Category Archives: Creativity

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

IMG_2833 2

“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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

End of Summer Retreat Day Part II

EndofSummerRetreatDay

“End of Summer Retreat Day” DS Phone Photo

 

Having observed

The sea

Nature in feathers

Human nature vibrant

It felt urgent that I move on

To the gallery

 

I looked in the closed windows

I meandered the long garden row

I had my quotes in tow

To read on the pier

 

I chose a place on the side rocks

I dozed

I placed some found shells

Three in all beside a

Pilfered recycled

Community garden Sunflower head

 

Proof of my day

I photographed

I read and enjoyed anew my quotes

My perch was comfortable

In the sunny sun and the windy sea

From the side rocks so new to me

 

I looked back at the land

At the place that had once held my art

At the place I had walked rain or shine

To another time

Of celebration

Contemplation came easy now

Of God of times bad and good

Of times misunderstood

Of love and loss

Of times filled with

Life and

New plans came

 

I came off the pier and noticed

So many flowers near pink as I like

I skirted the bike on the lane

To take a picture again

And hiked the 6 blocks back to my car

More at peace than before

And ready to work

 

The studio beckoned but

Exhausted I reckoned a

Rest on the bed instead

And anxiety returned

And the retreat day returned

And the contemplative events

Returned me to

Peace in place of plans

As I survived

A day unworked

A creative day

An interrupted day

A day of play

Of gratitude

To face my class

Homework undone.

 

 

Spiritual Practices:

Silence

Contemplative Walking

Spiritual Reading

Attention to Nature

Prayerful Play

Re-Membering Faith Stories

Practice of Rest

Gratitude

 

Creative Practices:

Collage

Photography

DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of Summer Retreat Day Part I

Hand Painted Collages

“Hand-Painted Collages” by DS Phone Photo

I awoke with an unexpected empty day ahead.  I still hoped for the call or text that would bring my complex plans to fruition before 8:00am.

It was a day of nothing

It was a day of disappointment

It was a day of getting used to a new normal, of not seeing a loved one daily going forward. And a day of waiting for another’s decision.

At 6:30pm I had a class but it was 10 hours away.

 

I felt unsettled, down, post-anger.

It was a day after the rain

It was a day of sun of still summer

It was a day to fill

But I could do no work.  Hopes had been dashed.

 

A new plan came to me

I would practice what I preach

I compiled a personal retreat day

Consisting of

An intention

A drive

A snack

Observation of nature

A walk

Some favourite quotes to read

Something new to do

A rest

And no time limit

Although the parking sign said

Two hours max

 

Energy returned so I did some chores before I left.  Actually truth be told I felt a surge of creativity come over me.

 

I started some collage art cards

Finished one for a friend in recovery

Left the chores for later

Inspiration takes priority today

 

The retreat started with a detour

A visit to a site neglected in my daily round

A place unvisited was photographed

And considered for future thoughts

 

The retreat took a walking turn

A turn toward Ambleside Beach

Rerouted West

Another detour to Crema

Food for the soul could wait

 

The retreat continued at the community garden

Competition for my muffin

A stare from a seagull offering

Unwanted accompaniment

He was big

He was white and grey

He had a yellow and red eye

He was persistent in his

Observation

 

A flashback of Hitchcock’s “Birds” came

My mind reasoned

As I looked at

His hooked

Yellow

Strong beak I felt

Peace as I remembered his

Scavenger character disciplined

In his gaze

I put my muffin away

 

The sun on the sea

Felt new

Felt stolen

Felt gifted

Shifted me to

Another bench

 

A bulldog came catching

A ball next door

I checked that he could not reach me

Not quite

Another danger averted

Subverted my focus

And fears subsided.

 

A couple walked down the lawn

I said Hi rather than

Appear withdrawn

I stretched my face to

A smile she gladly returned and

Reported that she had hidden a chair in a bush

That she would drink her beer and then go to work

At 11:30 am.

Conflict and Confrontation

Knitted Tent Belkin Gallery

“Knitted Tent, ‘Material Obsessions’, Roth and Morton, Belkin Gallery, UBC”

Photo DS

Sometimes life can only be expressed in a nonet:

It was a week of conflict

A week of speaking my mind

A week of correcting paperwork

A week of calling people out

A week of phoning to say no

A week of advocating

A week of maneuvering a plan

A week of staying quiet

While I can

 

This summer week intended to be

A creative studio week

A week of picnicking with friends

A week of rest at the beach

A week of seeing what I need

A week of laughing with children

A week of sightseeing

And meal making

Together

 

Next week I will attend a festival

I will make the best of all

I will get back on the treadmill

And on the seawall

I will read Barbara Brown Taylor

I will paint the portraits that call me

The collages that long for me

The geranium baths eluding me

I will breathe and pray

This again is the only way

To sustain me other than

The gallery.

 

Nonet:

A group of nine people or things, especially musicians.

A musical composition for nine voices or instruments.

A poem with nine lines