Thursday, January 5, 2017

My Word for 2017

I don’t actually remember if I picked a word for 2016 (possibly, unofficially, it was Breathe which was a theme in my meetings with my spiritual director) but I certainly have in the past: Selah, Behold are two. This year, my word is joy.

It’s not just focusing on what delights me — although that is part of it, but making joy a core part of who I am. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu’s The Book of Joy shares 9 pillars of joy. Here are a few off the top of my head: generosity, gratitude, acceptance and forgiveness. I’ve explored the practice of gratitude before but I have let my practice of writing down three things lapse.

“Joy” as a word chose me for 2017.  Toward the end of 2016, I had resigned as Chair of my church’s worship committee and dropped out of the church choir. I had held onto the chair position because my church was in transition in finding a new rector. I didn’t need to hold onto that any more and I needed to take care of me.

So I can see me continuing to shed the “ought to”s and things that no longer give me joy and continuing to make my priority those things that do give me joy: the process of making art, fresh air, bubble baths, etc etc. 

And maybe even finding joy in God. (I have not yet explored where I stand with this but the sentences popped into my head so there it is.)

I already had in mind to work slowly through the practices shared in The Book of Joy but then Liz Lamoreux in her blog (be present, be here) referred to Ali Edwards’ course one little word.

I took a look at it and realized that not only would it help me keep on track with exploring The Book of Joy but would potentially help me to go deeper into all aspects of the word. One creative prompt a month didn’t seem like too much of an additional burden — although y’all know I will make a journal to put it in. Probably.


I hope to share here my explorations of joy -- but we shall see!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mary of Aleppo

Every year some part of the Jesus birth narrative strikes me differently. For the past few years, it has been that the birth wasn't a pretty, sanitized thing, but was full of dirt and muck and loneliness. The song, "Labor of Love" by Andrew Peterson, has been my song of the season in the past.

This year it is Mary's Magnificat that has captured and held my attention. I've read a couple of articles about how Mary was not meek and mild but that she was a revolutionary, a rebel against the occupation.

I'm sure you've seen the video footage coming out of Aleppo. I watched one yesterday that started with a shell-shocked child sitting on a gurney, like so many of the shell-shocked Syrian children we've seen lately. Blood is on his forehead. Beside him was a woman from the same building that had been bombed. She is mourning and crying for her lost children. Her face is bloodied also.

"Omran, Angels Are Here!" by Judith Behr
The camera moves to a teenage boy standing in the door way. He's holding a baby, cradling it, a baby that has suffocated in the collapsed building. He is the last of his family.

The camera returns to the boy, his baby brother wrapped and on his lap. He is sitting next to the mourning woman.

The teenaged boy pats her on the shoulder and says, "It's okay, God will avenge us against the oppressor."

I think: you're going to get yourself killed.

And it hits me. That's Mary.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.
(from the Magnificat, Luke 1:52-53).

It's a gut reaction it is backed up by history.

Nazareth is one mile from Sepphoris, which in 4 BCE (per Josephus) was sacked by Judas ben Ezekias in a revolt against Herodian rule. (This was after Herod the Great.) [Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews] The Roman governor of Syria burnt down the city and sold its inhabitant into slavery. That last is probably hyperbole on Josephus' part. Archaeologists have not been able to find traces of burning. But the governor of Syria surely responded to put down a rebellion. [Josephus, Wars of the Jews]

Mary lived through that. In her village of Nazareth, one mile away, although later tradition also has her growing up in Sepphoris.

One mile from Aleppo would be close enough. She would say "God will avenge us."

It is my hope, that as Mary gave birth, and witnessed all the wondrous events surrounding the birth of her son that as she pondered things in her heart, she realized God had bigger plans than mere revenge, that she had given birth to the Savior, not just of her corner of the earth, but of the world.

But this story has not finished working itself on me and I have perhaps tied too neat a bow onto the end of it.

Mary of Aleppo, hear our prayer and save your people.


[Video link for the last hospital in Aleppo: the images are "upsetting" as the very British news announcer put it.]
[Video link for the song "Labor of Love"]

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What I Learned This Fall

Emily over at chatting at the sky, is now doing quarterly link-ups for what we've learned each quarter. Previously, it was each month and before I knew it the month was over and I hadn't gotten around to posting. So, here's hoping quarterly does the trick!

1. I love painting intuitively.

I took Flora Bowley's Bloom True-course this fall and finished a painting that just glows with color. But the more important thing was that the act of painting (by making a series of marks, grooving, just seeing where the color and marks take you) brings me joy, even when I'm angry or upset. Putting paint on a canvas really makes a difference. Am wondering if this should really be my meditation practice...

2. Being open to other worship experiences can bring clarity

It helped me to remember what is important about worship. In a short time span, I attended an interfaith labyrinth service, a UCC church and three other Episcopal churches. One of the latter is St. Gregory's of Nyssa which has great music and a beautiful way of punctuating the scripture readings with a series of Tibetan bowls. Really magical.

It brought clarity as to what is really important about worship: which is worshipping in community and worshipping in a way that brings joy, whether that is the Tibetan bells, bare feet, or singing from the pews and receiving the music instead of delivering it.

3. It's okay to stop doing church.

By that I do not mean to stop going to church, but to stop doing it. Stop with the committees and the planning and all that and just being in the church and being the church. This is my current season, and I'm really rather enjoying it. 

4. "Sleepy" hand lotion from LUSH 

It is not just dreamy to look at, but dreamy to smell on sleeping and on waking.


5. New Christmas albums: 

I haven't bought a full Christmas album in a while but I've bought two this year: check out Jordan Smith's "'Tis the Season" and Leslie Odom Jr.'s "Simply Christmas"

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Should We Let this Election Continue to Bring out The Worst in Us?

This week I have seen a lot of hate on my Facebook feed. Hate toward Trump voters, non-voters, third-party voters, Clinton voters. Nasty comments in people's posts that are filled with disdain and viciousness. I have read about reported acts of hate toward people of color, women, muslims and LGBTQI people.

I have a mixed crowd of all kinds of people and politics on my Facebook feed. Over the course of the election, I felt the need only to unfriend one person who was viciously mean and disrespectful.

Now my feed is full of meanness and disrespect. Imagine two monkeys so angry at each other they start hurling their excrement. That's what it is like now and we're starting to stink of shit. I've taken refuge in art (I am having an amazing time taking Flora Bowley's Bloom True e-course), posting photos of my dogs, and I am seriously considered taking a Facebook fast.

So why are my friends behaving so badly? Have we, lost in our hurts, forgotten who we are? Beings created in the Divine image?

First, I am pretty sure that everyone on my friends list on Facebook would go to the aid of someone who is in need, no matter how dissimilar that person is. I am pretty sure that everyone on my friends list wouldn't tolerate someone being abused, verbally or physically, in their presence.

I would hope they realize that we need to continue to speak out against harm coming to our fellow human beings.

Before the election, I wanted to write something about reaching out to those who have been hurting throughout this election cycle. In addition to this hatred of Other, there are those who are hurting economically, those who are crying out to be heard in the face of the establishment.

Who do I want to be in this situation?

I want to be the one who listens. The one who stands with the hurting. I think, despite feeling horribly ill-equipped, this is why I will be wearing a safety pin.

Diana Butler Bass posted this before the election.


I still believe (and trust in) this.

If you're struggling to find your way in this, that's okay. Life is a process and we move through it and our emotions in different ways. I don't know if the links that follow will help, but they are helping me.
And this nation, and probably the one you live in if it's different to mine, needs healing. Hate has been held back, through civil rights legislation and political correctness, and it has burst through, a whole ugly mess that has been there all along, that people of color, LGBTQI, immigrants, and other groups have known and experienced all this time. There's no hiding it now, no stuffing it back into the cellar. We need to heal it. We need to heal us.

To that end, my reading list now includes:
(links all go to Amazon, but are not affiliate links)

Some of these have been in my to-read pile for a while. (The forgiveness book for a year and I haven't been able to find it yet, Bonhoeffer for at least five years.)

I close with the benediction Diana Butler Bass gave at a church the Sunday before the election:


Blessings upon you all. All.



via GIPHY

Friday, November 4, 2016

A new creed...

Diana Butler Bass shared this on her Facebook page and it is worth sharing for reflection in these last few days before the election ... and after.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Why I am developing my artistic style

ok, so not one of my recent "strong women" portraits.
but this post should give some reasons as to why you don't
get to see them.
Lately, I’ve been working in the Ever After class which, while on the subject of fairytales, is a big step for me. It’s the step beyond “learn this technique” or “follow an artist’s footsteps” to uncovering my own style, and create paintings of my own.

I am loving this — learning what I like and don’t like, struggling to create expressive faces, and coming up with ideas that feel true to me.

I have learned that I like to paint strong women. Women who not only survive, but thrive. And weirdly, the eyes have decided to get larger lately. Maybe because I am seeing more.

But then the question hit me: Why do I want to develop my own style? What is wrong with following along with lessons? What am I going to do this style of mine?

First, I want to tell my own stories. Whether they reflect what is happening to me, or whether they are imagined, creating a portrait is a visual way of sharing that story. Even if they don’t look the smallest bit like me.

Art has always been just for me. Not for anyone else to see, although I do share with some trusted people. It’s to bring me joy and happiness and getting stuff out of my system. It sounds selfish but this is just for me.

I want to do more of it, but there are other demands on my time that I can’t give up. Such as the day job and walking the dog. I’ve trimmed back my television watching and blog reading, for example. I also can’t remember the last time I vacuumed the house.

But — you say — you can give up your job and work for yourself by making a creative business!

That is not for me. This is what I have learned from my last creative business endeavor (which was being published in romance): the moment it is work, the magic and joy goes away. (I also didn’t make a living from it.)

That is a very simple answer. It is more complex than that. Yes, I hated marketing myself and my work. Yes, I had some fear of “exposure” issues that needed work (and have been mostly healed, but the scars remain). And, yes, writing itself was no longer fun. And yes, reinventing myself for the third time just to get another book contract started to feel tedious and where was myself in all of this? Why was I doing this to myself?

Art is a safe space for me to dream, explore, play AND express myself.

I will not buy into the “if it’s good it must be commodified” thinking. That this must be productive work in the sense that it must make money in order to be of value, to be worth my time. I don’t buy that (pun intended). 

Making a product means finding an audience, who wants what you want— or, as I’ve heard it bemoaned among professional artists— going down the rabbit hole of making something that will sell that is not them. That is not me. Even ye olde painters and composers had patrons whose tunes they had to dance to. 

So, selfish it may be. But right now, my art is for me. My style will develop so I can visually tell my stories, and my art journals may all end up in the dust-heap when I die. But then, so will I. I’m not creating to make a legacy either.


I am creating for joy, for happiness, for self-expression, for empowerment. With uncovering my own style, that creating will be with my own voice, not my teacher’s.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

God's love stories ....

Here are some interesting stories and thoughts found on the internets this past month. Aiming for stories of love and thanksgiving...

Have a wonderful weekend...