Monday, February 29, 2016

Missing Catherine

Catherine Swanson was a truly special friend: one of those rare sisters-in-the-spirit that occasionally come into our lives.  We met at a church newcomers meeting, attended Bible study classes together, and generally shared lives and coffee and conversations as women friends tend to do.

She also loved our puppy, Nemo, and used to babysit him for us when we took family vacations.  She was his favorite person in the world -- I suspect he loved her even more than me -- so when she left for California to go work for All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, I sent her this photo as a card, and titled it "Missing Catherine."

It seems, therefore, appropriate, to post it here today: I just got a call from her sister to say that Catherine, who truly is one of the most fit and athletic women I know, died suddenly yesterday after a stroke.  There's so much I could say, but mostly all I want to say is in this photo.  Definitely one of those times when a picture is worth a thousand words.  Dearest Catherine, you'll never know how much we miss you...

Low tide

When our tides are low,
all our muddy bits are finally exposed,
and we get to see how small we really are...

Sunday, February 28, 2016


It is what it is, you know --
the days when everyone seems
to love what you do,
and the days when you're invisible;
the sunny mornings, when you ignore
the call of the dappled garden,
claiming you've more important things
to do, and the rainy afternoons
when you sit indoors
and grumble at the puddles on the lawn;
blank canvases and pages
that call out the best and worst
or leave you sitting paralyzed and staring
into the abyss of a well run dry;
the clatter of the blind dog's claws,
waking you to cravings in the middle of the night;
the lilting, eerie song of the refrigerator
echoing in the stillness of the empty sheet beside you;
the faint scent that haunts the pillow you refuse to toss;
remnants of the occupation, scattered in boxes
you can no longer lift
up stairs you can
no longer climb
tell stories you
can no longer

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The one that makes us whole

These obstacles that float into your path --
detritus, torn from other shores,
marring your vision, your reflections on your perfect life --
can you not see their beauty, and welcome their intrusion?
Sometimes the piece that doesn't fit
is the one that makes us whole.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friendship is more important

It must be spring: our neighbors are already
out mowing their lawns.
How about if you and I just go for a walk 
and let the grass grow, just for today?
Our friendship is more important than perfection...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Born to sail

If I spend all my time curled in upon myself
I'll never catch the wind...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The return of Spring

What is it about these first warm days of Spring
that makes us feel so grateful; so tender?
It's almost as if we were children once again,
and our parents had returned after time away...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


So challenging, in troubled times
to remember all that chaos is part of the picture;
that somehow it is being held, 
contained in love.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Blessing the invisible

Blessed are those who serve,
for they shall one day be seen...

Sunday, February 21, 2016

We bless you, life

We bless you, life, with all your trials,
and boldly lift you up as you reveal yourself to us:
essential, one, inseparable and infused
with the tenderness and glory of the divine.

Source of hope and all creation, of ever-evolving exultation,
all-moving and all-powerful, guide us as we move through life.
Through struggle, isolation; through the gradual dissolving
of all we ever thought was real or true,
bring us to full participation in that seamless joy of union:
to know the ineffable Oneness that is You.

(and here concludes my riff on
Teilhard de Chardin's Hymn to Matter)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Without all this

Without all this -- without the constant battering 
of struggle, change and longing --
we would become complacent; remain foolishly self-absorbed.
In all of life, both good and bad, we find both hurt and healing:
both imprisonment and freedom; both resistance and a yielding;
and finally, both at the root and at the destination,
the Source that feeds, and challenges, and claims us as its own.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Blessing the impenetrable

Blessed be you, the impenetrable:
all the obstacles that keep us from our goals,
the barriers that veil the truth, 
the assumptions and experiences 
which, in walling off our hearts
make them yet more frustrated and grasping;
hungrier for love, for understanding, 
for an end to all division; for the Divine.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Blessing the immeasurable

Blessed be you, the boundless and immeasurable:
from the infinity of stars to the elemental particles; 
the magnitude, variety, and mystery of life and time,
reminding us creator and creation will always prove 
more complex and indefinable 
than we could ever fully imagine or comprehend.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Blessing the changes

Blessed be you, the winds of change:
the constantly shifting circumstances
that keep us on our toes and questioning.
You teach us to be a bit lighter on our feet,
a little less attached to our assumptions,
while building in us a deeper awareness
of That Which Is Unchanging.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Blessing the tempests

Blessed be you, the dramatic and tempestuous:
the storms, both from within and from without;
the scary, the intense, the passionate and the cataclysmic
events and strong emotions that pick us up 
and sweep us off our carefully chosen paths.
Blessed are you for forcing us to evolve.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Blessing the Daily Grind

Last night I found it hard to sleep: the minor challenges of life were looming large, for no particular reason.  And so 4:30 found me reading Teilhard de Chardin -- which turned out to be the perfect choice, even though I'm just reading for a course, because I chanced upon his famous Hymn to Matter. (Here's a link, though it's a different translation; I was reading the one by Ursula King).

After reading it through a couple of times, I decided to translate it into terms that work for me, and then, once that was done, I thought -- I'll share this in the blog!  So for the next week, I'll be taking the individual sections of his hymn, each of which is a blessing, and conveying them in terms that make them real to me -- and hopefully to you as well...

Today's blessing reads as follows:

Blessed be you, the daily grind --
the difficult, the repetitive,
the labor that it takes just to survive:
the dishes and the diapers,
the commute, the papers (written, read, or graded)
the ditches dug, the lumber chopped,
the clients and the customers served,
things stacked and loaded, lifted and delivered...
Bless them all for feeding us and keeping us alive.

Trust me: when we get to the end, you'll see how it all plays in to a single and uplifting view that gratefully encompasses all the challenges of life...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

From Immersion to Emergence

In following the path, we cycle round
from immersion to emergence, then back again.
Some seasons find us focused inward, probing roots
and bonding with the earth from which we came,
while other times we're looking out and up, 
bringing our truths to light, seeking and sharing inspiration.
And as the spiral turns, at last we learn
that deepening or surfacing  --
exploring depths or reaching for the sky --
our destination at the end becomes one and the same:
both Alpha and Omega meet in You.

Friday, February 12, 2016


There's freedom to be learned in renunciation:
As long as we respond to every impulse that we feel --
snack when we have the munchies,
drink when we are lonely,
deplore the acts of others while not examining our own,
smoke or shop when the craving becomes too strong --
our spirits remain caged by our desires.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An imposition of ashes

Whether imposed by sudden holocaust 
or lost to the slow burn of time,
much of what we knew now lies in ashes:
knowledge painstakingly gained now tossed aside --
or worse, irrelevant -- and still we carry on,
without the thoughts and lives of those we loved.
That darkened mark upon your forehead looms,
a stark reminder of the frailty of life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

So much sadness

There's so much sadness in the world.
How can we bear the weight of it
upon our heads, and in our hearts?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Best laid plans

Well, the theory was that I would use my paintings to express what I was learning from Teilhard de Chardin: I would start with an underlying unity, build in some chaos, and then somehow find a way to establish a new kind of unity out of that chaos.

But perhaps only God can do that?  Because once the chaos got created (and I have to say, that was a lot of fun) it started to get a little out of hand.  And now I'm kind of stuck: I got to the point where I appreciated all the different individual elements that were contributing to the chaos -- which I think is a good thing -- but I can't for the life of me figure out what needs to be done to tie it all back together.

The theory was that I would apply thin films of color over the existing elements -- you can see I've already done a little of that -- but there are competing impulses in me.  Some part of me wants to add some quiet blues to tone it down, but... it's a bit like those wildfire paintings I did earlier: another part of me revels in the fiery tones of yellow, red and orange, and is reluctant to let them go. Which, I'm sure, says something about how we humans like to hold onto our grudges and our anger...

The news clipping, BTW, is an article from the newspaper I used to publish, back in the early 90's; it's about a joint committee of Muslims and Christians in New York condemning the violence between these two religions.  It seemed somehow appropriate, that that aspect of our chaos hasn't changed much.

At any rate, I'm thinking I'll need to set this one aside for a bit (though I can see, now that I have it on the computer, that I want to tone down the left edge a bit so it matches the right edge; a little thin layer of grayish blue should take care of that...

Monday, February 8, 2016

Like a flower

Let me be a flower:
Open, every petal straining toward/reflecting
The Light...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Struggles with duality

What I see when I look at you
may not be so much you, but more
a reflection of myself.
Today the single mirror that you are
is faithfully reflecting back my struggles with duality...

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What will you leave behind?

You'll find a way, I promise -- but know this: 
when you break through to the other side
you'll need a different mode of transportation
if you want to keep moving forward.
What will you take up?
And what will you need to leave behind?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Prayer is all we have

Most of us -- if we're lucky -- have friends or family members whose political and/or religious perspectives differ widely from our own.  The family members we deal with because they're family, but the friends, well -- they must have redeeming qualities or they wouldn't still be our friends.  Because it's sometimes very difficult to stay in relationship with them when they espouse ideas that are difficult for us to comprehend.

My Brother-From-Another-Planet is an old friend (and most BFAPs are, because paths so often diverge over the years, and as time goes on we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded folks) whom I first met when he was 19 and I was 31.  He was a little different, even then, but we shared a love for the Episcopal Church and a deep faith, and he was one of the first people I was ever able to safely get angry with. (As an only child, I learned early on that expressing anger ALWAYS meant getting punished, so I learned to keep quiet. Not a particularly useful skill in life).

So I was very fond of him, charmed by his love of all things church, and a little bemused when he decided the Episcopal Church wasn't sacred enough and became a Catholic.  It made sense, actually -- he was Italian after all, and loved the rituals, the vestments, the rules, the hierarchy; it all felt right to him.

Fast forward 30 years, over which we had pretty much lost contact, and then we rediscovered one another on facebook.  He had finally married, though too late to have kids, a lovely woman whom he adored, and seemed happy and fulfilled; I was delighted to meet up with him.  And then I realized he'd become a staunch conservative, and for some reason, tangled up with Obamacare, abortion, and the Catholic Church, he found President Obama to be an abhorrent individual.

In the beginning I made the mistake of getting into an argument with him.  Pages and pages of facebook monolog later we agreed to disagree.  I mostly kept my mouth shut after that, but there was one time he posted an inflammatory link condemning Obama for arriving 10 minutes late to a memorial service somewhere in Europe.  I tried a gentle chiding, just posted a comment that had his name with a period after it, sort of a honey-listen-to-yourself-you're-being-irrational kind of parental thing (I am still 12 years older than he is, after all).

But he reacted with a huge defensiveness so I engaged for a wee bit and then just left the argument. So now I'm in this space where I love the guy like a son -- still -- but I am deeply saddened by how gullible he is to those who get him riled up over stupid stuff.  And then, last night, he posted another one of those violently anti-Obama diatribes, only this one came with a horrible photograph of a burned baby; something about all these babies being burned and Obama doing nothing.

I confess I couldn't read the article: I am too confident of Obama's love for humanity to believe it's not a gross over-simplification of some decision he made that's been taken out of context. (How gullible am I, you might ask.) But it took me most of the night to get that image out of my head.  And I feel so helpless.

Part of me wants to research the problem, find out the truth of the matter, and convince him he's wrong.

Part of me wants to lambaste him for fouling the internet by forwarding on this crap.

Part of me wants to unfriend him, not because I don't love him anymore, but because this stuff is just too hard to see.

Part of me wonders what is the best course of action here -- kind of a what-would-Jesus-do thing. Because face it -- unless I do the research I can't really KNOW that what he posted is a horrible lie, which means anything I say is just me trying to get him to see that I'm right and he's wrong.

And part of me, faced with this awful photograph, which I'm still trying to erase from my brain, is trying to be grateful.  Because whether the story of Obama's failure is true or not, the fact is there are, somewhere, children being horribly burned, and I need both to know that and pray for the horrible state of the world, and I need to know that someone somewhere is deliberately poisoning the minds of some subset of the American people using classical advertising techniques; I need to pray for that, too.

It's important to have friends who see the world differently; we need all of us to give ourselves a complete picture of the world and what it's capable of.  But it sure isn't easy to be reminded of how helpless we really are.  I am so grateful for my faith: at times like this, prayer is all I have.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Moving on

What once was home may no longer work for you:
we outgrow places; why not outgrow ideas?
The world's a bigger place than we once knew:
has the breadth of your love expanded to match?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Find time to play

What happens, when you stop trying to control?
What happens, when you just -- let go?
Find some time today to play:
You might surprise yourself!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The joy below the sorrow

Whatever troubles you, don't run away:
Just take a moment, sit, and breathe it in.
Seek inside, and find the joy 
that simmers quietly below the sorrow,
then breathe it out, allowing it
to warm the air you share with all the world.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Embarking on an adventure

 I spent my weekend working on this painting, which is an out-of-proportion attempt to copy a truly beautiful painting by a Santa Fe artist named Jennifer Davenport; you can see the original here. (I'm not displaying it here because... well, it's gorgeous, and my painting really doesn't do it justice :).  Why, you might ask, would I waste my time painting something I could never sell?  Three reasons:

1) I learn a lot from trying to duplicate others' works ... and I also learn what I need help with.

     2) I think this woman's work is gorgeous, and would love to be able to create work that has the depth hers has.  (And trust me: there's a LOT of depth here -- there must be at least 10 layers to this piece, if not more)

     3) (And here's the most important reason) I'm heading off in May to a Cynthia Bourgeault retreat where we'll be studying the work of Teilhard de Chardin, so I've been doing a lot of reading about him in preparation.  It feels to me like what he has to say about the world is exactly what I would most like to communicate through my paintings. It's kind of like what I wrote in a post a couple of days ago, the one about the underlying unity and the over-arching vision, that together unite the complexity of the parts?  Somewhere in his work he states that if we understand that ultimate unity, we appreciate that much more the diversity of all the individual contributions.  And somehow Jennifer Davenport's work conveys that to me -- not that her artist statement indicates that she operates out of that perspective, but that's what I see.

My theory is that if I can learn a diverse collection of techniques -- and there are lots of elements in this piece that I've not used before, so I feel that in attempting to recreate it I've greatly expanded my artistic toolbox --  then perhaps I can expand the complexity of my own work while still somehow managing to convey that sense of underlying unity.  And even if I can't, if that turns out to be beyond my compositional capabilities, I will at least have tried.

So this is a further step out into the unknown: I will still have no plan for what I paint before I paint it, but I will actually have an underlying theology that drives the work, where before I just followed wherever the paint lead me.  Again -- it's entirely possible I won't be able to pull this off: I do know that my work already has a number of characteristics that guarantee it won't look like Jennifer's.  And it could turn out to be incredibly frustrating, as it will no longer be just play; it will also be work, and hopefully conscious work.  But after months of trying to paint in colors I find it hard to love, this seems a relatively easy task in comparison: at least I can work with colors I enjoy; I just need to keep finding new ways to apply them to the canvas and build connections between design elements.

I like that.  The left brain part of me's been feeling a bit left out of the painting process; I'm hoping this will be a way for it to participate more fully.  And I'm not putting a time limit on it, or going out and buying a pile of new canvas to experiment on; my plan is just to paint over all the old work I'm tired of.  So -- it's an adventure; we'll see where it goes...