Mountains and Molehills

adult learning, art, Attitudes, beauty, Creativity, Faith, Fear, Imagination, Love, Ministry, Painting, purpose, renewal, Right Brain, righteousness, seashells, shadows, United Methodist Church, vision

I’m one of the world’s worst worriers. I can make a mountain out of a molehill. This doesn’t bode well for living life to the fullest, for none of us know for certain what’s coming up around the corner, much less further down the road. This knowledge paralyses some of us, so that some of us cannot make choices until we have more information.

The fear of making a poor choice keeps some of us confined to our beds, for what happens if we get out on the wrong side of the bed? Our whole day might be ruined. We’ll choose to stay in bed, rather than risk making this first bad choice of many. After all, there’s no sense of starting a day that will only go downhill from the gitgo.

In times of stress, I have repeated this sentence as if it were a mantra:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;
for fear has to do with punishment,
and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

~~ 1 John 4:18

When faced with a blank canvas, we all have choices. If we use a pencil to draw the shapes, then we try to fill in the exact lines, even though we may not have yet found the perfection of form of the object we are representing. I always recommend drawing the general shape of the subject matter with a brush dipped in a wash of yellow paint. This helps the artist do two things: set the general composition and forms on the canvas, and provide an opportunity to correct any first misperceptions, since the pale yellow is easily over painted.

Lines of a Landscape

Of course, most of us have not lived in a world of unconditional love, even in the church. We Methodists are traditionally called to go “onto perfection in love of God and neighbor until our hearts are so full of love, nothing else exists.” Judgement causes fear, so people are afraid to give what they have or to serve with their gifts, if others tell them how poorly they are doing.

In art class, we have a rule of positive critiques. First we find three constructive statements to make about a student’s work. Then we talk about what can be improved. It takes time to move people’s minds from thinking negatively about their own work, to believing positively in their capabilities to learn. In this aspect, I confess to a belief in “works righteousness,” for persistence will pay off. While we may not become Matisse or Michelangelo, we can enjoy the pleasures of color and the creative act of making art in our own way.

We had a full class last Friday when I brought a small still life. The objects were a small clay lamp from the Holy Land, a white stone scraper I found on an arrowhead hunt with my family, my grandmother’s darning egg, a stone fossil from my San Antonio neighborhood, and a leaf I picked up in the parking lot. Artists can make anything interesting, for we don’t need to have luxurious items for our subjects. Each person brought elements of their own personality to the subject at hand.

Mike is one of my repeat students, who loves texture and mixing colors. You can see he favored the lamp, the scraper, and the fossil, for these have these best rendering. The rest are suggested just enough to balance the others.

Mike Still Life

Erma is new to the class and comes from a mosaic background. Her shapes are true and carefully drawn. Working to get the dimensional qualities is a challenge for everyone. This comes from learning to see the light and darks. Last year the class had traditional perspective drawing classes. I may have to do this again for this group, now that I see where they are.

Erma Still Life

Tatiana has a fine drawing of the leaf and the fossil. Her colors are natural. Getting shapes down is the first goal. Later we’ll work on highlights and shadows.

Tatiana Still Life

I was glad to see Glenn back after his health issue. Can’t keep a good man down. He was in good humor the whole class and was a blessing to all of us. He got the basic shapes of the still life on the canvas. Next time, we’ll work on filling more of the canvas, so it won’t feel so lonely.

Glenn Still Life

Gail is on her second year of art classes. She’s either a glutton for punishment or she’s getting some pleasure from them. She is an example of persistence leading to improvement. Her objects are to scale, relative to each other. We see highlights from the light source, as well as the cast shadows, both of which emphasize the sense of solidity of the objects represented. She has marked off a front plane from the blue background.

Gail Still Life

Some say artists never use logic, or the left side of their brains, but I’d disagree with this. Back in the 1970’s, the commonly held theory was creativity’s location was in the right side of the brain, but today neuroscientists believe both logic and creativity use both sides of the brain at once. While speech and sight are located in certain areas, which if damaged, can affect these abilities, logic and creativity are spread out across many areas of the brain, says Dr. Kara D. Federmeier, who is a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she’s also affiliated with the Neurosciences Program and The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

As we age, older adults tend to learn better how to be both logical AND creative. This may occur because this kind of a shift is helpful to bring extra processing resources to bear on a task to compensate for age-related declines in function. Or it might be a sign that the brain is simply less good at maintaining its youthful division of labor. Understanding hemispheric specialization is thus also important for discovering ways to help us all maintain better cognitive functioning with age.

Those folks who say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” haven’t been to an art class. We don’t teach, we give opportunities to learn. Every day in my own studio, I learn something new about myself, the paint, my world, my calling, and my vision for the future. I never reach perfection, but at least I’m going on to perfection. My little still life has a mosaic quality, because I took an old canvas, which didn’t meet my expectations, and I sliced it up into evenly spaced vertical cuts. I took another poorly done old work, cut it up into horizontal strips and wove it into the first canvas. Then I painted over what was underneath. Yes, I had to pile the paint on thickly, but that gives it a rich effect, as opposed to a thinned out, watercolor feeling. While I made no clear line of demarcation, the color change denotes the difference between the table and the background.

Cornelia Still Life

I do not know what tomorrow will will bring, or what will come to life on the blank canvas before me. If we will trust the one who lived, died, and rose for us, we can live and work in perfect love every moment of our whole lives. I know I trust the word of our Lord who always will be there for us in our futures to make our mountains into molehills.

“But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
~~ Mark 14:28

https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/12/02/248089436/the-truth-about-the-left-brain-right-brain-relationship

Pearls and Other Treasures: How Far Will We Go to Find Them?

Children, Creativity, Family, Forgiveness, generosity, Health, home, Imagination, Love, Meditation, Prayer, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Strength, Uncategorized, vision, vision, Work

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great price, he went and sold all he had and bought it.” ~~ Matthew 13:45-46

In the 1980’s, the price of oil dropped like a stone and the private school in Texas that depended on wealthy oil families had to cut staff to survive. Drama and art classes were cut, but they kept music because the football team needed a marching band. Since I was the art teacher, I was out of luck.  I had hoped to catch on in the public schools, but without a full certificate, I wasn’t hired. All the other certified teachers had seen the writing on the wall and took those jobs that usually went begging because the economy was going downhill. With a master’s degree, I was over qualified for most of the jobs I applied for, until I hit the sales profession.  There they don’t care about your education, only your ability to sell.

My first quarter selling insurance for the Prudential was on a draw since I was a “captive agent employee.”  All my commissions from the first quarter would go into a bucket for the second quarter and I would be paid weekly from my own sales in the next pay period.  The first quarter Prudential was willing to pay me as an investment as they trained me. I figured I had a thirteen-week guaranteed paycheck and one quarter to prove I could sell. I would either make enough to stick around or I would be looking for another job! I was like a merchant in search of fine pearls, or a dog hot on the scent of her prey. I was focused on finding people with needs that could be met by the products my company provided.

After that first quarter, I was making three times as much as I had when I was teaching school. I went out to celebrate, not at a bar, but to the finest jeweler in San Antonio, and spent an entire week’s salary on a matched set of large natural Baroque pearls with gold stems worth around $600 (1987 value).  I checked eBay today: I could buy some that looked like them with silver stems for less than $10 and get free shipping from Hong Kong, but then, what do I know about that seller? These are my “pearls of great price.”

A week’s salary isn’t quite the same as “selling all one has,” and maybe that’s why most of us never quite lay hold of a pearl of great price. We aren’t willing to give all we have for this one really great possession. I met a man last year that was starting up an organic farm near Jessieville. He retired early and sold all that he had. He bought his land, house and farm equipment: his new life was beginning at age 60. This farm for him is his “pearl of great price.” It’s not only his retirement plan, but also the place where he hopes his spirit will be centered. Even if the farm isn’t financially viable, he will still live in a beautiful place that is paid for.

My “pearl of great price” at one time was to be a famous artist, but I soon discovered that I wasn’t willing to give up “all that I possessed.” I didn’t want to move to a large art center, live in a tiny apartment or a cheap warehouse loft, or deal with the lifestyle of my artist friends. I wanted a husband, a child, and time and space in which to create my art. I wanted a “pearl of greater price”—a full life with relationships that extended beyond my career and into the next generation.

All of these “pearls of great price” are just pretty baubles, penultimate pearls, as it were.  None are the true pearls for which we are truly called to give up all that we have so that we may possess and own for ourselves this one desirable object. Jesus, the Son of God, already owns all things, since all things were created through him (John 1:3), so when he gave his life that we might live, he is selling all that he has for us, his “pearls of great price.” We are God’s “treasured possession out of all the peoples” (Exodus 19:5). Jesus took the ultimate risk: he trusted God completely and he believed that God could and would raise him from the dead and give him the name above all names (Philippians 2:9). We take the same risk when we put our faith in Christ and trust in his life, death, and resurrection for the salvation of our lives.

This is why the spiritual life is filled with phrases like “Leap of Faith” and “Let Go & Let God.” To search for the pearl of great price requires active intent and the risk of not finding, but God is faithful.  “When you search for me, you will find me, if you seek me with your whole heart” (Jeremiah 29:13)

What is your pearl of great price?  Is it your family, your job, or your security? Maybe you have had a spell of bad health, and now the pearl you would give anything for is to find wellness again.  I knew one woman who more than anything wanted to shed tears, for she had lost the ability to cry because she was so depressed.  Give your pearl to Christ in your daily journal or prayer time during the week ahead.  Know that you are God’s treasured possession.  Feel his love filling you and giving you strength for the road ahead.

As a creative exercise, seek out the beauty of your treasure box/jewelry box. You may have a stamp collection or coin collection that is valuable. Some folks collect other items that have value. Do you hide this, or is it out where you can enjoy it? If it is locked up, consider having at least one item appraised & insured on your homeowner’s policy (inland marine/fine arts/silver rider) so that you can have it out to enjoy it and appreciate it.  If we have to hide beauty, is it still beautiful if it cannot be seen? These hidden objects should be donated to a museum that can display and protect them properly, so that all can enjoy their beauty.  These “pearls of great price” deserve to be appreciated and enjoyed!

May your week be full of joy and peace, Cornelia

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