Art and Eternity · Touching Transcendence · Uncategorized

Turning Down The Noise

In a vintage song Carly Simon thanks her new lover for showing her how to “turn down the noise” in her mind. I don’t know what her lover did that encouraged her to change her life, but she was grateful.

No new lover here. The powerful and moving witness of the 21 Martyrs, the Coptic Christians murdered in Libya, and their families, has compelled me to turn down the noise in my mind. A brother of two of the martyrs was quoted by Kathryn Jean Lopez in “Heaven In the Face of Hell”  (National Review Online): “We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs,” he explained. Lopez asks: “Who would have an ounce of gratitude at such a moment? The answer: one who has hope — hope of something real and eternal.”

Is my hope that real?

Coptic Church in Cairo, Egypt By Effeietsanders (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
Coptic Church in Cairo, Egypt
By Effeietsanders (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Lopez again: “It sounds crazy to a modern secular society, one that tends to view religious faith as sentiment, comfort, and milestone ritual.” I hate to say it, but many Christians, myself included, view faith as a source of comfort. It’s a cozy way to think about life.

I hunger for a robust faith that speaks as the brother of two martyrs. That’s why I’m so passionate about the arts, imagination and creativity in the Christian faith. The arts give us a way to wrestle with these profound questions of hope and a faith even unto death. A robust art will help me turn down the noise and focus on what’s eternal. It will help me develop a robust faith that can speak with confidence in a God of hope.

Feeling God's Pleasure · Losing Your Mind · Pleasure of Creating · Spiritual Places · Touching Transcendence

A Retreat For Christian Creatives

As a Christian artist/writer, I often don’t give myself time to pursue what feeds and restores my spirit. It’s tough to justify the total focus my latest project demands when other, seemingly more pressing issues, demand my attention.

But when I’m creative, I feel God’s pleasure. Why do I have to justify (even to myself) the time I spend in His presence?

During my last prayer retreat at the Benedictine Monastery, God spoke to me to begin a retreat for Christians who practice creative expression. You can be an artist or crafter, jewelry maker or woodworker, composer or a dancer, in other words, anyone who feels the need to make time to create.

Paper Roses from old hymnal pages
Paper Roses from old hymnal pages

He gave me the name: BlueWind Retreats. “Blue” to represent creative work, and “Wind” for the Holy Spirit who glorifies Jesus and breathes life into our expression.

I will offer workshops on imagination and creativity, including a Scriptural basis for our creative gifts. My friend Ben Beck, a fellow artist passionate about Christians in the arts and director of SansMOCO Art Gallery in Greenville, PA, will help host and teach a workshop. There will be time to work on your art or craft and share if you like.

Our focus will always be, not on the artist within, but on The Artist Within: Jesus, in Whom and through Whom all things are created.

If you are interested, I talk about this more on my website.  Here’s a link for more information and a downloadable brochure. My first retreat is in April 2015.

I covet your prayer for this new venture. I believe God is in it. It’s time for God’s people to have confidence in their creative gifts and in His power to use them.

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












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

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.


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


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.


More Reflections From the Monastery

On my recent time at a spiritual retreat, Benedictine Monastery near Erie, Pennsylvania.

1.  The three “hermitages” are named for Scholastica (twin sister of Benedict), Walburga, and (mine) Hildegard.  Hildegard von Bingen was a twelfth century mystic who shared her visions through music and written imagery.   She spoke for God and was proactive in her faith.  The hermitage was stocked with books about Hildegard and music contemporary musicians recreated from her compositions.

Hildegard's Awakening
Hildegard’s Awakening, A Self Portrait

2.  Benedictines pray as a community several times a day and guests are welcome.  Their liturgy includes burning incense, Scripture reading, antiphons (responsive chanting), and praying the Psalms.  Sisters sit facing each other on either side of the chapel, choirs that alternate verses.  Hearing the Psalms prayed as a community showed me an involvement with the Word I haven’t considered.  We Protestants emphasize private, individual devotions but praying the Psalms with the Benedictines revealed the communal aspect of the Word.

St. Benedict
St. Benedict

3.  The Benedictines have a beautiful library stocked with material it would take a lifetime to absorb. Windows face the woods, and a couch and reading lamps provide comfortable reading areas.  I read in many traditions, both monastic and apostolic.  Materials can also be signed out.

Speaking of, beauty is another Benedictine emphasis.  Sisters told me of the painstaking care of carpenters and tradesmen installing stained glass windows and pulley systems for plants enabling easier care.  Everyone sees themselves as serving God in their work, and takes great pride in fulfilling their part of the call.

4.  I fellowshipped with the sisters at meals, enjoying lively give and take.  Benedictines receive guests as they would receive Jesus, and it shows.  One night I arrived early for Evening Praise and several sisters, including the Prioress, offered a warm hand.  Another sister made sure I had the right prayer materials.

I wandered freely through the monastery (except for private quarters.)  The main chapel (worth visiting for the stunning stained glass windows) and smaller one nearby are open for prayer and meditation.

The stained glass in the smaller chapel counsels “Let nothing be preferred to the work of God.” (Rule of St. Benedict 43:3.)   Sounds like a good way to close: concentrating on the work of God.

Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Retreat Reflections From the Monastery

  • Monastic life, for the short time I shared it, has its own rhythms of service, solitude, fellowship, and prayer.  To enter those rhythms as a welcomed fellow pilgrim is rejuvenating.  Makes me want to create rhythm in my own life.
  • It took commitment to get to your “hermitage.” (The sisters call these cabins “herms.”) I packed my gear on a sled and hauled it across two wooden bridges, up a long hill and through the silent woods in a driving snowstorm.  The snow was lovely, dark, and deep, and it felt like a mile long slog from the “herm” to the monastery for prayers and meals and then back. Don’t forget your flashlight for the trek after dinner.

    Mount S. Benedict Hermitage
    Mount St. Benedict hermitage
  • My “hermitage” really began when I realized I needed to get the mind of God.  A contemplative reading described the “hunger” I felt as God’s hunger for me.  I’m still reflecting on that.
  • I appreciate the friends and acquaintances who shared encouraging words about my retreat.  (One even sent cd’s of Kathleen Norris reading her book Acedia and Me.)  I listened to each voice as the voice of God.
  • I took two books: my Bible and Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. This Queen of Multitasking didn’t.  I really can take two days to shut up, sit, listen, and pray.
  • Journaling has a purpose, as I write to know what I think. But this time my thoughts weren’t important.  I only jotted down what God thought.

Next time I’ll share about praying with the sisters and more about the monastery.  Next year I’ll pack my snowshoes!

Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Going Back In Our Time Machines

“I’m going back in the time machine;/ I’ll be right back,” my daughter hollers/from the backyard when it’s time/ to set the table. I let her go…in the oblivion/ of imagination I once knew…  (“H.G. Who?”)

We can identify with poet Marjorie Maddox’s lines from her new book Local News From Someplace Else. We wish we could get lost in the “oblivion” of our imaginations again.  It feels like an indulgence, doesn’t it, something we really don’t have time for.

We “boomers” do get lost in our imaginations.  The name of our time machine is “Nostalgia.”  But the daughter in the poem isn’t reliving old memories, she’s moving forward to new adventures.  As Maddox recounts, she is “off to visit the moon/or that strange new solar system/ calling to be discovered.”

The Time Machine
The Time Machine

When my kids were small their rocket to the moon was a large cardboard box with holes for air and entry.  I don’t know what solar systems they discovered, but they spent enough time in the box to find quite a few.  I would listen to them banging around in it while I cooked dinner.  Maddox watches her daughter and also returns to “pot roast and green beans.”

Maybe it’s time for me to point my imagination forward instead of backward.  I’ll put dinner in a crockpot and join my (future) grandkids in their box.  Or better yet, I’ll create my own space and go off to find new planets.  (I’ll be sure to tell you about them.)  Why should kids have all the fun?*

*From my article “Five Ways To Cultivate Creativity and Imagination in Everyday Life” in

Power Of Symbols · Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Spiritual Places: A Fall Chestnut In My Pocket

I have a chestnut in my jeans pocket. I will transfer it to whatever I wear tomorrow. When I put my hand in my pocket (a habit) the chestnut reminds me to pray.

I know. You’re thinking, a chestnut?

My friend Marge and I gathered chestnuts under her trees one morning and a poem came to mind, Luci Shaw’s “To A Winter Chestnut: Five Haiku.”  Shaw shows her friendship with Madeleine L’Engle by using the image of a chestnut: ….you/ride my pocket–Christ’s coal for/my five cold fingers.”   

Chestnuts for eating, or a reminder for prayer!
Chestnuts for eating, or a reminder for prayer!

Friends are “Christ’s coal” to me. When I’m lost, wandering, and casting about for a landing place, they give warmth and safety. They accept me and give me the space to find my way.

This past summer was not a kind one. I had lost, or given up, major places in my identity. I was edgy, anxious, and needy. I didn’t like myself much. Two friends asked, “What can we do for you?” I said, “Laugh at me and laugh with me.”  They did, over a long weekend carved out of busy professional lives. They gave me a gift. They reminded me of who I am.

So I carry this chestnut in their honor, and for others with good hearts, who show up in times of trouble.

Remember “Christ’s coal.” I do. You’re in a spiritual place, this chestnut riding my pocket, warming my cold fingers.

Spiritual Places · Uncategorized

Yeats and Musings on the “Empty Nest”

An Empty Nest–A Little Help Here!

I told myself I was prepared. My daughter would be moving six hours away to the other side of the state, and I was ready.  My son is grown and living in Pittsburgh, so with Holly’s departure I would truly have an “empty nest.”

Women are usually advised when their kids leave home to reach out to friends and social networks, develop new interests, perhaps start a career.  I already enjoy a successful career and enriching private life.  So I believed I was ready, fulfilling pursuits the conventional wisdom said was important. I had developed “solutions” before I had a “problem.”

Well, Holly moved, and all of my handy emotional preparation wasn’t enough. What do women like me do when they’ve already satisfied what they’re “supposed to do” and it isn’t enough?

I don’t have it all figured out yet. But I can tell you that it helps to rediscover your “center.” My friend Melanie Rigney recently blogged about William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming.” Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.

What happens when the “center” is lost? Yeats says,

The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.

Seems an accurate description of our world about now, doesn’t it?

My task is to find my spiritual place in the Center. Surely some revelation is at hand. My kids are thriving and so am I. I hope to live as “the best” with conviction and passionate intensity.  I’m sure you do, too.