Under Construction 

art, Creativity, Fear, Health, Imagination, Ministry, ministry, Painting, purpose, purpose, Reflection, renewal, Retirement, salvation, shame, Spirituality, Strength, Uncategorized, vision, vision, Work

  
I walk on Thursday evenings in the historic downtown district of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Most of our buildings are from our salad days of the Victorian period and early 20th century. We are building new construction, such as this new Regions Bank Tower, which will replace the one directly behind my back. I often leave my car under this overpass while I huff and hustle my way up to the cold spring at the entry to the mountain route to the observation tower. From there I walk past historic hotels, small and large, until I get to the site of the old Majestic Hotel, which burned to the ground in 2014. If I turn around for the start again, I can put in nearly 2 miles on a good evening. Even if I’m the last to finish, I’m still faster than the ones who never started. 

Our creative and spiritual lives are like my walking discipline in my downtown, which is both dying and being renewed. I notice some shops have closed, but new ones have taken their place. These aren’t all tourist shops, but some are tradesmen serving the needs of downtown dwellers. Each of us needs to take care of our long term needs, not just our whim wants. 

For our spirit, paying attention to our relationship with God through silence, contemplative study of scripture, and service with the poor will help ground our identity in God rather than in our own self. In our creative work, keeping the disciplines of our trade can be important. By this I mean, remembering to draw, to use color, value, to work a series, or to explore a subject fully. If we write, we pay attention to the skills of this craft, or if we are musicians, we never neglect our scales or any other skill sharpener in our toolbox. 

Sometimes we get to the place in our lives when everything burns down to the ground. Like the storied Majestic Hotel, once a home to professional baseball players during spring training and mobsters down for the gambling, our life as it is won’t stand up to the elements or to the vissitudes of fate. A stray cigarette or a frayed wire takes the whole building down, along with all its memories and its derbis inside. 

Sometimes we too have to start from scratch by making a fresh start. Yes, saving a historic treasure would be nice, but sometimes not very cost effective because the structure isn’t sound. Then it’s best to turn our back on that old life, grieve for it, and find a new hope and a new vision for the future. “If only we had done something with it 30 years ago!” Yet the will wasn’t there, was it? We can’t turn back the hands of time. 

In 1992, I answered God’s call to ministry. I spent twenty-two years away from my original calling, art. When my health took me out of parish ministry, I took up painting again in 2009. Five years in my studio relearning color, value, shape, composition, and emotion has felt like burning down a great old edifice and building a new one in its place. To date I’ve stayed close to the subject, except for the color. Lately I’ve felt constrained by those boundaries, and I’ve moved to s freer brushstroke. Will it stick? I’m enjoying it, but I feel emotionally exhausted afterward. I’m tearing down a boundary and am about to climb over a barricade. I’m excited about this adventure, even if it tastes of danger. 

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WALKING INTO LIFE

Creativity, epilepsy, Health, home, photography, Physical Training, purpose, renewal, sleep, Strength, Stress, Travel, Uncategorized, vision

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I went walking Thursday night with the Spa City Pacers in our downtown area. The humidity was high and the evening breezes of a few weeks ago were’t stirring any longer. My ice melted in my carry cup before we left the old train depot.

I’ve signed up for the HOT SPRINGS 5K FUN WALK. It’s held in conjunction with the SPA 5K/10K RUN, both of which are timed qualifying events for larger races. As a walker with some health challenges, I sometimes think I need an Instant Gratification Fun Run–I sign up, show up and get my tshirt .

Then again, how would I become healthier or stronger? If I don’t challenge my body bit by bit, I won’t take it to a new level. I’m realistic enough to accept that my progress won’t be quick or great. If I’m able to walk a hill today when last year I had difficulty making a level mile, I can say I’ve improved. The more years I can stay in my own home, the better off I will be. For any of us as we grow older, the challenges of using our body “as we used to” begin to come closer together. Just changing a light bulb is a challenge if your balance isn’t just right. Use it or lose it is a slogan the silver haired need to repeat often!

It doesn’t matter what level you are at now. This is your baseline. You aren’t running the race against anyone else or against a certain standard. All you need to do is to persevere and not be discouraged. Some days the heat and humidity sap my strength. I do less but I do something. I’ve had three emotionally trying weeks. Early this morning I had a visual seizure while I was still in bed. I went back to sleep for four more hours. Even this can’t stop me from making my appointed workout, but I did make it lighter.

There are folks at my local YMCA that are in far worse shape than me. They are my heroes: they give their all with great passion even though some have twisted bodies, disabled bodies, artificial limbs, disease or venerable years. We also have some pretty bodies who also work out there, but most of us are just ordinary people who want to make the most extraordinary use of this vessel the good Lord has given us so that we can do all the good we are able, as long as we can, to all we can, by any means we can.

When I go back Tuesday night, I’ll walk with a renewed delight that I’m out in the midst of a beautiful city, that I have companion walkers who desire a healthier life just as I do, and we can share that camaraderie of meeting the challenge of one more day on the journey. I can see the reflection of the old buildings in the new mirrored glass building. I can see the same sky in the mirror and above me. I can breathe in the molecules of air the ancient citizens who walked these steps once breathed, as well as the molecules breathed by the quicker runners and faster walkers who breezed through here this evening.

I may not be in the same group, but I am on the same streets and I am alive.

THE HOLY NODE AND THE FOUND BUTTERFLY

butterflies, Creativity, Health, Icons, Imagination, Meditation, Mental Illness, mystery, Physical Training, purpose, renewal, Strength, Travel, Uncategorized, vision

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I’m not a fast walker, for my first goal in walking isn’t to break any record for my usual 1.5 mile jaunt around Mercy Hospital here in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Neither do I stroll, for Bon Jovi and the Boss sing a strong striding cadence in my ear. I can manage the hills better in one direction than another, for at least one is nearly 45 degrees. I go up this hill once a week. It never gets less steep. The rest of the week I go down that hill. At my age, there’s no sense taking any more years off my life than necessary!

My goals as I walk are to be more conscious of my body, to care for it better, to build my body for endurance and health, to be outside in the sunlight (natural vitamin D), and to develop a better attitude (exercise releases endorphins that lift one’s mood). Walking also seems to clear my mind of worry and anxiety about others.

In that large hospital, I know that healing is going on. While some may be “losing the battle” against whatever dread disease has attacked them, they have “won the war” and received their final healing from God. We think our life is over when we close our eyes and breathe no more, but our life is just beginning in a newer and more wonderful way!

As I make my rounds about the hospital grounds, the wind blows through my hair, the sun falls on my face, and I see the sun shaped shadows of the pines and the pear trees. Even the ornamental lake reflects the colors of the sky and clouds. Heaven and earth are more connected here even though my path is just beside the eternally busy bypass of Highway 270.

There are nodes in space and time at which the intersection of heaven and earth seem to open up to one another. The Celtic tradition calls these “thin places.” All across the world we can find sites that were considered holy by one successive people & faith after another. When you walk into such a place, you can feel the years of prayers within the space.

This route I take, while short, has become a holy node for me. It was the reason for two found object works: The No Room Inn and The Healing Christ. I also did a landscape of that decorative pond. Now I am painting the various butterflies I have collected on my journeys. These are symbols of the new life to come because they wrap themselves in a cocoon (grave cloths). I think of them as an icon of the new life we live when we see the light of what is possible in Jesus Christ himself:

“I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” — John 12:46

A BUTTERFLY IN THE HAND OF GOD

butterflies, Health, Imagination, Physical Training, purpose, renewal, Travel, vision, Work

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My usual walking route takes me from the local YMCA around the Mercy Hospital and Physicians Buildings until I make the mile and a half loop back to the gym. I take this walk on the days it’s not too hot or humid to be exercising outside, for I like the transition of the landscape against the sky, the changing shapes of the buildings as I walk past, and the patterns that the occasional breeze makes in the tall grasses of the ditches beside the access road that is my outdoor track.

This summer has been a blessing, for our usual 100 degree days didn’t appear. While we did have “heat factor 100 degree and then some” days, our early mornings were still bearable in the outdoors. It was on such a walk as this that I found this beautiful butterfly. Usually they are fluttering about with vigor on whatever imperceptible currents of overheated air that we call late summer in Arkansas, but this one was lying on the asphalt, no longer going about its appointed rounds. It had joined the cast off cigarette packages, the empty 5Hour Energy bottle, the smashed turtle and the carcass of the bird that marked the stages of my journey.

Gently I took it from the ground. This could not be its final resting place, for something so beautiful needed to be remembered and to be celebrated. I carried it with me as I thought of our great cities and their historic beauty. We tend to tear down our old architecture and put up new in its place with great abandon, yet we pay dearly to go to Europe and Asia to see ancient cities. I live in a 1960’s era high rise condominium on a lake that is near a bridge where bats live. Because some of these endangered species have made a nuisance by nesting in a few of the condos’ decorative cinderblock patios, our board proposed covering all these balconies with painted sheet metal. We live in the oldest and tallest solely residential building in Arkansas. We are a cultural and architectural icon. We wouldn’t want to look like a ten story trailer park!

Do we hold our traditional skills in honor any more? Are we willing to invest the time, effort, and sweat to fully develop our craft? Will we live below our means so that we can enrich the world with the products of our imagination and our spirit? Will we mentor anyone to follow in our footsteps, or will we be the last ones of our kind? Do we honor the living treasures or do we fawn over only the latest hot shot?

In this life, we may have many walks, along many paths. We can choose our direction, our companions, and our departure dates. We may think that we are self sufficient, but we are just butterflies in a moment of time, for in God’s “hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:10).