Monday, April 28, 2014

Inifinity in My Lap: Healing Art

So, I spent the greater part of Thursday in a relatively small room filled with big moments. I had more fun that day than I'd had in I don't know how long. As a child, like most children, I loved to draw, color, paint, cut, paste, whatever. But in high school, we had to choose between chorus and art classes, and I always sang. And visual art, beyond photography, just didn't have much of a chance in my schedule. Then in college, I took one drawing class and fell in love with "making art," as the artists say. (For some reason, I never heard that expression until the past few years, and it still sounds a little odd to me. I tend to think of "doing art," for whatever reason....and look what I just found, piqued by curiosity about that phrasing.)

Our teacher was amazing. She has a real gift for what she does and for teaching it to others. Her warm, compassionate enthusiasm was contagious.

Of course she was teaching/lecturing part of the time, but she also gave us projects to do. And it was so neat, how people got so engrossed in what we were doing. The room just felt different when everyone was focused on their own little creation, music was playing quietly, and no one was talking.

These oil pastels were our friends for the day. I felt like I was back in elementary school. I still remember how exciting it was the first time I had a box of 64 crayons!

We partnered with the person sitting next to us and played "scribble chase." One person leads with a scribble/doodle, and the other follows. A great ice breaker.

I led on this one. My only thought was to do more than go round and round, so I did some other things. It kind of wound up looking like a face, didn't it?

My partner, who became my friend in the course of the day, led on this one. It was more relaxing, just going round and round. And I like how our pinks look together.

The next thing we did was the "inside and outside the square" piece that I described in the previous post.

And for the next one we were instructed to just doodle until she said "stop." It wasn't very long at all. My original doodle was just the curve you see below that forms the main part of the bass clef sign.

Then we were to think of three things we could make from the doodle, and not begin doing anything with it until we had three ideas. (Generating ideas, envisioning possibilities....important stuff in therapy.....)

Once we had three ideas, we were to choose one of our ideas and continue making something from our doodle.

Well, I liked two of my ideas so much that I did both of them, and the next thing I knew, I had the beginning notes of the main theme of Beehoven's Ninth and an angel together on the page, with joy in various languages, and beams of light coming from the heart of the angelic figure.

At some point I thought how strange it was, with the things going on in my life lately, that I would be creating art so full of light and joy and music. Was I in denial? I wondered. But I just kept adding beams of light and then the bass clef-y doodles to frame the piece, and I knew I was not in denial. There are hard things going on, some very hard things, but the light and joy overcome the darkness.

So then I added the "o magnum mysterium" to the mix, because it is rather mysterious how light and dark, joy and sorrow, can be so mixed in one mind and heart. And because I know that for me it is the great mystery of the Incarnation, and all that follows from it, that makes it possible.

When Lisa came around to see what we were doing and talk briefly with us about our work, she asked me, "So how far do the rays of light extend beyond the page?" I looked up at her and after a moment's pause said, "Infinitely. Because even though it looks like an angel, this is the heart of God, and the light is infinite."

And that is why I want to do more art in my therapy. Because I didn't even have that in mind when I was drawing these images. Not consciously. I was just going with the doodle and seeing what I could do. I drew hearts because I am not good at drawing faces, and  it seemed like a good way to not have to draw a face but still represent an angelic figure.

But somehow, making things with our hands has a way of going deep into our minds and heart and pulling things out.

And sometimes when doing that, infinity kind of. . . drops into one's lap.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Infinity in My Lap

"Infinity kind of...drops into one's lap."

That's Stratford Caldecott trying to describe to Ken Myers those moments when we are struck with the infinite nature of the cosmos, and how we are a part of it and are touched by it. How children seem to experience those moments more frequently, and how we as adults can learn to be more open to them.

I was listening to the interview this past Wednesday while driving from Memphis to my home town in Arkansas. This time of year the fields are piercingly green as the early evening light does its magic with their chlorophyll.

At certain moments I felt infinity dropping into my lap, perhaps bumping on the steering wheel as it came. It was early evening. The sun was still high enough to not be right in my eyes, but it was dropping, and it shone on the fields and through the trees at an angle that just made them magical. I wanted so much to stop and take pictures! But I knew if I did, I risked letting the sun get to the point that I would not be able to see, because I was driving almost due west the entire trip, and if that evening sun got any lower, I would be blinded.

So I kept driving, marvelling at the beauty. When I came near the White River and saw the red clover growing thickly all along the sides of the road, it was all I could do to just keep driving.

I was going this way partly to visit family, and also because of a professional seminar on "The Secrets to Using Art as a Healing Process," by Lisa Mitchell.  As soon as I saw the brochure about it, I knew I wanted to go.

So you probably won't be surprised at one of my pieces of art done on the following day. The instructions were simply to draw a square. Then to fill it with color, line, and texture. And then to take something from inside the square and move it outside the square. Here's what showed up on my pice of paper. . . .

The words came to me from the recesses of my mind, from a song my chorus sang in high school. If I can get it to work, you can listen to it here:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hopkins Still Hovers

I've just come across in my inbox a long, lovely article about Gerard Manley Hopkins, his life, his faith, and his poetry. I haven't even had to time to do more than skim it, but I'm putting the link here in case you want to read it and so that I can come back and read it with no chance of losing the link.

"....Hopkins’s genius is to make a poetic virtue out of the contradiction between dogma and experience. The designs of providence, running athwart appearances (and our wishes), require the orthodox to look again at the world, to see it in new and original ways. When dogma and experience are read into and against each other, they license—they do not foreclose—an idiosyncratic and creative vision."

(I did not take the photo. It came from here, where there are several others, and they are wonderful.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter: Now the green blade riseth

Now the green blade riseth
from the buried gain,

wheat that in dark earth

many days has lain;

love lives again,
 that with the dead has been:

Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid him,

Love whom hate had slain,

thinking that never

he would wake again,

laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:

Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

Forth he came in quiet,

like the risen grain,

he that for three days

in the grave had lain,

quick from the dead
 the risen Christ is seen:

Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are wintry,

grieving, or in pain,

Christ's touch can call us

back to life again,

fields of our hearts 
that dead and bare have been:

Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

(You can listen to this song here in a lovely medieval-ish rendition.)

“It was no accident, no coincidence, that the seasons came round and round year after year. It was the Lord speaking to us all and showing us over and over again the birth, life, death, and resurrection of his only begotten Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord. It was like a best-loved story being told day after day with each sunrise and sunset, year after year with the seasons, down through the ages since time began.”

(I don't think I have any pictures of wheat growing, but this is a field I see regularly that is bare and muddy and ugly during the winter and then suddenly bursts into bloom!)

Holy Saturday: Bridegroom and Wedding

I wasn't planning to write anything today, and I won't say much, except that I was so struck by this article by Elizabeth Scalia that I've decided to share it. Struck by the piece itself and by the connection to Donne's poem that I shared a few posts ago.

Scalia begins with words from Pope Benedict,

Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced in the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other.

On the Cross, it is God Himself who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us.

. . . and I will let you read the rest for yourself. It is worth reading.

This image of Christ as Lover and Bridegroom struck me today also as I went into an Orthodox Church nave to meet a friend. I always love being there. The space itself, with its other-wordly icons and candles and silence, is beautiful, and the people I know there are beautiful.

But today it was even more beautiful, with rose petals and other flowers carpeting the floor, and flower garlands on the doorways and other places. Just as it was when I went there for a wedding a few years ago.

My friends are there now, as I write, nearly midnight. The church is about to be completely dark, except for one candle. And then light will spread and grow, and joyous music will begin, and Alleluia's will be cried out after long weeks of none. And the people will later feast as if for a wedding, celebrating a marriage unlike any other.

The Cross began in Love and leads to Love.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday: The Cross

I thought I would just see how many cross pictures I have since getting this computer in October . . .

The cross from Father Stevens, made from Jerusalem olive tree wood.

Visitation Monastery gateway, Mobile, Alabama.

On the spine of one of my Bibles.

Spring Hill College, Mobile.

Chapel at Spring Hill College.

Spring Hill College.

My window at home.

First little one I saw this year.

Dogwood blossom, with its own cross legend.

We sang this last night.


Love can make beauty possible from the most terrible things.

Like the cross.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: Turning

(Caveat lector: I started writing this on the 26th day of Lent and had to leave off. Spring is now even further along than what I describe here......Just to keep it honest.)

Where we live, winter is finally turning into spring. The woods in this area have turned into a glorious celebration of new life. Grass is turning green in some places. People are turning their soil and planting things.

My jars and cups are turning into temporary vases as I bring daffodils into the house from time to time. Which turns walking through the common areas into a scent-uous delight.

I'm turning back to my routine of walking most mornings before anything else, though today we went for a walk together in the afternoon and saw the lovely magnolia pictured below.

And a huge field covered in these precious little purple wildflowers, whose name I still do not know, even though they have been a part of my life since as early as I can remember. (A quick search for "purple wildflowers that bloom in spring" tells me they are quite certainly a nettle, some type of Lamium. It's amazing how you can find things on the Internet....)

But the "turning" that has been on my mind when I'm not caught up in the glory of spring coming, is from another section of the book we've been reading most evenings during Lent, that I've quoted from in recent posts.

Following are excerpts from a sermon by Henry Drummond, of whom I know nothing beyond what the book tells me, that he was a British revivalist and preacher in the last half of the nineteenth century. He writes about the story of Peter and his betrayal of Jesus.

Tonight as I write, it is actually even more appropriate to write of this, rather than on the twenty-sixth day, as this is remembered as the night the betrayal happened. Having just returned home from a Maundy Thursday service, with the washing of feet, the sharing of bread and wine, and the almost surprisingly heartbreaking stripping of the altar--or altars, in the case of the church I was in--the story is even more poignant.

Having one's feet washed by anyone is a humbling and touching experience. Having one's feet washed by Jesus . . . I cannot imagine what it was like for Peter, for any of them. It seems to have evoked deep emotion in the disciples and especially in Peter, a deep sense of belonging, of desire to "have part in" rather than "have no part in me," as Jesus put it.

And yet . . . and yet . . . hours later, he denied knowing him.

Drummond writes,

Those of us who know the heart's deceit would surely find it difficult to judge this man--this man who had lived so long in the inner circle of fellowship with Christ, whose eyes were used to seeing miracles, who witnessed the glory of the transfiguration; this man whose ears were yet full of the most solemn words the world had ever heard, whose heart was warm still with Communion-table thoughts. We understand how he could have turned his back upon his Lord, and, almost ere the sacramental wine was dry upon his lips, curse him to his face. Such things, alas, are not strange to those of us who know the appalling tragedy of sin.

But there is something in Peter's life that is much greater than his sin. It is his repentance. We all to easily relate to Peter in his sin, but few of us grasp the wonder of his repentance. . . The real lesson in Peter's life is one of repentance. His fall is a lesson in sin that requires no teacher, but his repentance is a great lesson in salvation. And it is this great lesson that contains the only true spiritual meaning to those who have personally made Peter's discovery--that they have betrayed our God.

And then what I find especially beautiful--

What then can we learn from Peter's turning around? First, it was not Peter who turned. It was the Lord who turned and looked at Peter. When the cock crew, that might have kept Peter from falling further. But he was just in the very act of sin. And when a person is in the thick of his sin his last thought is to throw down his arms and repent. So Peter never thought of turning, but the Lord turned. And when Peter would rather have looked anywhere else than at the Lord, the Lord looked at Peter. This scarce-noticed fact is the only sermon needed to anyone who sins--that the Lord turns first.

Then he notes that it was not with a loud voice Jesus turned to him, not even with a sound at all.

A look, and that was all. . . God did not threaten . . .We misunderstand God altogether if we think he deals coarsely with our souls. If we consider what has really influenced our lives, we will find that it lies in a few silent voices that have preached to us, the winds which have passed across our soul so gently that we scarce could tell when they were come or gone. [He tells the story of Elijah and the still small voice from I Kings 19:11-12.]

When God speaks he speaks so softly that no one hears the whisper but yourself . . . Stay right where you are. Don't return into the hustle and bustle of life until the Lord has also turned and looked on you again, as he looked at the thief upon the cross, and until you have beheld the "glory of the love of God in the face of Jesus."

As winter turns to spring and hearts turn toward death and resurrection, and even flowers turn toward the sun, I am thankful for this reminder that God, through Christ, turns toward us even before we turn toward Him.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Poetry in Unexpected Places

We went to the Spring Art Walk on Broad Avenue last night. I used to work on Broad Avenue, and at that time my friends would say on hearing about my new counseling job, "Are you sure you want to work there? Aren't you scared? Are you sure it's safe?"

After a horribly tragic shooting that killed several members of a family not far from our building, my boss forbade my usual habit of walking the two blocks down the street between our place and the clinic we were associated with. If I had to go, I had to drive. Just to be safe.

That was over five years ago. In the meantime, a lot has been happening in that part of town. Good stuff happening. Good people making things happen. Things are changing.

Last night we went with friends to that very same Broad Avenue, a little further down the street. We visited art galleries, a just-opening bakery, a paint-your-own-furniture store. We talked with artists, ministers, a man who helps folks in the city learn how to keep their chickens to have fresh eggs. We heard live music. We saw smiles and heard laughter. Nothing felt unsafe.

A young man was sitting in a chair on the sidewalk with a typewriter in his lap. A sign held up by a friend said, "Personal Poem Written Just for You." It intrigued me, so we stopped and asked. He said, You tell me about yourself, and I write a poem. I asked about the cost. He said, Whatever you decide. After you read it, you can pay me what you want.

So we gave him about two minutes' worth of information (or less) about us, and in a few minutes, here is what he gave us. It fits so well with this that I have to share it:

We stood there and read it in the streetlight. I was impressed. We paid him.

I asked what kind of typerwriter he had. An Underwood! I said, "I'm an Underwood myself!" (It's my maiden name.)

I asked him about himself. You can learn some of what he told us here. I said I might have to write a poem about him.

He asked if we'd be willing to take a picture of the poem later and email it to him. He's working on a book. I said we would.

I said to my man, as we walked down the street as the sun began to set, "I never thought I'd be walking down this street for fun."

And I'm saying to myself right now, "I never thought I'd find poetry on Broad Street."

And then I'm thinking of all the people who sat on the couch in my office, and I said, "Tell me about yourself." And they did. I heard stories I could not hear anywhere else. Hard stories, stories of suffering and pain and courage and endurance. Stories I can never publish but never forget.

They would ask about the cost, and within a certain range I was able to say, "You pay what you can." And we didn't write poetry, though I did take notes. And I heard stories and met people and learned about lives that could make a book. I learned about the battlefields of many lives, and I give thanks for all those days, and all those years. They left a living poetry in my heart.

And I'm happy to see light and joy on Broad Avenue.

Thank you, Adam, for the poetry.