a beloved pet, divorce or breakup of a relationship—we are blindsided by this event.  “It isn’t supposed to happen this way! What kind of God lets these kinds of bad things happen to good people?”

At times like these, we forget that God has experienced first hand the suffering of his Son’s agony on the cross. God isn’t unfamiliar or unaware of the cost of pain and the experience of death. Anything that the Son experienced here on earth was also experienced within the Holy Trinity, which never ceased to be Holy or Three in One. Even when we forget this subtle piece of reasoning in our own pain, and all we want to do is kick the shins of the Almighty or put our boot into his hind parts, God knows that we are consumed with our own suffering and agony. Our anger against God is just a reflection against the circumstances in which we find ourselves: bereft, abandoned, hurting, despairing, and worn out by sorrows.

I think of my cousin Tommy Mac: brilliant, good boy, golden child. Not like his older brother Earl Jr., who would barely get through high school due to his good old boy party ways. Tommy had a full scholarship to a big East college and was going to law school and make his parents proud. The summer before law school, he drowned in a tubing accident on a swift running stream.  His parents were in the bedroom to receive visitors, but all they could say was, “Why would God take this one?” I don’t know if Earl Jr. was there also, but if he were, I hope he heard only the grief of his parents speaking. More likely he would have thought, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” (Gen 27:36).

I walk into the home of the one who took his own life and left his family devastated.  They didn’t know how troubled he was, for they would have helped, or they may have been reaching out, but nothing they could have done would have been enough.  Wracked with guilt, they ask, “How could he leave us? Will we see him again?” All I know is that sometimes our “real self” is lost to our “dark self.” This darkness convinces us that no hope exists, no one cares, no help is available, and no life is worth living.  The dark self can’t see God, but God can see all things: “Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light” (Ephesians 5:13-14). Many believe that suicide puts one’s self outside of the love of God, but scripture affirms that “not anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39).

How do we get beyond the grief that binds us to it or causes us to waste away until we are mere fountains of tears? Some parents make their child’s room into a shrine. This “guest bedroom” is like visiting Graceland or Neverland Valley Ranch. It pays homage to a “star” but it isn’t meant to host visitors overnight, for it is prepared for the return of the King.  Others grieve inwardly, and move on, but live within a shroud. They expend their energy of grief in giving back to others in their community, just as Peirene did. Her tears became a fountain of life giving water for the city.  Children gathered to play there, women met to share their lives, men gathered to make business deals, and the city thrived. If Peirene couldn’t answer, “Why was my child taken by the goddess?” then the only peace that Artemis could give her was to let her share the gift of life for others in exchange for the stolen death of her son.

Perhaps this is how the ancients came to tell this story to understand how one recovers from a great grief.  To give one’s self for others is the greatest gift:  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Peirene’s Fountain kept the valley watered, lush and beautiful the year round. Her outpouring of grief gave a blessing of life and beauty to the town. In the hidden and sacred spring, Artemis was worshiped as a protector and savior for the family.

Today we recognize that these waters of life come from one Savior: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (John 7:37-38). Find a mug, cup, glass, or your favorite drink container.  Fill it with your favorite beverage.  Sit down with it and begin a page of memories about the person(s) or situation(s) that fill you with grief. If at first all you can do is write their name or the word identifying them on the page, that is fine.  Sit with this and drink for a while. As the words come up, write them down. Now is not the time for pretty paragraphs, outlines, or perfect punctuation. Organization isn’t necessary. In fact, if you just write in jotted notes all over the page or in boxes, you can “organize it later.” We are looking for FOUNTAIN FLOWING THOUGHTS—automatic writing, if you will.  Let the words flow out of you like the tears of Peirene or Rachel.  Later you can put this catharsis to good use.  This is your spiritual cleansing experience for the week.