Friday, July 12, 2013

Prayers Without Words Part 3


This is one of the newer pieces.  I had Holy Cross Monastery in mind when I painted it, thinking of how that community opens its arms to all the souls who come there for respite, refreshment, or challenge.  People show up from many places, in various conditions and are made to feel welcome Hospitality is such an important practice - whether it's on a deeper level, considering how we treat refugees, immigrants, "the other", or even more frequently, how we make anyone around us feel welcome and important. How do we support those whose paths cross ours?
Think of a time when you have truly felt overwhelmed.  It often builds slowly, you may feel like you've got this one, you're ok, but stuff just keeps happening and pretty soon, you are buried.  Everything comes crashing down on you.  You might experience suffocation, panic attacks.  Often when we've been through something like that, we at least know that we survive and come out the other side.  We might be able to call out, to say the one prayer we can speak - "Help!"  We might just be able to go limp and let the wave wash over us, trusting that a silent prayer has been heard.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Prayers Without Words Part 2

These hot humid summer days I find myself dreaming of water.  I look for opportunities to take it in, be in it, listen to it.  There is the physical need for water, of course; and beyond that there are all the metaphorical and symbolic images of unquenchable thirst that we experience in our lives. 

When I wanted to paint this thirst, my inner eye saw deep desert orange, hot, unrelenting.  I used to live in a semi desert climate- and actually the middle of the day was white hot, burning your eyes, making you want to hide.  But now, orange comes to mind.  I see this vulnerable self that is composed largely of water, but the inside is as hot and dry as the outside.


We can become dulled by everyday struggles, we stop seeing and perceiving in creative ways. When we are able to interrupt our routines, either through vacation, retreat, or making small intentional changes in our patterns, we may find our brighter selves, the ones we thought we knew, coming out again.
The tarnish builds up so insidiously that we often aren't aware of how much we are in  need of refreshment.

What does your thirst feel like?  What are you doing to refresh yourself?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Prayers Without Words - A Series

It seems odd to write a lot of words about a series of paintings entitled Prayers Without Words, and yet, I feel compelled to do so.  I guess my hope is that the pieces might be more useful to viewers if they have a little background and explanation.

I began this series while on a yoga retreat four years ago.  In preparation to head off to the monastery I decided to add a compass and ruler to my usual art supplies. Usually my inclination is to paint saints, angels, more representational pieces.  But what developed on this occasion was a series of 15 simple abstract pieces. I found myself meditating on various prayer situations, trying to see how they might be  envisioned  in color, circle, and line. 

The completed paintings were very small -  2 1/2" by 3", and I had left no border for framing them.  Over the past four years I've given some away, thought about how I might rework them, add to them.  I've even made some into larger water colors or acrylic paintings.  When I took a painting course at Omega with Jeanne Carbonetti in May, I showed them to her and she encouraged me to mat and frame them.  For the past six weeks I've been redoing the original ones in a 4" size, and have come up with nine more.  The originals were rectangular; the new ones are square.  They are matted in 8" by 8" black frames.

I'll post a few at a time.  I find myself thinking of other prayers to add - some come with an image, some, like "Love", I need more time to envision.  If you have prayers that you would like to see in this format, let me know, and I'll see what I can do.

The first one is Community.  I chose mostly bright colors, circles that intersect in all kinds of ways, big ones, little ones.  There are small areas of discordant color - as there are in all relationships.

The second one  is Solitude.  We each have various needs for community and solitude.  It is in solitude where we find the quiet and space to figure out who we are, what we bring to the community.  For myself, I need a lot of solitude.  I find I get lost without it.  And yet I love to be in full community, too - to rejoin those wild wonderful, sometimes messy circles.

May you know yourself and honor yourself to find the balance you need for community and solitude.


Friday, May 3, 2013

A Perfect Spring Day

How many perfect days do we get?

Today Al and I decided to go for a hike to Minnewaska.  I hadn't been there in years and had forgotten how lovely it is there.  The morning was sunny, warm, but with a delicious cool breeze that kept the bugs away.  Because of the slight elevation flowers are behind the valley - coltsfoot was abundant, ferns were just unfolding.

We decided to walk around the lake first.  I wish I knew birds well enough to identify them by their songs and flight patterns.  They were everywhere.  We spied a water snake coming to the edge of the lake to warm itself.  Al had been hiking last week with a friend who loves snakes.  They came across a rat snake sunning itself and Al was surprised to see Mike reach down and gently stroke the snake's back.  Mike said that it was trying to warm itself and so was a little more sluggish than it would have been on a warmer day.  The snake enjoyed the warmth of Mike's hand.  We didn't try to touch this one - just enjoyed spying it along with lots of salamanders and a few small fish.

In my early 30's I loved going to Minnewaska to swim.  The water was alkaline, silky, a beautiful blue.  There was a raft where you could lie in the sun and warm up until you were ready to swim again.  Brave souls would dive off the cliffs.  It's much more regimented now, and even the water has changed. You didn't used to see fish.  But I'm glad the state took it over.  Otherwise, there would no longer be any public access.  We attended some of the hearings when there was a dispute to decide whether it would go to the state or to developers.  I remember one of the opponents of the state complaining that if the state got it, you'd only have "backpackers and skinnydippers" there.

We walked down to Awosting Falls - such a beautiful spot.

After lunch on the rocks overlooking the lake we headed out to do some errands.  Even those were pleasurable, colored by the magic of the day.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Morning Meditation

I have gotten into the habit of beginning my day with meditation.  It justseems that my day goes better if I can start off with this practice.  In the beginning it felt like a duty - now it is something that I look forward to.  I take my cup of coffee or tea, do a couple of readings, and then sit still before my little altar.  Before I settle I offer prayers, then try to be still, receptive. 

Often I use Robert Ellsberg's book, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time.  He includes traditionally recognized "Saints" and also many people whose lives offer models of living that are inspiring.

I like John O'Donahue's poems, using his book To Bless the Space Between Us. 

Lately, I've been reading from Jan Richardson's  In the Sanctuary of Women. She has wonderful short pieces that are perfect for reflection.  I want to share this morning's poem with you, and if you find this intriguing, you may want to look for her book. In this chapter she is reflecting on the work of Hildegard of Bingen and her depiction of the Virtues as women.

Longing Stands Next to Patience

Longing would sometimes
like to be assigned
a different spot.
Would like to be less near
this one who approaches everything
with such equanimity.
Would like some distance
from the measured way
that Patience marks time,
holds herself with such politeness
toward its passing.

Patience knows this
about Longing.
Accepts it,
even loves it about her.

This makes Longing

Patience has not told her
she has some envy
of Longing's perfect ache
or that she thinks
it must be an art
to hold oneself
so perpetually poised
toward the horizon.

For her part,
Longing has not confessed
that there are days
she finds Patience restful.
Soothing.  A relief.

by little
and by little,
so slowly its appearance
will startle them both,
a horizon is drawing near.

May you find the guides that bring joy, peace, and gratitude and challenge to your days.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine Oatmeal Sugar Cookies

I wish my mom were here today instead of in Seattle.  She loves to bake.  I don't.  My brother and I fight over who is her biggest cookie fan.  He lives in Seattle so he gets to have more of them than I do.

Valentine's Day was always one of my favorite holidays.  I loved the colors, the fancy papers, choosing cards for my classmates, helping the teacher decorate the box where we'd put them; and then coming home to mom's sugar cookies.  Of all the cookies in the world, those are my favorites - home made rolled and frosted sugar cookies!

Much as I love them, I don't make them very often.  It's a lot of work, I shouldn't be eating that many of them, etc.  But when I talked to my daughter earlier today and she said she guessed she was going to go out and buy a big cookie for each of her boys, the sacrilege got the better of me.  I told her I'd make them cookies.

Here's my mom's recipe for oatmeal sugar cookies - that she got from her mom.  And you can see in the corner of the recipe - ( mama).  That's how I know it was grandma's recipe - I have almost never called my mother 'mama'.  Also, you see that it's not a good idea to double the recipe - I tried once and it was a holy mess!

Another little note - the dented tin measuring cup you see is my grandmother's very own - the cup that produced such great treats from her kitchen from the time I can remember - and that's a long time!

2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. oatmeal
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.  In another bowl, cream butter, sugar, add milk, egg, and vanilla.  Beat till blended, then stir in oats.  when you can gather it into a ball, roll out on floured board to 1/4" thickness.  Cut into heart shapes.  Bake on greased cookie sheets at 375 for 15 minutes.  Decorate with tinted confectioner's sugar frosting.

My husband doesn't like frosted cookies - so I left some plain.  These have a delicious nutty flavor, so they are absolutely wonderful, even when they are not gooey with frosting!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Faith in Community

Woman Who Builds Community
I follow a blog by Nadia Bolz Weber, a Lutheran pastor of an interesting faith community in Colorado, and sometimes her sermons just leave me thinking, "Wow!"  This one really made sense to me and I encourage my readers to go listen to it, or read it as she offers it.  Basically she addresses how faith is a spiritual gift - one of many many and that we don't all have it, nor do we need to all have it.  That's the benefit of community - we share our various gifts.

I know so many people who don't go to church or temple any more - they don't think they belong because their "faith" isn't strong enough.  Some aren't interested - and that's ok.  But some I've talked to feel that as pain,  they miss a congregation.

I know others who say - "I don't need to go to church.  I can talk to God anywhere, I find him most in the woods, in nature, etc. "  All true - we can find God all over the places, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

But for many of us, who have some belief, it's the community that we long for, just because it is where we find support and encouragement for the times we lose it.

One of my stories is that many years ago when I first started attending church after a long absence, I was going through particularly difficult times.  I remember being in the pew, asking for help at the time that the congregation was offering a communal prayer.  I tried to join in but my voice caught in my throat and I couldn't.  I started crying silently.  There was a family sitting behind me and the man had a very deep voice.  What I noticed was the vibration of his prayer in my chest.  I had an overwhelming sensation that it was ok that I couldn't say what I wanted to, that someone else was doing it for me.  It was one of a number of small instances, easily explained away as "wishful thinking" or some other justification to dismiss a holy moment.

Not everyone needs church or faith.  There are many other ways to be in community.  What is important is to figure out what we do need for our own nourishment and growth, and then to make those connections happen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Prayer Flags

As I spent time in the last couple weeks of 2012, trying to maintain a balance of  remembrance for the lives that had been lost in the Newtown shootings, with a sense and duty of joy that the promise of Christmas offers, I decided to make prayer flags to hang on my porch.  My reasoning was that I didn't want to be in a state of constant vigil, but I also didn't want to forget.  I wanted  to keep these precious  people in mind; if there were actions that could be taken to prevent such happenings, I wanted to be mindful and responsive.

In some of the news reports, I read that there were at least twelve somewhat similar events of killings in the US in 2012.  So I looked those up.  And then there were natural disasters throughout the world, where hundreds of lives had been lost.  And I decided to mark those, too, though I couldn't use individual names, of course.

On New Year's Day Al and I went to a special concert organized by Amy McTear that was a beautiful way to release pain and sadness and embrace the blessings of the new year.  Early in the concert she chanted a Yoruba grief prayer: "Mother, hold me.  This is hard.
                                                                                                  Earth, hold me.  This is hard.
                                                                                                  Help me."
It was simple and powerful, reminding me of the cry of all who have lost loved ones to violence, illness, anything that feels like unbearable sorrow.  Using this prayer interspersed with the names of people or events felt right.

As I've explained this project to friends, I've tried to justify it in my own mind.  Making the flags, looking up the names, reading obituaries or news reports of the cyclones, hurricanes, etc. has deepened my sense of compassion, in all these situations.  I find I'm more sensitive to reading the daily weather reports, paying attention to not only what goes on locally, but also, thinking of those who live under threat in different parts of the world.  As I come and go from my house, I think about the people represented, their families;  sometimes it is just to consider a more general group, sometimes I take time to read a few names.  The flags increase my appreciation for  children on their way to school, people driving to work, folks heading out to see a movie.  And hopefully the cheerful colors recall the brightness of the lives that were cut short; reminding me to appreciate more fully the lives of those in my communities.

I will make more flags, a series on blessings. And they will fly with the sorrows - reminding me that we give thanks in all our days.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Epiphany Parchesi

Today is Epiphany, the day in the Christian church when we celebrate the "showing forth" of the Christ child.  It is now that the story tells of the arrival of the Magi, the Three Kings; though it could be just a grand story, there could have been more kings, maybe there were some queens - who knows?  But the story has a purpose that goes beyond facts.

I teach a Sunday School class of first to third graders.  I like to plan activities that will help them engage in the stories we tell.  Nothing in our teacher's guide was grabbing me so I turned to a book I have on my shelves - To Dance with God, by Gertrud Mueller Nelson.  And she had the perfect solution - a suggestion to make an Epiphany Parchesi game.  I had fun putting it together.   She suggested drawing in a simple pathway, adding some pictures, and designating some squares with hazards or good luck.  A nice feature is that you can play the game with as many children as are present, just by adding more buttons for tokens.    Since the teacher of the pre -k/kindergarten class was sick, we absorbed those children into the game, too - and the kids seemed to have a fun time with it.

The game allowed us to imagine what a journey like that might entail - sandstorms, mountains, deserts, the night sky.  It gave the children time to tell what they knew about the story.  I was really pleased with how well it worked for a multi age group, and how much they got into it.  I really loved seeing their imaginations at work.  We may play it again.  Or we may come up with other versions - and they could plan the hazards and gifts that advance the traveller.