Tag Archives: God

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.

 

 

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.

Musings about the New VAG while on Retreat at Rivendell

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“Flowers at Rivendell” DS – Weeds or Wildflowers?

The proposal for the new gallery was not widely accepted. In fact contrary to the enthusiasm of the VAG, civic leaders and architectural critics, a local radio poll, in September last year showed “80% of the respondents voting ‘No’ to the design.”

Should an art gallery be ugly? The title of an article in art guide, Preview magazine, last year by M. De La Giroday was titled “We are Art: a new narrative for the Vancouver Art Gallery.” It read, the architects “aren’t obsessed with winning an architectural beauty contest.” They said, from an artist’s point of view, these would be the best galleries in the world. In fact, artists would want to be revived from the dead to show here…” These are strong words.

The design is of wood – “a nod to Vancouver’s history as a logging town but with modern internal structures. Although not stated in the article, it reminds me of the shape of the First Nations’ Inukshuk, a symbol of welcome.

Behind the scenes (barely), are concerns about the wood being able to stand up to the weather and the ugliness of it rotting over time. Although there are few cities as treed as Vancouver’s province, apparently there are concerns over whether the correct size and type of water repellent wood could be produced here (so much for using local materials and saving the environment). The other worries are of course, how to raise the funds for this expensive venture, but this would be necessary for any design. However, some say it would be better to renew the old gallery and open several new small ones as the funds are raised.

I find myself debating whether it is reasonable for a gallery to be ugly. Is that not an oxymoron? Why would people be attracted to an ugly gallery? Who would want to walk along the street and look at it? Tourist might even come, not to see what will be the tallest wooden structure in the world but the ugliest gallery in the world.

That said, I know that some think Antoni Gaudi’s “Sagrada Familia” church, Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Museum in Spain, and even the ‘new’ ultra modern Scottish Parliament building in old Edinburgh are ugly. I think now not of humankind’s great creations but of God’s – humankind. Let’s face it; all were not created with equal beauty. Not even God’s own Son, Jesus, in essence God himself, is not of any particular ‘comeliness’ as Scripture describes him. I feel confused now, how can that be? Surely God must be the most beautiful of all? It only makes sense. I am going to have to wrestle with this ugliness business a bit more.

Part Two

What must come into my thinking is that there are different kinds of beauty and various perceptions of ugliness. What comes to mind right now is the way that the appreciation of women’s beauty in art has changed over the centuries from the high foreheads of the Renaissance period to Rubenesque figures, to the anorexic look for today’s model for real women to emulate. There is also natural beauty, but that has a continuum of appreciation too.

Ugliness, I guess, can be about the way we value certain looks. We have standards. A gallery must be made of a certain material. A man must be close to a particular height. Even, my favourite: paintings must be of a realistic style to be beautiful.

Perhaps real beauty and real ugliness are intrinsic. Then I remember that humanity once created in the image of God has become tarnished and even tattered. Even real beauty can be diminished. The future state of the decaying wood of the gallery must be considered on the one hand yet what seems ugly now could become such a meeting place of meaning for Vancouverites and tourists that it becomes beautiful in its aging patina.

Some say of a baby, it is a face only a mother can love. Others are afraid of the onset of facial wrinkles and grey hair. Yet is any baby truly ugly? Is there real beauty in wrinkles? It comes to me now that picture of a dog with amazing wrinkles. You must have seen images of it somewhere. Many think that type of dog is absolutely adorable. So, is beauty in the eye of the beholder then? We can also gain beauty some say, by surgery, by body sculpting, by dressing a certain way. Are the celebrities caught by the camera without make-up genuinely ugly or if so just temporarily indisposed? What about redemption? Is there really something called a ‘bad seed’ making some people evil from birth? Are ugliness and evil, beauty and goodness correlated?

This may be an ongoing topic for thought. The Preview article ends with: “Art, the pursuit of art, and how we support it is a grand enterprise. In a sense, we are all art, and what is chosen will set the arts environment in Vancouver for the foreseeable future.” Do we find more meaning in beauty or in the reality of history and experiences, of love, of hate? But that is a topic for another day. Still exhausted, I am tiring myself more with trying to figure out both life and art. Which parts of this blog post are beautiful; which ugly? I cannot edit anymore.

After the Rain

After the Rain

“After the Rain” iPad photo DS

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

First Book of Corinthians

 

This morning as my red car climbs the driveway drips from the tall trees twinkled among the branches and fell in turn on the graveled tarmac. It seemed like a new washed world. The plants I had struggled to water with the kinked hose a few days ago came to mind. There was no way I could ever have watered the pink flowering bushes, white roses and purple viola pots the way last night’s rain had.

I watched through the darkening windows of my living room the night before in mild shock that in this week before summer white hail stones were piling up on the brown aggregate patio.

Later in the afternoon, the words, into each life some rain must fall, came into my mind as I thought about driving the short distance to my women’s group earlier. I did a mini-ponder about whether our lives were actually cleaned by the difficult times we go through. There can be harm in extreme events, but mostly the unpleasant pouring rain – like hard times, may not be bad for us. In fact, I mused, we may be helped by them.

I then wondered if a break in a relationship might be like days of pouring rain – that perhaps the sun might shine on that relationship again after events bring things into more clarity. The vivid colours after the harsh rain, might they be like positive qualities of the other person that may be brought forth after not seeing them for a while, I pondered.

Into every life some rain must fall, yes, most rain does not hurt. Some difficulties we can prepare for. I knew yesterday that the hanging fuchsia petunias would not survive the battering of heavy rain. I took them down and put them under the eaves where only the odd splashes of water would reach them.

It must be about contrast, about rest, about change, about arranging our points of view perhaps, I decided. Does the rain that falls in our lives help or hurt – and so we contemplate God’s care and intervention in our lives.

The white roses can escape harm from downpours by their inherent strength. I consider God’s complicated relationship with beauty in creating both the gorgeous intricate world for us to enjoy daily and also the shining angel, Lucifer, who would cause many to fall into ugliness.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Book of Genesis

How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!

Book of Isaiah

Ella Fitzgerald and The Inkspots: Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJ9IaplRrm4

 

Blue Suede Shoes

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“Blue Suede Shoes” Collage DS

So yesterday as I walked the UBC campus a woman came out of a building wearing blue suede shoes. I had just written an in class test and was on my way to grab lunch at a nearby Italian café. My hand went to my bag to retrieve my phone to capture her feet. Then disappointed, I realized I could not take a photo of her feet without being observed. I thought perhaps it would be a violation of her privacy unless I asked permission. I was too tired for that level of sociability.

Today they are still etched in my memory. They were a lighter blue than expected – just a bit paler than blue jeans. They had chunk brown heels and matching blue fringes along the sides of the low rise boots. They complimented her pencil skirt in beige. She was a student of fashion.

Last week I had just gifted a light blue-framed collage I had created months go. It featured a cut-out of boots which I had coloured royal blue. The abstract surrounding magazine imaging of ochre and orange I supplemented with royal purple, green, red and white paint. The idea of creating those blue suede shoes low in the picture plain gave me great pleasure. I did not know why.

It came to me that they were a metaphor for dancing, yes. I have always, from my earliest days of doing the Scottish “Highland Fling” and “Sword Dance,” loved dancing. In recent years, after a catastrophic ankle injury, I do not dance – on the outside. Inside, however, I dance as much as I have always done. This, I see, is God’s message to me. He sees me, as I really am – a dancer.

David danced before the Lord with all his might.

Second Book of Samuel

The Spirituality of Waiting

Waiting II

“Waiting II” DS Mixed Media on Paper

White gallon pails of plaster paint lined the walls and filled spaces under rough wooden tables in the sturdy outbuilding near the un-ploughed fields of green acreage. The fresco paint had been waiting almost a decade then for someone with strength who knew how to mix paint in the ancient way. Father Dunstan showed our visiting art class the extensive Cubist drawings he had created over a lifetime. I could not grasp their full extent even from the white vellum drawings scrolled out on the old table.

In many ways it was an idyllic day:

– White clouds in a blue sky

– A walk along a narrow path ending on a precipice overlooking a vast flat valley

– Lavish stained glass cut outs in a grey concrete building

– A tower building where Jesuit priests pulled bells ringing the hours of the day

– Simple delicious meals presided over by a conversational priest

Father Dunstan Massey waited years for others to make the decision to hire a craftsman, and for the person with the skills to help, to be identified, and to be available.

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Monk+devotes+life+adorning+Mission+Westminster+Abbey/8303040/story.html

At Regent College Bookstore one day I saw his book now written, the project now completed. I took in the photos of Father Dunstan on scaffolding as a really old man supervising the fulfillment of his dream. Later I returned to Westminster Abbey, Mission, B.C. for a retreat weekend. I saw the completed work in person– a privilege unusual and unforeseen. Time for God is so unlike our idea of timing. So many things are brought together that we are unaware of.

I wait today for others to decide for my work after graduation. I do interviews, present materials and ideas for projects and time periods that fit for me. I make tentative study and materials preparations. I rearrange storage space. Two venues have decided ‘not yet.’ Two more have passed the time when their decision would be made. Three alternatives have been approached and are now silent. Waiting is hard – especially in planning our schedules and keeping a good attitude.

There are so many ways of waiting – a birth, a death, a wedding, for something to be over, for something to start, even to endure something. We wait for winter to pass. The seeds now planted, I watch every leaf form wishing for flowers to appear right away. I want my garden to flourish. But I know, I must water, weed and feed. It is God who makes things grow when it is time.

After asking God to guide and open doors, I now want the guidance to be on my schedule and the doors I knock on to be the ones that open. Yet, our mysterious God works wonders that make no sense to us. Why old age for Father Dunstan? Indeed why me? We wait together with God. As the plan grows to fruition, we mature. We develop true intimacy with our Maker.

Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.  

Book of Romans

 

 

 

 

 

A Parrot in the Window

 

Snow Angel Collage

“Snow Angel” Found Paper Collage 2015 DS

Flashlight in hand I set out for a prayer walk this evening. The rain had stopped but the road glistened with all of the colours of the rainbow, sometimes together and at times a lone – red tree, blue bush, or an orange roofline with flashing LED wreaths. What a backdrop for my prayers. It had been a while since I walked in the evening.

As I climbed a hill in the leafy neighbourhood I looked up to a window and saw – of all things – a parrot. The sight took me as a symbol – of what I am not sure – of beauty, of delight, of the exotic nature of life. Just outside, within the parrot’s view, a regular birdhouse hung in the window. In awe of the bird in the lit square in the darkness, a scene of outdoor and indoor birds became my reverie.

The walk began in serious concern. I prayed for family, friends and for guidance and strength for myself in the New Year. The half-hour ended with smiles to the night sky and gratitude. Again God had spoken peace to me using birds.

The last bird was a white one, a couple of weeks ago, which flew briefly above some bushes across my sightline. I had to double check with myself that I had actually seen it. I do not recall ever having noticed a bird like it here before. I felt immediate calm as I tackled my work of creating under the pressure of the season. I was able to include a few original collage cards in with my scribed offerings this time.

It has been such a beautiful holiday season again. The snow – well it is lovely while it lasts. The Christmas lights, still shining, uplift my colourist soul. The singing – I can only say that it heals me. The laughter and giving have extended into 2016. Again there is evidence of faith, hope and love. May the new refugees in particular be overwhelmed with God’s goodness this year.