Category Archives: Philosophy and Theology

In the postscri…

In the postscript to this work, Hokusai writes: “ From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie. ”

Intrigued for some time by the power of Hokusai’s woodcuts, I was reading a short biography and came across this quotation.  Life is long and as lifelong learners, we will always be hungry for more, even to eternity.  Hokusai longed for eternity and seemed to see its promise in all the world around him.  “He who holds in the hollow of his hands the fabric of the world, who with his divine power supports, and with his Providence directs, the intricate pattern of the world, has himself by creation entered deeply into the world; at the heart of everything he lies hidden.” (Father Bede Jarrett, O.P., from Stratford Caldecott’s blog)

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Drawing is Seeing

Do we purposely close our eyes to the wonder around us?  Try staring at an object for an extended period of time and your vision fades.  We can’t look at a color very long until our eyes are over exposed and we need to close them or look at something else to give them a rest so that we can begin to see those colors again.  If we look at one color long enough it will be imprinted on our eyes until we’ve had a chance to recover, like the blinding flash of a friend’s camera.  We also can’t see everything around us since we only have two eyes and they both face forward.   We have limited vision and we can’t look at any one thing for very long.  So we stop looking.  Or to put it another way we look at so many things we don’t see any one thing.

Caterpillar

Drawing focuses our attention on one thing.  We look at the subject and really look.  We stop and notice certain parts, certain intricacies we’ve never noticed before and we wonder.  We compare  what we think we see to what we know and sometimes what we know changes as a result.  Drawing well is a very slow experience and it takes a great deal of practice but it teaches us to really see.

The artist isn’t a copy machine.  After the lengthy conversation between eye and hand something else is revealed, a different interpretation of the subject.  A gardener develops intimate knowledge of her plants not so that she can leave them untamed but so that she can harness their wild beauty and strength and reign them in to the splendor of a bound garden.  A gardener frames a bit of nature and sets it apart from the rest as a place of encounter.  In the same way an artist studies nature and then rearranges her.  An artist binds a bit of vision to a point and sets it apart from all the other looking.  What will we encounter when we see it?

 

P.S. One thing you may see in the above drawing is an excellent opportunity for a kids’ coloring sheet.  If so, enjoy!


Augustine on Naming God

“All things can be said of God, and nothing is worthily said of God,  Nothing is wider than this poverty of expression.  Thou seekest a fitting name for Him, thou canst not find it;  thou seekest to speak of Him in any way soever, thou findest that He is all.”

This is from  Augustine’s commentary on the Gospel of St. John XIII.5

Image

Just when I have given up hope of seeing God in the dreary day to day, I discover these words from Augustine and I am reminded that God is everywhere.  I thank God for opening up my eyes to see him.  God is never far because he created all things through the power of his word, Jesus Christ.

“Seek and you will find.” Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9 (In Luke this saying comes right after the Lord’s prayer, doesn’t it seem that prayer opens our eyes to seek God?)

“But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29 (The children of Israel would abandon God but would later repent and seek after him once again and God would keep his covenant of mercy and forgive, the same is echoed in Jeremiah 29:13)

“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.” Isaiah 55:6

 


Hope in the Face of Hate

Dirty Dishes

 

The tangerine fire-glow of sunset reflects off my neighbor’s windows and lightens for a magic moment my kitchen table.  That table which no sooner set is cluttered with dirty napkins, spilled spaghetti and abandoned as quickly as it was joined by a screaming baby and a busy four year old.  The girls linger and talk but they too outstrip me as their father takes them upstairs to get ready for bed.  I am alone when I witness the holy transformation of menial horror into divine and absurd splendor.  And I ask myself, why am I not blogging regularly?  This is why I wanted to write in the first place.  I wanted to be a witness of the beauty in the midst of chaos.  Too much recently I have instead been drowned by the despair of chaos.  I have been taking myself much too seriously and wondered – deeply wondered what I am doing in my life.

 

It is all too easy to be overcome by despair.  As Kierkegaard warned the despair of meaninglessness and death is real but worse than blissful ignorance if it does not drive us to the merciful face of God.  It is easy to be in despair when there are so many magazines and blogs and podcasts about blissfully croqueted, felted and scrap booked lives.  When I see the world though the frame of someone else’s camera it is easy to believe that someone else’s life is well ordered right and pleasing.  She must be stronger than me.  Perhaps she is more talented?  Even Diane Gilleland of the CraftyPod confessed recently to falling prey to that epidemic of crafter’s envy and the ensuing despair.

 

My husband bought me my own alchemist’s box.  He did not give me the Nikon for me to transform the grime filled corners of the house into a fabricated golden world.  He gave me such as sweet gift so that I could gather up reference photographs in good weather for the weary months of cold winter evenings when I long to draw and paint.  Once I held the camera in my hands I began to see how so many women create the splendor that is Pinterest and women’s blogs.  Oh the glory of a frame and what it can conceal!  Even I with my four preschool children can sweep up one small edge of the house and snap delicious shots as children fight and scramble in the background.

 

These photos could never capture the beauty and horror of my kitchen table.  The strange wonder of sauce stained cups, matted parmesan and the crumb laced butter all baptized in a heavenly glow.  It is as if I too like Mary have been met, “Hail, full of grace, you are highly favored.”  I am highly favored because of He who has visited me; the Holy Ghost himself has come upon me.  Although I am shamed daily by my own impatience and ungratefulness I am made chaste by the blood of Christ and although my heart harbors hate and bitterness towards my husband and children I am filled with the love of Christ.  I behold the apocalypse of spaghetti night as my husband assists with zippers and toothpaste tubes upstairs.  Some nights I have patience as we put them to bed, some nights I don’t.  Some nights it is strain to kiss them when they keep calling and nagging.  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

 

Sometimes I fear that I am wasting away in this season of toddlers like Charlotte in her web after she has laid her eggs.  Will I wither in the winter’s merciless frost?  Am I living only to pass on my DNA to an endless parade of procreation?  Then I remember Abraham and Sarah.  I remember that they lived their lives not knowing how early in the story of God’s salvation they came.  They lived and had meaning then as well as now.  Who knows why I exist?  I certainly don’t.  I don’t tell the story.  I am not even the main character.  However, since there is a storyteller and I am here in the story I do have meaning.  I am real and here by plan and by purpose.  I am unique and precious in the sight of my God but I am also one minuscule part in a fantastic divine epic of the Church.  My tiny note will sing and end, but Oh God let it sing hope!

 

That cruel despair that rages against me, that evil doubt that poisons me, that is not truth.  Death and the inevitable end and pointlessness of all things is not truth.  I cry out with Bach, “Trotz dem alten Drachen!”

 

Defiance to the old dragon, defiance to the vengeance of death, defiance to fear as well!  Rage world and attack; I stand here and sing in entirely secure peace!  God’s strength holds me in watch; earth and abyss must fall silent, however much they might rumble. (translated here from Bach’s Jesu, meine Freude)

 

And then one of my doubts is assuaged.  What was the use of my Liberal Arts education when all I do all day is change soiled sheets and play Solomon to bickering preschoolers?  If for nothing else it was worth it so that I could know these words Bach wrote.  If for nothing else I can sing of that hope to my children.  By God’s grace they will sing of this hope to a people yet unknown that this sure hope was accomplished by Christ alone.  This then is the joy of Easter – there is indeed life after death even now by the grace of Christ Jesus!

 

Praise the Lord for my children.  Without them the table would never have been messy but without them I never would have known how weak I am.  Praise the Lord for my husband and his prayers for me.  Without him I never would have had this sanctified moment to witness the tangerine splendor and hear the voice of God.


Ash Wednesday

Lent

Ash Wednesday, now one of my favorites in the church calendar, was at one time the most offensive of all religious rituals to me.  It seemed to me unnecessary to fast, it seemed that wearing ashes on one’s forehead undermined the entire point of fasting in secret and it seemed to me a morbid and unhelpful holdover of heavy and useless tradition.  It is of course unnecessary to fast.  The gospel is that there is nothing we can do to further appease God because he is pleased with us in Christ.  Some people do treat it as a day to lord their idea of holiness over others.  This is not only offensive but worse – a tragic unholiness.  And of course it is so very odd to wear ashes on one’s forehead to declare that one is fasting in secret.  It is hardly a secret when a community of people come together and receive ashes on their foreheads.  It is no mystery cult although each one can approach God in the secret of their own hearts.

There is a sense in which holiness cannot help but be known and offensive.  To be holy is to be set apart and this means banding together in a group and this can draw attention.  When the priest puts his fingers in that mix of oil and the ashes from last year’s palm branches he sets out to mark out a people.  And what makes these people so very special?  They are going to die.  That isn’t anything so very special.  It especially struck me when I brought my first baby for the imposition of the ashes.  She was so tiny, so fragile, so full of life and she too was mortal.  At that time I hadn’t yet lost a baby and I didn’t realize how truly mortal every life is.  “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”  We are nothing special – everyone is going to die.  The special holiness is that these who receive the mark are those who will come to church on Palm Sunday and march around the church carrying palms declaring that Jesus Christ is king.  These are the same people that  will come to church on Easter Sunday in their best clothes and celebrate that Jesus Christ died and conquered death by coming back to life.  The same people, the same message, a different manifestation each time in order to tell the same story.

John saw a similar picture in the Revelation, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. . . After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,

who sits on the throne,

and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:3 and 9)

John dreamed about the church. (Rev. 1:20)  He didn’t dream about his own clever invention of how to suppress women and wield authority over others by making them feel guilty.  He was alone on an island condemned to death.  He dreamed that what he had witnessed – Jesus actually coming back to life – really would change the world.  He dreamed that every type of person in the world would one day come together and worship Christ and be free from the anxiety of death.  We the church are set apart today and every day because we are going to die and we are not afraid.  “A noble army, men and boys the matron and the maid around his holy throne rejoice in robes of light arrayed.  They climbed the steep ascent to heaven through peril toil and pain.  Oh God to us may grace be given to follow in their train.” (from The Son of God Goes Forth to War)

(The above illustration was a different color when I made it in Adobe Illustrator . . . I have some figuring out to do.)


One Thousand Gifts: Ann Voskamp

New Life

In the slump of February I always get lost and muddled.  Somehow Valentine’s day has never meant all that much to me, even after falling madly in love with my husband.  It certainly isn’t enough to pull me out of the gloom and despair of long, dark, cold days.  Really there is no cure for the despair except for, as Kierkegard said, to have faith and believe that with God all things really are possible.  Even here.  Even now.  What I want is sunlight and this is no accident.  God made the sun to call out my heart – to warm my skin and to draw me to himself.  God made the sun to be the life giving force of creation to reveal his own true life giving force.

Looking for a bit of sun I picked up “One Thousand Gifts” on the advice of a friend.  Anne Voskamp’s inspiration, among other things, was Alexander Schmemann’s “For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy.”  That is one of my all time favorite books!  I could read it over and over again and never be tired of it.  Schmemann’s call and the call that Voskamp echos is to receive creation in thankfulness.  If God made all things then we are to receive them as a gift and to bless His name.  The sacrament of the eucharist teaches us how to approach all of life.  We all know that we should be thankful – but Voskamp’s call to specific thankfulness in the midst of the chaos and hurt of life is encouraging.  Her writing is not smooth – it is rough and poetic like a well done documentary of every day life.

This photograph is one thing I am thankful for.  Last year the children planted a stray maple seed in one of my little pots.  We have enjoyed seeing it grow and eventually added another seedling by its side.  We then surrounded the tiny forest with a broken figurine and a few rock.  It is a little world.  It is the promise of life and growth to me even in the dark winter’s weary waste of death.


Darkness

Liquid Darkness

 

Is it absence?

The state or quality of being [is] unable to distinguish

Is it lack of knowledge?

Human deficiency?

Is it light deficiency?

The state or quality of concealment [is] achromatic perception

Is it absence?

This post is inspired by Poets and Writer’s writing prompt The Time is Now as well as the theme “Dark” from the Creative Everyday Challenge.  The illustration is one of my monoprints entitled, “Liquid Darkness”.  It’s very odd to think about darkness as a presence that counteracts light as Goethe did.