adult learning, art, beauty, Creativity, failure, Faith, garden, Holy Spirit, Icons, Imagination, incarnation, Meditation, ministry, mystery, Painting, poverty, purpose, Reflection, salvation, Spirituality, Stations of the Cross, Strength, Work

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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McTemples and Lonely Prophets

Creativity, Evangelism, Family, Food, generosity, Health, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Meditation, Ministry, ministry, photography, poverty, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

~~ Matthew 6:21 

Driving home from a retreat in north Arkansas, I made a pit stop at a local McDonalds. I called a friend, for I missed an opportunity to help publicize a group of homeless veterans’ art works.  One of the road riding prophets of the Christian Motorcyclists Associations heard me say, “Let me leave here and we’ll pray,” so he followed me outside. I’d seen his colors as I exited the building, so I wasn’t afraid of his rough looks. Women traveling alone don’t normally want to engage in conversations with strangers because it pierces our bubble of security. The rest of us just want to be left alone so we can get on with our lives. CMA riders share their witness whenever and wherever they can.

This was Ron C, bearing fruit for the weary traveler, sharing that his life now with Christ has been much better than it was before, when he was briefly confined to a mental institution. Now he has a purpose when he rides the road.  He shares Christ with all he meets, for Christ is the seed buried in his heart. I thanked him for his witness and we parted.  I wondered how many Christians have a Christ treasure to share from their heart, or whether Christ is their means to gain earthly treasures.

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of Harold Camping’s prediction of the End of the World (5-21-11).  Many folks cashed in their pension plans to pay for advertising to warn people of the impending doom/judgment/rapture. They were disappointed, but like true believers, unshaken. Perhaps they should have read the text, “no one but the Father knows the day and hour of the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:36). How can we witness to our faith, if we aren’t given to selling all that we have or riding the roads as a lonely prophet?

Jesus says, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:20).  We can’t exactly make a deposit in the First Heavenly Bank & Trust: it doesn’t have a drive through or an ATM. There’s not an app for that for your smart phone. However, we can care for ourselves, since we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 3:16). We can also care for others as well as for God’s creation. Caring for ourselves means not burning our candle at both ends, choosing fewer processed foods/more fresh foods, making exercise and sleep a priority, and finding our quiet time with God for prayer and meditation. Two days away for a golf/spiritual retreat with my clergy pals was a way I could honor this need to store up treasure in heaven. When 42% of American adults are predicted to be obese by the next generation, we are building McTemples by the millions! This excess weight adds $550 billion to our medical bills in preventable disease costs, for obesity related costs now outrank those caused by smoking.

Caring for others means we value them as we value them as we value ourselves, for we are all made in the image of God. To care for others means not only means to do good to their bodies and souls, but also to refrain from doing harm. People in caretaking professions and customer relations tend to put others first, and themselves second. Years of doing this will diminish our healthy sense of self, until we no longer can stand up for what is true and right. We will do for others exclusively, and fail to take time for ourselves. For some reason, we think we are Superman or Superwoman, and we can fly forever doing mighty deeds. We don’t see the kryptonite until it’s too late: Doing no harm means caring for ourselves. The truth is not one of us is yet under the complete Lordship of Jesus Christ, for none of us are entirely perfected in love: we are still going on toward perfection! We yearn for our hearts to be so full of love of God and neighbor that nothing else exists, but we still are riding the road, making a way on that journey to perfection.

I may laugh about our McTemples of the Holy Spirit, but that’s only because I come from a culture of eating. I grew up in a Methodist Church and went to a Methodist Seminary. I told folks I had a course called  “Preacher 101—Follow the Food.” It’s a good way to understand the dynamics of the local church, which does run around food: donuts with the pastor, men’s breakfast, ladies’ luncheons, Wednesday night choir supper, potluck dinners, senior club dinners, youth night dinners, spaghetti fund raisers, valentine suppers, potato bakes, etc. I sometimes ate only two meals at home in any given week. All these folks know how to cook, and they all want you to eat their food.  No wonder their pastors have big round bellies, and their insurance is so high! But then, we are just like they are, so we are all going down the same road to illness together.

It’s not that we don’t have access to decent food. Most of my churches have been in small towns, not in the urban jungles of decay that are designated as “food deserts.” They aren’t in rich neighborhoods by any means, but we do have access to a variety of food.  Since I’ve been on health leave, I’ve become more conscious about caring for my body, soul, and mind. I’ve learned that our food industry makes cheap food palatable by layering fat, salt, and sugar together in a heavily processed form. These products are heavily packaged, highly advertised, and subject to extreme couponing offers.  They are not the best foods for you.  The best foods are on the outer perimeter of the grocery store: fruits, meats, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products.

The food deserts are in the poorer neighborhoods that have more fast food restaurants and fewer grocery stores. They also have less access to transportation and higher rates of metabolic syndrome diseases plus less access to medical care. A good project would be a community garden and cooking classes. Neighbors helping neighbors by improving the little patch of the earth on which they live makes a whole lot of good for God’s kingdom, or “storing up treasures in heaven.”

Our spiritual practice will be an inventory of our heart: what are our treasures? Begin to list them one by one, beginning with all the things and all the people you hold dear to you. Then list all the powers and strengths. Now list all the pains and sorrows, weaknesses and failures.  See how God has used these also to bring treasure into your life.  As our art project, try building a treasure box: If you have an old box, you can paint or decoupage (cut pictures & glue designs) it according to your taste.  This can be a place to keep the treasures from the years gone by. You can also fold a box of scrapbook paper using the ten step directions found at

http://rubberstamping.about.com/od/techniquesandtutorials/ss/Box.htm

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

 

Crayola Crayons and the Secret of The Cross

Children, Creativity, Family, Fear, Forgiveness, home, Icons, Imagination, Love, Meditation, Ministry, mystery, Prayer, renewal, salvation, Secrets, Spirituality, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“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