Spring Flowers

adult learning, art, Creativity, Easter, Faith, flowers, garden, Garden of Gethsemane, Good Friday, Holy Spirit, Imagination, incarnation, Israel, Ministry, nature, Painting, picasso, Prayer, purpose, salvation, Spirituality, Stations of the Cross, Travel

How many colors exist in creation? Many more than we can buy in a tube at the art supply store and even more than the number of paint chips at our local building supply store. Recently I gave my adult art class an assignment to use their primary colors and white only to mix new colors, since I noticed they were not getting middle values in their paintings. I too enjoy the brightness of the primary colors, so this was also a challenge for me.

Power of the Cross

The following week I needed to do less geometry and more nature, but I came back to the cross theme once again, for these flowers are from a photo of the Easter “Living Cross” at my church. While we can’t see the arms of the cross, anymore than we can see Jesus today, we know the cross is there, just as we know Jesus is present for us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This makes Christ alive, not only in our hearts, but also in the lives of all who suffer: the poor, the immigrant or stranger in our land, and the oppressed. Even the land itself, which suffers from human caused climate change, can be a place where we meet the living Christ.

Spring Flowers

The Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem is a powerful place, for it was where Christ was handed over to his captors by a former friend. From there he went to death on the cross and resurrection for our salvation. This garden retains this energy of struggle: Jesus prayed to get his will in line with God’s will.

If the story ended here, we’d have no living crosses full of beautiful flowers on Easter Sunday. Out of pain and struggle comes great beauty. Most of us will avoid any challenge in our lives, thinking the easy way is the best way. Intentionally causing others to suffer pain isn’t acceptable for moral reasons: “do no harm” is a good adage, as is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Setting achievable goals and challenges are different. These cause us to grow. They may also cause us discomfort, but this isn’t pain.

On this canvas, Spring Flowers, I had to overpaint and scumble to create the textured grays of the background. I even had to repaint the wispy border flowers several times to get their petals colored and straight, plus to get the ground varied enough to make them stand out.

One of the artists I most admire is Picasso, for he was always reinventing his style. Today artists pick a style and stick with it. Perhaps this is lucrative and makes economic sense. Still, I wonder what happens to the creative spirit when it’s not nurtured, challenged, and expressed. Of course, this may be the difference between a great artist and a good artist, and only the centuries will tell which among us now will be great.

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The Sea Shell

adult learning, art, Children, Creativity, Faith, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Love, mystery, Painting, salvation, seashells, shadows, Uncategorized, vision

I have hidden inside a sea shell

but forgotten in which.

SEASHELL AND DRAGON FRUIT

Now daily I dive,

filtering the sea through my fingers,

to find myself.

Sometimes I think

a giant fish has swallowed me.

Looking for it everywhere I want to make sure

it will get me completely.

DRAGON FRUIT MONSTER

The sea-bed attracts me, and

I’m repelled by millions

of sea shells that all look alike.

Help, I am one of them.

If only I knew, which.

BIRD ON A SHELL

How often I’ve gone straight up

to one of them, saying: That’s me.

Only, when I prised it open

it was empty.

In art, beginners can get so caught up with drawing the forms and representing reality, they lose sight of the emotions and meaning of their work. Small children, on the other hand, will take an idea such as a snowman in a snowstorm, and completely obliterate their surface with white swirls until all sight of the ground, the snowman, the house and the children who built it are covered up. Their work is more about the experience of the falling, swirling snow than it is about the distinctive parts. We hang this on our refrigerators and exclaimed with amazement when they tell us the story.

In a year, they’ll be interested in the separate objects and have a well defined ground and sky, even if their objects aren’t in realistic proportions. The proportions are sized according to the child’s interest, and by age 12 most children want to create drawings with realistic perspective and images. Sometimes as they age, they begin to lose their sense of magic and mystery, and need their imagination primed more, but this isn’t impossible.

Adults often have difficulty using their imaginations, for they’ve had too many years of completing to do lists, getting things done, and unfortunately, much work is mind numbing. Some of them also are products of schools that taught to the test and to the “right answer,” rather than teaching thinking or logic skills or creativity.

The disciples asked, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)

For us as artists or as people of faith, to enter into the humility of a child is a counter cultural act, both today and in ancient times. We don’t find self help gurus preaching simplicity or poverty, but we do find plenty selling the siren call of prosperity and power. Jesus always speaks of the least of all as being the most of all, which is why the smallest child has more honor and greatness in the kingdom of heaven than the most important citizens of this world.

Some of us hear this text as a call to never question the faith we learned as a child. Unfortunately when we hit the stumbling blocks of adulthood, we find our simple faith’s pillars of belief are on shaky foundations. We can either crash and burn, or we can ask the questions of trusted and learned guides who have gone on the path before. Then we can shore up our foundations with mature understandings, or remodel our understanding so we can live with joy anew.

In art, we can either repeat the same forms over and over, or we can critique our work. In the school I attended, we had a routine—the first three comments had to be positive, then the next had to be those which needed improvement. Since we never called anything “bad” or “wrong,” the person on the hot seat never felt diminished. “You could have darkened the background more, so your foreground objects would have been more prominent.” This is better than saying, “You didn’t make the objects in front stand out,” since it doesn’t offer a solution.

It’s humbling to receive criticism, even positive feedback, because we want to be accepted just as we are, especially in faith. Yet Jesus didn’t die on the cross to leave us just as we are (justifying grace), but rose from the dead to perfect us and make us holy, just as he is (sanctifying grace). In faith, we come as humble children to grow in grace before God and to come to full perfection of love of God and neighbor that is entire sanctification. In art, we work each day to join our hand, our hearts, and our vision into one spiritually inspired whole. The more we know ourselves and can connect with the spirit of the creating God, the better we’ll make art with an inner life.

Sometimes in art, we decide to repeat a certain set of forms because we get approval from others for our work. We do this to the danger of our very lives. While we may continue to sell our work and earn the acclaim of critics, if we aren’t pushing the boundaries of artistic creativity, we are stagnating and not growing. The greatest artists–Picasso, Rembrandt, Matisse, and Michaelagelo–never quit growing. In faith, we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Poem translated by Michael Hamburger. Published in 1983 by Bloodaxe Books. http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

Source: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 1983)

Art, Cabbages and The Spiritual Life

Creativity, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Ministry, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Uncategorized

“No good tree bears bad  fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit.”   ~~ Luke 6:43-44a 

My family was known for its colorful sayings. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and “a zebra can’t change its stripes” were two of my parents’ favorites. Yet the whole of the spiritual and the creative life is about transformation!  If I took these sayings to heart, I would never have started on the great journey that has been my life’s work!

Both the artist and the person of faith believe that something ordinary, even ugly, might be the raw material for a work of beauty if only it were to be put under a shaping hand that is tapped into the creating and inspired power that is the source of all beauty that moves and cares for the world in which we live. Picasso can take the rusted out bicycle seat and its handles, weld them together to create a bull’s head, and so create a thing of beauty from what once was destined for the junk heap. The master’s hand transforms the useless and laid aside into something desirable and valuable.

The parable goes on to say “figs aren’t gathered from thorns, nor are grapes from a bramble bush” (6:44b). This is obvious to anyone who knows where food comes from! When my daughter was eight years old, I served a small church on the southwest side of San Antonio where many of the truck farms are located.  She saw a field of bright green balls, all growing in straight rows and sitting directly upon the soil. “What’s that?” Cabbages.  “Why are they on the ground?” That’s how they grow; they’re plants.  “Ugh! I’m never eating cole slaw again!” More for me. Your loss, my gain. All plants grow in the ground: carrots, lettuce, potatoes, watermelons. “Disgusting!”(I figured when she got good and hungry, she’d get over her disgust at where real food comes from. Everyone needs to know that real food doesn’t come neatly wrapped and clean in cellophane or a box at the grocery store.)

Jesus says “the good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of the evil treasure of the heart produces evil for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks’ (6:45).

So are we born good or born evil, with no hope of changing, like the zebra with its stripes? If this is so, then why did God bother to send us a Savior? Transformation must be possible, for we can be saved, and saved to the fullest! We aren’t trees, sow’s ears, or mere zebras. We are born in the image of God, made in his likeness and we are destined for eternity. The God who loves his creation will not let his creation fall again into hopeless despair.

Like the artist, God takes our rough materials, even those that have been thrown on the junk heaps of life, and reworks them into something new and beautiful with his recreating power.  Even the worst of us, who have destroyed our lives and the lives of those around us, can receive forgiveness and renewal.  We can be transformed by God’s recreating power! Where our nature and fruit might have originally been for evil, with Christ we can now be and work for good.  A greater hand than ours has touched our hearts and lives.  That transformation by the master Artist will shape us until we are the masterpiece God wants us to be.

We won’t live the life of a great work of art hidden in a climate -controlled museum, surrounded by a gilt frame or guarded by security. Instead, we will go out to share our beauty with the weak and wounded of the world. We will be a living witness to the work of transformation, not only in our creative work but also in our lives.  We won’t be like cabbages wrapped in cellophane waiting for God to take us up to the heavenly banquet. Instead we will be the living, breathing fruit of God’s tree of life bearing fruit for God’s kingdom until Christ comes in his final victory!

Our practice this week is to find images of transformation in your world. You could take photos and post them to your Facebook page, you could make a collage from magazine photo cut outs, or you could write a poem of the images you find in your life. Offer this experience to God and give thanks for the new creation that is at work in your life!

Joy and Peace, Cornelia