The “Art” of Tree Cutting

It takes a chainsaw to show us that many tasks not considered “artistic” take imagination.

The sound of a chainsaw drew my attention to a very old, very tall maple in a yard two neighbors away. There was a loud crack and a large branch hanging by an orange strap was lowered to the ground.  A while later a whump and a shaking signaled a piece of trunk hitting the ground.  High up the cutting guy was hidden by the remaining leafy branches. I saw another chainsaw dangling from a second orange strap.

Perhaps cutting trees isn’t considered “artistic,” but the workers used their imaginations just the same.  They had to picture, or think visually, how they were going to do the job. A certain cut there would hopefully cause the branch to drop here, while a strategically placed strap directed the falling branch to miss the nearby homes and yards, wooden fence, and tiny shed, all within a spittin’ distance or two of their job.

By Hustvedt (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Hustvedt (Own work)(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The tree guys on the ground yelled a lot, but without alarm. They were quite cheery, going about their dangerous craft with confidence, skill, and yes, imagination.

I believe God’s gift of imagination is for all, not just those who have gifts for imagining in the traditional artistic realm. Some use their imaginations to write, paint, or dance, others use them to build motorcycles, plant gardens, or cut down old trees.

I would like to see us acknowledge “imagination” even in pursuits not considered “artistic.” I don’t think that lessens the gifts of artists at all. In fact, we all might become a little more appreciative of imagination wherever we find it, whether in the symphony or in the trees.

Pleasure of Creating · Power Of Symbols

Beach Glass And Amazing Grace

I spend time looking for what has been “lost,” for what is left from milk, beer, and pop bottles that were tossed into a lake. Over the years that glass has been broken and churned in the sand to wash up on shores as beloved beach glass.

Not quite the colors I find, but you get the idea!

I’ve blogged about beach glass and forgiveness. Since then I’ve found hundreds more pieces. I get home from kayaking and empty my pockets. It’s scattered all over the house: in boxes, plastic cups, jelly jars and shallow bowls, or just lying loosely on tables, shelves and my bay window. I had to empty it from my car’s cup holders because I needed the space for coffee.

All this “lost” glass is now found and ready for other purposes. I’ve made earrings and wrapped pieces for necklaces to wear or give away as gifts. I could add glass stain to the clear pieces for some nifty color. Stained glass or wrapping them for a “wind chime” effect would be lovely.

The old hymn, “Amazing Grace” says, “I once was lost, but now am found.”  These “lost” but now “found objects” have given me the chance to think imaginatively (How can I use these? What would that look like?) and hopefully create some beautiful work. All that time, sometimes decades, all that churning in the sand, tossing by the wind and waves, to finally come to frothy rest on the shore. Now dropped into my pockets to be reimagined and recreated into something new.

Sounds like a spiritual lesson here, doesn’t it, describing God’s work in our lives? I keep learning it over and over.

Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Ode To Moonflowers and Returning

My evening primrose, or moonflowers, open around 8:30 – 9:00 every night all summer. In the morning they are wilted; the early sun is too much.

I got my moonflowers from my friend “Sprig,” who took me  under her wing when I was growing up. I had a great life with my four sibs in a central Pennsylvania Mayberry RFD. But even the best lives need someone to talk to and I talked to Sprig. She lived on my small town’s main drag and lived to garden, she and her two sisters, Old Maids, three. (“Old Maid” is a pejorative now, but back then it was a term of endearment, and I use it with respect and affection. They are all now with the Lord.)

Sprig raised moonflowers and we’d watch them bloom. The buds swelled and as twilight approached, started to shake and open, right before your eyes.

Evening Primrose at Birkdale, UK. Photo by Gary Rogers
Evening Primrose at Birkdale, UK. Photo by Gary Rogers

Moonflowers are very hardy, but this past winter was the most brutal in 20 years. When spring finally got her courage up I looked for my moonflowers. Only one had made it.

“They froze out,” I told my mother, who also has some from Sprig.

“I’ll give you some,” she said. I was relieved.

But tonight, as I cleared away grass and weeds from the moonflowers’ place, I found them. Tiny and nondescript, I almost pulled them out by mistake. I wiped the tears away. “Sprig, they’re back,” I told the sky. “They came back.”

I’ve experienced some pretty harsh spiritual and emotional winters. I wasn’t sure I’d make it. (You know that feeling.)

“And Sprig,” I said, “You’d be pleased to know I’m back too.”


“Slow, No Wake”

When we say that someone is a deep person, we mean they have…permanent convictions…a web of unconditional loves…(and) permanent commitments to transcendent projects… David Brooks, “The Deepest Self” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

For its size, Conneaut Lake can be quite deep, up to about 80 feet in some areas. The depth supports lots of activity. It stays frozen longer than other lakes and attracts many ice fishermen. Summertime boaters enjoy the unlimited horsepower, and many areas on the lakeshore must be marked by buoys: “Slow, No Wake.” (As a kayaker, I make sure I stay tucked inside those areas for protection.)

Getting Ready For Summer At Conneaut Lake, PA
Getting Ready For Summer At Conneaut Lake, PA

I’d like to think that depth Brooks is talking about supports lots of activity in life, too. Too often we equate “depth” with slow pace and quietness.  But “depth” could also demand much activity, because a “deep person” has commitments to transcendent projects, work that is “bigger” than they are.  Those tasks probably also require down time for thought, but we can’t measure the depth of a person by how introspective they are.  The task is worthy of their devotion and attention, and may keep them very active. Their connection to transcendence keeps them focused, no matter what the work demands.

Being creative connects me with transcendence. But let’s call it–Him, what it–He, is. Creativity connects me with God. Not only creativity through artistic expression, but a creative approach to life. I need to broaden my imagination to encompass the breadth–and depth–of that kind of life.



Art and Knowing · Power Of Symbols · Uncategorized

“Enough To Gag A Maggot”

A long dead maggot was still on the fish hook. I removed it from the faux maggot lure I had just pulled from a low tree branch. Each time I kayak along the Pymatuning Lake shoreline I usually find one or two lures to add to my collection.

Some lures found at Pymatuning Lake, including the maggot lure.
Some lures (etc) found at Pymatuning Lake, including the maggot lure.

But the real maggot was an added surprise.

Thankfully, I don’t see many maggots, dead or alive, but this one reminded me of when I saw a bunch of live ones. During my college days I lived in a third floor walkup with no a/c. Once I let food sit in the garbage. It was July. ‘Nuff said.

Last night was an unseasonably cool May evening. As I squeezed the maggot off the hook I also remembered an old boyfriend from that hot summer… ’Nuff said. (My kids read this.)

I’ve always loved the expression my dad would say: “That’s enough to gag a maggot.” So visual. So sensory. So, so, gross as my middle school students exclaim. You could almost admire the beauty of maggots—those little creamy white (and textured!) fat bodies wriggling!—if they weren’t so, so disgusting.

After all, we know what maggots do, what they turn into. But how necessary they are. Because creation is subject to decay, we need creatures—where I live, crows and turkey vultures and maggots—to move the process along. Some may call this “the circle of life.” I see creation groaning, waiting for redemption, and God crafting specific creatures to see us through the decay until redemption comes.

Until then, some things in life will be “Enough To Gag A Maggot.”
(Thanks, Dad!)

Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

The Root Of Creativity

“When we say that someone is a deep person, we mean they have achieved a quiet, dependable mind by being rooted in something spiritual and permanent.” (David Brooks, “The Deepest Self,” The New York Times, March 14, 2014.)

Practicing creativity through doing your art or other kinds of creative acts is one way of rooting yourself in that spiritual, permanent place Brooks describes. But sometimes, we catch ourselves not quite achieving that “quiet, dependable mind.”  We still feel unsettled, not “rooted.”

An accomplished artist once recognized a missing element as she went about doing her creative work.  “I’m missing something valuable that would guide me deeper into creativity.” Though she doesn’t profess a specific faith, she prays and believes God answers. But she wants to know what that “something” is and how to get it.

Part of the Sistine Chapel, Michelango
Part of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo

I think Christians are similar to this artist, in that we want more from creativity but we don’t know what “it” is or how to get “it.” We engage in creative pursuits and intuitively sense there’s something “missing.” We want to know God more deeply, but don’t know how creativity will move us toward that goal. We keep our creative lives separate from our spiritual lives.

Once an editor of a Christian publishing house asked me, “Why is it that nonChristian artists describe creating art as a spiritual experience and Christians don’t?”

What if our longing to be creative and doing it is seeking the kingdom of God? That desire may just be God inside of us wanting expression, from His “spiritual and permanent” place in our hearts.  I need to honor Him by allowing Him to work.

Art and Knowing · Pleasure of Creating · Uncategorized

How To Untie A Knot

Knots on a sail boat
Knots on a sail boat

“Better to know a knot and not need it, than need a knot and not know it” is the enthusiastic motto of Animated Knots by Grog (TM). Knots have hundreds of creative names and a quick online check shows an International Guild of Knot Tyers, even knot historians. Who knew?

Knots can be part of an art work because they can be crafted into aesthetically appealing lines and shapes. If you work in fabric or wool you know how knots add beauty and texture to your work. Even knots for fly tying are not just functional, but quite beautiful.

As kids we learned the hard lessons of the granny knot. Other knots are elegant as they come undone, like the grief knot. There’s even an art to it: “It unravels elegantly: as tension is applied, the ropes rotate like little cogs, each one twisting to feed the rope through the knot.” (Wikipedia)

I don’t know about you, but when knots in my life have unraveled, it hasn’t been elegant or pretty. Not much “art” in evidence in that coming apart.

fishing knot

Other knots have had years of wind, weather and tension hardening them into shape, much like the knot on my sailboat’s main sheet (line.) When it finally gives, it won’t unravel, it will snap, and I’ll capsize. (Why I keep checking it.)  Better to undo it and let the wind and weather relax it into a new shape. Better to catch it before.

Can I find elegance in the unraveling?  Can I find the humility to undo the knot?

I am in need of grace. God.

Feeling God's Pleasure · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places

Flash Mobs: Surprised By Joy

I love the Flash Mobs who surprise by joy, often with spontaneous (or planned) explosions of public music and dance.

There are lots of variations. “Flash mobs” share (at least in the videos I’ve seen) in train stations, hospital lobbies, outdoor parks, or shopping malls. One performer arrives, sets up, and begins to play, sing, or dance. Bit-by-bit, they are joined by other artists (or interested parties) who enter into the work. Dancers move to prerecorded music by the supergroup ABBA or Rodgers and Hammerstein. Vocalists sing Handel’s Messiah; musicians play Ravel or Tchaikovsky. (Check the links for examples.) A videographer catches the faces of the spectators, whose looks range from wariness, to pleasant surprise, to total engrossment and pleasure, even outbursts of joy.

But I want to reflect on what I see in the musicians and dancers in Flash Mobs:

Flash Mob Adam Kliczek/Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Flash Mob
Adam Kliczek/Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0

1)  For the most part they betray no self-consciousness, seemingly losing themselves in the moment. They’re focused on the transcendent goal of joining together for the love of their art and audience. Or they are just enjoying a spontaneous moment of fun with friends or strangers.

2)  The element of surprise is an important part of the moment. The performers have the joy of creating it and the audience of receiving it. Or perhaps the participants have surprised themselves by a new breath of courage.

3) The artists embrace newness. The musicians must get used to a new venue and acoustics that demand a different focus. The dancers must dance on dirt or dust, not on a real floor. All accept and go with it, incorporating it into the moment.

Flash Mobs: Seems to be much I can absorb for a new day.

What do you see?


Art and Storytelling · Art As Conversation

Focus on Loving the Craft

Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye was the guest reader at Gannon University‘s (where I teach) English Awards night recently. Like most poets, she shared anecdotes between each poem. But she didn’t change her posture or the tone of her voice to ready herself or establish a boundary between her life and her poetry. What pause there was seemed natural, like the pause your uncle takes before telling another story at your family reunion. One hardly knew where her storytelling stopped and her poetry reading began. She extended her personality through her creative work, both through her products (her poems) and the process of reading them.

I approached her afterwards at the book table and shared my observations. She said, “You know, I’ve been criticized for that.” I said, “You don’t adopt a different persona to read like so many poets do. How you read pulled me into the poem because you’ve established a personal relationship with me.” She put her hand out, “That means we’re friends.” I took it and replied, “That could be dangerous, you know.” We laughed.

I’m sure Naomi Shihab Nye, throughout her illustrious career and worldwide travels, has shaken lots of hands and laughed with many fans. But in that brief drop of time, both during her reading and our chat afterwards, I learned about a means of self expression that isn’t narrowly narcissistic. Naomi’s self expression extended a hand to touch an audience.  She extended her artist’s personality into and through her creative work.  The highest form of “self expression” focuses on the craft, not the artist, because the artist is lost in her love of the craft.

Naomi Shihab Nye loved her craft more than she loved herself.

That’s the kind of “self expression” I can emulate.

Art and Knowing · Art As Conversation · Power Of Symbols · Uncategorized

“Noah:” The Film and the Horror of Creative Liberty

"The Raising Of The Cross" Rembrandt
“The Raising Of The Cross” Rembrandt

Many Christians are horrified that Darren Aronofsky’s film “Noah” isn’t “according to the Bible.”

Was that the director’s goal? What does “according to the Bible” mean, exactly? If we insist artists tell a literal story, we would never have the The Last Supper, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or the mosaics in some of our great cathedrals. You could add any number of paintings, symphonies, poems or other works of art.

Rembrandt took “creative liberty” when he painted himself in “The Raising Of the Cross.”  Of course that isn’t a literal rendering of the sacred event.

But if Rembrandt is there, maybe I am too.

We don’t know if the Pietà shows what happened between Mary and Jesus after he died. Does it matter? The sculpture brings me to tears. I’m a mother of a son. Even if you aren’t, doesn’t its creative and symbolic power grab you and speak emotional and spiritual truth?

The "Pieta"
Michelangelo’s “Pieta”

You can argue that “Noah” doesn’t come close to Biblical notions of the man Noah. Worse, the film portrays a God quite different from the God of the Bible and that’s where you draw your line. Fair enough. (Even the examples I used, “The Raising Of the Cross” and “Pietà” have some connection to Biblical narratives.) But does the film deal with universal truths? Does it ask questions about sin, redemption, or the consequences of our choices? Does it show how a specific portrayal of God shapes art and how we view it?

Of course, I’m not putting “Noah” on the same level as the masterpieces I’ve mentioned. You might think I’m defending it. My goal is to use the film, whether you see it or not, as an opportunity to discuss our assumptions about the relationship between “art” and “truth,” and how artistic expression speaks to our faith—or not.

Agree? Disagree?