Tag Archives: prayer

Cancelled Art Exhibition

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“Pilgrimage Fragments: World” 2020 Deborah Stephan

This is a preview of my cancelled art show; postponed to 2021.  The exhibition that I have for 24 paintings in June will probably be put off until next year also.  Life is unpredictable – handle with faith!  The world is in lockdown; be at peace and look up.

“Pilgrimage Fragments”

Artist Statement

Postage stamps from various countries leave, return home and converge on hand-painted paper leftovers from art school projects.  Decade after decade the collection grew.  Postage stamps from family travels, from friends afar, and international homestay students, lay in a file waiting to be collaged and historicized for future generations.  Microscopic beauty portrayed pilgrimages and voyages of loved ones through war and peace.

Like the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum of Toronto in the summer of 2009, they lie open for our viewing and for piecing together of the lives that created them.  The Qumran Caves hermit scribes, the family and business writers, and the visitors from Europe, Africa, Iran, Mexico, Spain, North America, all leave their mark as they inscribe life’s meaning.

They say that Jesus is like a red thread all through the Bible.  So too, the red yarn links each of the twelve art works here.  Prayers of our ancestors are still being answered throughout our lives through moves, relationships and hardships.  We can slow down, consider like daily laundry, how our quotidian habits of the heart form our life’s journey.  As we view the travel collages, perhaps we can invite God to travel with us, enjoy God’s company, and let God set the itinerary.  Others have set out in coracle boats like the Celts’ missionary journeys, others have walked the Camino de Santiago sacred route in Spain, or to Lourdes in France for healing.  Some are arm-chair travellers whose journeys are more inward than outward but powerful nonetheless.

The viewer embarks on a journey of self-knowledge, God knowledge, or even to seek meaning in life by studying people in other cultures.  Questions may come to mind, ought I to go on an expedition, what kind of passage, who will I invite as a travel companion, and even what will be lost or found if I set out on a spiritual quest, will there be enemies to overcome?  How much do we want to be changed?  We count the cost as we consider what we will risk for compassion and service of others.

Deborah Stephan

Vancouver, 2020.

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.

 

Restoration

 

Skunk Tracks to the Studio

“Skunk Tracks to the Studio” Phone Photo DS

I was like Martha today, concerns filled my mind (MarthaMartha, you are worried and distracted by many things… Book of Luke). Snow was piled deep on the stairs. I did not go out on this Sunday, as is my habit. I knitted, listened to a podcast from Loyola Press and had a long bath perfumed with Emozione.

I dressed in my white paint-soiled fleece and jeans although I would not venture over to the studio. Skunk paw prints tracked over the melting patio snow disappearing under the building. We had called a truce for now.

I prayed. I breathed. I wanted to work but was tired on this Sabbath day. Run-off gurgled in the drainpipes. I could see the wind blowing the tops of the fir trees.

As I thought about sitting in the sunny window in the moss green chair from Germany, I picked up a forgotten copy of “The House by the Sea”, May Sarton’s journal. This is her entry for January 19th, 1976:

“It’s been a hard week, bitterly cold again. Yesterday was ten below zero, today, eight below, and even the brilliant sunshine feels cold as it shines off ice underfoot and across the frozen snow on the field. I do not feel very well, although the fever has gone. However, not being able to push very hard – even writing a letter a day has seemed an enormous effort – I enjoy this house, the space and light, the plant window full of flowers, cyclamen, begonias, the browallia I brought in from the garden still a marvelous deep purplish blue. The little orange tree is covered with round oranges, and, amazing to say, the lavender star-of-Bethlehem still falls in showers of little flowers. A final bowl of paper white narcissus takes my breath away with its intoxicating sweetness as I go past, for such perfume really does seem like a miracle with the frozen earth outdoors.”

I notice movement in my mood. I feel hopeful. I have been touched by beauty and have been refreshed. The Spirit keeps the Sabbath.


“He restores my inner person. He guides me in right paths for the sake of his own name.” Book of Psalms

Grocery Shopping with Seagulls

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“Treetops” Phone Photo DS

A seagull’s cry delighted me as I exited the grocery store. Perhaps it had found some food too. I felt a surge of gratitude that prefixed a breath of the wet winter soft air. It set me on a reverie of other shopping times from years past: as a mother with crying children, as a worker with a broken foot, as a painter prepping for an art show reception.

I had been feeling down, tired, overwhelmed with thoughts about:

A health blip

A new normal in my relationship

A family conflict

An empty gas tank

A paper-stacked dining table

What little things can change our moods. Just an hour ago, praying with friends, I was looking forward to my next workshop, my upcoming art show.

I can leave getting gas until tomorrow, I thought, caring for self as advised. I was hungry, had bags to carry, food to put away and an afternoon ahead of paperwork. In front of the Rav IV windshield sharp pinecones dropped on the debris messed road from windy trees high above.

Home again a newspaper was retrieved with a climb. My face was enlivened by the mild air. I stopped and breathed again. I remembered who I was and the collaged life I had been given. Suddenly the half empty glass of my soul was filling up again. I have always loved seagulls since my childhood summers spent in a caravan at the Scottish seaside.

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

 

Life of a Princess

We think of our own floods and fires and family challenges yet even the life of a princess can be difficult. Perhaps loved leaders have the most difficult lives of all.

Twenty years ago today Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a tragic car accident in Paris. Uncertainty and intrigue were woven through her life and continue about her untimely death.

She was photogenic and articulate, perhaps an introvert thrown into the limelight. She chose to be a princess but had no idea of what it would cost: everything. Yet her sons and her humanitarian work remain.

Diana lives on also in our minds. She became a part of our daily lives. We both celebrated and swooned with her through the ups and downs of her life. We vicariously joined in her courageous work and in her painful break up. Her dresses, jewelry and latest hairstyle formed an opinion in us. We remember where we were when we watched her wedding on TV and where we were when we saw that infamous Paris tunnel over and over again.

We have lived high and low along with her. We cried and prayed for the boys. We are as proud as Diana would have been at how they have turned out.

Blessings to you dear William and Harry as you remember your beloved mother.

http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/tributes-laid-at-kensington-palace-for-diana-anniversary-1.3569664

 

John 16:33 

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

 

 

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

Back in the Studio

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“Morning has Broken”  iPhone Photo DS

It has been a long winter and spring. Snow, snow, snow and cold, it is so unlike Vancouver. Survival mode had kicked in and chores, errands, duties, and disciplined study had taken over. Painting had been only cerebral. Images sometimes came and went unheeded. Planning for shows has absorbed me all spring. I determined to spend more than a few minutes in the studio this sunny day.

A leisurely breakfast with my loved one, a slow shower, then some e-mails were read. When I had completed my ablutions, I found my painting clothes in the bottom of the closet. In them I felt free. In their messiness I was a worker – a worker bee (my name Deborah means honeybee). Yes, I am ready for MY work, the work that is me.

This would be a contemplative day – albeit more on the ‘labora’ side of ‘ora and labora’ (pray and work) of the ancient monks. It had been so long since I had touched a couple of unfinished paintings I prayed specifically that God would help me. I did not want to deconstruct what I had built up so far.

A step outside into the fresh fragrant morning, I breathed, as if I was now truly alive. Rhododendrons bloomed red, hot pink, fuchsia, purple. The studio unlocked, I searched for pots of paint in the colours I had envisioned. One was dried up but the lids unscrewed easily enough. I noticed a small hole in the screen window with the mountain view.

I knocked over a red Folger’s coffee can of brushes from high on my shelf. They fell on and behind a stack of completed paintings. This is how I get my exercise today.

The studio used to be a hot tub building. It has plumbing but not a sink. The hose is right outside the door, so convenient for me to fill a water bucket.

The bucket reminds me of my childhood. When I visited my grandmother in N. B. water was pulled up by a metal bucket from a well. This ancient practice is added to the painting history back as far as the caves. Like a monk, I gather water, paints, and pray. This day I feel grounded and most like myself. I am truly me when I paint, the one I was made to be before I was born. Today I paint the telegraph cross that has lain dormant in my imagination for years.  I do not wonder at all if it will sell.

Painting Pink Trees

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“Pink Trees, UBC” iPhone Photo DS 2017

Dreams of pink flutterings suffuse my night. Are we sleeping under a pink tree? Is the bed covered in petals?

After writing an early morning blog post a memory surfaced. It is part of my birth story. I was a long awaited child. I was born when the apple trees were in full bloom, my mother would often say. So, here’s the thing: the more often we seek God, the more often we come to know something about ourselves.

So what is all the excitement about this month? Easter, of course – nothing can top that. Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for the Christian faith – our daily life. It is the foundation of our love – that he first loved us. He is our Source, our Sustainer, and our Goal in life.

One of God’s gifts that particularly excites my artist’s heart is the abundance of pink-petaled trees around town. When I first moved to Vancouver from Toronto there were things about this place that overwhelmed me with their beauty: the mountains, the trees, the ocean – and the pink trees (originally gifts from Japan I hear).

When I walk the streets in the sun, my eyes are filled with pinkness. Shear happiness fills my senses. One year and each subsequent year I thought of heaven and the streets of gold written about there. And I thought to myself that this day, on this street, in this rain, with pink petals flowing into the gutters, that God’s gift in the Spring of Vancouver is streets not lined with gold but with pink – a taste of heaven, yes. Again this year, I want to say thank you, your gift is much appreciated. Your love for us knows no bounds, in depth, height or care. Are these our modern day lilies of the field?

I have painted pink trees in VanDusen Gardens and cleaned my brushes on the snow. (Should I admit that?) Years have passed but I can still feel the shivering cold, the sunny warmth, the delight of choosing alternate lime and ochre colours for the trees. I see the blobs of various pinks as they come from my brush and the way snow accepts paint. I see the squareness of my canvases. The bird-filled silence comes back to me. I taste the water, the cheese sandwich, the apple I consume with painted hands. I remember the long contented walk back to my car, seeing the paintings complete in the studio and the joy of their donation. This I realize is God’s gift to me: painting. When I am in the flow, my life becomes a prayer and I feel most myself.

My thoughts are filled this week with the spectacle of there being a pink blanketed picnic in the park and fuchsia lit trees at night. I wish I could go. My schedule is tight. I will make do with viewing photos on the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival website. I will walk my own streets, take iPhone photos, and worship.

 

Easter Prayer

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“Good Friday Morning” DS 2017

As we stop to appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us, we can also take the time to look at darkness – the blue darkness in our own lives. I do not necessarily mean sin. I take stock. I struggle. I want to recognize where I have been a good and faithful servant in enduring difficult situations – or not.

Sometimes I think of that saying, no good deed goes unpunished, as a way to laugh when there is opposition to our leadership. I think of times when our children take the road that we do not recommend. Like walking through mud uphill our attempts at friendship fail. The mere expressing of our opinions causes offence. Our apology brings no bridge. The way we live brings oppositions – yes, those times when we are just minding our own business and others resent us, try to trip us, do not value our efforts. When we ourselves slip, hurt others or become our own worst enemies, we can look at those areas of darkness.

But let us examine those areas as shadows, shadows of beings and doings that the light illumines. There must be light in our lives for the shadows to be seen. We go forward tomorrow in the day in between Friday and Sunday, not dwelling in the darkness but seeing the shadows, appreciating our own sacrifices and stumblings, for what they are.

So we follow Jesus not only on the Via Dolorosa some days, but meet him powerfully in the garden resurrections of our lives, as well as around the campfire where he has cooked the seafood, the writing in the sand that frees us, and the inviting of him to our houses both to speak and to wipe his perfumed feet.

In his name we offer a cup of water. If that is all we are asked to do, it is enough. For now we rest. Everything is an incarnation, a cross gift, a knowing that he ever intercedes for us at the right hand of the father. He asks to live in us by the Spirit to be salt and yes, light, shadowed light, to the world around us. I want to soak my shadows with Presence, his essence colouring mine. This is my Easter prayer.