Sunday, November 18, 2018

On the Road Again

Let me first start by saying that our house is not unattended.  I'm always amazed at what people publish and what they let the whole world know.  I say this knowing that people can level that charge right back at me.

I went to bed very early on Friday night, as I often do.  I was up by 2 a.m. on Saturday, on the road by 2:20.  I was surprised by how many people were still out driving at that hour, but perhaps I shouldn't be; it's just after closing time for many venues of entertainment, after all.

As I drive, I find the hour just before sunrise to be hardest.  It's not because I get tired, but because I'm tired of the dark.  It seems there's a metaphor/symbol there, beyond, "The darkest hour is just before the dawn."

I was planning to arrive at my grad school friend's house in the early afternoon, but I was making such good time that I was early.  I yearned for a cozy bakery where I might settle in and journal for an hour, but I would have been happy to see a Panera.  It became clear that I wasn't going to find either, so I came up with an even better plan.

I went to the South Carolina Artisans Center in Walterboro, SC:

I loved walking through the center and seeing the art. 

They have sparkling clean bathrooms.  The people are very friendly.  As I left, I saw this picnic table and decided to do a bit of journaling.

I'm trying to create a sketch every day:

I didn't feel like I had time to linger so I made a very simple sketch and got back on the road again.  But it was a very refreshing stop, even though it's a bit further away from the highway than I usually go.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Notes on a Time of Visual Journaling

Last night, my spouse watched mindless TV, and I decided to experiment with the 4 colored markers that we are using for the online journaling class I'm part of.  Some of my fellow participants are posting pictures that show amazing color saturation.  I decided to try:

My spouse went to bed early, and I decided to keep working.  I wrote a bit in an old-fashioned way--by hand.  For this online journaling class, I've been doing some writing in the sketch book, in addition to the writing that I include as part of the sketches. 

When I was done, I wanted to so more playing with my markers.  But I didn't want to do more with the above sketch.  So I turned the page over.

The colored markers that we're using will bleed through the paper. For reasons I don't understand, the black markers don't bleed through.  I made the sketch below, and the other side still looks the same:

I decided to add these words:  "I wish I believed in guardian angels."  It seems like a line that should be in a poem, so I wanted to record it here.

At some point, I'll go back through my sketches to see if I see themes emerging.  I have been drawing eyes, which makes sense in the context of this course which asks us to see what we might be trying to ignore.  I've also been creating a lot of winged creatures.  Are they angels?  Doves?  Butterflies?  Yes, some of all of it.  In the sketch above, I was going for a descending dove shape.

I'm intrigued by how some of my sketches are very different from each other.  Here is my image from Tuesday. I finished the initial image in the late afternoon and then started experimenting with black marks. Then I went to teach my Composition class. While my students worked on writing an essay, I added the lighter black marks; I was trying to make the image seem fragmented, like a glass that's shattered:

When I signed up for the class, I didn't realize I'd be inspired to make a sketch a day.  It's been amazing.  Even when I think I have nothing to say/write/sketch, something has bubbled up and often multiple times a day.

I'm enjoying the class beyond just the motivation. I really like seeing what others are sketching. We're making interesting comments, even though we don't know each other. I'm loving seeing the sketching/drawing techniques that others are using--and it's not like any of us are trained artists (at least, I don't think we are). We're all women, although the class was open to everyone. I'm not sure why it all interests me so much--well, actually, I am--because we all seem to be wrestling with similar questions (albeit in different arenas): what next?

I've been taking the Rupp book, my small sketchbook (8 x 6), and my markers with me everywhere I go, and I've been doing a bit of sketching that way. It really helps to have it all with me.

I've also been writing a poem a day since November started (the class started Nov. 4). I haven't been this prolific in ages.

What does any of this mean for the future? I don't know yet. But it's good to feel some creative juices flowing.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Various Bounties

A week from today will be Thanksgiving.  I am so ready for a holiday--and this is my second favorite holiday.  Christmas is my favorite, but Thanksgiving is close behind.  If Thanksgiving had a tradition of sparkly lights, it might take the lead.

Yesterday, we had our annual Thanksgiving potluck at work.  As with almost every potluck, I am amazed at how much food we had.  Our school bought the turkey:  we had a tray of sliced, smoked turkey, and we bought another roasted whole turkey, which our Director of Admissions sliced--she's a pro.

It was a wonderful spread.  The cool thing about a Thanksgiving potluck is that we have plenty to talk about:  what's our favorite food, what are our Thanksgiving traditions, what's our cooking approach.

I began the day by walking our social media coordinator around campus asking people to share what they're grateful for.  She's creating a gratitude video.  By the end of my work day, it felt like a bonus Thanksgiving.

I am grateful to be in a place where we get along well enough to eat together regularly.  We're a big group, but we still fit in a single room, so we can all eat the same meal.  We still have the problem of people who already know each other sitting together, but we know each other well enough that most people are welcome at most tables.

I'm also grateful that I'm continuing with my poem-a-day practice for the month of November.  I'm also doing my visual journaling on a daily basis.  It's a bonus that I didn't expect when I signed up for the class.

Part of my success with a poem-a-day process is that I'm writing more haiku than usual.  Writing haiku always feels a bit like cheating, perhaps because I'm only writing haiku in the sense that I'm following the syllabics for each line. I'm not following the Japanese conventions any further than that.

Still, I find them useful. It's good to think in such compressed form, even though I don't particularly like the haiku I write. I like the process.

I've written before (here and here) about gratitude haiku--a variation on the gratitude journal.  Here's one about yesterday's work:

Gratitude videos
A meal shared with colleagues
Various bounties

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 18, 2018:

First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Samuel 1:4-20

Psalm: Psalm 16

Psalm (Semi-cont.): 1 Samuel 2:1-10

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25

Gospel: Mark 13:1-8

Here we are, back to apocalyptic texts, a rather strange turn just before we launch into the holiday season (both the secular one and the sacred). This week's Gospel is the type of text that many Christians use to support their assertion that we're living in the end times, that the rapture is near.

Keep in mind that the idea of rapture is fairly new; most scholars date it to the middle of the 19th century. But Christians have felt besieged since the beginning, and indeed, at certain times throughout the centuries, they have been severely threatened.

Most scholars believe that the book of Mark was written just after a particularly brutal suppression of a Jewish uprising and just before the destruction of the Temple, a time when the empire of Rome made it increasingly difficult to be an alien part of the empire. The Gospel of Mark is the most apocalyptic Gospel, perhaps because it was written when people really expected the end was near. Indeed, in many ways, the end was near. The whole of chapter 13 of Mark is grim indeed. Perhaps the Gospel writer uses such a chapter to launch into the Passion story, to set the mood.

Or maybe the Gospel writer wants to remind us of the cost of following Jesus. Maybe it's the larger cost of existing in the world. Even if we're lucky enough to be born into a stable time period, to be part of a country with a stable government, if we're conscious, it's hard to escape the conclusion that it could all vanish at any moment. And even if we don't suffer on the grand (genocidal) scale, most of us will endure more loss than our younger selves would have believed could be survived.

Before we sink too deeply into depression, we need to remember that Jesus came to give us Good News. And that Good News is that we have each other, and we have a God who loves us, no matter what. If we devote our lives to that love, then we can survive all sorts of betrayal, loss, and persecution.

It's also important to look at the last part of the last sentence of this week's Gospel: "this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs." Birth-pangs. What is being born exactly?

The most positive spin on this bit is to say that the Kingdom of God is being born. We tend to think of the Kingdom of God as referring to Heaven, but if you read all the references to the Kingdom of God, it appears that Jesus isn't talking about Heaven as we know it. In some places, Jesus seems to talk about the Kingdom as already existing, perhaps as Jesus walking amongst us. In other places, the Kingdom of God will come to earth later, in a kind of purifying, redeeming vision. Yet again, we see references to this process already beginning, both with Christ's efforts and with the efforts of his believers.

Those of us who have had children, or who have had relatives and friends who have had children, know that parents have to go through a fierce process to hold that little baby in their arms. Jesus reminds us that the process towards the Kingdom of God can be equally fierce. Jesus reminds us that we must stay alert and aware, but that we need not feel alarmed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Looking Back on the First Week of Journaling Class

Here is the drawing that I made on Saturday:

It was the 7th day of my online journaling class, the day when the book we're using asked us to reflect back on the first week. We'd been writing/thinking/drawing a lot about dreams and doors. I began with the image of a road that breaks into 2 paths, one of dreams deferred and one of new dreams.

Later, as I reflected on the image, I realized that if I look at it a different way, it could be the merging of 2 paths, if the traveler was going towards the bottom of the page.

When I created the sketch, I wasn't sure what I would put in the space of the Y of the paths. I thought about some kind of field. I reread the chapter, which encouraged us to think of doors. So, I drew a door like a door I'd drawn earlier in the week:

But the door in Saturday's sketch has a Gothic arch, not a Roman arch. The door in Saturday's sketch has a stained glass window, which the first door I drew did not:

Back to Saturday's sketch. Do you see the winged creatures? I think of them as butterflies. I find the colors in their wings to be regal--it suggests vestments to me. Do I see them as angels? No. But they do suggest robes. In other words, it's churchy, but not angelic.

It's been a good first week of this online journaling class. I've drawn more in the past week than I ever have in a week. And I've been writing lots of poems. I'm very intrigued to see what happens as we go into the various holiday times that will come in the remaining 5 weeks of the course.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Sermon Notes: Bigger Barns and Gratitude

Yesterday at church, we had one worship service followed by a funeral service for a choir member who died unexpectedly 2 weeks ago in a car accident.  A week ago, my pastor asked if I wanted to preach the sermon for the worship service.  I'm almost always interested in doing that, so I said yes.

I had chosen the passage for today.  My pastor envisioned the month of November as a month of preaching about gratitude.  When he wrote to me in October to ask what my favorite Bible passages about gratitude were, I could only come up with pop culture stuff.  I suggested the parable of the man who was so prosperous that he had to build extra barns (Luke 12:13-34).

I suggested that one because it was one of the texts that we used during the Lutheridge retreat about simplifying, so it was in my brain.  I had been thinking about how much stuff I had brought with me to a retreat on simplifying.  I was thinking about my younger self, who just needed the right music on a cassette tape for a road trip.  I have often traveled with just a credit card and a lipstick in my pocket.  I am no longer that woman.

I know that the tie to gratitude isn't immediately apparent in the parable with the man who built the bigger barns only to die the night that it's all done, and he plans to spend time relaxing and enjoying it all.  It works much more obviously for a stewardship Sunday, where we're reminded of how important it is to share.

I took a different approach.  I talked about how many of us have too much stuff.  I talked about all of the books who give us various approaches to getting rid of stuff.  But what do we do when we've gotten rid of all the stuff that doesn't spark joy, and we've still got too much stuff?

It's an interesting needle to thread with this group at church, because I'm not sure we all have too much stuff.  In fact, I know that some of our members have a struggle making ends meet.

In the end, I tied all the discussion of our stuff to gratitude.  With all the time and energy and money that our stuff takes, we may feel resentment, not gratitude.  And we're likely not tending to what's important, our relationship with God and with the ones we love most.

Several people came up to me afterwards and told me how much the message of my sermon spoke to them.  I resisted the urge to quiz them--I'm always intensely interested to know what people actually heard.  Was it what I meant to say?

I do trust the Holy Spirit though, and so I resist the urge to ask further questions.  After all, we had a funeral in the offing--an undergirding of what I hoped would be the lesson of my sermon.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Praying for Peace on Veterans Day

Dawn of another Veteran's Day, cloudy and with heavy rain having just swept through. Before today was Veteran's Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that celebrated the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. In some ways, it's not a hard holiday to celebrate. Any event that restores peace in our time is worth some meditation.

However, those of us who know our history may be chastened by the knowledge of what was to come. The end of World War I planted the seeds that would blossom into World War II. World War I brought carnage on a level never before seen--but World War II would be even worse.

Why is it so hard for humans to remain at peace? There are whole series of books that address this question, so I won't attempt it here. Still, today is a good day to offer extra prayers for sustained peace in our time. World War I and all the other wars of the 20th century offer us vivid examples of the horrible consequences of the lack of peace.

Veteran's Day is also a good day to offer prayers of thanks for the military people who have been willing to fight. I want desperately to be a pacifist, but I will admit that sometimes tyrants must be dealt with forcefully. My pessimistic side believes that violence is the only language that tyrants understand, but the 20th century has given us many examples of the peaceful overturning of despots, so I don't fully believe my pessimistic side. Still, we often don't use the forces of non-violence in enough time, and so, force may be our only option (witness the example of Hitler).

Some of us will have a day off tomorrow. Some of us will go to our jobs. Some of those jobs will be military jobs. We all have our part to play.

But for today, let's take a minute to appreciate how few of us in many nations have had to experience war first hand.  Let us pray for the nations at war and the humans caught in those conflicts.  Let us celebrate a world that can move toward peace. Let us pray for a time when war will come no more.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Veteran's Day:

God of Peace, on this Veteran's Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this day, we pray for all who are damaged by wars big and small. We offer a prayer of thanks for our veterans, and we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.