Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sidewalk Flowers: Carry, Gather, Spread

I had the joy of speaking at our little church this past Sunday and, because I got to choose the text, I focused on 1 John 4:7-19.  I talked about the love of God that we are made from and for - the love of God that abides in us and invites us to abide in it.  

Before all of that, though, I shared the video below of the children's book, "Sidewalk Flowers," by JonArno Lawson.  I told the congregation how flowers - particularly wildflowers - are a symbol, for me, of God's love.  I told them to pay attention to the use of color in the book, to pay attention to the flowers.  I told them we can be like that little girl - carrying, gathering and sharing the love of God.  

Maybe you need a gentle reminder?  

You are loved by God - this is who you are - God's loved child.  God's love is in you, like a seed, just waiting to unfurl, to sink roots down deep, to grow you up into your one and only vocation as one who loves and is loved.  

May you carry love with you today.  

May you gather and spread the love of God wherever you go.   



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How It Has Always Been



Summer hit our house like a freight train when the kids got off the bus last Friday at 1:15.  It's all good, but intense.  I'm still writing, but with preaching this Sunday and preparing for next week's (!) writing retreat, I didn't get my usual post out on Monday.  In lieu of anything new, I'm sharing this poem that first arrived in June 2014. Enjoy! Also, scroll down for a preview of some of the paintings I've been working on this spring. 


How It Has Always Been


The vicar general, shying away from ‘paganism’ hangs back and sits under a tree reading the guidebook.  I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. – Thomas Merton describing his visit to the sleeping Budhas in "The Asian Journal"

My son comes walking to me, barefoot, 
across the wet summer grass.
The morning light lays soft around him  
and in that moment I see how it is,
how every child is a contemplative, 
exposed in every way to the Now.  

“This is what you must become,” Jesus whispers 
and I see now how it has always been, God 
and his children, barefoot, the morning grass 
cool and wet beneath their feet.


* I stopped by Infinity Graphics today to get some prints of recent paintings. These bright beauties (the picture is a little dark) will soon be available to purchase as small wooden block paintings. Stay tuned.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Miss. Ann's Zinnia's (The Kingdom of God is Like . . . )


Sunday afternoon I left my husband with seed packets of Zinnias and Dahlias and walked up, across the yard, to look for a spade in our overflowing garage.  The planting of those flowers, four packets, was what I requested for Mother’s Day this year. 

I don’t know why planting seems, for me, an impossible task.  Maybe it’s that simple act of letting go and watching the impossible seed fall into darkness; maybe it’s the familiar struggle of facing an unknown future.  Whatever it is, my husband plants the garden each year and I, in time, tend it. 

Walking up from the garden, across the green expanse of lawn, I looked over at our neighbor’s yard.  They have a small, fenced in, vegetable garden and the wife, Ann, has a separate flower garden.  Their garden, like most in early spring, is a miracle waiting to happen – a tilled expanse of soil, a pregnant pause.  My eyes saw the emptiness there, the open waiting space, but in my mind I remembered the Zinnias. 

During our first summer here, we planted a good-sized vegetable garden filled with the practical means of nutrition.  Our neighbors did the same in their fenced-in plot, but around the outside edge of the fence grew large, splashy, red, purple and pink flowers – a fiesta of color that started blooming in late summer and stood strong into the fall. 

Oh how I envied Miss. Ann's Zinnias.  I eyed her flowers hungrily and finally, in September as the flowers were beginning to fade, asked if I might over and cut a bunch.  From that moment on, I was hooked. 

The following summer, I bought a packet of seeds and grew my own riot of reds and pinks.  I cut them and filled our house with vases.  I carried them to friends’ houses.  Everyone loved the Zinnias.

Then, last year, we made a farm stand for selling fresh, free-range chicken eggs.  I again planted my Zinnias (or rather, my husband did) and, when they grew and bloomed, I started cutting large happy bunches of purples and pinks, oranges and yellows and selling them in old tin cans at the farm stand for $1 each. 

It was a real steal for fresh cut flowers and they flew off of the farm stand’s two tilted shelves.  A friend suggested I should charge more.  But I refrained. 

I was already making a profit, but, what’s more, I know what it’s like to not be able to afford fresh flowers.  I know, also, how beauty feeds the soul.  I also know the feeling of finding a wonderful deal, how it opens our hearts and minds, makes us feel the expansive mystery of goodness and provision in the world that’s so often buried in layer after layer of unmet need. 

I wanted people to feel what I felt in my garden, the sensation of wonder and delight, the absurdity of so much color available for mere ornamentation.  

Returning to the garden with the trowel in hand that Sunday afternoon, I thought, the kingdom of God is like those Zinnias.  The Kingdom of God – heaven in our midst – blazes and waves in the place where it is planted.  It attracts the eye, captures the heart, fills those who are awake enough to notice, with longing.  The Kingdom of God is like a packet of seeds, bought for $1.49, that yields one hundred fold.  The kingdom of God is color cut and watered in an old tin can, bright joy on the side of the road bought with a handful of change – a deal too good to be true.   

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Other Virtues



Memorial day weekend plays a dual role in modern America - offering an opportunity to honor those who died in active military service and ushering in the beginning of the summer holidays. Here's hoping summer offers us all an opportunity to practice the art of playfulness and live in awareness of the great freedom and vulnerability of our humanity.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

As Much As There Is


He catapults out of bed in the middle of the night and I hear his bare feet slapping against the hallway’s wooden floor as he hustles through the darkness.  All of this comes to me as sleep’s heavy shadow gives way to a dim and growing awareness.  Then, he stands beside the bed. 

“Daddy,” he says.

“What?” my husband mumbles.

“I love you as much as there is,” he says. 

“Ok, Levi,” my husband replies, his voice clearer now, rising to meet his son’s offer of love.  “I love you too.”

“Ok, good night.  I’ll see you in the morning,” Levi adds.

“Good night, see you in the morning,” my husband answers, completing the call and response.

Levi runs back down the hallway and sleep descends again upon our house.

//

“I love you as much as there is” is the latest attempt in five-year-old Levi’s ongoing effort to verbalize the depths of his love for us which, apparently, is particularly intense around two or three in the morning.  He’s fascinated by math and, for a while, tried using the biggest numbers he could think of to express the magnitude of his love.  “I love you 100 times 100,” he would say. 

But it wasn’t enough. 

He knows there are bigger numbers and he doesn’t want to undersize his love.  So, for now, he’s sticking to the enigmatic phrase, “as much as there is.”

Last night, before I fell back to sleep, I saw for a moment the simple humility of that phrase – a child’s willingness to believe in and try to convey that which is beyond words. 

//

Real love is like that.  God’s love is like that, so real and yet so big it’s hard to explain. 

The apostle Paul, struggling to convey God’s love to the church at Ephesus, put it this way,

“I pray that you might have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19).”

Paul tries to sketch out the dimensions of what he realizes is beyond description, he prays for the Ephesians to somehow receive the ability to comprehend the incomprehensible.  In so doing, he invites them – invites us all – to enter into the depths of God’s love which is both measurable (because it exists) and beyond measure (because of the limits of human comprehension and communication).

Paul’s prayer comes to us like a voice in the night, the words of someone struggling to communicate what he clearly knows is beyond communication: God loves you as much as there is.   


Monday, May 15, 2017

Slow Down (an invitation)

(I call this picture "Converse in the Wild")


slow down,
just be

be still
be present

listen to, and dwell in, what is
here, now, this moment

what love?
what fear?
and what possible doorway
between the two?

(grace, always, is the door)


Monday, May 8, 2017

A Painter Stopped By, Out of the Blue


I started painting three years ago because our new-old farm house had large wall spaces; wide, paneled surfaces. 

I started painting because we couldn’t afford to buy art to hang. 

Driving home from the grocery store one day with the twins buckled in to their car seats in the middle of the van, I eased around a corner, down a steep hill in a wooded stretch of road and saw several large framed paintings and prints in a stand of overgrown brush, leaning against a tree.  I quickly pulled over to the side of the road, popped the trunk, and pulled the paintings inside.  Two, in wood frames with glass, showed hunting scenes, ducks rising out of wooded brush.   Another was a large print of a white wicker basket overflowing with pink, teal and baby blue flowers, something your grandmother might have hung over her couch in the eighties. 

I bought magenta paint, turquoise and midnight blue and started painting over top of the prints and on other found canvases.  I borrowed more colors from a friend.

I started painting because the bright colors made me happy.  The slick movement of spreading paint across a surface was calming, like coloring with crayons, like trailing your fingers through fine sand.

I painted words because I didn’t believe I could paint images and because the words in my head and heart needed space, needed a place to land, to become incarnate, objects of permanence.  I painted words because I saw a tutorial online about how to do it well with sticker stencils. 

I painted words and hung them on the walls of our house like tattoos.

//

Last week, a real painter stopped by our farm house.  He paints in oils, sells his work in galleries.  He wanted to know if he could take pictures of our chickens, our polish rooster in particular.

“I paint,” I said, “I just started this fall.” 

“It’s always nice to meet another artist,” I said.  

He showed me pictures of his oil paintings, scrolling through the images of landscapes and farm scenes on his phone. I didn’t show him my paintings, which suddenly felt like child’s play. 

“I paint words.  I’m a word person,” I said.

Later, after he left me with his business card in hand, I looked him up online.  His website is outdated.  I found grammatical and spelling errors and was pleased.  He, at least, is not a word person. 

//

I wondered if his visit was the encouragement I had prayed for fervently that morning; prayers filled with longing, prayers beyond words.  But after he left I looked at my own work with a cutting eye.  It’s hard to write when you’re discouraged, hard to create when you don’t believe. 

When I returned to my studio, my computer, I saw that a friend had sent a message about a job opening – an opening for a position I have kept an eye on for years.  I looked it up.  The job is full time, in my field.   It would leave no time for painting, for writing, for working at the library.  But, in exchange, there would be money, status, a title and many other things I image are more substantial, more valuable, than words tattooed on walls with stencils and acrylic, words strung across pages, hung like spiders’ webs, simultaneously sturdy and insubstantial. 

//

I had asked the painter whether he retired before painting full time.  He smiled and said, “In a way.”  Then, he explained that they live off of his wife’s job.  I told him about my husband who works for the state. 

“It’s a good steady job,” I said, “but we’re not getting rich.”  I didn’t say what I meant, which is that we’re not making ends meet. 

I told him about working part time at the library, about adding a tab on my website for design services.  “But how much can I do?” I asked myself aloud and him, because he was standing there.  “How much can I do and still be able to write?”

He didn’t have an answer.  But he said he’d stop by sometime to take pictures of the chickens, the view of the fields, the distant mountains across the street.  I told him if he was going to take pictures of the hens, he’d want some of our handsome black cat too.  Maybe he will set up his easel here sometime and paint plein air.  The kids would love that, I would too.

//

A letter came in the mail recently, notifying us that the farm land across the street is in the process of being rezoned; if the local vote passes, it will be protected farmland, unable to be sold or divvied up for development.  We never expected to buy a house like this with its view of open fields and rolling hills in the distance.  We’ve often assumed it would someday be sold for development like so many of the surrounding fields. 

I mentioned the rezoning to my Dad the other day, over lunch.  “It’s good for us,” I said. “Value-wise,” I added.

I don’t know why I said that, though.  Maybe because that’s the way he thinks, the way he talks, in dollars and cents.  But, the truth is, we don’t want to lose the view to progress and development because we love it.  It's something like the way I don’t want to lose my life with words and paint to a paycheck and a title: I love it.

I started painting and writing because I needed to. 

I’ll keep painting and writing because it’s still true.