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PRAYER: Listening to an Icon

Most of us separate our lives into doing and being: we are creatures of comfort at times, and then we expend energy doing chores or work at different times. We live bifurcated lives, even if we’ve heard the admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), we work without prayer and pray without working. Then again, some of us have little connection with the spiritual at all, so we miss the mystery and the awe of the dimensions beyond this mundane world. We’re unable to see even the glory and beauty of the creation, since we aren’t connected spirituality to a life beyond this world.

Christ Overcomes the World

The iconographer is more than a painter or a writer: he or she is one who connects this material world with the spiritual world beyond. The icon is a window through which the heavenly and the earthly worlds communicate. It’s like a wormhole, of sorts, in sci-fi language, or a portal passage for direct communication. Of course, we can directly communicate with the Holy Spirit, but not being able to see the Spirit, we can see the icon’s representation of the image of Christ or a saint, and this helps us to focus our thoughts and prayers.

Golden Christ

Some say a candle would suffice, or a text from Scripture, and I agree. Yet not everyone is able to live such a spare life, reduced of images, color, and beauty. Minimalism isn’t for everyone! This is why we have zen gardens as well as romantic English gardens. Some of us need architectural modernism and others like quaint country clutter. The icon tradition comes from the ancient church, for Luke was traditionally ascribed to be the first iconographer, as well as one of the first gospel writers. He painted Mary “the God-bearer” and Jesus.

Mary Macaroni

Our art class is moving out of its comfort zone in the painting of icons. We can learn about the spiritual life in the art class every time we meet. In fact, every time we try something new or challenging, we learn about ourselves and the spiritual life. A close inspection of the gospels shows a Jesus who was always challenging the status quo. The only time he was comforting people was when they were dispossessed, marginalized, or disrespected. “Blessed are the poor…” was his first choice, not blessed are the rich or powerful!

When we are weak and powerless, when we struggle and fall short of success, and that will be. Every. Single. Day. In. Art—We are then most able to lean on the one who for our sakes became weak so we can become strong. Then we’ll come back and fail again and remember the times Christ stumbled on the rocky road to the crucifixion. What seemed like a failure to everyone gathered about, and didn’t make logical sense to wisdom seeking people, nevertheless served a higher purpose. By uniting all of our human failures and faults in one person, God could experience all of them in God’s own image, the icon we know as Jesus Christ.

Crucifixion

If there’s any reason to attempt a Holy Icon in this modern world, we paint and pray to unite our work and spiritual into one. Usually only the clergy have this privilege, and they can too easily burn out if they do too much and pray too little. Lay people underestimate the amount of prayers necessary for effective work. The older I get, the more prayer time I need. Of course, work takes more out of me now, but I’m a refugee from the dinosaur age. I used to be an energizer bunny back in my fifties, but working thirty hours a week painting and writing is enough for me today.

Any art work, whether a landscape, portrait, or an icon, can be alive or dead, depending on how the artist approaches the work. If we draw the lines, fill in the colors, and never pay attention to the energy of the art itself, we’re just filling up time. If we’re thinking about our grocery list, what to make for dinner, or the errands we have to run, we aren’t on speaking terms with our artwork. On the other hand, if we’re paying attention, sharing in the conversation, listening to what our work is telling us, we can respond to the push and pull of the conversation. Our work will tell us what it needs if we’ll only listen to it. If we trust and listen to the Holy Spirit, we’ll paint a true icon, and the window into heaven will open for all who want to listen.

Christ Blessing the World

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The Spa Life and Righteousness

#MeToo movement, arkansas, art, Attitudes, Faith, Forgiveness, Habits, Healing, Icons, john wesley, Ministry, Painting, Philosophy, Reflection, renewal, righteousness, salvation, Spirituality, Strength, Supreme Court, United Methodist Church

As a gal who loves her spa days, few and far between though they are, I enjoy the pampering these small forays into indulgence involve. The friendly staff, the luxurious soft robes, the warm scented tubs, the cold needled showers, and even the brief stints in the steam box. Most of all, I live for the white terrycloth towels soaked in the hot spring waters, but cooled enough to put onto tender human flesh. The attendant who wraps my knees and back also puts an ice cold towel on my face before she leaves me alone to the quiet. Then I succumb to the ecstasy of this melting experience for about fifteen minutes.

Afterward, she wraps me back into my white robe to walk me over to the massage therapy room. She walks, but I sort of flow, for my feet don’t really feel connected to my legs or knees or hips. The heat can make a person feel giddy for a time, or perhaps the lack of pain is such a relief, I feel euphoric.

DeLee—Christ Blessing the World

I notice the other women waiting for their massages have similar beatific smiles on their faces. The magic of the spa day outing is at work. After our massages, we seem to glow from the inside out. This effect lasts for a few hours at best, until the experience wears off, and we return to normal. I understand now why my grandparents would come to Hot Springs for “the waters” on their vacations. They did the baths daily, for their supposedly medicinal cure, even if it served to merely relax then and distress them. “Take as needed” is a medical prescription we can all understand.

This brings me to my real subject: Faith and Righteousness. Of late in the public realm we’ve been treated to curious definitions of faith and righteousness by groups in powerful places and those who want to ascend to positions of power. “I go to church” is their definition of faith and “I got into the best college and law school “ has been their definition of righteousness. Evidently attendance in these places didn’t include a passing acquaintance with the dictionary or intensive study, much less convincing evidence.

Imputed righteousness and the Faith of Acceptance

Righteousness and faith for the average church going person is like the robe I wear at the spa for a while. I don’t own it, but I use it. It belongs to Christ, who imputes his right relationship with God to me while I wear it. I accept this idea by faith—the faith Christ had in God’s love for humankind as well as Christ’s faith God would raise him from the dead. I don’t own this faith with any depth of conviction, so my outward life isn’t changed in any way from a nonbeliever ‘s life.

As the writer of Ephesians says in 5:12-14–

For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Imparted righteousness and the Faith of Assurance

One day we wake from our sleep and come to the conviction our surface appearances have failed us. We see our outward professions of faith and righteousness are a mere mask for the carefully constructed False Self we’ve been presenting to the world. We see our own righteousness is weak beside the true righteousness of Christ. We no longer see our Self, but Christ. We depend only on Christ, and not on any strength of our own Self.

When we cast aside this False Self, we can finally “buy the robe of Christ,” which he purchased with his own life, death, and resurrection. We buy into the whole life of Christ when we let our False Self die, and let our New/True Self rise with Christ. We can wear this robe of righteousness everywhere we go, for it changes us from within. The evidence shows on the outside by our words, deeds, and temperament. Our attitude changes our behavior and the consequences follow suit. The inner person shows through in the outer person, for better or worse, depending on whether we merely borrow or buy the robe of Christ.

The question for all of us remains: Do we trust our goodness to our ethnicity, our deeds, our social status, our religious heritage, our political group, our wealth, our zip code, our strength, our beauty, or any other transient thing? Or do we trust the unchanging and eternal love of God in Christ Jesus, who gave his son so all of creation could be redeemed to its original perfection?

DeLee—Christ, The Good Shepherd Saves All the Lost

John Wesley has a famous sermon called “The Almost Christian.” He suggests we need to go farther and become an “Altogether Christian.”

You can read his sermon preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford, before the University, on July 25, 1741 at the link below:

https://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-2-The-Almost-Christian

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)

Leaving The Garden of Guilt and Shame

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Adam & Eve Hiding in the Garden of Eden

Adam & Eve Hiding in the Garden of Eden

“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”  ~~ Genesis 3:8

 None of us have ever grown up in the Garden of Eden: we grew up in our families of origin. Our parents are generations away from Adam and Eve, but the shame and guilt of these primal ancestors still operate in our family histories today. My own family operated on a shame culture: the honor of the family’s name and our place in society was very important. Often we children were punished in a group: as the oldest, I should have known better and prevented my two brothers from being trouble makers; the boys were punished because one started the fight and the other finished it, or he came back to tattle.

“Wait till your Father gets home!” was a promise of a second round of punishments, which was always meted out from oldest to youngest. I was glad to be the oldest at this time, for I wouldn’t have enjoyed anticipating my turn: I was relieved to get it over with. I was trained early not to get into trouble, or to hide my duplicity well. My brothers were slower to learn.

In our family, guilt didn’t operate as in the criminal justice system, in that the individual was held accountable for his own actions. My parents figured all of us had a hand in the pie of corporate corruption and our behavior, either inside or outside the home, brought dishonor to the family name. “No child of ours is going outside dressed like that! Go change your clothes!” This meant, “what will others think of us if you go out looking like a tramp, or in rags, or mismatched, or like a hippy, or without makeup, or (heaven forbid) wearing white after Labor Day?” Boys brought honor to the family by working after school because they had to learn how to earn a living, but girls who worked an afternoon job brought shame: “people will think your father can’t earn enough money to take care of this family.”

Some of us learn from classes, others from experience. and still others of us learn from stories.  Our ancestors were great storytellers. The sum of human nature they could wrap up in just a few sentences: “Once upon a time, the Lord God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden each evening when the cool breezes broke the day’s heat.” We don’t know the form or aspect of the Lord, but we know he was present daily and intimate with his whole creation. This must have been a time of joy and wonder, and a privilege to look forward to at the end of the day.

Yet the man and the woman wanted more, “to be like God knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Deciding to become wise, they ate of the tree and their eyes were opened: “they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made loin cloths for themselves” (Gen 3:7). Biblical writers do have a sense of humor, for if these first people were truly “wise” they wouldn’t have chosen fig leaves for their garments, since figs give off an itchy sap.  They may have “hid their nakedness,” but they were also “scratching their nakedness” at the same time.

When the Lord God came for his evening walk, they hid themselves. Do they feel guilt or shame? Our modern, individualist point of view says they feel guilt, but the Bible is written from an ancient Middle Eastern Shame & Honor Culture. They feel shame for breaking ties with the Lord God and not listening to his words, but to the words of his creation (the snake, Gen 3:1-5). Their nakedness is a symbol of their new vulnerability before God: before they were free to be themselves, but now they hide behind inadequate clothing and behind the trees of the garden. They are afraid to reveal their wrongdoing out of the shame they feel.  They have dishonored the one who gave them life.  Their consequence is to lose their former intimacy with God and be banished from the garden, but God puts protective clothing on them.

Even today, God asks his people, “Where are you?”  and we think we can hide behind our false fronts: our happy faces, our spiritual posts on Facebook, our meticulously groomed bodies, our 100% attendance ribbon at religious events, and our other outward evidence of our faith lives.  Or we might be hiding in our “caves/homes” hoping that God won’t see that our once well-constructed lives are falling apart like some Bangladeshi garment factory. God is all knowing, however (Psm 147:5), so there is no place we can hide. We can try to coverup our shameful past or our guilty present from God, but to no avail. These things are not important to the God who knows all that we are and all that we can be.  Accepting responsibility and returning to a relationship is what God wants from us.

One thing Adam and Eve failed to do was take personal responsibility for their deeds. Adam blamed it on God: “you gave me the Woman & she gave me the fruit,” while Eve blamed it on the Snake: “he talked me into it” (Gen 3:12-13). There must be some terrible and overwhelming experience in the discovery of our true selves, for we have had it hidden under our parents’ expectations, our society’s expectations, our religions’ expectations, and our community’s expectations. When we begin to strip these extraneous layers off to reveal the true self and the child of God, we find the individual who used to walk freely with the Lord God in the garden when the evening winds were blowing.

For some of us, our secret pasts bring us shame and dishonor. We need to remember that guilt is for something that we have done wrong, and we can atone for. We can pay a penalty for it, make amends, and make it right where it was once wrong, or we can do a right act in replacement for a past wrong. Time we heal the pain of guilt. We can confess the guilt and receive release from its stain.  This is the hope of justice, or righteousness in Christ.

For shame and dishonor, we need to understand that these are deeper issues: feeling that we will not measure up no matter how hard we try, that we will never be good enough, and our suffering will not ever end.  We who hide behind our frozen smiles and our itchy fig leaves need to stand under the flooding shower of pure grace and hear the words from the Lord God:  “You are my Son, You are my Daughter! With you I am well-pleased!” (Mark 1:11)

There are many great artists’ works of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Google these images.  Notice how the artists handle the nudity over the years and how the body image changes. Think about your own body image.

Do you have shame thoughts when you observe your own body? Listen to the words you hear in your mind.

Ladies—Are you trying to be a size 0 runway model when your body frame is really a 16—and is that a healthy goal? Is this a goal of society or your own goal?

Men—does your trainer want you to look like a magazine photo or do you just want to be healthier? Do you want to workout 8 hours a day or 1 hour daily? Is focusing on an ideal body image healthy, or is focusing on your whole life a better choice?

I recommend you “like a Facebook page” I host:

Cornie’s Kitchen: Whole Foods for Whole People. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cornies-Kitchen/411859538836606

Read more: Shame-Culture and Guilt-Culture

Atherton J S (2011) Doceo; Shame-Culture and Guilt-Culture [On-line: UK] retrieved 22 April 2013 from http://www.doceo.co.uk/background/shame_guilt.html

Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives

Hard Work, Community & Individual Success

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“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”          ~~ 1 Corinthians 12:7

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” President Obama lit up the ratio and TV talk shows a while back with this statement because 60% of Americans believe that hard work brings success more than lucky breaks, inheritance, or connections (2012—What Americans Believe: American Values Survey by the Atlantic/Aspen Institute). Not even a prolonged and hobbling “recovery” that still seems like a recession to those of us used to fatter times seems to shake this idea that the virtue of individual hard work will prevail.

Yet I am noticing a culture change among athletes, especially those who play team sports, but even among those who are individual “players” but have a support team of coaches, trainers, nutritionists, equipment handlers, bus drivers and press people or agents. In these lean times, when sponsors are most appreciated and not taken for granted, the athletes are thanking them for their support, and not just for the financial gifts, but also for the emotional assistance a name brand brings to their effort. When they begin to look beyond themselves, they realize how many people give their time and energy to help make their individual achievement a success. This is a humbling moment for sure.  Neil Armstrong, who passed away this week and was the first man to walk on the moon, said as he touched that alien soil, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!” Yet he never took the sole credit for his efforts, for he knew he only went as part of a giant team representing a great nation that willed him forward by adding its corporate strength to the thousands of gallons of rocket fuel that powered his tiny capsule into the highest heavens.

Indeed, an athlete, an artist, a writer, an engineer, an astronaut, or a mechanic doesn’t get to the top of his or her field without dedicating their heart, mind, soul and body to the perfection of their craft. We each have a calling to our work, a desire to be the best or to give our best every day, and this attitude gets recognized by the masters of the generation before us. They share their knowledge with us, like Obiwan shared his with young Skywalker. If we are given to wisdom, we will remember our old masters and give them credit when we surpass them, for if we say, “I did it all by myself,” we are showing our two year old brain to the world.

The culture change of which I speak is the value of the community over the individual. When I was young, boys were expected to work and girls were expected to marry. It’s no wonder that 61% of Americans aged 65+believe our “free enterprise system contributes to America’s having stronger values than other places in the world.” Only 36% of our 18-29 year olds think this way, for freedom of speech ranks highest with them (64%) (2012—What Americans Believe, p. 15).

When older people say, “Kids don’t know how to put in a full day’s work anymore,” I wonder if we taught them the meaning of hard work or if we wanted to spare them the pain of our struggling. We no longer teach cursive writing in schools anymore because almost everyone uses the computer. I’ve noticed that some seven year olds can barely write their names legibly in print, so they aren’t teaching basic writing skills in schools either.  When I came home with my puny first grade letters, I asked my mother how I could make them better. She said, show me how your teacher told you to make the letter. I said, “The form of b is a stick with a ball.” Yes, so got to your desk and fill a whole page of paper with b until you can make a good straight stick and a nice round ball. My mom knew that practice makes perfect and training my little hands was training me to have a work ethic.

In the same manner, when cursive came to town, I already knew my task.  If I wanted pretty handwriting, I needed to fill my pages with theses newfound shapes until my hand automatically produced perfectly formed script.  I was developing my small motor movements and my hand eye coordination both.  I thrive on details, but I’m not good at yanking heavy weights up and down. We all have our callings!

When seven-year-old “Alberto” says he can’t write his name on his artwork, I look at him and say, now is the time to learn! What letter does Alberto start with? “B?” Al? Does Al sound like B? “A?” he says. Yes, so write A. Now what? “L?” Yes. And so on we go, sounding out his name letter by letter.  I am sad that his parents and teachers and the many people in his community haven’t taken the time to make him successful in the one place that has real meaning: his unique name that identifies him.  The struggle to learn and to achieve is something each of us must undergo if we want to be the best, for we will all hit a wall of defeat or failure to improve at some point in our lives.  All learning involves a certain amount of failure, for we have to discover what we don’t know so that we can reteach/relearn that area.  In this sense, learning is just a “going onto perfection” or a smoothing out of the imperfections/failures along the way to our destiny of greatness! We all need to use our gifts of hard work and our Spirits of courage to fail over and over until we succeed. For people like us, we will climb over, tunnel through, or redefine (Kobayashi Maru maneuver) all the obstacles in our paths.

We all would do well to understand what this scripture means: “To each is given the Spirit for the common good.” We each receive spiritual gifts from God, but not because we are hard working and have earned them. We each receive unique gifts from God, but not because we are already born into a spiritually wealthy family and therefore we too participate in our family’s blessings. God chooses freely to whom God will give the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues and the interpretations of tongues (vs. 8-10).  These gifts aren’t for the purpose of an individual’s success (one doesn’t make a living by healing or divining the spirits), but the gifts are for the common good of the body of Christ, the church that gathers in his name.  Some of the gifts are more exuberant and “flashy” so they brought more attention to the recipient, who began to claim more status and success in the body. However all these gifts are equal and all are useful. We need them all to succeed as a whole, so we need to not only credit one another, but also the give of all good things, our God who activates these gifts in us by his Holy Spirit.

As creative people, we have many people to whom we owe our lives. As I list mine, you should think about listing yours in your journal this week. My grandmother DeLee was a portrait and still life painter, so I wanted “to be an artist when I grew up.” I don’t remember my teacher’s name at the Shreveport Parks and Recreation Saturday Art Classes, but as soon as I could write my name in cursive, I could enter her class and learn the secrets of light and shared, color and value, and begin not only to draw but to paint in various media.  I’m thankful for my parents who encouraged me and paid for my art lessons all those years. I give credit to my crazy college professors who pushed me and the agents who worked with me in the first stage of my art career.  The twenty years I spent in ministry prepared me spiritually for the work I’m doing now: how many lives, deaths, joys and griefs are there in those 7,300 days? Words will not express these feelings, but the power of the visual image will unpack the potency of the unspoken cries of the heart.

As I think about a visual image to express this image of the community supporting the individual’s success and the individual’s gifts supporting the community, I think that if God’s light didn’t shine into the world long ago, we might still be looking for a savior. If the sun didn’t rise each day, we would know the beauty of God’s world. If we didn’t paint or draw this world as God gives us the gift to see it, then the world would be a duller place indeed.  Bring to life with God’s gift to you,  your vision of God’s light breaking into the world. This may be a sunrise or a sunset, or a scene with light and shadows. Share it with someone who has helped you along the way.

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

Crayola Crayons and the Secret of The Cross

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“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”                                                    ~~ 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

When I was in kindergarten, I wanted more crayons in my 2012 time icondrawstring bag, so I put my little five year old hands into the darkness of this hidden place, found the larger crayons, and broke them in half.  I did this in secret, to have “more” when I spread them out on our table during coloring time. I didn’t understand that I didn’t have any more “colors,” but only had more pieces of crayons. This “mystery” of “numbers and more” was lost on my undeveloped five-year-old mind.

In the first grade, we had individual desks, so we kept our colors in their original boxes.  This is when I first noticed that while my teacher required us to have the Crayola standard eight color non rolling crayons, these magic colors came in boxes of many more colors! As soon as I was allowed to bring more than a set of eight colors to school, I begged my parents for the biggest box my teachers would allow. The beauty and secret joys of all the mysteries of the universe were there in all these colors as I opened my first large box.  It may have had only twenty-four colors, but I thought I had all the secret knowledge of heavens before me.

There are secrets and then there are mysteries. Secrets are things that can be known and understood, but for some reason we want to keep the information “sub rosa.” Mysteries, however, can’t be understood and are beyond knowing, so they are often hidden, even if they are in plain sight. Such is the mystery of God and the reality of the crucified Christ.  We cannot see the invisible God, but we can see his visible evidence in Christ’s broken body hanging on the cross: God’s abounding love, his radical forgiveness, and his amazing grace in the gift of his son’s life to bring us into a new life and a new relationship with the Father.

Death, especially a hideous and tortuous demise, doesn’t seem the avenue to life. A criminal execution isn’t noble or brave. The people around the cross jeered,  “Save yourself, as you saved others!” (Luke 23:35) But he did not.  This is a mystery to us, for he could have called 10,000 angels down at any time! Surely the heavenly host who filled the skies at his birth would have rescued him from this horrible fate at the last. This is why “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Lately secrets have been much bandied about. Our straight arrow University of Arkansas football coach seems to have had a secret life, one that only came to light after his motorcycle accident with a female passenger on board. This young university employee was in a “previous relationship” with the head coach. My gut tells me that the “previous” became “active” the moment the motorcycle went off the road, for the coach at first failed to mention to the University authorities that he had anyone with him. This lie and the multiple refusals to come clean over a period of time broke the bond of trust between him and his employers and supervisors. He was placed on administrative leave while others decided his fate.

Over the Easter weekend the true colors of our theology began to show. The Facebook page “Save Bobby Petrino” held a rally Easter Sunday. In the spirit of the season they said, “Jesus saved Bobby Petrino, now Jeff Long can save him too.”  Wow! Never thought that our Athletic Director would get elevated to the second person of the Holy Trinity! That’s usually reserved for winning football coaches like Petrino. “Forgive and Forget” for this crowd really means, “Let’s get back to winning games.”

I wonder how they would have reacted if Coach Nutt had been caught—oh wait! There was the text message scandal and the comely media lady.  This was the final straw, as I remember, that caused us to buy out a losing coach’s contract. It seems we treat the indiscretions of losers differently than those of winners.  In a like manner, consider the realm of politics and two men, both of whom “did their wives wrong.” One we continue to faun upon and the other we still love to hate. I speak of Bill Clinton and John Edwards. In truth, the first has redeemed himself and changed his ways, devoting his post presidential life to good works around the world. John Edwards is too fresh in our minds for his cover-up of his relationship with his pregnant mistress and paying hush money to her family while his own wife was battling cancer.

This sort of self-destructive behavior happens to people who rise to great power, have many “yes men” around them, and have pressures from all sides pushing them constantly. They become isolated from their families and from the ordinary world’s give and take. They live in an unreal universe in which they are the sun and everyone else is a mere planet that revolves around their light and glory. It can happen to doctors, lawyers, CEOs, clergy, teachers, managers, principals, or any one in supervision over another person.

What we forget is the “other woman,” the young “planetoid” that gets sucked into the gravitational pull of this bright shiny object. Some would say that she’s an adult and could say “no,” but when the power is unequal, and especially when the person is her boss, “yes” is more often what she will say.  Men of power usually survive, but the “other woman” is marked for life, especially in her home state.  “Why did you leave your last job?” Spin that one, honey. Ask Monica Lewinsky how life has treated her these last seventeen years: no steady job, no home of her own, no love life, people still taking her photo as “that girl,” and she still has the trophy black dress hidden at the back of her closet. She hasn’t exactly moved on and thrived.

We tend to respect power and strength. We want a winner at the helm, whether we are speaking of a football team, a church, a business, a family or a volunteer organization. We want a “messiah” who walks and talks like Tim Tebow and looks like him if possible! If he has the purity, power, and passion of Tim Tebow, that’s even better. What we don’t realize is that his character comes from understanding the mystery of God in Christ: power is found in weakness! Only when we set aside our human strength can the strength of God be brought to bear in the tough times of our lives. When we are standing on our own two feet in when we are at our weakest. When we are driven to our knees, when all our powers have fled, this is when God takes over! “I give up” means “God, take over.”

Any one of us would trade $1 for $10, an act that results in a1,000% no risk return.  Yet every day, people play the lottery in hopes of more payout with a lesser opportunity of result. Giving up our puny power for the power of the Almighty God is a no brainer trade! This is why Paul came knowing only Christ and him crucified. This is why the “tebowing” move is on one’s knees. It is the attitude of a humbled soul, who recognizes that while God’s mysteries may be beyond our understanding, the gift of Christ’s body on the cross, broken for us, is the key to unlocking all the wisdom and knowledge of God.

The ancient Jews practiced the “whole burnt offering” as a gift to God. Nothing was left for them to consume, enjoy or keep. As a practice of self-examination, we need to discern what we have kept hidden in the closets of our minds and in the secret places of our hearts. God already knows these things, but we are keeping them hidden from the world, from our friends, and our families. We don’t need to spill our guts to everyone, but we do need to admit these to ourselves and to God. Write your secret on a piece of paper: anger at (name) who raped me, my substance abuse, workaholism, fear, sadness, perfectionism, my idiot boss, etc.  Find a place on pavement, patio, or rock and set this paper on fire. As you burn this paper up, watch the smoke lift up to the sky above. Know that God is burning this pain from your life.  Pray that God strengthens you to live a new and intentional life, depending upon the love that held Christ to the cross.  When the road gets hard ahead, go down to your knees, and let the power of God hold you close, moment by moment.

You might have many hidden objects that you can’t get rid of because they have meaning to you. They are in boxes or drawers, tucked in the back of your jewelry box or in your storeroom or garage. One day you’ll get around to it, do something with them, but you just don’t know what yet.  I have many small crosses people have given me, some small pieces of broken jewelry that have lost their mates, and some odd items that I’ve found and for some reason I can’t throw away. I have seashells from the beach vacation I took 20 years ago and old necklaces that are no longer in style. I finally pulled these all out and made an icon of the cross from found objects.200? found object icon

Find an 8 X 10 inch frame at the craft store that you like and get rid of the glass carefully (wrap it in newspaper and throw it away). Cover the backing board with fabric or scrapbook paper. You can also use an 8 X 10 canvas panel painted gold.  Use gorilla glue or a glue gun to attach the objects, beginning from the center outward. Make sure to leave 1/4 inch or more outer margin so that the frame will fit! Do NOT lift the panel up to look at it or the heavy items will fall off! Leave panel flat to dry for 24 hours. Insert it into frame and display.

May your New Life be one of Joy and Peace, Cornelia