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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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Crossroads and Callings

art, Attitudes, Creativity, epilepsy, Faith, Food, grief, Habits, Healing, Health, Icons, Medical care, Mental Illness, ministry, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, stewardship, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, vision

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Road to Damascus

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

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

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

ARTANDICON in 2009: Bravely Smiling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Antique Aluminum Jello Mold

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

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

PROMISE OF HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CURRENT HEAT WAVE HAS ME CRYING

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Cultural ChristActually, that’s my stunt double. Just like Chuck Norris, I’m too brave to cry. Or, the heat dries up any form of moisture that escapes my eyes. The stuff oozing from my pores is a different matter altogether. I think those 3,000,000,000 holes scattered across my body are each an eye leaking the tears our real ducts can’t cry.

The real Chuck Norris never sweats. He breaks any sweat that comes near him. Sweat is afraid of Chuck Norris, for he is the epitome of cool. How cool is Chuck Norris? We could defeat global warming if we unleashed his massive forces of chill. His sustained energy could bring down the ocean’s temperature by 4 degrees. In fact, Chuck Norris has the cooling equivalency of two Antarctic continents plus the Arctic ice cap.

Many things make my stunt double cry. Mostly they are those events, situations, or conditions that I cannot fix or make better for someone else. I spent years helping my daughter try to overcome the effects of her abuse. Others also gave their best efforts also. Her mental illnesses haves always impaired her ability to trust others or to stay on a treatment plan. Once she became an adult, she could choose, even if she didn’t make good choices, or have the ability to choose well.

I could cry about this forever, or let my stunt double have this role. I chose to grieve about this loss, shed enough tears, and find a way to live my own life by meeting the hopeless, the suffering, the despairing, the lost, the victims, and the ones “who’ve been down so long , it looks like up” to them. After all, this is where Christ met me. I knew if he could reach into my dark pit and pull me up into the light, if I offered Christ to others, he would the same for them.
When I get to the point of dragging out my Chuck Norris stunt double, I know it’s because good old Chuck is a cultural Christ figure. When I want a power for good to make a difference in my world, I call on this Texas Ranger. Instead, I should call on the spiritual power that flows through me:
“My soul clings to you; your right hand supports me.” (Psalm 63:8)

I may not be able to relieve the suffering of any one person, but I know God in his mercy understands and has compassion on all who suffer. God didn’t withhold God’s own son, but gave him up to suffer for all of us (Romans 8:32). Through this suffering we are united with those everywhere who experience wretchedness of any sort. Too often we hear that the winners of this world are our heroes, but faith tells us that those who lose their lives will gain their lives.

If we are to best grow into the Christ life, we cannot forget those who suffer while we are being healed, nor those who hunger or thirst while our stomachs are full. The real Chuck Norris would not send his stunt double to do good in this world.

SNOW CHANGES EVERYTHING

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Classes get cancelled, teachers have to reschedule. Parents have to miss work and pay checks to stay home with the kids or go to work and pay extra for child care. Some people make it home by the grace of God and the angels that walk among us, while others abandon their wrecked vehicles on the icy roads and trudge their weary way home alone. Some of us heeded the warnings, slept late, and never left our warm houses. Some of the city’s homeless citizens froze to death on the cold streets last night even though multiple warming centers were open. They went with a warm coat and blankets, their need to be outside overriding their need to be warm. Some people feel safer in the open, even if it doesn’t make sense to you or me.

Most of the time we see winter in this way, like an old sumi ink painting: black and white with only a few marks denoting the strengths of the shapes and their lines. The rest we only imagine into being from what we remember to be true in the other seasons of the landscape.

So it is with our spiritual life, when we are caught in a time when things are out of sorts and nothing goes right. This isn’t what we signed up for! Maybe it’s a health crisis and now you can’t work at the job you love. Maybe you just got a pay raise, but now the company has been sold and you’ve been outsourced; life ain’t fair! Or the love of your life decides to leave, or your kid says that he/she wants to change to a different sex than the one you’ve loved this child as for all these years. Surely this is the winter of your discontent!

God asks the following question of his suffering servant, who seems to unjustly be the victim of woe,

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war? What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?” (Job 38:22-24)

Of course not. Job hasn’t visited these unknown places! They are known only to the good Lord himself. The lesson God has for Job and us is that calamity falls upon both the good and the evil of this world, but God is always with us. We want to be spared from all harm, just as we want to spare our children from any distress, harm, trial, or pain. This keeps our children from growing strong, however, so just as we endure trials in life, we grow stronger spiritually with God by our side. Either that, or we freeze to death because we didn’t want help. One of the most frequent names for God in the Old Testament is Help or Helper. When Job recognizes God speaking to him, he reframed his thinking:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? ’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me. ’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)

Sometimes we need to see the black and white world in the beauty of God’s colors.