Thursday, April 18, 2013


One of my assignments in a class on the Christian Imagination was to create a piece of art. I thought that those of you who are not in my Christian Imagination class (hey there Mom and Dad!) might be interested in seeing what I worked on over the semester and reading some reflections I wrote about it. Hope you enjoy!

To Wait 
Paul writes about cosmic waiting in Romans when he describes creation groaning for redemption, for a time when all truly shall be well. I am always more aware of that waiting in winter, when I long to see green once again. In the poem “Spring,” Gerard Manley Hopkins describes the beauty of spring and then asks a question: “What is all this juice and all this joy?” His response: “A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning/ In Eden garden.” Perhaps creation is not only an expression of incompleteness, a waiting for fulfillment, but also an expression of what we are longing for. I think that in Spring we gain a glimpse into “Eden garden,” when our longing for light and greenness is - in part - fulfilled. 

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard writes that “The gaps are the thing” (422).  As she expands, 
The gaps are the clifts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances though, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too.” (422)
This painting is a reflection on the gaps, those places of stillness where with open eyes you can catch a glimpse of hope and of mystery. The beginnings of Spring are often first seen by peering into the gaps: the crack in the sidewalk where a weed grows, the bit of grass poking through last year’s dead leaves. In this painting I sought to communicate something of the hope that runs like a current below all the worn days. Hope bursts through the gaps, and beautiful things begin to grow there and foretell that more good things are to come. 

But we have to wait. Waiting was a significant component of creating this piece. I tried to intentionally incorporate techniques that required extensive drying time and many layers. The background involved layers of paint, paper, and fragments of text from Theo LeSieg’s children’s story “Please Try to Remember the First of Octember.” LeSieg’s story is a tale of waiting. A basic summary of the story is that the narrator is telling a child that all of their wildest dreams will come true on the First of Octember. There is a ship, the narrator declares, that sails “to Alaska, Nebraska and Sweden, making stops in Ga-Dopps and the Garden of Eden.” And, of course, it sails on Octember the First. Sadly, the First of Octember simply isn’t coming. In the background of this piece I sought to evoke something of the angst that accompanies weathered days spent waiting for something that seem to never come. However, the seasons do change, and by looking into the gaps I see a coming Spring manifested in the beginnings of weeds and wildness. 

Mingled with the groans of creation is a declaration that even a single weed growing in spite of all odds in a misshapen crack in the sidewalk is a beacon of hope that shines on the spirit and reminds us that even amidst winter’s gloom, hope beckons beyond. And as I peer through the grey mists and raindrops in search of hope, I say together with Hopkins, “Let them be left,/ O let them be left, wildness and wet;/ Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet” (Inversnaid 14-16).

Monday, April 8, 2013

To be a bird

What does it mean to be free?

We all seem to long for freedom, for the day when we can truly be. Literature - especially what was written by women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - seems to be full of images of birds in cages, birds that long to be released to live as they are meant to live, wild and free on the breeze. We long to live not imprisoned in cages, where our wings cannot realize their potential, but instead to soar through the sky, using our wings to their fullest capabilities.

But so often our enactment of freedom - and our perceived right to freedom - begins to emphasize not so much a longing to be who we are meant to be as a longing to do what we want to do. We begin to think that if we are free we can do whatever we want. And the bird that is trapped in the cage begins to believe it is her intrinsic right to live underwater and swim with the clownfish because that is what she wants to do. Freedom comes to be linked to desire.

In one of my assigned readings for the week I came across an interesting line in N.T. Wright's book After You Believe. He writes:
And, as with authenticity, freedom grasped too soon becomes an over-realized eschatology, a failure to realize how much work virtue still has to do to bring it to the goal. 
Perhaps we do not yet know what freedom is. Perhaps we do not yet know the conditions required for us to truly flourish and to truly use our wings as they are meant to be used. Perhaps we think we are primed for swimming when really these wings are for flying.

I am beginning to see freedom as inextricably linked with restraint. I came across a poem today that I wrote for a writing class years ago in one of my first years in university. Occasional awkwardness of phrasing aside, it served as a reminder to me today of how, in music, beauty is inextricably linked with restraint:
Mitten-robed, my hands run across knee caps
In frail attempts to ward off nervous cold.
As heart pounds through stomach, chest, throat, chill wraps
Me tight, while judges scribble words that fold
That beauty, that music into black lines.
Playing before me, she wooed a prelude
From that bleak black-white expanse, many times
Rehearsed to purge the imperfect, the crude.
I too sought to colour notes beautiful
Yet was vanquished by harsh reality,
Metronomes, memory. Wretched, truthful,
Notes, hung on jail-staves, taught me to see
How sweet, humble, how colourful the sound
Heard when hope from black and white is unbound.
 You cannot play the prelude properly until you submit yourself to the music, and to the knowledge that the composer was not a fool when he marked the page with dynamics, rhythm, metronome markings and all the rest. When we realize this, the notes will be liberated from the staff and notes will be transformed into music. So too is it that when we submit to our Creator, we truly learn how to soar.