Day of the Dead Altars

adult learning, All Saints Day, Altars, Ancestry, art, Creativity, Day of the Dead, Faith, Family, grief, Healing, Health, Imagination, Meditation, Ministry, photography, poverty, Reflection, renewal, Spirituality, vision

DeLee—Ancestor Altar

Some things I take for granted, since I had the great privilege of knowing my great grandmother in her last years. I knew all but one of my grandparents, since my daddy’s father died when I was only a year old. Even my daughter knew both her Nana and all four of her grandparents. Growing up we attended family reunions or homecomings every summer without fail. We renewed ties with the distant or “kissing cousins” who also showed up for the food and fellowship. I also have family members who care about genealogy, especially if this gets them into exclusive organizations, but I’ve never joined these.

The Mexican festival for the Day of the Dead pays respects to the ancestors. In truth, we don’t need to know who they are, or to have had an intimate relationship with them. After all, I certainly didn’t know my great great ancestors! I can appreciate I wouldn’t be here without their gift of life to my more proximate relatives. This is what the writer of Hebrews means by, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (12:1).

The Day of the Dead is celebrated on or around All Saints Day, and sometimes for several days on either side of it. It began with an Aztec custom, and blended into the Catholic tradition. This is a time for feasting, celebrations, and joy, to make memorable the experience of recalling the lives of the ancestors. Sweet foods shaped like skulls are one of the traditions.

Michael—Altar

Michael worked on a pyramid of foam core boards, which he painted to look like stones. He decorated it with store bought skulls and a photo of his deceased brother. He has more nuts and bolts from a found object stash to add to it. Telling the story of his beloved one is part of the project. Art is part therapy and part project. We may work with our hands, but our hearts and minds are also involved.

Michael—Found Objects

Gail worked on a tombstone painting with images of her ancestors and their pets. She figured our how to transfer photos to cloth via the printer! Technology! I was impressed! Plus Gail made coffee for my sake, and it was a means of grace, since I’ve had a serious sinus infection that won’t go away. Coffee really is a blessing.

Gail—Ancestral Line

I’m slowly working on a new box for my daughter’s memory. This is the third anniversary of her death. When we think of the Dead, we remember
we believe “he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (Luke 20:38). So we don’t grieve like others do, for our loved ones aren’t lost to us. Since God is close to us, and our loved ones are with God, this means our loved ones are always as close to us as God is.

In these past three years, grief has roiled not only our nation, but the nations of the world. Since 2015, more than 33,000 Americans have died as a result of the opioid epidemic, but drug overdose deaths overall are even larger. In 2015 alone, 52,404 people died from a drug overdose and 64,070 died in the year ending in January, 2017. Across the world, 2015 was remarkable for forcibly displaced persons: 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced persons, and 3.2 million asylum seekers. The photo of the drowned Syrian boy, who washed up on a Turkish beach, helped open Europe’s doors to people fleeing the war torn country they once called home. Now we have neighbors from the south fleeing gangs and corruption in the hope of a place to work and give their families a better life.

Perhaps we’ve had so much of our own grief, we can’t deal with any more. We’ve become numb to the pain of others. If this is the case, we are dead inside, and others need to grieve for us. The fancy name for our condition is “compassion fatigue,” for we hear folks saying, “We should take care of our own first,” but our own go hungry and sleep in the bushes behind our churches or on our city streets.

To live with joy isn’t easy in the early days after the death of a loved one, but as our journey progresses toward recovery, we come to remember who we are and whose we are. Making a scrapbook, writing a journal, or building an altar are all physical means to engage the senses. Once we tap these, we can open the floodgates to our emotions and thoughts, and then healing can begin. We aren’t healed in a moment, but by a process over time.

“Hear, LORD, and be merciful to me; LORD, be my help.
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy”
~~ Psalms 30:10-11

NEXT WEEK: We begin a new still life painting series—Ornamental Gourds.
No, we aren’t painting ON the gourds…Bring paints and a canvas!

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

Drug Overdose Statistics:
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2657548

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More Power: Thoughts on the Spiritually of A Found Object Icon

Creativity, Fear, generosity, Healing, Health, Holy Spirit, home, Icons, Imagination, Love, Mental Illness, Ministry, ministry, mystery, poverty, Prayer, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Strength, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, Work

I should never begin working with power tools without caffeine. Having said this, I’m glad to report that I still have all the fingers on each hand and no body parts remain glued to a flat surface, unlike Tim “The Tool Man” Allen. My only error was to put my battery pack backwards into the charging unit. This meant I needed an extra hand to help me pull it loose. God provides, for my young neighbor was handy to pull the charger away while I held the battery’s release mechanism. Two minds are better than one, and two efforts double the power.

My friends at the Canvas Community Church in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, work with the homeless folks there. Street people are made in the image of God, just as you and I are. They have broken lives, just as you and I do. Their brokenness is out on view for all to see, whereas ours is often hidden behind elegant facades or ordinary tract homes. Canvas will host a Good Friday Stations of the Cross worship service for their community. Their art outreach program with the homeless produces some of the art, but other artists offer their works for exhibition and sale also. A portion of the proceeds befits the church’s outreach ministry.

Icons are such sacred objects that they have acquired a sense of holiness all their own. This attribution of holiness to the icon itself, rather than to the person or subject represented, led to the Iconoclast Controversy. Some destroyed many precious works of art because they thought the image was being worshiped, rather than God or Jesus. We do this today, of course, when we worship our “litmus test issues,” such as which Bible translation is the only sacred cow, what age the earth is (a cover for the Creation science or evidential science debate), or picking a Christian candidate to support (by virtue of the proof texting quotes with which we agree, of course).

My thought is that we still worship the image, but fail to worship God or Jesus. If we were to go beyond the icon/image, we might see more of us meeting the Christ who lives on the streets, in the prisons, and in the sickbeds of our nation:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

In the ten hours I was in my studio assembling this icon, I had time to remember where I found all these items that make up this altarpiece. The two red supporting decorative brackets are from a home decorating project that never got off the ground because I decided to tear out the old counter space rather than to make a mosaic there. I hauled the wood shelf back from a walk. It was once a scrap piece of a fence that kept someone out or in. I pick up sticks that feel right, and scraps of wood or crushed soda cans that call out my name. The debris of this world has a beauty of its own kind, just as the acknowledged fine materials of our convention have value. If one day we found a way to manufacture gold, the metal would become base in a heartbeat.

That Chrysler hubcap was a real find! I may have found that on vacation when I stopped along a quiet roadside to snap a photo. The old crosses are from my days of living in large homes, rather than a small condo. The green glass cross broke in a move, but I couldn’t give it up. Most of us can’t give up our brokenness to the Christ who said, “This is my body, broken for you.” This is why we share our broken lives with all who are broken by sorrow, illness, pain, or hurts. We may wind up rusted on the side of the road, like the windshield wiper or we may end up painted over and stashed away in a garage like the board on which this icon exists. I also used beads and old pieces of jewelry that needed to be recycled and repurposed, in the great icon making tradition.

The power of the icon isn’t in the materials. I’ve made icons of macaroni and plastic jewels that read “holiness” as much as any ancient icon. I’ve had people make icons from their grandmother’s jewelry boxes. These too read as holy icons, even if they are nonrepresentational. The power comes through the Holy Spirit into the artist and then into the work. When I make a work such as this, my hands are steady, my pace is slow, and I lose all track of time. I enter into another realm, so to speak, that of the icon itself. The ancients believed that the icons were a window into heaven. I believe this is true, for the power of such an object is to take us out of our ordinary experiences and into a world where there is no more hunger, pain, or grief.

The icon’s great mystery and power is to remind us that ordinary materials can open us up to the truth and beauty of the holy. When our eyes are jaded by the ugliness of the world about us: wars, beheadings, poverty, injustice, economic destabilization, and human insensitivity, look upon the icons and enter into the power of the one who makes all things holy:

“He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Philippians 3:21)

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McTemples and Lonely Prophets

Creativity, Evangelism, Family, Food, generosity, Health, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Meditation, Ministry, ministry, photography, poverty, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

~~ Matthew 6:21 

Driving home from a retreat in north Arkansas, I made a pit stop at a local McDonalds. I called a friend, for I missed an opportunity to help publicize a group of homeless veterans’ art works.  One of the road riding prophets of the Christian Motorcyclists Associations heard me say, “Let me leave here and we’ll pray,” so he followed me outside. I’d seen his colors as I exited the building, so I wasn’t afraid of his rough looks. Women traveling alone don’t normally want to engage in conversations with strangers because it pierces our bubble of security. The rest of us just want to be left alone so we can get on with our lives. CMA riders share their witness whenever and wherever they can.

This was Ron C, bearing fruit for the weary traveler, sharing that his life now with Christ has been much better than it was before, when he was briefly confined to a mental institution. Now he has a purpose when he rides the road.  He shares Christ with all he meets, for Christ is the seed buried in his heart. I thanked him for his witness and we parted.  I wondered how many Christians have a Christ treasure to share from their heart, or whether Christ is their means to gain earthly treasures.

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of Harold Camping’s prediction of the End of the World (5-21-11).  Many folks cashed in their pension plans to pay for advertising to warn people of the impending doom/judgment/rapture. They were disappointed, but like true believers, unshaken. Perhaps they should have read the text, “no one but the Father knows the day and hour of the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:36). How can we witness to our faith, if we aren’t given to selling all that we have or riding the roads as a lonely prophet?

Jesus says, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:20).  We can’t exactly make a deposit in the First Heavenly Bank & Trust: it doesn’t have a drive through or an ATM. There’s not an app for that for your smart phone. However, we can care for ourselves, since we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 3:16). We can also care for others as well as for God’s creation. Caring for ourselves means not burning our candle at both ends, choosing fewer processed foods/more fresh foods, making exercise and sleep a priority, and finding our quiet time with God for prayer and meditation. Two days away for a golf/spiritual retreat with my clergy pals was a way I could honor this need to store up treasure in heaven. When 42% of American adults are predicted to be obese by the next generation, we are building McTemples by the millions! This excess weight adds $550 billion to our medical bills in preventable disease costs, for obesity related costs now outrank those caused by smoking.

Caring for others means we value them as we value them as we value ourselves, for we are all made in the image of God. To care for others means not only means to do good to their bodies and souls, but also to refrain from doing harm. People in caretaking professions and customer relations tend to put others first, and themselves second. Years of doing this will diminish our healthy sense of self, until we no longer can stand up for what is true and right. We will do for others exclusively, and fail to take time for ourselves. For some reason, we think we are Superman or Superwoman, and we can fly forever doing mighty deeds. We don’t see the kryptonite until it’s too late: Doing no harm means caring for ourselves. The truth is not one of us is yet under the complete Lordship of Jesus Christ, for none of us are entirely perfected in love: we are still going on toward perfection! We yearn for our hearts to be so full of love of God and neighbor that nothing else exists, but we still are riding the road, making a way on that journey to perfection.

I may laugh about our McTemples of the Holy Spirit, but that’s only because I come from a culture of eating. I grew up in a Methodist Church and went to a Methodist Seminary. I told folks I had a course called  “Preacher 101—Follow the Food.” It’s a good way to understand the dynamics of the local church, which does run around food: donuts with the pastor, men’s breakfast, ladies’ luncheons, Wednesday night choir supper, potluck dinners, senior club dinners, youth night dinners, spaghetti fund raisers, valentine suppers, potato bakes, etc. I sometimes ate only two meals at home in any given week. All these folks know how to cook, and they all want you to eat their food.  No wonder their pastors have big round bellies, and their insurance is so high! But then, we are just like they are, so we are all going down the same road to illness together.

It’s not that we don’t have access to decent food. Most of my churches have been in small towns, not in the urban jungles of decay that are designated as “food deserts.” They aren’t in rich neighborhoods by any means, but we do have access to a variety of food.  Since I’ve been on health leave, I’ve become more conscious about caring for my body, soul, and mind. I’ve learned that our food industry makes cheap food palatable by layering fat, salt, and sugar together in a heavily processed form. These products are heavily packaged, highly advertised, and subject to extreme couponing offers.  They are not the best foods for you.  The best foods are on the outer perimeter of the grocery store: fruits, meats, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products.

The food deserts are in the poorer neighborhoods that have more fast food restaurants and fewer grocery stores. They also have less access to transportation and higher rates of metabolic syndrome diseases plus less access to medical care. A good project would be a community garden and cooking classes. Neighbors helping neighbors by improving the little patch of the earth on which they live makes a whole lot of good for God’s kingdom, or “storing up treasures in heaven.”

Our spiritual practice will be an inventory of our heart: what are our treasures? Begin to list them one by one, beginning with all the things and all the people you hold dear to you. Then list all the powers and strengths. Now list all the pains and sorrows, weaknesses and failures.  See how God has used these also to bring treasure into your life.  As our art project, try building a treasure box: If you have an old box, you can paint or decoupage (cut pictures & glue designs) it according to your taste.  This can be a place to keep the treasures from the years gone by. You can also fold a box of scrapbook paper using the ten step directions found at

http://rubberstamping.about.com/od/techniquesandtutorials/ss/Box.htm

Joy and Peace, Cornelia