Category Archives: Contemplation

Wisdom of the Rose Trellis

 

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“Rose Trellis” iPhoto DS 2017

There was a time when the family bloomed full red roses with green leaves. Yes, there were thorns but they were hidden (albeit sharply felt here and there). The scent of the rose trellis sparked instant praise. It was never as perfect as envisioned but it was good, very good.

At some point a deconstruction process took over. Deaths devastated, divorces divided, misunderstandings abounded and confusion set in. Thorns were easily visible tearing all who went too near. Even surface beauty was interrupted with too many dead branches and dry leaves. Blight had attacked with its polka dots of black and aphids crawled in white. Drought had yellowed the surrounding landscape.

Gee it was ugly.

It was thought that the deaths should be forgotten, pruned out for new growth to form – but they held the live branches tall, and gave them strength to hold to the trellis. It was decided to leave these wild elders – ignored yes, but not forgotten memories. The fertilizer of counseling was applied here and there to undisciplined stems.

Soon buds appeared of cranberry, crimson and carmine, attached to vivid green shoots. A tall vine shot up beyond the highest part of the trellis arch. Graduations and new births graced the family. Forgiveness had been planted. Rains came.

Through it all the trellis made of prayer held it all together – dead, alive and bedraggled parts. Tangles are still there. Somewhere it was written that confusion precedes change. A construction site can look chaotic yet the site supervisor knows and implements the building plan. By faith I say that it must also be so with the family. Perhaps again others will enjoy its innate beauty and be stilled by its scent.  Selah.

“After you have suffered a little while … then the promise…” Book of First Peter

“A trellis is a support system for a vine or plant that enables it to grow upward and bear fruit… a vine must have a trellis to support and guide its growth or it will slump to the ground.” God in My Everything, Ken Shigematsu

Lanterns and a List Poem

Harmony Arts Festival

“Harmony Arts Festival 2017” iPhoto, DS

 

Things that Give me Peace

A poem of early morning prayers complete

A bedside exercise remembered

Opening the door for a cool breath

Coffee strong with microwaved milk

Viewing email over the forested mountains

Cedars with cones swaying

Multi-layered birdsong

The first kiss

Caesar salad with prawns

Forbidden reading while eating

A painted idea

An invitation to meet

Coloured lanterns by the sea

A talk with just you and me

Watching Crown on TV

Local gallery hopping

Purging abundant art files

Divesting the studio of heaps

A gathering of thinkers

A party of prayers

A class expected

A sleeping child

Research in progress

Writing as process

Words on a page

Violet celadon crimson

Poems published

Paintings juried in

Music rising inside and

Escaping as joy.

 

DS August 2017

https://harmonyarts.ca/

 

 

 

Experiences of Art Series – Sheryl M.

Bio:

Raised in a Christian home and on a spiritual journey since then

Psychotherapist and spiritual accompanist

Working on PhD in new field of Theopoetics

Caribbean-Canadian ethnicity

Moved from Toronto

Lives in lakefront home in remote B.C. wildfire country

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“Wise Elder” by Len Butcher

The Art: in Sheryl’s own words:

This oil painting by Len Butcher is about 30+ years old, the Toronto artist an old acquaintance of my youngest brother. I am not sure if he is still living, but our family made his acquaintance many years ago when he married my brother’s elementary school teacher. I always liked the painting. After my father passed away, I reclaimed it from my parents’ home basement, brought it back to B.C. with me, and had it mounted and framed to complement my antique oak dining furniture. Since marrying, my husband has also claimed it as his favourite, and we enjoy it daily as it is positioned, suspended above our current dining space, above our lakefront window.

The painting reminds us of a posture of humble gratitude to God for our daily sustenance. No matter how simple it may seem to us during times of our life when what we possess represents a categorical contrast to the things that are often proclaimed as the necessities for living. This wise elder signifies one who takes time to sit down and carefully prepare his bread and butter, and to ground himself in the living bread which comes from the Divine.

 

This is the view from Sheryl’s remote ‘café’ – her own dining room where she has the painting hanging. She and her husband of 8 years are reminded of their blessings especially during their Friday afternoon coffee dates.

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“View from ‘Lakefront Cafe'” by Sheryl M.

This interview was done on Skype, though I wish I had actually visited the ‘Lakefront café’.

In the Fire

In a few days the show is finished. It has been running for a couple of weeks now. Will the painting still be hanging on the wall? Every exhibition begins in the joy of being chosen, of work valued by a jury. Each ending brings the ecstasy of sales or the agony of disappointment. It has been a cycle repeated over 70 times in the last two decades of my life.

My work usually has an autobiographical element: something from inside memory or imagination or a thing observed outside around my life. Over the years, instead of toughening up, I find that I have been tempered like precious metal in the fire. I like to sell but will enjoy having a piece back in my private collection of artworks again. What will it be when I drive to the Seymour Art Gallery next week?

“The genuineness of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tried by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom, having not seen, you love; and in whom, though you do not see Him now, you believe and you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory”  Book of First Peter

There was an opening art party on a hot summer evening and tonight an interim dance party held in the gallery with the art ready to wrap up. These paintings are a fundraiser for the gallery. Again I get a chance to be generous or an opportunity to hold the piece for a while longer. All of it is good; all gift from above. What a lifestyle I get to lead: so much art and so many parties.

“I will open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing, that there will not be room enough to receive it.”  Book of Malachi

In the Fire at Seymour Art Gallery

‘”In the Fire” at Seymour Art Gallery” DS 2017

Artist Statement, DS

Unlike the ancient accompanied

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace,

The woman is roughly collaged into the furnace alone.

She appears to be rising but incomplete.

Red but surrounded by green,

She, unlike Thomas of old, must

Believe she will be saved without seeing.

Unlike the men, she, like Joan of Arc,

Burns but only for a little while.

She is sustained in the pain.

This is my life too.

 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.  Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe. Thomas said, “My Master! My God!” Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

 Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

Book of John

 

Back in the Studio

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“Morning has Broken”  iPhone Photo DS

It has been a long winter and spring. Snow, snow, snow and cold, it is so unlike Vancouver. Survival mode had kicked in and chores, errands, duties, and disciplined study had taken over. Painting had been only cerebral. Images sometimes came and went unheeded. Planning for shows has absorbed me all spring. I determined to spend more than a few minutes in the studio this sunny day.

A leisurely breakfast with my loved one, a slow shower, then some e-mails were read. When I had completed my ablutions, I found my painting clothes in the bottom of the closet. In them I felt free. In their messiness I was a worker – a worker bee (my name Deborah means honeybee). Yes, I am ready for MY work, the work that is me.

This would be a contemplative day – albeit more on the ‘labora’ side of ‘ora and labora’ (pray and work) of the ancient monks. It had been so long since I had touched a couple of unfinished paintings I prayed specifically that God would help me. I did not want to deconstruct what I had built up so far.

A step outside into the fresh fragrant morning, I breathed, as if I was now truly alive. Rhododendrons bloomed red, hot pink, fuchsia, purple. The studio unlocked, I searched for pots of paint in the colours I had envisioned. One was dried up but the lids unscrewed easily enough. I noticed a small hole in the screen window with the mountain view.

I knocked over a red Folger’s coffee can of brushes from high on my shelf. They fell on and behind a stack of completed paintings. This is how I get my exercise today.

The studio used to be a hot tub building. It has plumbing but not a sink. The hose is right outside the door, so convenient for me to fill a water bucket.

The bucket reminds me of my childhood. When I visited my grandmother in N. B. water was pulled up by a metal bucket from a well. This ancient practice is added to the painting history back as far as the caves. Like a monk, I gather water, paints, and pray. This day I feel grounded and most like myself. I am truly me when I paint, the one I was made to be before I was born. Today I paint the telegraph cross that has lain dormant in my imagination for years.  I do not wonder at all if it will sell.

“The Future of Christianity” by Alister E. McGrath

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What a good book! On April 8th while attending The North Shore Writers’ Festival luncheon circle with authors, I noticed a display of books near the door to the room. It was the week before Easter and there was an eclectic display of Christian books on various topics. I signed out “The Future of Christianity” by Alister E. McGrath.

I knew of the trusted Prof. McGrath from Oxford University through my years of part-time study at Regent College, UBC. A couple of weeks later as I started reading the book I was hooked by his bringing together of historical and political facts as precursor to the current unsettled condition of the Western church. My curiosity was piqued to read his take on the ways the church is changing and how to position myself to accept reasonable adjustments in the way we do church going into the future.

This is not a review or a summary. Upfront I want to say, I cannot do this book justice, but will only highlight a few things for readers to be encouraged in the way forward. As St. Benedict said, we are always beginners. There is much to know. This is the main thing I learned at seminary. The Gospel remains the same but the Christian in the world changes over time and culture.

So one thing is for sure, in order to understand the way forward, we need to know where we have come from and where we are right now. Dr. McGrath is particularly effective in pulling together the big picture of the church in culture and defining the essence of where the church is now across the globe. The following is a remnant of what can be feasted on in this book written for scholars and not.

There is much history of how things with Christianity in all its forms got the way it is today. One thing I noted was of McGrath’s explanation of a major factor affecting the church during WWII was in Hitler presenting his ideas to the church as a renewing of German culture. Sadly, and a warning for us, is that eventually the church became so much like the culture that it could not critique it with the noted exceptions of writers Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

After the shock of the wars, there was a spiritual vacuum, leading to the ‘Death of God’ movement in the 1960’s and other factors. Many thought that Christianity would be no more: “This surge of enthusiasm often led to the suspension of any critical faculties… The sweeping aside of traditional morality was seen as purely liberating at the time. It was fun to be able to sleep with whoever you liked and do whatever you pleased. It all seemed so innocent. The darker side of things was there to be seen… the truth could not be suppressed forever… decriminalization of paedophilia.” One can easily fill in the blanks of the long ranging effects of this movement in Paris. A long litany of historical events, large and small, illustrates the results of the: “rupture of the centuries-long cycle of intergenerational transmission of the Christian faith.”

Even some uncritical theologians abandoned the faith and former Christians “thinking Christianity had nothing to offer in relation to the supernatural of mysterious” were attracted to New Age practices. Add to this the fact that the “Enlightenment lost any remaining credibility” with its “demand that everything should be neatly ordered, rational, and logical” and you have the perfect storm that led to Postmodernism.

Christianity has now been commodified and marketed as a spiritual product: “A successful church was now seen as a church that grew” so that “Western churches outreach” was seen as the “McDonaldization of Christianity.” “Efficiency, calculability, predictability and control” now informed the model. Yet there remains: “a longing for spiritual authenticity.”

In my oversimplified and truncated picture of events there is seen the result that Christianity remains the largest religion in the world. As it cooled in North America and Europe, faith has spread like wildfire in Asia, Africa, and Latin America – so much so that they send missionaries now to re-invigorate personal faith in the West. It is a grand story and McGrath tells it well. Much of his forth-telling of possible future trends is unfolding now – a full 15 years after his book was written. Of note are his descriptions of how each strand of Christianity can continue to right itself to face a drastically changing world with the unchanging Gospel told and lived in both new and ancient ways.

There is a move toward forming Christ-centred community churches that care for the people around them over churches that do not attract by their denominational differences and doctrinal squabbles. The Bible is paraphrased informally to include the unchurched. McGrath relays the thought that rather than more academic theologians, what the world needs now, is a movement of amateur theologians: novelists like C.S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers etc. He says that some of the American megachurches are becoming like the “medieval monasteries plant[ing] smaller monasteries in outlying regions, resourced by the mother house until they were deemed strong enough to be self-sufficient.” He states: “The future of Christianity will be deeply shaped by this major new trend.”

Enough said. Actually, God is very much alive. There is the necessity though that churches get with the program that God has. What is the Spirit saying to confused churches in this so-called post-Christian cultural mash-up? Jesus came that we might have abundant life. He also turned culture upside down – especially for and by God’s people. Isn’t confusion one of the precursors of change?

Painting Pink Trees

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“Pink Trees, UBC” iPhone Photo DS 2017

Dreams of pink flutterings suffuse my night. Are we sleeping under a pink tree? Is the bed covered in petals?

After writing an early morning blog post a memory surfaced. It is part of my birth story. I was a long awaited child. I was born when the apple trees were in full bloom, my mother would often say. So, here’s the thing: the more often we seek God, the more often we come to know something about ourselves.

So what is all the excitement about this month? Easter, of course – nothing can top that. Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for the Christian faith – our daily life. It is the foundation of our love – that he first loved us. He is our Source, our Sustainer, and our Goal in life.

One of God’s gifts that particularly excites my artist’s heart is the abundance of pink-petaled trees around town. When I first moved to Vancouver from Toronto there were things about this place that overwhelmed me with their beauty: the mountains, the trees, the ocean – and the pink trees (originally gifts from Japan I hear).

When I walk the streets in the sun, my eyes are filled with pinkness. Shear happiness fills my senses. One year and each subsequent year I thought of heaven and the streets of gold written about there. And I thought to myself that this day, on this street, in this rain, with pink petals flowing into the gutters, that God’s gift in the Spring of Vancouver is streets not lined with gold but with pink – a taste of heaven, yes. Again this year, I want to say thank you, your gift is much appreciated. Your love for us knows no bounds, in depth, height or care. Are these our modern day lilies of the field?

I have painted pink trees in VanDusen Gardens and cleaned my brushes on the snow. (Should I admit that?) Years have passed but I can still feel the shivering cold, the sunny warmth, the delight of choosing alternate lime and ochre colours for the trees. I see the blobs of various pinks as they come from my brush and the way snow accepts paint. I see the squareness of my canvases. The bird-filled silence comes back to me. I taste the water, the cheese sandwich, the apple I consume with painted hands. I remember the long contented walk back to my car, seeing the paintings complete in the studio and the joy of their donation. This I realize is God’s gift to me: painting. When I am in the flow, my life becomes a prayer and I feel most myself.

My thoughts are filled this week with the spectacle of there being a pink blanketed picnic in the park and fuchsia lit trees at night. I wish I could go. My schedule is tight. I will make do with viewing photos on the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival website. I will walk my own streets, take iPhone photos, and worship.