The Spiritual Discipline of Letting Go

A lecture on ‘letting go’ had me riveted to the hard pew on Sunday morning. As my eyes glanced across the familiar tangerine and teal stained glass windows, my thoughts reviewed my inner life.   Purging has been a lifelong practice for me but has never caught up with my ability to acquire, to accumulate, to pile up possessions or offenses. Yet again I realize I need to weed out the garden of my heart. Some dandelions that seemed useful perhaps for tea drinking have actually become entrenched in my mossy green lawn. Their roots have strangled my grass and some of my reasoning about words and deeds I have heard and observed.

Some of my formative years were spent in my grandmother’s house in Scotland. Every spring and autumn what we called ‘McGuinty’s closet’ would get some spring-cleaning attention. This walk-in closet held layers of belongings decades old. Only the things close to the door were gone through and given away. These were mostly children’s clothes too small for the new season.

Last Sunday’s guest talk was no mere spring-cleaning or polishing up of what was there near the door of our hearts and minds. It was like our moving day to me. Long held possessions of hurts, and ways of doing things a certain way, were to be let go of or group life would fail. That was the message, yes.

My mind goes today to a large outdoor sculpture that used to be in Vancouver called “Device for Rooting out Evil.” It was a hut-sized 3D silver church sitting upside down on the landscaped lawn. The steeple had been dug into the ground. The first time I saw it I felt angry, was this an insult, I thought. As the work penetrated my thinking, as all good art will, layers of understanding emerged in my mind. I wondered, is this rooting out of evil, to be of the church by the church, can it be.

http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/calgary/Ramsay+famous+upside+down+church+uprooted+after+lease+expires/9382601/story.html

Let it begin with me, yes. I carry my hurts rattling along like tin cans on festive streamers attached to a wedding car. But this is not happy. Yes, I have a muffler silencing them, as any good Christian would, but what if I were to detach from them and drive along free, unencumbered to my future. Unencumbered, is this the freedom of forgiveness that the cross symbolizes, I muse.  I wonder if this is part of the power of spiritual disciplines: to hold sacred space for inner movements toward God.

I will be free of that which so easily besets me. I take out my steeple and dig it out, this memory of unintentional hurts. So, what if someone said this or did that. I choose to be over it by the power of the Spirit.

Book of Philippians

 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally…

I feel spring-cleaned and ready for Easter. The intriguing thing for me, as one who holds a graduate degree in the art of spiritual formation, is that the church changes will come now by way of ‘new’ (but ancient) spiritual practices and disciplines (perhaps mingled with art practices) that have become my life’s work. God’s ways are of course higher than mine. I really love spring, especially the outrageous pinkness of spring in Vancouver’s Cherry Blossom Festival.

http://www.vcbf.ca/

Book of Isaiah

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

 

 

Cutting, Crocheting, Same Thing?

So I have addictions in my family.

I do.

Recently I have been creating textile art projects – knit and crochet. I had also read an article about ‘cutting” and wondered how people do this. I heard a speaker talk about ‘cutting’ as a way to counteract psychological pain. I still could not get my head around actually taking a box cutter and doing controlled cuts: the blood drops, the permanent scars, the hiding of the body. How does one hide one’s arms – from everyone?

The other night as I continued to crochet long after my shoulders and neck hurt. And went back to it again the next pain-filled day. A question came to me: “Is this any different from ‘cutting’, really?”

Well I have been creating ‘Circle Flowers’ for a pop-up love gifting. At least my pain is producing something good, I thought, ‘Cutting’ is just destructive and a call for help.

It was then that I saw them as the same. The meaning is mixed – perhaps because a moral judgement is irrelevant. I am no different. Perhaps my scars will come from carpel tunnel.

So I find myself wondering: “What pain am I trying to counteract?” and “Am I addicted now to creating beauty?” and “Am I damaging my neck to crochet for so long?” again “Why do I have to do this?” and “What am I hiding?”

Life is complicated. ‘Handle with Prayer’ is the old saying. I also practice contemplative knitting. I contemplate God. I contemplate myself. I pray. Is this contemplative knitting becoming an addiction? Can I tell the difference or is life a mash-up of healthy and destructive habits with a permeable line between?

I am not ready to look at my other addiction, Netflix, no.

Anyway, here is an image of my small ‘Circle Flowers’ installation as a love gift for all those engineering students at UBC who need some art love. Maybe, somehow, if anyone cuts with all the stress of midterms, the art love will give them a reprieve and with prayer, some healing – as I am healing in rest today.

And by the way – Happy International Women’s Day!

Christians for Biblical Equality – academic accessible ideas on Christian Feminism

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“Circle Flowers Installation by DS at UBC”

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

 

A Place to Pray

 

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“North Shore Mountains” iPhone Photo DS

A French Lilac hedge, a grey stone house, and an upstairs window with a ledge seat overlooking the garden – these were parts of the place I had chosen as my prayer spot. We had viewed this house, loved it, painted parts of it, had our older daughter’s birthday party there, then lost it before we officially moved in. It was the house of my dreams. No other has matched it since. I could have prayed a lot of great prayers there, I am sure. But it was not to be.

A prayer can be uttered anywhere, of course, but a prayer practice is also important in our ongoing treasured relationship with God. It is about spending time with God – quality time actually enjoying, not just asking. Pastor/writer and retired professor from Regent College, Eugene Peterson, penned these words: “Intimate friends can feel comfortable with each other in silence and can say much even while exchanging few words.” This is so for time with our Creator also.

Today, the church service had been so life giving for me – the singing, the stained glass window, the smiles and the pastor’s words. I even felt like some words of comfort came to me from the Spirit explaining why there had been so much silence in guiding me this year. After a quiet lunch of beef soup and cheese sandwiches with my loved one, I headed off to the gallery.

At the Silk Purse Art Space I have one painting exhibited in the SPECTRUM Show. It is a piece of work that came to me in layers and layers over time. It is colourful and garden-like. I feel happy when I look at it. I wanted to visit the gallery – of course – to see if it was sold yet, but also just to replenish the supply of Shellseekers Art + Soul business cards I had left on the entrance table.

The gregarious volunteer at the reception desk introduced me as one of the artists to a couple of women sitting on chairs in front of the cozy gallery fireplace. They asked which painting was mine, commented politely, and went back to their conversation, deeply held.

I felt a little discouraged thinking that they were just using the gallery as a place to meet a friend and were not looking at the art at all. I smiled and left a while later and went to check out someone else’s show I wanted to see – Ann Kipling’s drawings at the West Vancouver Museum. I parked easily on this rainy day, walked up the hill and read that the gallery was closed on Sundays.

As I now had some unexpected time I did some reading in Vancouver pastor/author Ken Shigematsu’s modern monastic work “God in my Everything”. (I have offered book study groups using this book over the years.) Always attempting to keep the Sabbath I spent a few minutes in prayer in my prayer spot overlooking the North Shore mountains and read this:

“Though we can pray anywhere, the place where we spend time with God may affect our conversation with Him… we can transform an ordinary space into one that fosters prayer. Removing clutter, putting up a work of art, placing an icon or a candle on a table… people seemed more relaxed and lingered longer in that space. We are bodily creatures: art, beauty, and location matter, even if we are not always aware of them” (Bolded words mine).

In this way did God speak to me? Was I not to be concerned about people ignoring my painting in the gallery? I wonder – the gallery, although a quiet space (often), is not usually a prayer space (although I have prayed many a prayer during my gallery openings). Does the God of all whisper to us in ways that we barely notice? Does God love us that much? Like sitting on a bench at the beach with a friend, do we feel God with us in the silent times?

I have not thought of that grey stone house with the fragrant Lilac hedge for years. I now see God’s hand working through my life, bringing me to this place of my praying that overlooks a then unimagined landscape. I offer a breath prayer of thanks.

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

Esperanza 2017

 

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“Stephanart Studio New Years’ Eve” DS

The Vancouver Sun editorial, December 31, summarized that 2016 had been a terrible year: “Let’s file 2016 under miserable”. There were shootings, bombings, massacres, an assassination, murders, wildfires, viruses, protests, accidents, attacks and other deaths. And yet there were hopeful things too like peace in Columbia, the U.S. surprise win of Trump and popular vote winning for Clinton the first woman candidate. Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 90th birthday, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature and the best hope of all – 44,495 babies born in B.C. in 2016.

On New Year’s Eve we choose to leave the old year behind and often sing Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Sine as a blessing on the year to come. It is a time of new beginnings. We sip and kiss and dance with this hope. We begin to wait.

Waiting seems at odds with progress… yet [it] is not passive but a vigilant and watchful activity designed to keep us aware of what is really going on. Isaiah evokes this radical waiting as a source of vitality: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength /they shall mount up with wings as eagles.” Such waiting is meant to engender a lively hope rooted in the physical as well as the psyche. It is an action, the ‘hop’ contained within the word. To hope is to make a leap, to jump from where you are to someplace better. If you can imagine it, and dare to take that leap, you can go there – no matter how hopeless your situation may appear… hope has an astonishing resilience and strength… it is not a tonic for wishful thinkers but the ground on which realists stand.

Acedia & Me – Kathleen Norris

The studio appeared dark and barren for weeks. The artist was busy elsewhere. Red summer roses gone, a blackened dripping vine silhouetted the sliding door.

An idea bloomed one morning. It was just yesterday, New Year’s Day. The lights were turned on, the heat checked, then brush strokes poured forth from the neglected tool. After a period of gestation the paintings had completed their birth. It was a gift freshly given for the New Year.

The series of “Lament” paintings, four canvases, 16” x 20”: acrylic primary coloured words softened by a pale blue and green landscape format. This work, stuck since the summer for continued inspiration, was suddenly finished. This creation about the challenges of our society forms the backbone of an epic art exhibition hoped for in 2017.

So my word for 2017 is ‘Esperanza’. What is your word for the year?

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 

Book of Hebrews

Our Own Advent

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“Eastern Star” Linocut DS

 

IN SEARCH OF OUR KNEELING PLACES

By Ann Weems

 

In each heart lies a Bethlehem,

An inn where we must ultimately answer

Whether there is room or not.

When we are Bethlehem bound

We experience our own advent in his.

When we are Bethlehem bound

We can no longer look the other way

Conveniently not seeing stars

Not hearing angel voices.

We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily

Tending our sheep or our kingdoms.

 

This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem

And see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.

In the midst of shopping sprees

Let’s ponder the Gift of Gifts.

Through the tinsel

Let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.

In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,

Let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.

This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem

And find our kneeling places.

 

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Book of Revelation