Power Of Symbols · Uncategorized

Why I Am Not Saying “Je Suis Charlie”

I cannot say “Je Suis Charlie.” This is not meant to be mean spirited or disrespectful. By not saying it, I am paying utmost respect to my fellow writers and artists who paid for their calling with their lives.

All I can do is stand humbled by the thought, “What would I do?” What would I do in the face of a threat on my life because of what I believed? Would I have the courage of those writers, editors, publishers and cartoonists?

Think about what you're saying with this serious meme.
What are we really saying with this serious meme?

“Je Suis Charlie” is a great sentiment, sincerely held and believed. Right now it’s comforting many people and helping them feel strong in the face of this horrific crime. I know how important that is in the face of such personal, professional, and national tragedy. Serious memes like this or others like “Boston Strong” capture our imagination and unite us.

But for me, this is a time of reflection. Do I have that kind of courage? Would I stand strong in the face of such an existential threat?

Honestly, I don’t know. So far, I have not had to make that choice: my art or my life. I’ve not had to make an even more important choice of Jesus or my life.

I will respect my God given gifts–and the memory of my fellow artists–by challenging myself to aspire to the highest reaches of my art.

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Beauty In Life · Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

More Sacred Spaces: Beauty For All

The beauty of Sacred Spaces must please God and the people who enjoy them.

St. Hedwig Church on East Third in downtown Erie was built in Tudor Gothic style. Two “crowning interior features” are an 18th c. baroque crucifix hanging over the altar and an icon depicting the “Black Madonna and Child” sacred to Polish Catholics. I was also captivated by the stunning blue ceiling and stained glass windows (pictured).

Ceiling, St. Hedwigs Church
Ceiling, St. Hedwigs Church

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Altar area, St. Matthew's Lutheran
Altar area, St. Matthew’s Lutheran

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church on West 7th was built in a Romanesque Revival style and considers itself a traditional “neighborhood” church.  I loved the cross hanging over the altar, the focal point of the sanctuary.

I believe a “sacred space” can exist whenever and wherever you meet with God. But the sanctuaries set aside for worship and buildings that house His work and the work of His people deserve special attention. Given tight budgets and differing priorities for precious resources, we may not see new construction like this again. Those that tend these sacred spaces also deserve recognition, from the priests, organists, volunteer “docents,”and cleaning workers to the ladies who provided refreshments for visitors. I also am grateful for the woman at St. Mary’s who shared warm words of comfort with a stranger.

They welcome strangers, perhaps even angels, and so welcome Jesus Himself.

Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

More Sacred Spaces: Where Do You Find Beauty?

Interior, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA
Interior, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA

Here are more photos of my recent visit of downtown Erie (PA) churches which opened their doors for the public during the Erie County Historical Society’s Fall “Sacred Spaces” Tour.

First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant on West 7th Street, Erie, PA is built in the image of a Gothic Revival Cathedral. It reminded me immediately of the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C. Its Vicary Organ, with 103 ranks and 6,000 + pipes, was designed and built specifically for the sanctuary’s acoustics. A tour guide had me balance on a cement wall outside where I could see a gargoyle through an archway. You don’t need to balance while standing in the magnificent sanctuary enveloped in organ music worship.

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Exterior View, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA
Exterior View, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie, PA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sanctuary of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church on East Ninth Street is lined with statues, including St. Anthony of Padua and St. Benedict. Only a heart of stone would refuse to be moved by The Pieta.  There is nothing else to say….

The Pieta, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church
The Pieta, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church
Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Sacred Spaces: Where Do You Find Beauty?

Stained Glass Windows, St. Patrick’s, Erie, PA

Where do you find your sacred space? You may find it in your local place of worship, a favorite spot in nature, or even in your living room during personal prayer time. Probably most of us would call a “sacred space” wherever we meet with God, formally or informally.

But whenever we want to meet with other believers in a sacred space we usually head for sanctuaries in established churches or created in other places. Some sanctuaries are ornate with religious art or intricate carvings, others emphasize simplicity and function. Speaking as a Protestant, many contemporary Protestant churches prefer less ornamentation and few, if any, objects appreciated just for their beauty. This may reflect a common sense attitude toward allocating scarce resources.  I think we’re missing something by not emphasizing beauty in our spaces, but that’s another blog!

Older Protestant churches built in a different era are often stunning in their architectural details and interior design.  Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have always included much beauty in their sanctuaries and exteriors.

Today and next week I’ll be sharing my photos (shot with permission) of the downtown Erie (PA) churches I recently visited as part of the Sacred Spaces Tour sponsored by the Erie County (PA) Historical Society. I visited Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches. As beautiful as they are, these spaces are only a reflection of the beauty of God. But I think He’s pleased to be so represented.

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These life sized, hand carved, and recently restored Stations of the Cross are resident in St. Patrick’s (Romanesque Revival), the “Spirit of the Bayfront.” The stained glass windows have also been restored.

St. Patrick’s, Erie, PA, Interior View

 

Creativity of Language · Power Of Symbols

We Overcome As We Soar

Maybe the Biblical promise that when weary we will soar like eagles means more than we thought.

Eagles At Pymatuning Lake
Eagles At Pymatuning Lake

Eagles fly purposefully, with powerful, even strokes that thrust them into the air as they gain and then maintain momentum and altitude. They can fly for miles in search of food. We love to think of the “soaring” image when reading Isaiah 40:31 and its promise that they who wait on God will renew their strength and mount up on wings as eagles. We’re comforted to think of ourselves as “flying above” our troubles here on earth.

But let me offer another view. Outside of dropping to earth to catch prey, eagles spend most of their time in the treetops or the sky.  So “mounting up” doesn’t mean they soar above problems because they live their eagle lives high above already. Plus, more than once I’ve seen flying eagles attacked or at least harassed by smaller birds. The eagles seem to shrug them off, but nevertheless have not escaped trouble.

So if God tells us that we will mount up with wings as eagles, we aren’t soaring “above” our troubles. As eagles muscle their way in flight through their lofty world, we spiritually “muscle” our way through our own realm here on earth.

That speaks what we know to be true: God doesn’t give us strength to escape our problems, but like the flying eagles dealing with pesky sea gulls, to successfully live through and beyond them.

 

Poetry and Art · Power Of Symbols · Uncategorized

Old Apple Trees: Vigor In Old Age

Apple tree in bloom
Apple tree in bloom

A couple years ago I watched the growth of an old apple tree in my backyard with increasing concern. A large branch was threatening my neighbor’s home and the trunk was rotting. A tree guy sized up the job. We stood underneath and he looked it over, visualizing how much work would be involved and running up a price in his head.  (You don’t want to know.)

I loved that old tree. Years before when it was in much better condition my contractor had tried to talk me into cutting it down. I wrote about our conversation. A poem:

They Stood In Its Shadow

and he pointed.  “See, it’s growin’ wild.

Just cut it down. Gonna hit your ‘lectric line.

You don’t want to keep trampin’

on all those apples all summer.”

 She looked up at the spreading limbs,

at the wooden swing swaying in the wind,

remembered the soft thump of falling fruit,

the brown squish under her feet,

sharing the lawn with hovering yellow jackets.

She heard seeds dropping pink pink on the cutting board,

felt the knife, the warm flesh in her hand,

smelled cooking apples and cinnamon.

Maybe someday she’d be old, gnarled, in somebody’s way.

“No, I think I’ll live with it for a while.”

           Most years there were apples. Lots and lots. I stepped over and around the rotting fruit and omnipresent yellow jackets when I mowed and never got stung. I made lots of applesauce.

But now its issues couldn’t be ignored. The tree guy saw my hesitation and talked sense.

“Trees are like people,” he said kindly. “They grow old and their time comes.”

I gave the OK to cut ‘er down.

I hope I grow old with the strength and vigor of that old tree, that despite its issues, produced apples until the day it came down.

 

 

 

“They Stood In Its Shadow” appeared in Totem 2007, Gannon University Press

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.

seaglass
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.”

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!)

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?