Category Archives: Art
I celebrate the sacrament of waiting for a new kind of spring beauty.
As our calendars turn from January to February, I share with you this beautiful poem by Macrina Wiederkehr. Macrina is a Benedictine sister, author, and lover of the spiritual who blogs at Under the Sycamore Tree. Her poem celebrates the sacrament of letting go as a natural part of life. When we’re stripped down, vulnerable, and “wearing the colors of emptiness” we live the sacrament of waiting, ready for a new, surprising kind of beauty.
The Sacrament of Letting Go
© Macrina Wiederkehr
she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.
First she surrendered her green,
then the orange, yellow, and red.
finally she let go of her own brown.
Shedding her last leaf
she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
Leaning against the winter sky,
she began her vigil of trust.
Shedding her last leaf,
she watched it journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
wearing the colors of emptiness,
her branches wondering,
How do you give shade with so much gone?
the sacrament of waiting began.
The sunrise and the sunset watched with tenderness.
Clothing her with silhouettes
that kept her hope alive.
They helped her to understand that
her dependence and need,
her emptiness, her readiness to receive,
were giving her a new kind of Beauty.
Every morning and every evening they stood in silence,
and celebrated together
the sacrament of waiting.
© Macrina Wiederkehr
A friend sent me a link to the photographic work of Tom Hussey. Among his series is one entitled Reflections. (Please take a moment to look at the work. I respect (a) copyright, and (b) his professionalism too much to copy the pictures. Here is the link: http://www.tomhussey.com/#/SERIES%20%20/Reflections/1 )
Each photograph features an older person looking in the mirror and seeing a reflection of the person as they see themselves: a young efficient nurse, a physically fit firefighter, a university graduate, a stunning young artist. The photographs give us a voyeuristic view of both sides.
When my mother-in-law lived in her long-term care facility, we put pictures of her as a young, fit woman in her room. The pictures weren’t there just for her; they were there for her care staff. We wanted everyone who walked into her room to see more than a wheelchair-bound old woman, no longer able to speak. The woman in that room once played in the Canadian Open tennis championships. (Early rounds, but still.) At the age of 80, the woman in that room could outpace me on cross-country skis. When the woman in that room looked in the mirror, she saw this:
Now that I’m, ahem, getting on years, I relate to this far more than I would like. I look in a mirror and wonder, “When did those wrinkles get there?” I think, “I’m too young for such a thing to be happening to me.”
Alas, time is changing my outer self, but rest assured, when I look in a mirror, I see this . . .
or this . . .
or even this . . .
If the rest of you see a middle-aged woman, sorry about that.
We think we’re being helpful.
“At least you have a job,” we say, if a friend facing financial difficulties has his hours cut at work.
“At least you have good friends ,” we say, when someone loses a mother.
“At least you have a hospital nearby,” we say, to a person sick with cancer.
We think we’re being helpful. We might even say we’re being optimistic. But what we’re really doing is avoiding the issue. We’d rather the person didn’t have the worry, the grief, the illness, and we want to brush it aside, wish it away.
Better to just empathize with what’s really going on. This RSA short illustrates that beautifully.
I remember watching my grandmother make pies.
To my recollection, she didn’t measure anything. She put the ingredients for the pastry in the bowl and just knew when it “felt right.” She rolled out the pastry and flipped it around effortlessly. No sticking. No crumbling. Picture-perfect every time.
Pie crust at my house doesn’t come so easily.
I read the directions. I measure with care. Then I curse wet pastry that sticks to the rolling surface, or I find even more colourful words if dry pastry crumbles into bits. Argh. So frustrating.
My grandmother was like any traditional farm wife of her time. One of her main tasks was to come up with meals for her husband when he came in from the barns or fields every day: Meat, potatoes and—without question—dessert. By the time I came along, my grandmother had probably made thousands of pies in her lifetime. She had fulfilled Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. She was a pie-making expert.
My mother learned the pie crust craft as well. As soon as she was old enough, like any traditional farm girl of her time, she had to pitch in to help take care of the family. She learned the “feels right” texture of pastry that rolled out to just the right size and just the right thickness and flipped it into the pie plate with ease.
I’m a product of a different time. Dessert at my house is an exception, not a rule. I didn’t need, or choose, to spend the time developing pastry skill. But every once in a while—like this week leading up to our church bazaar—I make pies. Every time, I think of my grandmother’s and mother’s pastry skill. Every time, I wish I had it. And then, every time, I ask myself, “Do I really want to invest 10,000 of my hours into developing pie crust skill?”
My grandmother and mother had no choice. I do.
If I have 10,000 hours to allot to honing a skill, sorry dessert lovers, but it won’t be pie. Thanks to my feminist fore-sisters, an endless number of life choices stretch out on a path before me. I choose to write, make mistakes, and then become a better writer. (A misplaced modifier is the writer equivalent of sticky pie pastry.) I choose to keep searching for ways to make people think differently about what’s going on in the world. I choose to volunteer in my community and around the world and with each effort and new relationship make the world a better place. I’ll keep doing it until it just “feels right.” No sticking, no crumbling and picture-perfect every time.
How are you spending your 10,000 hours?
I took classical guitar lessons for a few years. My ever-patient guitar teacher struggled with my insistence on changing the rhythm of songs to suit my preference.
“That’s a quarter note,” he would say, “not a half note.”
“I know, but it should be a half note,” I would answer.
The songs sometimes sounded better to me with a single long note instead of two shorter notes. He was happy when I played two quarter notes, but I wasn’t.
I dabbled in watercolour painting, too. I took some classes to get started. The teacher told us we could sketch an outline in pencil before putting paint to canvas. “Pencil is an accepted medium in watercolour” she told us. It surprised me that other sketching media might be disallowed. No coloured markers to brighten things up? No texture from smattered dabs of oil paint? Wouldn’t that make the art more captivating and isn’t art that captivates the whole idea? The adjudicators of art shows are happy when unacceptable media don’t contaminate watercolour paintings, but are the artists?
I love a glass of red wine, but I don’t care much for white. On occasion. wine snobs look over their spectacles at me in disdain when I choose to drink red wine with chicken. Wine pairings, you know. But why, oh why should I drink wine I don’t even like just to live up to some arbitrary societal expectation? The wine snobs would be happy if I drank Chardonnay with my roast chicken, but I wouldn’t be.
I’ve come to realize that, when it comes to matters of artistic and personal taste, I don’t like rules, because they’re usually about making someone else—a small, select group of people—happy.
We need rules to control traffic so drivers don’t smash into each other and cause injury or death. We need rules to regulate building construction so our houses don’t crumble around us. And we need rules to protect basic human rights. Those kind of rules aim to keep as many people as possible happy.
But please allow me to enjoy Merlot with my chicken in cream sauce. Please let me add a splash of unorthodox colour here and there in my artwork and hold a musical note a little longer if it feels right to me.
No one will die, no buildings will crumble, I won’t trample on the basic human rights of others, and I’ll be happy.