Category Archives: Art

The sacrament of waiting: . . .

winter-waitingThe sun shines in my window this morning in a February kind of way.  Winter wanes.

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

Slowly
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?

And then,
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 vulnerability,
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

How things happen: The stained glass story

tree-of-life-ottawaOur church, Trinity United, received some media attention in the Ottawa area recently. We created two stained glass windows.

So, what’s so newsworthy about that, you might wonder?

The part of the story that drew the media interest was the artist, Beth Jenkin, who created the original pictures for the finished pieces; she’s in her twenties, and she’s quickly losing her vision. When she began the project, she could still see, but as the work progressed, her vision failed more and more.

Now that the work is complete, she can’t see it clearly, and it is the last work of this type she will be able to do.

That heartbreaking and compelling part of the story was unforeseen at outset of this project. People who were involved from the beginning know there are many other meaningful sides to this story.

The biggest meaningful piece is a man called Chris Humphrey. (Sometimes when I’m typing his name, I inadvertently add a “t” to the end so it comes out “Christ.” That’s not so far off the mark.) I admire Chris so much that even a writer like me can’t find the words to wrap up what an exceptional human being he is. He’s much more comfortable behind the scenes, but when he’s there you can bet that he’s the one building the scenes, holding up the scenes, beautifying the scenes, making sure the scenes work properly and have good sound, and that every other person with him is taken care of back there.

At a meeting last week, Chris presented his interpretation of how this stained glass project became a reality.

how-things-happen

  1. A longing, a need. Our church building, designed by renowned architect James Strutt, is among Canada’s top 500 buildings of architectural significance. Some members of our church made their first visit it to us out of architectural curiosity. But architectural significance and beauty don’t always go together, and our building is also noted for its less than attractive exterior. The sanctuary within this architecturally significant building does not have windows. For many years the warm people who love this church have longed for, felt the need for, some stained glass to brighten our worship space.

    Trinity-United-Church

    The Trinity exterior was created to evoke the spirit of an Ark.

  2. Vision. Our church has a memorial fund to which people donate in memory of someone they love. This money is then used to beautify the building or the worship experience of the church in some way. We accept proposals from congregation members, and one of our members had a vision of light shining through stained glass.
  3. Motivation. Many visions flit into and out of our heads without taking shape in reality. For thought to transform into something physical, one or more people need motivation to take the first step. This is where Chris’s work on this project began.
  4. Inspiration. In our church, we turn to the archaic use of this word: to breathe on, or to breathe into. In this case, Beth received the breath of inspiration during one of our meditation sessions. The guided meditation led her to a vision of the tree of life, infused with light, fed by a flowing river.
  5. Creativity. Beth began her artwork—still able to see her work at that time. She began with the tree of life, and the vision she received. From there she drew on the creativity of others to make the two pieces of art true to the spirit of Trinity. Each piece has a dove to represent the active justice and outreach work of our church. Incorporated into the body of the tree of life is our Trinity Cross, designed by Rev. Dr. Glen Stoudt. trinity-logoOur cross has three flags in three corners of the cross to represent Higher Power, Body, and Soul. One corner remains open to represent our minds open to new ideas and ongoing progressive evolution. The rainbow above the Trinity Ark represents our inclusivity. One of my favourite things about these two pieces is that they aren’t generic representations of Christian ideas; they truly represent the spirit of what our church is all about. trinity-ark-ottawa
  6. Action. With the vision in place, the work began. Chris got the glass, set up the work spaces and sought volunteers to help him. He trained people to cut and solder the glass.
  7. Enthusiasm. The more people thought about this, the more enthusiastic they became. The project became a labour of love for many. Their enthusiasm drew in others to help.
  8. Community Involvement. As Beth’s vision faded shockingly quickly, she had to reach out for help. Another church member, Alex Dunn, worked with Beth to support her emotionally through her dramatic loss of sight and to help her complete the artwork. More than 30 people helped to cut and solder stained glass. We didn’t farm out this work to other people. The people of our congregation created  and completed the windows from start to finish.
  9. The cycle. Chris drew his graphic with the community involvement flowing back into inspiration, creativity, action. He believes that when a group of people see the successful fulfillment of one dream, it allows them to believe in the possibility of other miracles: the impossible becomes possible. They ask, “What next?”

I can see Chris’s ideas in other projects I’m involved in, too. A need leads to a vision and a motivation to seek inspiration. The inspiration leads to creativity, enthusiasm, action and community involvement.

And the cycle carries on in a spiral of miraculous outcomes.

__________________

Read more about the battery charger that is Trinity here:

Good Work

10 reasons to go to church

http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/

See more about our stained glass here:

CTV Ottawa, Regional Contact: http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=283883&binId=1.1443144

Ottawa Sun http://www.ottawasun.com/2014/01/15/her-vision-fading-ottawa-stained-glass-artist-still-sees-the-light

Ottawa Citizen http://www.ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/window+through+darkness/9399990/story.html

CBC Ottawa http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/Ottawa/ID/2430554003/?page=4

Reflections on reflections: What we see in the mirror

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:

ny-city-2

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 . . .

Arlene editing

Editing at Maclean Hunter Cable TV – 1990

or this . . .

Dance like nobody is watching.

Dancing like nobody is watching.

or even this . . .

Conducting an early business meeting

Conducting an early business meeting

If the rest of you see a middle-aged woman, sorry about that.

Empathy: Avoiding “at least”

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.

Pie crust and life: Do it until it “feels right”

16-crust in dish

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?

Grooving to my own beat while drinking red wine with chicken

Music Note Bokeh

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?

Wine

Wine (Photo credit: Uncalno)

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.

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