Tag Archives: God

Writing as a Spiritual Discipline and a Request

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“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:

Reading About Cultures

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“Pilgrimage (detail)” Acrylic on Canvas, DS

There will be all cultures in heaven.  Rah provides a history of challenges and a way forward to embrace humanity in all of our colours.

Readings from Soong-Chan Rah’s Book: “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church:

Stories have the power to build and develop community on multiple levels. In Western approaches to communication, we tend to focus on facts and information. Truth is communicated through statistics, numbers, dates, and information based on cognitive knowledge and is usually expressed through logical rhetoric. In certain non-Western approaches to communication, stories that evoke feelings and draw out a more emotional response may be the norm. The difference between these cultural expressions is that effective storytelling may have different intentions and approaches arising out of these different cultural values.

Aristotle stated, “When storytelling goes bad, the result is decadence.” Society and culture cannot progress and be transformed without real, honest, and powerful stories. The church also loses its influence if it fails to engage in powerful storytelling.

A speaker will often close a sermon with a stirring and inspiring story. My earliest memory of public speaking was sharing my testimony before the entire church when I was a high school student since, like many American evangelicals, I was encouraged to share my personal testimony almost immediately after I became a Christian. Stories have the power to communicate elements of our faith in ways that a lecture cannot. When in doubt, share your story.

In our current American cultural context, some of our best storytellers are found through film. As a pastor, I found it fascinating that my congregants would connect to my referencing a movie more than a book.

Media have the power to transcend culture in ways that direct verbal communication cannot. Eric Law *explains the equalizing power of media by asserting that “verbal communication alone is a biased means of communication, favoring people who have a strong sense of individual power and verbal ability.

 It is important that a character undergoes credible and authentic change in the course of the narrative, keeping the setting in the forefront. A conversion story, for example, must not occur out of the blue—it must reveal the work and character of God, as well as the transformation that can take place in a man or woman. (3) Conflict Every worthwhile story needs an element of conflict. What difficulties is the character going through, and how do these affect change in him or her? As Christians, we are especially concerned about transformation. How is it accomplished? by a logical argument? through convincing rhetoric? No, true re-creation comes from the Spirit of God.

End of Summer Retreat Day Part II

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“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art Can Imitate Life

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Installation View “Holy Cups” DS

At some point during the week between Christmas and New Year I find myself reviewing the year and setting priorities.  Both the studio and the prayer are quiet, sporadic, ad hoc, and unfocused.  Self care is taking its turn, finally.

Since the summer, shredding papers has been my contemplative activity.  Many of those papers are articles kept for writing essays, the essays themselves, and images for collage. This morning I came across one of my papers about the life of faith as an artist.  A quote from philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorffe expresses both the temptation of an artist and, in my case, how faith and art practices co-exist so well:

The art lover, like the mystic, turns away from ordinary concerns to be caught up in the bliss of contemplation… art takes over the function of this worldly salvation, no matter how this may be interpreted.  It provides a salvation from the routines of everyday life… Picasso expresses [about art]: “I love it as the only end of my life.”… Thus works of art become surrogate gods, taking the place of God the Creator; aesthetic contemplation takes the place of religious adoration…  “Art in Action”

Choices must be made.  In the life of faith, art making serves God, not money.  The unpopular image is enfleshed when one knows it will not be well received.  One does not build a career so much as follow Jesus on an art journey that imitates real life.

A table painted with checkerboard circle and vines, a round glass mirror, with hand-built pottery cups with holes around the edge and butterfly handles, and a little brown basket.  Is there any meaning here?  One could never drink from such cups with rows of holes.  Even so I am impressed to display them as some kind of worship.  There is no doubt that these items in their hand-made imperfect form are no competitor for the worship on offer.  It seems to me that God is pleased with this offering of my talents, such as they are.  Will it be another year of creating work that does not sell?

Creativity Contained

Last Summer

“Last Summer” Acrylic on Panel, DS

The painting would not come together. The idea was clear. The execution was not. Colours, shapes, glazes were painted over again and left for more inspiration. Small but mighty this painting lived on. Layers added here and there. A figure, in fact only a woman’s head low on the picture plane, viewed a waterfront landscape. There was a lamppost, a bridge, and several easel shapes on the tiny 8” x 8” birch panel.

Some ideas cannot be enfleshed. They are delicate, fleeting, yet so powerful. This work now has a layered landscape of knitting attached removing all evidence of the woman. Yet she remains. The waterfront and her image in it live on, hidden under the knitting. There is something about it – an atmosphere, a choice of colour, which draws me to prayer. Is this a contemporary icon?

 

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.   Book of I Corinthians

 

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.