Monthly Archives: December 2015

Christmas Birthday Roses

Christmas Birthday Roses

“Yellow Roses” DS 2015

Mother’s birthday was on Christmas Day. She would have just turned 90 this year – about the same age as the queen. She has been gone a decade now but I will see her again one day. I felt impressed to buy some yellow roses in her honour this year to have at Christmas.

She too was a painter and a poet – a pioneer of sorts. Her favourite flowers were always yellow roses (yet in her old age she changed them to pink). Her own painting of yellow roses and blue delphiniums can be seen in the foyer of the spa at the historic Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, N.B. where she worked as a young woman after the war. The painting was donated to the hotel in her honour as one of New Brunswick’s own daughters.

Mother was one who loved God. She loved life, and children, and painting – probably in that order. In one’s ancestral tree there are particular people who shine. Their love blesses all who come after them. Mother is one of those whose children and grandchildren rise up and call her blessed (Book of Proverbs).

“Honor your father and mother” is the first commandment that has a promise attached to it, namely, “so you will live well and have a long life.” (Book of Ephesians)

This poem of Ann Weems reminds me of my childhood:


I gave my mother Evening in Paris

Sixty-five cents at the five-and-dime,

a Christmas Special.

Everybody knew – in the second grade –

that ladies longed for perfume.

I wanted to give her something special …

no Christmas chocolates she’d share with others,

no crayoned creation to hang in the kitchen,

no photo of me with a snuggle-tooth grin,

but a gift that no one else would use,

a present just for my mother.

I wrapped it in tissue

adorned with red reindeer

and wrote “I LOVE YOU!”

and signed it in cursive.

I thought it was the grandest gift anybody could give.

She thought so, too.



Painters and Poets

Snowflake Collage

“Snowflake Collage” DS

Christmas 2015

In my online reading, quite unexpectedly, I happened upon a contemporary thought-provoking painting of Christ’s birth: “The Nativity” by Brian Kershisnik. It became obvious from looking that so much of what is happening when we think again of the story is unseen. Another great artist said:

“My aim is always to get hold of the magic of reality and to transfer this reality into painting — to make the invisible visible through reality. It may sound paradoxical, but it is, in fact, reality which forms the mystery of our existence.” Max Beckmann

We rely on the eyes of faith or what has been called the prompting of the Spirit – a feeling perhaps or a knowing that something is true without all the facts. I think again of how my Christmas celebration seems so far from what I would like it to be each year. My habit of direct prayer, however, is always answered. I address the risen Christ, the One who was born, lived, died, rose and now lives again interceding for us at the right hand of the Father (Book of Romans).

As I go about my preparations for the holidays, I pray to this alive Jesus for something wonderful to happen again this year. I pray that He would give me the best gift on His birthday – a paradox this – as the birthday person usually receives all of the gifts. But turning expectations upside down is nothing new for Jesus. I do rejoice in this. It gives me hope for change for those who struggle – and miracles can happen – especially at Christmas. The Creator of the universe came to be with us – Emmanuel. The gladness is real and spreading. It does not depend on me or my attitude.

“Nativity” painting by Brian Kershisnik


This Year will be Different

by Ann Weems (1934-    )

Who among us does not have dream

that this year will be different?

Who among us does not intend to go

peacefully, leisurely, carefully to word Bethlehem,

for who among us likes to cope with the

commercialism of Christmas

which lures us to tinsel not only the tree

but also our hearts?

Who among us intends to get caught up in a tearing around

And wearing down?

Who among us does not long for:

gifts that give love?

shopping in serenity?

cards and presents sent off early?

long evenings by the fireside with those we love?

(the trimming devoid of any arguing about who’s going to hang

what where,

the aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg mingling with the pine

scent of the tree,

and carols gently playing over our idyllic scene)

and the children! The children cheerfully talking about

giving instead of getting?

Who among us does not yearn for

Time for our hearts to ponder the Word of God?

Moments of kneeling and bursts of song?

The peace of quiet calm for our spirit’s journey?


This year we intend to follow the Star

instead of the crowd.

But, of course, we always do

intend the best.

(And sometimes best intentions tend to get the best of us!)

This year, when we find ourselves off the path again

(and we invariably will!),

let’s not add yet another stress to our Advent days,

that of “trying to do Christmas correctly”!

Instead let’s approach the birth of our Lord

with joyful abandon!


And this year

let’s do what Mary did and rejoice in God,

let’s do what Joseph did and listen to our dreams,

let’s do what the Wise Men did and praise and glorify God

for all we’ve seen and heard!

As for the Advent frantic pace, we don’t have time for that.

We’ll be too busy singing!

This year will be different!


Hallowed Spaces and Holy Places


“Jazz Vespers St. Andrews- Wesley”

iPad Photo DS 2015

The cedar-paneled room was in the basement of the institution. I was led there on a personal artist tour. An altar was set up with Bible and candle. Some chairs were in the small chapel space. Floor to ceiling framed photos lined one wall. The disabled guests here are remembered after they die. They each know that they will not be forgotten. It gives them comfort. I felt in awe of such respect and love but was not willing to be part of that group. It was God who made this space holy.

Another room surprised me with its presence in a different institution. Again I had had a personal tour to a room I did not know existed. A locked wood and glass cabinet was here. Books all bound the same; each had one name. Our conversation, for my benefit, was about a specific doctoral candidate’s thesis. But the door key was not found. Here too each person special to the group was honoured. These leaders were God chosen.

These two spaces caused me much thought. The visits were 4 years apart. My mind and heart saw their similarity only now. The first honoured the lowly of our society. It brought me to tears. The second storied tour inspired sadness. I would have liked to have been included in that group one day but was not willing to pay the price for entry here either. I am not of the most disabled lowly nor one of the elite doctoral academics. Both are equal in God’s economy. Only God knows how I will be remembered.

A raised cement labyrinth on a grassy area behind a sold building causes me to wonder if that neglected space would still be holy. Another labyrinth painted on tarmac shines barely visible as children play nearby. Does holiness come and go according to the use of the space?

What makes a place holy? I knit and pray in my garden room by the window. It seems that a place called Lourdes in France where lots of healings are reported to have happened would be called holy. A great place that lays over land and sea too is deemed holy as kings have been buried there. St. Columba founded this Iona Abbey in Scotland. Are some places more holy than others? Do more prayers get answered there?

We honour God and God shows up. Or perhaps God honours us so we can show up. The Celts called these spaces, thin places – landscapes where the kingdom of God has broken through the earth. Are they locations where the Spirit has broken through the hardness of the human heart? Is holiness a feeling that happens in God’s presence? This is what I ponder this third week of Advent.

What do you think? Have you experienced a holy place or a holy feeling?

The Competition of Seagulls

iPad Photo

“St. Stephen’s Yellow Window” iPad Photo DS 2015

The church was set for Jazz Vespers – something that is not my tradition but a friend’s daughter was to sing this evening. I parked a block away and walked a little as is my way wherever I go. I arrived a bit early and took a good seat in the wooden pews.

My first act could have been prayer but it was to photograph the stunning squares of the three stained glass windows – tiny pieces of predominantly yellow with orange blue, red with yellow, pink and violet, and blue green with all of the colours geometrically offered. Hanging lamps were reminiscent of the Mackintosh Church in Glasgow.

A pillow was offered to me. I refused the comfort. I do not know why – just not my habit, I surmise. I saw the backs of several people I knew. Then she sang – loud, clear, pure and to my great surprise – she was joined by seagulls.

The seagull song lingered, swelled and receded a couple of times. I looked to the windows to see if they were real or piped in by some CD accompaniment. Everyone seemed to take the competing song in stride with no looks of humour or smiles of knowing.

But for me, I was amazed. I was struck with awe. I left quietly, rising inside was a swell of: “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free…”. I know I am cared for. I am free. Even seagulls praise their Maker.


The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land…   (Song of Solomon)

The House by the Sea




iPad Photo “Shell Still Life” DS

Several phone calls had made the morning stressful. I was tired, so tired. I decided to take it easy instead of catching up on more work. I sat in the garden room with a cup of coffee and began to knit.

I slowed my breathing to match the rhythm of contemplative knitting. This is my practice. I breathed a prayer. The sunlight shone on my face through the slats of the vertical blinds. I picked up a book lying in a pile neglected on the summer table: “The House by the Sea”.

A random reading became a welcome contrast to my disciplined course reading of late. It began: “Yesterday I lay around all day, sometimes on my bed upstairs, sometimes on the chaise longue on the porch, looking at the flowers. I enjoyed the lovely rooms in which I live, the light, the spaciousness…”. Peace started to blanket my mind.

May Sarton’s experience blended with my own. She continued: “Two days ago the purple finches came back… lovely to lie still and watch the wings coming and going…”. An interlude of words, of colour and patterned movement, a little sun, a sighed prayer brought calm to my type A personality. Now I can go back to work. In Genesis on week one of the earth, even God rested. Thank you.

IPad photo contemplative knitting

iPad photo “Contemplative Knitting” DS


Contemplation and Work


“Lions Gate Bridge at Night” smartphone photo DS 2015

I find I am most productive when I am busy up to a point. When I am continually working and the studio is filled with projects at various levels of completion, connections between them just happen and a new seemingly unrelated work is created.

On the other hand when I practice a rhythm of work and rest, as has been experienced in monasteries for centuries, I find inspiration even when I sleep or read or visit galleries.

I am also more receptive to including what I see modeled by friends, colleagues and mentors when I am contemplative and grounded in a spiritual/mental/emotional/physical practice.


“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Book of Ephesians

“Ora et Labora” St. Benedict

Three Images and a Poem

As I rest in a pre-dawn reverie a series of images emerge layered upon one another. The first is one of my favourite paintings of William Holman Hunt: “The Light of the World”. The glow of the lamp extends to light my tanned, blue pedicured feet. The thought comes: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119). I am walking the seawall at night. As I look up, stars dot the night sky. Behind me the ‘pearl necklace’ of the Lion’s Gate Bridge shines across the dark water. The stars turn into tiny orange fires from a poem by Denise Levertov. This is how some of my best paintings have come about. A narrative emerges from a series of images collaged in my mind by the Spirit.

This may not ever become a painting. I have more ideas than I could possibly get enfleshed in paint. But I know why I half dream today as turn over again. This is a nodal day; a day I waited for: a rare meeting with a professor about my future after graduation in the spring.

The years of workshops and book study groups that have been my praxis to balance my academics have all but dried up. In this time when I could look forward to planning new series of workshops there seem to be no open doors. My last book study group had to be cancelled for lack of attendance. Both of my creative expressions of painting and writing are mostly solitary activities, whether in the sunlit studio or the dark room and lamp lit desk. These are both my default and my scaffolding undergirded by the Spirit’s inner work.

Just when I will graduate with a Masters of Art in Spiritual Formation, all that I have worked for seems to have disappeared. The Shellseekers Art + Soul contemplation and creativity workshops are my passion. It is not like I can now just look in the newspaper and find a job. The path of an artist is an organic thing. Yet the path is lit for a little ways ahead. I will paint and write. It is what I do. That does not change. A door ahead will be opened for me to pass these on to others I am sure. Faith and fear are opposites. I have a choice.

Life Interrupts Sleep (DS 2015)

The middle of the night again

Life interrupts sleep

Much to contemplate these days

Oh to stave of the desire to weep


The poetic and the mundane

Compete with images of fear and pain

Traffic noises and bumps in the dark

Arise my fair one and see what is stark


A list is made

To empty the mind

Of worries real and of future cost

I must retrieve what was lost


A degree almost earned

Benefits of two decades fall away

A car scraped

An iced driveway


Painting is a thing of the recent past

Writing is slow and creaking

To mask the grief

Of your absence



“The Light of the World” 1851-53

William Holman Hunt