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Today is a good day for WRITING

“Plum Hellebore and Yellow Daffodil and Dandelion” Still Life Photo DS

Actually, I think any day is a good day for writing. There are so many places to attend to writing: blog, dissertation, field notes, poetry, journal, e-mails, texts, research, that compete for words. The act of writing takes up many hours each day. I was reading a Lithub.com newsletter today and came across this quote:

Joan Didion: Why I Write

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” 

I myself write for the same reason I paint, simply, that it is inside me and it comes out, this text, this image of feeling or experiencing. Some days I tap into it, other days it knocks on my door insisting on expression day or night.

Why do you write or paint or create? I want to know.

The Spiritual Practice of Painting

“Labyrinth” Acrylic on Gallery Canvas 36″ x 24″ DS

Painting autobiographically is both the expression and the representation of my life.  My painting practice documents my life and perhaps even validates it.  In establishing the habitus of painting, I ground my own life.  My own life, is coloured, saturated, in the decision to give my life and painting to the One who gave it to me, and suffered for me to have life.  My creative life and my spiritual life are intertwined: I make, even as I was and continue to be made.  

The blueprint of my life is scaffolded by being imprinted by the image of God.  God is the printer’s plate.  I am the fine art print.  God is also the printer who chooses the colours of ink to express my beauty.  God is my framer and art agent and also my buyer and collector.  I am hung in places of both beauty and of suffering as an expression of God’s love for everyone who is made.  In an exhibition, we make a fine portrayal of the oeuvre of God.

Here is a link to my current group art show involvement: The North Shore Artists Guild Spring Art Sale.  The artists are offered alphabetically, mine being “S” is near the end as you scroll down.  There are three paintings as portrayals of my experiences of life and faith.  Click a painting to read the Artist Statement:

https://nsartists.ca/show/sas_2021/0

Flood Recovery and Archeological Findings

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“Today’s Rubble” DS Phone Photo

The flood recovery has turned into an archeological dig!  What was thought to be a bunker underground turns out to be a concrete platform of a former entrance.  The aggregate of the present entrance was just poured over top in making the patio.

The discovery of 14 vases along an underground wall gives the feeling of having fallen onto a midden site where the everyday artifacts of former occupants of the property placed their containers as a memory of their existence.  Perhaps it was a time capsule, or more cynically, a hope to catch any future drips down to the foundation.

Rotten and missing wood, black drywall, and insulation like spider webs peel off the walls like layers of an onion.  In place of geological stratification, man-made construction strata reveals its faults as the concrete saw and jackhammer descend the substratum of over a half century of renovations.  Stripes of asphalt, topsoil, soil, rocks, gravel, expose in brown and grey the passage of time.  Every difficult seam excavated adds cost to the final project.  This revelation, not having the hopeful expectation of a renovation, has added excitement to a banal flood recovery project.  It has turned into a walk back into the history of the land itself where our own footsteps fall.

The disruption continues day after day after day.  As the concrete saw and jack hammer slow and the dust settles inside and the soil and rubble are piled in 6-foot-high hills outside, this project feels spiritual.  The project is costly and the extent of the work is somewhat unknown.  There is a project manager who oversees the comings, goings and findings.  The work is restorative and messy and underground.  There is an element of mystery:

  • The copper pipe with the pin hole in an odd place had been leaking water for years unseen and out of reach.
  • The drainage pipe coming from and going to nowhere with no downward angle and 3 feet higher than the water table.

Is there a rhythm of fall and redemption in the pipes, drains and trenches?  The hose washes away the staining soil on the patio.  The project manager states: “I aim to have you dry and tucked up here this winter.”  In my fear of what will be found, I also trust in the expertise of the kind manager.  Can I also rely on God to keep the rest of my messy life in a semblance of order over the coming winter isolation of the pandemic?

My inner life’s layers of ossification have been laid bare.  The interruption brings spiritual repair too.  As the Spirit jackhammers and digs out what is decaying from my life, I wait for a renewal of hope to rise from the rubble as I listen in silence.

 

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“Archeological Find” DS Phone Photo

Comfort for a Grieving Writer

Purple Heart at Ambleside Landing

“Purple Heart at Ambleside Landing” Photo DS (artist of heart unknown)

To Gurmeet:

As we have seen, there is nothing ‘usual’ about the times we are living in of pandemic and protests.

First, I would like to commend your compassion in offering a tribute for George Floyd and your courage in writing your own story with vulnerability; something that sociologist Brene Brown highly recommends as the key to strong leadership.

Second, I would like to offer this heart photo I took near the Ferry Building Gallery last week to you to aid in your coping with experiences of racism.  Perhaps it could be from all of us in our writing group.

Next I send you a link to the recent interview with Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan expressing his love and his concerns for Canada and saying that this is a hundred years since the Komagata Maru military action and now he is now the head of that military.

Harjit Sajjan Minister of Defense for Canada on Racism

https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/defence-minister-says-joining-military-taught-him-how-intense-racism-can-be-1.4973407

I was also thinking of how similar these extremes of racism are to the horrors of bullying and that they are part of the same scourge in our society, our country, the whole world and even our own hearts.  This is the human condition in its self-centered state; the opposite of love and compassion for our neighbour.  I thought of Amanda Todd and how it is akin to cyberbullying.

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

Racism can lead to murder like with George Floyd and countless others but also to suicide.  In all of its forms it is destructive to humans and to all of society.

Yet, racism can be systemic.  One Missouri woman has succeeded in getting Merriam-Webster to change its definition to include this.

https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/a-missouri-woman-convinces-merriam-webster-to-update-its-definition-of-racism-1.4977532

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is advocating for reform in Long Term Care after the military called on to look after patients provides a shocking report on conditions.  This is ageism taken to the nth degree.

https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/singh-calls-on-trudeau-to-show-some-leadership-on-long-term-care-1.4961218

The pledge that Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix made about “Different Together” interests me and I will be discussing it with our own Issues and Advocacy group about giving a series on cultural learning from material I studied in my seminary courses for diverse students.

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=together+pledge+together+dr.+bonnie+henry&qpvt=together+pledge+together+dr.+bonnie+henry&FORM=IGRE

Artists have often advocated for justice using their images and their words.  Banksy has exhibited his art honouring the life of George Floyd

https://indianexpress.com/article/trending/trending-globally/banksy-pays-tribute-to-george-floyd-wins-praise-online-6447385/

On and the protests go.  First Nations pipeline protests were cut short by the coronaviris pandemic.  They are back along with Black Life Matters with new assault allegations on women and on men.

I could go on with a sports woman in Papua New Guinea being assaulted by her partner, a woman being sexually assaulted in Vancouver and the #MeToo Movement and #ChurchToo Movement.  Two Asian seniors in Vancouver have been knocked down on the sidewalk one from racism and the other from ageism.

All of our society needs a reset.  We need a reset.  Banksy says it’s a white problem that whites have to solve.  It is true but also prejudice is rampant in every continent based on race, class, gender; anything people can think of.  It is about the use of power.  Is it a government problem, a societal problem or a problem with our own attitudes and lack of the knowledge and the will to navigate difference as adults?  Children begin with no prejudice.  It is taught, or not.

Sincerely, Deborah.

 

 

Guest Writer Gurmeet: “Rest in Peace George Floyd” and “Unhealed Wounds”

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Image of still life “Rest in Peace George Floyd” by Gurmeet

Gurmeet is one of 8 creative non fiction writers in our Seastrand Story Group.  Here is her unedited offering in response to George Floyd’s death.

“Unhealed Wounds”

George Floyd struggled to breathe for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.  This 46 year old mountain of a man cried out for his mama with what was his dying breath.

While I was watching the callous murder of George Floyd something cracked deep within me.  Feelings of anger,sadness, abandonment and shame all entangled into a ball of intense helplessness hotly surged through me.

Nigger,black bitch,dirty hindoo,words I thought were long forgotten,resurfaced and seared my soul.  I have been negatively targeted in Canada,England and Spain because I am coloured.  Racism truly is worldwide.

Racism was blatant in the 1950s.  I was 6 years old when we moved from a remote logging camp to Victoria.  Our neighbourhood was what I refer to as low class/no class.  It was rough.  It was where immigrants could afford to live.

My mother, who I called mama, had an arranged marriage and came from India when she was 19.  My mother was illiterate.  I learned early on that intelligence and education are two very different things.   My mom was extremely hard working.   It was only as an adult that I realized that she was very intelligent.  Not only was she an excellent cook but she could sew,knit,crochet,embroider, and garden.  She raised 5 children without pounding them as some mothers around us did.

Seared in my memory is an incident that occurred when I was around 9 years old.  All my girlfriends were white.  This day my mother was walking down our street from the grocery store.  A group of boys began hurling insults at her such as a dirty hindoo.  How ironic.  There were some filthy houses in our neighborhood but ours was not one of them.

I froze.  My friends froze.  My mother didn’t see me.  She ignored the boys, kept her head high and kept walking.  My friends remained silent as did I.  I sensed that this would never happen to their mothers.

When I came home later my mother was busy making dinner.  We never discussed what had happened earlier in the day. That night as I lay in bed I was ashamed that I never stood up for my mama.  I felt very alone.  I knew I was different from my friends.

It is very complicated how the experience of racism has affected my life.  I have been denied jobs and opportunities. It has made me more demanding that the world be more equitable and just.  I can never be silent.  The possibility of discrimination has lessened but it remains a possibility

That little girl who was confused and ashamed has been forgiven.  The problem is how to get her to forget.  Now that George Floyd no longer breathes will it be easier for others to?

 

Cancelled Art Exhibition

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“Pilgrimage Fragments: World” 2020 Deborah Stephan

This is a preview of my cancelled art show; postponed to 2021.  The exhibition that I have for 24 paintings in June will probably be put off until next year also.  Life is unpredictable – handle with faith!  The world is in lockdown; be at peace and look up.

“Pilgrimage Fragments”

Artist Statement

Postage stamps from various countries leave, return home and converge on hand-painted paper leftovers from art school projects.  Decade after decade the collection grew.  Postage stamps from family travels, from friends afar, and international homestay students, lay in a file waiting to be collaged and historicized for future generations.  Microscopic beauty portrayed pilgrimages and voyages of loved ones through war and peace.

Like the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum of Toronto in the summer of 2009, they lie open for our viewing and for piecing together of the lives that created them.  The Qumran Caves hermit scribes, the family and business writers, and the visitors from Europe, Africa, Iran, Mexico, Spain, North America, all leave their mark as they inscribe life’s meaning.

They say that Jesus is like a red thread all through the Bible.  So too, the red yarn links each of the twelve art works here.  Prayers of our ancestors are still being answered throughout our lives through moves, relationships and hardships.  We can slow down, consider like daily laundry, how our quotidian habits of the heart form our life’s journey.  As we view the travel collages, perhaps we can invite God to travel with us, enjoy God’s company, and let God set the itinerary.  Others have set out in coracle boats like the Celts’ missionary journeys, others have walked the Camino de Santiago sacred route in Spain, or to Lourdes in France for healing.  Some are arm-chair travellers whose journeys are more inward than outward but powerful nonetheless.

The viewer embarks on a journey of self-knowledge, God knowledge, or even to seek meaning in life by studying people in other cultures.  Questions may come to mind, ought I to go on an expedition, what kind of passage, who will I invite as a travel companion, and even what will be lost or found if I set out on a spiritual quest, will there be enemies to overcome?  How much do we want to be changed?  We count the cost as we consider what we will risk for compassion and service of others.

Deborah Stephan

Vancouver, 2020.

Pressure to Buy

White Store on Granville

“White Store on Granville” Phone Photo DS

Somehow over the past month, I find myself susceptible to ads coming by e-mail.  It is fun to peruse the various choices of the clothes that I could need; that I must surely need at 30% off the regular price.  There is even an end date to the sale adding a vague feeling of panic that I worry I might be sorry if I do not act now to procure those new boots, the tartan shirt, or costume jewellery for a nebulous social event.

When I delete the e-mails out of hand, a feeling of missing out assails me.  On the days when I take a closer look, and allow myself to browse; even after I delete it, I wonder if I should retrieve it from the deleted items file.  I know it is there.

On occasions, that have happened too frequently lately, I will print the ad and stuff it into my large black bag.  Under the guise of grocery shopping, I find myself at the mall.   I convince myself that it is good for me to mall walk in inclement weather.

Every time, I find and purchase something that would look good on me; that would go with what I already have in my closet.  Invariably something draws me back to the store.  The slippers pinch my toes.  I must return them.  This time I find the necklace that works with the earrings I already have.  Another loyalty card nestles into my wallet.

Habitually, I am called back to shop.  I have not brought the coupon.  The card was not validated on time.  Once seen, I buy the item anyway.

I add to my guilt load.  I purge with a flurry of deleting.  Intrusive thoughts arrive in my dreams like into my inbox.  The one that got away, the one that did not come in my size, is the Blackwatch shirt that would have made me look great.  I find myself actually grieving.

Pilgrimage

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“Tartan Mountain” Acrylic on Canvas, Deborah Stephan

Over the past couple of months, the subject of ‘pilgrimage’ has been on my mind.  I have started to do research on the subject for an art show I will offer in April.  I have been thinking about my own life as I read about the Camino, about the Celtic monks founding Iona, and about the men and women who travelled out of the cities to have a quiet life before God: the Desert Mother and father.  I consider Abraham’s pilgrimage and that of Moses.  I also consider the journeys of Hagar, Diana, Deborah and Anna.  I ask, what would it have been like to be Lydia with her journey into business in that day, what was her path, and of Junia, almost unmentioned as a female apostle, about Priscilla and her husband’s growth toward leadership?

I begin to notice the many pilgrimages of my own life.  Some are as dramatic and life changing for the people I love as the escape from my first marriage.  I traversed prairies and mountains.  (Perhaps this is where the “Tartan Mountains” painting came from.  It also reminds me of my son snowboarding.)  Others are lesser journeys of faith: a retreat, a conference, a walk on the seawall.  Actually, my whole life could be considered a pilgrimage with various companions along the way.

Today, as I consider Mary and Joseph’s journey as I read about the Camino with its hostels for pilgrims, I think about theirs as a deeper walk of faith as there was no room for them at the inn.

I recently discovered a new podcast which has become one of my spiritual disciplines as I look to the journey of another year of faith

Merry Christmas Everyone!  Enjoy the day.  The Light has come and I want to pass it on by recommending a new podcast:

#22 The Scandalous Christmas

Pilgrimage podcast

 

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.