Category Archives: Writing

The Way to Publication

First publication is calming; my work has finally paid off, literally. As always, God leads me but in a zigzag line.

A child at breakfast reads every word on the cereal box. That was me (not so much the French).

In my twenties I worked in a bank. One day I came out and tried to start my car. I looked and instead of the key I had attempted to put my pen in the ignition. Today my brain thinks a pen is an essential part of the body.

At meetings I have now disciplined myself to take notes on my iPhone. (My pen is ever ready in my bag for backup.) This summer my precious spare time has been spent shredding five years of note-taking files.

So, the other large percentage of effort this year has been about submitting work for publication: prose and poetry. Some had fees and some graciously accepted submissions gratis. After a ‘couple’ of rejections of my writing I decided to submit one of my painting images to Understorey Magazine, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. After a few weeks I was advised that “Taffeta Apron” was to be published paired with another woman’s story.

It took me a moment to review exactly what I had achieved. An editor, so personable, had praised my image. I would be paid by a university and had to phone them with my SIN.

The magazine is published online and my work is in the current issue together with a story called ‘Island Girl’. Although I had asked to read the story before my work was paired with it, I felt strange. I felt confused. Usually I self-publish my images with my own stories on a blog. This was an anomaly.

Issue 11 of Understorey Magazine is now published on the website! Look for “Taffeta Apron” (Acrylic on Linen, 36” x 24”) alongside the prose poem Island Girl by Susan Brigham. If you scroll to the end of the poem you can read our bios.

http://understoreymagazine.ca/

Mixed feelings are still with me. I am excited to have my visual work published. It is not the same as being juried into an art exhibition, which is a bit more ephemeral. A published work is always there for people to see. I am disappointed that it is not my writing to be published.

I have a resume for art and a CV for writing. Which is this then – a painting in a writing magazine? It is truly a mash-up, a crossover of genres – and a delight.

How did I do it?

  1. I prayed for help.
  2. I made work.
  3. I submitted work to any call that seemed to fit.
  4. I researched as a regular practice and kept making work.
  5. I accepted that not all of my work would be paid for and perhaps not even my most important work.
  6. I experimented a lot. Creative work is about process over product first.
  7. I calmly waited for some response from somewhere. Then celebrated.

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“Taffeta Apron” 36″ x 24″, Acrylic on Linen, Deborah Stephan

 

 

 

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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/

 

 

 

“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?

Eating Caesar Salad at Nitobe Garden

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“Nitobe Memorial Garden”  DS, iPhone Photo, April 2017

So I am a colourist. There’s no doubt about it. I like colour. Today I am surrounded by greens; layers and layers and shapes of greens at Nitobe, an Asian garden on the UBC campus.

Huddled in my knitted forest green scarf with clear and emerald hand-tied beads and navy hooded coat, I sit to rest. The planked bench is dry. I take the Caesar Salad container out of my grey felted bag and eat.  The lemon wakes me. I swish around the breadcrumbs in my mouth with water from a green gingham lidded jam jar I carry with me often since art school days.

Students crunch by walking on the path. They overwhelm my quiet peace for a while with their heated discussion. Photographers set up tripods in a couple of places in the distance; a waterfall rushes, bringing movement to the still water under the arced wooden bridge. In this day, when the rain has taken a break and the sunshine has not started, the greens clear the palette of my painter’s mind for the paint box of colour that will show up in this late arriving spring.

I breathe

I offer a prayer of thanks

I stop to write in the gazebo

Moss lichen bark

Tiny patterned ferns

Marsh green shoots

Yellow polka dot buds

On bushes

Small verdant mounds

Fill my eyes

The seagull

Calls to the rasp

Of the gardener’s rake

Wind on my face

I look forward with courage again. I continue on the grey pebble path accompanied by the unseen sfumato of soon coming Valley Lilies.

Drops begin to fall but the exit is in sight.

 

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Book of Psalms

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Reading ‘Surprised by Joy’

There is so much I miss in reading books by C.S. Lewis. His writing is so intellectual, so dense with classic literary and philosophical allusions that it is overwhelming at times. Not so this time – as Luther wrote about being inspired to ‘pick up the book and read,’ so it was with me this month. Perhaps I was confused by Valentine’s Day and thought this was the love story of how Lewis and his wife met, not how he came to know and love God. (Now that I remember, that heart-changing story was told in the movie “Shadowlands”.)

The small yellow book lay near the front of my bookshelf as it had for several years. Maybe it was the blue sailor’s costume or the summer yellow sun behind the graphic of the boy on the cover that attracted me. I felt the desire to read another autobiography. This is a year of reading and writing memoir for me.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Ireland in 1898. He had a comfortable childhood until his mother grew ill. He had heard that God would answer prayers of faith. So he prayed. When a miracle did not come the grief of his mother’s death and his gradual loss of faith were the marks of his childhood. In his father’s loss he was unable to relate well with his two sons. As it was not unusual for boys to go to boarding school in those days, each son was sent off in turn.

Deprivation and teacher incompetence rendered his boarding school experience harsh. Yet it was in relating to classmates and their hierarchies that he learned social skills to survive being an introvert. He was studious and found his way among them. Eventually he became a Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge. His prolific writings have delighted people of every age.

The book goes on to give the reader a view of how his reading the classics and in arguing in discussion groups with mentors and peers he formed his ideas about philosophy and about life. Faith having been eroded by years of neglect seemed in the book to be a side project carried on by God (hardly noticed at times by Lewis). By music, by experiences and longings for what Lewis called Joy, the pages of autobiography are like taking a trowel with the author and participating in an archeological dig of his thoughts. Glimpses of how his worldview changed now and then are like peepholes into God’s work behind the scenes.

Layer upon layer, God worked on God’s reluctant subject, until Lewis had to acquiesce and admit that God is real, present, and loving. C.S. Lewis tells his conversion story as being the only logical conclusion.   Lewis relates a real spiritual walk at a local zoo with the great charm of his imaginative stories: “Wallaby Wood with the birds singing overhead and the bluebells underfoot and wallabies hopping all around one, was almost Eden come again.”

The experience of seeking Joy only pointed to and led the way. We are grateful for signposts on a journey but they are not the destination. By one intriguing story after another Lewis finds that his longing for Joy is not for a feeling but for a Person. He writes:  But what, in conclusion, of Joy? For that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian…

God has taken me as blogger on a journey of discovery also. I was born in Saint John, N.B. and dedicated to God there (something that God seems to take very seriously!) My childhood of singing in a tiny Scottish church and watching adults being baptized by immersion, the celebrations of Easter and Christmas, the refusal of confirmation, the leaving of church for a decade, the comeback truly a follower of Jesus Christ and the Joy of Companionship along some dark rainy roads to reach some turquoise beach experiences come to mind. Now in Vancouver, art school and seminary practices and friends along the way are there to enjoy a way of life with overflowing meaning. What is that old saying? It goes something like: a joy is doubled and a sorrow is halved when shared.

Book of Isaiah

Precept upon precept; line upon line; here a little, and there a little… will he speak to [t]his people.

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Desk Photo Collage DS

 

Remembering Summer

End of Summer

Woe is me

It is not going to be

The weather I want

You see

 

The rain will come

The rain will go

The snow will fall

I do not want it all

 

Although I am sure

A broken ankle will not

Reoccur

Memory stays

Of those long Physio days

 

When life was halted

Upon my bed

While visions of

Matisse and Degas

Filled my head

 

Life forever changed

On that black ice day

A swollen ankle comes still

When I try to play

 

But during that time I

Created small portraits

That six years later

Call me back

By their profits

And beauty raw

 

More tiny pictures

Of tiny people

Will come from my fingers

To inhabit my portfolio

For a time I do not know

When they will be seen

And live and heal

My broken memories

And summer will be back

Again.

DS

 

longing in the midst of a cold snowy winter

Remembering Summer DS