Writing as a Spiritual Discipline and a Request

Shellseekers Art & Soul IMG_2108

“Shellseeker Pilgrimage” two paintings and various shells, Deborah Stephan (copyright)

I have written as early as – swapping little biographical quote/poetry/comment books with 8-year-old Scottish friends in the school playground.  The poem beginning: Roses are red, violets are blue, was always a favourite as well as the skipping song: On the mountain stands a lady, who she is I do not know…  Composition books at school were full of the required writing and at one point I sat with a friend on a brick wall recording all of the license plate numbers of cars passing by.  The object of the daily writing exercise was to see who could fill her notebook first.  Various ways of writing have formed me over the years.  I now know that writing has been a spiritual discipline in my life.

As I do some research for my Shellseekers Art + Soul Life Writing workshops, I find these quotes helpful:

“[Writing] allows them to reach across the boundaries of geography and time to be in intimate communion with people they will never meet… it also requires that each writing project begin and end with others…”

“The God known by this woman is a God who writes, an author whose chosen parchment is the human heart.”

“The woman writing the letter seems to say that it is in the work of expression, in the struggle to unite human and divine creativity, that understanding begins.”

“We do not do these things because we know exactly what they mean.  We do them to find out what they mean.”

“Writing might be practised as a creative, meditative, intellectual activity that might gradually change our lives.”

Stephanie Paulsell “Writing as a Spiritual Discipline” in “The Scope of our Art”

Another writing project is inspiring my activity right now and I note a further idea from the book: it is not just that we write alone that is important but the work we do together.  I am wondering if you will join me in my “Pilgrimage Project,” the written part for an art exhibition I hope to hold in the spring by sending me a message in the comments section.  I am collecting examples of the main places where people have lived in their lives e.g. for me it has been – N.B, Scotland, Ontario, and B.C.  This is your chance to be part of an art project!

Please comment below with your ‘main places lived,’ so my writing can begin and end with you:

Laundry

Colouring Book Houses - Clotheslines

“Colouring Book Houses: Clotheslines” by Deborah Stephan

 

I love laundry

I’ve said it yes laundry

I like laundry lists

Laundry lines

Laundry racks

Laundry suds

Laundry gyrating

Laundry drying

Undershirts together

Socks together

Wooden clothespins

Pulling the cotton line in

Standing on the stoop

Filling the loop

As it went

Around the wheels

Squealing.

 

Back in the day, I painted a scene of clothes drying on a line as one of a series of primitive landscapes with watercolour and charcoal.  These were from my inner landscape: soul paintings all.  Even my art professor took notice.

Today, as I prep to write, I read in Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World: “Sometimes when people ask me about my prayer life, I describe a laundry list.”  For someone not wanting to work on an essay, a blog post becomes a diversion.  Another day, meaning to start a blogpost, I add something to an essay.  Something similar happens in praying.  One thing leads to another word association and even a little diverting word play.  I guess I am parenting myself and have to apply discipline at some point to get the actual task done.  But for now, I digress, and happily so.

Yes, hanging the laundry – I feel the wind, the sun, or who could forget the exact feeling of holding frozen clothes – hands stinging red unfastening the stuck clothespins?  But Mom, I can’t fold these, I offer.  The answer comes from afar, just stack them across the basket.  I am the oldest after all.  Tiny icicles melt on my red fingers.  If I observe, as I am wont to do, I see designs like on frozen windowpanes.

I have never really liked the cold, that is why I moved from Ontario to B.C.  I have done a lot of laundry in my life.  I do like to have things clean.  I am one of those people who watched in wonder as her ex-spouse’s muddy work clothes went round and round in the white suds.  Bubbles were dirty but clothes came out clean.  Even the rhythm of the agitator pleased me.

I wished we could have put our marriage through that kind of process but it had to be hung out to dry and permanently frozen, no matter how many prayers were hung in a row over the years.

Yet the praying remains.  The laundry list continues as does the cleaning – for other loved clothes now.  The clothesline has become a breathing lifeline of hanging requests daily reeled in and out; a spiritual discipline.

 

Workshop Ended Early

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“Coat of Many Colours” 2019 Pilgrimage Blanket DS

A ten-week Spiritual Disciplines course ended early – half way through.  Actually, only one person had registered for the course.  I wrestled with cancelling it due to low registration but she was keen so I offered her one-on-one times each week.  Her appreciation of my work (it took at least twice as long to prepare each week as it did to facilitate the two hours) made it more than worthwhile.  I concluded that it must have been a God thing as I had decided a while ago that I preferred to offer group Spiritual Direction over individual sessions.

Nearing the half-way mark she let me know she had been accepted full time into a study program and would reluctantly have to let the Spiritual Disciplines sessions go.  I had mixed feelings.  I was happy for her.  I had actually enjoyed preparing the agendas for the two hours weekly and could use the practice as I had not given this kind of workshop for a while.  I realized that the blanket I had been knitting for a while now, was meant for her.  On our last time together, it happened to be her birthday.  I gave her the Pilgrimage Blanket and she gave me some kind comments about the workshops and also a gift she had made.

Life is often lived in between what we have planned.  These blankets are often created and prayed over without knowing who the particular one I am working on will go to.  Knitting for me is a Spiritual Discipline.

PILGRIMAGE BLANKETS 2019 

Artist Statement

Each blanket is as unique as each life is.  There are twists and turns and places of mystery.  Colours change like moods.  Beads shine like prayers.  Materials, stitches, techniques come and go at random, un-ironed, uncounted, unplanned.  Appendages hang from here and there.  Yet a pattern emerges in the intuitive journey.  Our lives are cared for from above.  Even in the darkest of times faith moves us to continue our one-of-a-kind lives with strength and peace.  They cover as we study, rest, play, watch Netflix, pray or dream.

DS.

Renovations

IMG_2823“Scaffolding WVBC” phone photo DS

Perhaps the playing field is being relevelled

Perhaps postmodernism brings equality

After the fall of Christendom

A First among equals will re-emerge

 

Five hundred years after Luther

A new set of theses is on the door

Let my people go is top

Bottom reads my Spirit reigns

 

My house needs renovation

Cracks are on the walls

Nicks from the vacuum on baseboards

Leaks along the patio where

Water falls

 

My heart cries from the dug-up soil

Hardness is being enfleshed

Forgiveness is on my lips

A new thing rises

In its place

Gratitude for grace.

DS

Reading About Cultures

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“Pilgrimage (detail)” Acrylic on Canvas, DS

There will be all cultures in heaven.  Rah provides a history of challenges and a way forward to embrace humanity in all of our colours.

Readings from Soong-Chan Rah’s Book: “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church:

Stories have the power to build and develop community on multiple levels. In Western approaches to communication, we tend to focus on facts and information. Truth is communicated through statistics, numbers, dates, and information based on cognitive knowledge and is usually expressed through logical rhetoric. In certain non-Western approaches to communication, stories that evoke feelings and draw out a more emotional response may be the norm. The difference between these cultural expressions is that effective storytelling may have different intentions and approaches arising out of these different cultural values.

Aristotle stated, “When storytelling goes bad, the result is decadence.” Society and culture cannot progress and be transformed without real, honest, and powerful stories. The church also loses its influence if it fails to engage in powerful storytelling.

A speaker will often close a sermon with a stirring and inspiring story. My earliest memory of public speaking was sharing my testimony before the entire church when I was a high school student since, like many American evangelicals, I was encouraged to share my personal testimony almost immediately after I became a Christian. Stories have the power to communicate elements of our faith in ways that a lecture cannot. When in doubt, share your story.

In our current American cultural context, some of our best storytellers are found through film. As a pastor, I found it fascinating that my congregants would connect to my referencing a movie more than a book.

Media have the power to transcend culture in ways that direct verbal communication cannot. Eric Law *explains the equalizing power of media by asserting that “verbal communication alone is a biased means of communication, favoring people who have a strong sense of individual power and verbal ability.

 It is important that a character undergoes credible and authentic change in the course of the narrative, keeping the setting in the forefront. A conversion story, for example, must not occur out of the blue—it must reveal the work and character of God, as well as the transformation that can take place in a man or woman. (3) Conflict Every worthwhile story needs an element of conflict. What difficulties is the character going through, and how do these affect change in him or her? As Christians, we are especially concerned about transformation. How is it accomplished? by a logical argument? through convincing rhetoric? No, true re-creation comes from the Spirit of God.

Two Targums of Love

Celsus Library Ancient Ephesus

The photo above is from the ‘Commons’ free images of the Celsus Library 117 AD in ancient Ephesus, a gift of love to honour his late father, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, Roman Senator of the Province of Asia, from his son Gaius Julius Aquila.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_of_Celsus

Targum:

It was probably the Apostle Paul who writes the book of Ephesians in 70-80 AD as a beautiful Hebrew style poem about how God has chosen to bless his covenant people.  In Jesus, Messiah, now everyone can join that family and find that grace.

After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem twice in 597 BC and again in 70 AD and the subsequent exile of the Israelites, rabbis had to translate the texts of the Jewish Scriptures as they read.  Few understood Hebrew then.  The rabbis also updated the text into current contemporary idioms and contexts.  These non-literal translations were called targums.

Below are my two different attempts to follow this practice using a text from Ephesians 3 on God’s love – to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day week.  The first one is my wild artist effort to be outside of the box after watching the 61stGrammy Awards, the second, a calmer version for the more studious among us.  Which do you prefer?

Targum #1

Whether God is a black woman like in “The Shack”

Or Jesus of Nazareth, the embodiment of

Old Testament wisdom literature

God is real and willing to give a course,

A whole series of courses in real practical

Wisdom, in fact the cosmic wisdom God wants us

To have is a new wave of wisdom programs

That permeate universities, corporations, hospitals

Care homes, the prison system and immigration

God not only provides a Tutor, the Spirit

But will program our software

Powered by the user’s faith

To end up with an A+ doctorate degree

In powerful world leaders and spiritual

Gurus and demons destroying type

Of Matrix surprising power

We have a personal Benefactor

A Patron who has paid for us to

Achieve success

All we have to do is register

And stick with the program

Out of love for our Handmaker

In these individualized 2.0 programs

For kindness ME to WE work

We can contact the Handmaker’s

Helpdesk 24/7

We do not work alone

A state-of-the-art studio

Awaits us each day with regular

Field trips offered and practicums

Provided for real-life hands-on

Career impressive callings

The work is messy, filled with chemicals

And hot and cold suffering, crying

Masks, gloves are provided

In metanarrative wisdom

The Handmaker gives us free reign

To create landscapes and portraits

Sculptures and installations

That show Whose love-rooted and

Love-conquering

Program we are in

In fact, in the Wisdom art school

We find ourselves, by faith beloved

Becoming

The painting, the Hand-pulled

Original print

The sculptures ourselves

The handmade Spirit-living art

Donated to gallery visitors

Installed in the Grand Grammy Awards

Art Show.

 

Targum #2

  1. God did this as part of his forever plan. Thank you to Jesus for this in all he did on the Cross.
  2. As a result, Jesus allows us the chutzpah to come closer to God trusting.
  3. Please do not be down when you see me having a hard time on your behalf. Others will see and give you perks.
  4. I fold my body before Abba.
  5. The One whose vast array of creatures owe him life.
  6. God is awesome and magnificent. I offer you to God for powerful modelling.
  7. And so Christ will hang out with you and in you trust. Stay there grounded in deep affection and don’t run off.
  8. I lay you and all Jesus mentees in his imagination to see the great dimensions of this affection.
  9. This care is actually immeasurable in its excellence and scope. Then all that you are will be God-coloured.
  10. I ask God to make our New Covenant community do God justice in word and deed fulfilling God’s blueprint for humanity and showing the very nature of God to all.
  11. God is capable of doing in us more than we can request of dream up. May it be so.

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking Hot Pink

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“Hot Pink Stroller” Phone Photo DS

Often when I am out of the studio and around the city, I notice colour, especially hot pink.  It is a symbol of happiness for me.  This day on the sidewalk behind the gallery, I rush to take a photo of this matching mother and child.  I need to rush to cross the street to capture it.  As I look up, the cop on the bicycle to the right is watching me.  I watch them, they watch me.  This is the life of an artist and flaneuse, making art in the between spaces of the gallery and the street.