Harvest from Mercy Convent retreat, November 15th 2015

The theme of the retreat was “Autumn: A Season of New Beginnings”. The Bible reading was Mark 4:1-20 and 30-32. These are the Parables of the Sower and the Mustard Seed. Here’s my Condensed Gospel version of them:

The parable of the sower

Jesus was again teaching beside the sea. He decided to teach while sitting in a boat in the water because a large crowd had gathered around him. The crowd stood on the shore to listen to him. They had come to hear him from every town.

He taught them many things using parables, including this one: “Think about the person who went out to sow his field. While he was sowing, some seeds fell along the path and birds came and ate it. Other seeds fell where there were more rocks then soil. The seed sprang up quickly, but then withered just as quickly in the sun because it didn’t have deep roots to gather moisture. Other seeds fell among the thorn bushes and the thorns made it impossible for them to produce a crop. Yet other seeds fell on good ground and were able to produce 30, 60, even 100 times what was sown. Anyone who has ears should listen to this!”

MT 13:1-9, MK 4:1-9, LK 8:4-8

When Jesus was alone with his disciples, they came up and said to him “Why do you speak to people in parables? What does the parable of the sower mean?”
Jesus answered them “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been revealed to you but not to everyone. For them the information is transmitted in parables so that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled. It says ‘They may listen but never understand, and they may look and never see. For people’s hearts have grown hard and their ears have grown deaf, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they might see, hear, and then understand and turn back, and I would heal them.'”

MT 13:10-15, MK 4:10-12, LK 8:9-10

Jesus said “Do you not understand this parable? Then how are you going to be able to understand any of them? The seed is the word of God. The sower is the one who shares it with others. The people along the path are those who have heard the message about the kingdom and don’t understand it. Satan has snatched away the words that were sown in their hearts so they would not believe and be saved.”

“As for the seed sown on rocky ground, this represents the people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. However, because they are not rooted in their faith, they believe for a little while but stumble when troubles come because of the word.”

“Regarding the seed sown among thorns, these are the people who hear the word but are distracted and paralyzed by worry and greed, and the word is not able to take root in them and produce any fruit.”

“But the seed sown on good ground represents the people who hear the word with honest and open hearts. They understand it, welcome it, and through endurance are able to bear much fruit, even up to 100 times what was sown.”

MT 13:18-24, MK 4:13-20, LK 8:11-15

The parable of the mustard seed

“How can I explain what the kingdom of God is like? What can I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed sown in the ground. It is smaller than any other seed, but when grown, it is a huge tree, taller than any plant in the garden. It becomes a tree big enough for birds to make nests in its large branches.”

MT 13:31-32, MK 4:30-32, LK 13:18-19

I’d never thought of Autumn as a time of new beginnings. To me, it was always seen as a sign of endings. It is harvest time, a time of wrapping up, of preparing against the winter that is to come. It is a beautiful time, but short-lived, and leads to a time of sparseness and lack. It is hard to fully enjoy the glory of Autumn knowing that the trees will soon be bare and ice and snow are coming.

But I like this new idea that was offered at the retreat – think of Autumn as a time to sow seeds. They have to be planted in the ground in Autumn, and rest quietly underground in darkness, in silence, unseen, in order to grow into what they are to become.

The poet Mary Oliver said “Is it not incredible that in an acorn something has hidden an entire tree?”

I saw a church sign recently that said “We can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.”

Seeds are powerful things to think about.

It is also a gift to be invited to see old things in new ways.

My Mom gave me shiny pennies. My Dad gave me leaves. I’m grateful that they gave me simple things to remember them by. But interestingly, these things are both brown. I’ve been drawn to brown for a few months now, sketching with it, writing with it, painting with it, making jewelry with it. Different shades of brown – chocolate, caramel, sepia, café au lait.

I’ve been meditating on the fact that Dad was red-green color blind, so most of the time he saw nature as brown. The army green that I wear as my neutral color these days would have been brown to him. Autumn was his favorite time of the year because he could finally see colors.

While at the retreat I made some art to think about him and how he saw the Autumn world, the time when he was happiest. This is the first one I made. It is 7” x 10”.

Dad collage at Mercy 1

I was going to make a simple one on a 4 x 6 index card, but I couldn’t find them in the craft supplies so I decided to work bigger instead. I’m glad I did.

I had some leftover materials so I made a second one. They work perfectly together. It is hard to see that here, and I don’t have a larger scanner. You could click on the pictures, print them out, and put them together to see what I mean.

Dad collage at Mercy 2

While making these pieces I had quite a bit of understanding and peace come over me concerning my parents. I’m grateful I took the time to make this art, and also grateful that I was in the craft room alone so I could cry a little.

One thing I’m coming to understand is that there is great beauty in just allowing experiences to be what they are without defining them. I’m also learning that life is richer if it is a blend of things – for instance, happy/sad/wistful/grieving/hopeful is a valid feeling, even though we don’t have a word for it. Just like with Autumn leaves, they are more beautiful if they are a range of colors – reds, greens, yellow, orange, brown – all on the same tree, and often on the same leaf.

It was a gift from my Dad’s spirit that when we happened to take his ashes to scatter, it was the peak of Autumn in the mountains. This is where I sat to disperse his ashes, some 20 years after he had died.

GM 10 2015 a

GM 10 2015 c

GM 10 2015 d

GM 10 2015 e

GM 102015 b

You know where you stand with Autumn.
Not tall, not short.
But between.
Between life and death,
awakening and slumber,
the present and the future,
the known and the unknown.
Autumn is a time of harvests, of reaping
yet also sowing, of planting.
Hardy bulbs planted now sleep deeply,
hibernate like mother bears,
deep underground,
in darkness,
in silence,
in stillness.
Both awake in spring,
with flowers, with cubs,
new growth, new life
out of that stillness,
that silence,
that darkness.

We too are called into that cave, that tomb, that dark earth into the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We too are called into quiet, into stillness, so the seeds that God has planted within us can grow.

The always not-quite-ness of being an artist.

Part of being an artist is always feeling incomplete. If you were content, you have no need to create. You would not have a lack, a hole, a vacuum, an emptiness. Artists create to fill that blank space. They must.
But the problem is that they never feel complete. They make the painting, the poem, the play, the piano sonata – and it isn’t enough. They still don’t feel done. The piece may be good enough for now, but it is never what they saw in their heads. So they have to try to fix it, or make another one, or move onto another project.
It is like living in a world where you can hear another language in your head, but you can’t ever fully speak it. Just trying to say the words is like speaking with your mouth full of water. Yet you keep trying, because to not try means to not communicate at all.
The language you were given as a child, be it English, Russian, Somali, Korean, is a pale second to your first language, which is being creative. Then, because nobody teaches you how to speak that language, you are constantly frustrated in trying to express yourself.
Yet the more you try, the better you get. Try learning different techniques from other artists, either in person or in a book. Get different art supplies. Learn a different thing entirely. If you paint, write a poem. If you write plays, learn to play the guitar. Art is art is art and it all feeds into the well you draw on to find your “words”.
Make something every day, even if it is a small something. Be okay with not being perfect. The only failure is to not try at all. Instead of getting frustrated at that not-enough feeling, learn to embrace it as why you create. Without it, you’d be a robot.

Is art right for you?

11 x 14 canvas.

Acrylic paint, gold oil pastel pencil, under-words from a prescription insert for a nose spray, warning labels from prescription bottles, magazine clippings, label from a box of multi-vitamins stamps, silver and black Sharpies, decoupage glue, rubber stamps, ink, watercolor.

Please message me if you are interested in purchasing this one of a kind artwork.

About how art is better for you than prescriptions.

Full image –
1

Details –

2

3

4

5

Thoughts on defeating depression

Plenty of people want to save the money, the social embarrassment, and avoid getting treated for depression. It is hard to admit you are depressed. It is hard to go seek help for it – to admit to a doctor that you are sick. It is seen as a sign of weakness.

But you can do a lot to stave it off. Avoid sugar – it lies to you. Avoid caffeine, or at least severely limit it. One cup of green tea a day is plenty.

Go exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym, although it is nice. Having a regular routine is good – and accountability. Go for a 20 minute walk at lunch instead of spending the whole hour sitting.

Park the car further away. Do jumping jacks. Find new ways to get moving.

Notice if you are coming up with excuses for why you can’t do this. This is normal. Don’t give in. See these impulses as a sign to keep going.

You can’t stop. This isn’t a temporary thing. You have to do this for the rest of your life – to have a life.

Put good fuel in the car, it goes well. Our bodies are the same. They are electrochemical machines. Eat well – no processed food. Learn to cook simple foods. Steaming isn’t hard and it means you get fresh vegetables. Don’t wait until you have a crash before you eat – then you’ll eat whatever is at hand. Plan your meals and eat them regularly. Don’t have junk food in your house or you will eat it.

Make art. Some of the biggest reasons for depression are that you aren’t communicating your feelings. Sometimes that is because you don’t know how to say what you need to say. Art says a lot.

TMJ as a teacher, part two.

TMJ is caused by over-clenching the jaw. We clench our jaws when we feel stressed out, but also related is when we feel silenced.

Unable to speak, forcibly silencing ourselves, we shut our mouths. Either we feel that our opinions are not wanted, or that will not be respected or well received. We fear speaking because we will be laughed at or be punished. We forcibly clench our jaws to keep ourselves from talking.

Give thanks for the self-preservation instinct. Give thanks for mindfulness too, and becoming aware. It keeps us safe, but it also operates from a fight or flight, caveman place.

Here are some options –

Give speaking a try. Write what you want to say down first, then speak it. Practice alone, like you are in a play. Before you are around those people again, pray for the words. Pray for the right time to speak as well.

If you honestly feel that you can’t talk, then create. Give voice to your fears and concerns in art. Write about it, paint it, dance it. Express it to get it out. Then you have an option – if you still feel that you cannot share this, burn it, offering it up to God.

One of the last options is to change jobs or friends. Every difficulty is a chance to grow. If you leave a difficult situation early, you are missing out on the lesson, and it will simply be repeated in the next relationship you create. However, sometimes leaving is the right thing to do. Pray about it and feel out the right answer.

Dis-Connected

full

I decided to make a collage-painting that illustrated disconnection. I’m trying to separate myself from loyalty cards. I’m trying to speak about how present they are, and how mindless. How their very presence causes us to not be present at all. If we are truly concerned about corporations stealing our identity and information, we have to stop using loyalty cards. They don’t have to steal our information when we give it to them willingly.

Also, this collage speaks about how impermanent things are. We thought Blockbuster would last forever. It has now been erased by Netflix, On-demand, and Amazon Prime. Who needs physical copies of movies anymore? You can watch whatever you want to watch, whenever you want to watch it.

But be mindful here. “They” can see what you are watching. Look at your iTunes library. It will tell you how many times you have listened to a song. No more anonymous entertainment. This too speaks to how connected we are, and not in a healthy way. We need to break free to find our own voices.

I used a painting that I had worked on before. It was a quick one, and I learned a lot when I made it, but I needed to use something for this project. I don’t have unlimited space or funds, so I didn’t start a new purpose-made canvas just for this project. I needed to double up.

I started painting swirls and designs on it, using a technique I figured out from another project. That alone was helpful – my mistakes from a previous project helped me improve this one. To get swirls and lines of color in one stroke I put three different colors next to each other on my palette (a parmesan cheese container) and put the paintbrush in the middle, catching a bit of each color on the brush.

I painted “light language” in the top left, but I’m learning that painting doesn’t get the same effect as writing with my finger or a chopstick or a Sharpie. I can only “pull” with a loaded paintbrush. “Pushing” ruins the lines and makes them spread out. I was reduced to half letters, lines, and dots.

top left

I put in some five-rayed things – hands, burning bushes, rising son, cactus. I kept trying to make a hand and finally realized I didn’t have to make it up. I could use my own hand as a model. Sometimes I make things far harder on myself, thinking I have to do it all from scratch.
Often, actually.

hands

I painted some spirals as well. These were fun. I was able to “push” the paint, not caring about the design widening out. By this point I’d apparently committed to the theme of five main things.

spiral

Then I wrote the Hebrew letters ה ב ד י נ ת
They are hey, bet/vet, dalet, yud, nun, taf, or to make it even simpler, h, b/v, d, y, n, t.

letters

I wrote these letters because they are some of the ones that I have problems with. I feel that half the Hebrew alphabet looks the same to me. Instead of dealing with similar letters in the English alphabet like b, d, p, and q – which all have a circle and a line, so look very similar if you are dyslexic, fully half of the Hebrew alphabet looks like a box with various sides present or absent. It is very confusing for me.

I did this randomly, without any plan. I thought it might be cool to write real words that are meaningful, but I was in the middle of the project and the paint was drying, so I didn’t want to slow down. I was going for visual effect at this point, not meaning.

Little did I realize there was far more meaning than I could have planned. Not planning it out has taught me that if I let go, I’ll get far more meaning than I could have ever imagined. It gives me hope that God has a plan and is working through me. It makes me feel not alone. Strangely, this piece about being dis-connected makes me feel even more connected.

I decided to see if the letters I wrote were a word. I wrote them left to right, which is opposite how Hebrew is written. I decided to look them up in Google Translate both ways. I started with how I’d written it, and I was putting in one letter at a time. I was copy-pasting from Wikipedia’s article on the Hebrew Alphabet, as I couldn’t figure out how to get those letters out of my qwerty keyboard.

Then things started to get really interesting. And weird. And a little scary.

Google Translate started translating as soon as I put in the first letter. I put in the Hebrew letters, but to make it simpler here I’m going to use the English equivalents.

H meant “the”
The second letter is a b or a v, depending on whether it has a dot in the middle or not. I decided to go for b at this point. I later used v and got no results, so I’m glad I went with b on my first try.

Hb meant nothing, but Google Translate depicts that as two straight vertical lines – which looks like 11, a significant number for me.

Hbd meant “canvas”

Hbdy meant “test for”

Hbdyn meant nothing.

And hbdynt means “Lebedyn” – a Ukranian city.

I hadn’t written gibberish. I’d written a real word – a name of a town I’d never heard of. And most of the letters along the way meant words that spoke to what I was doing.

I was a little weirded out. But I decided to put in the letters as if it was a Hebrew word, so going from right to left. One at a time, I put them in and got even more interesting results.

t means “a”

tn means “Bible”

Tny means “give”

And tnyd means “Nod” – a town.

The rest meant nothing.

Nod refers to a few things – one of them being the character in the nursery rhyme, Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. Nod is also the town to which Cain was exiled, East of Eden, after killing his brother Abel. “Nod” is the Hebrew root of the verb “to wander”, and indicates taking up a wandering life.

According to Wikipedia – “One of American writer John Steinbeck’s most famous novels is East of Eden. The betrayal of a brother is one of its central themes.”

All of this is speaking to me right now. My feeling of being betrayed, by people I should be able to trust. My wondering if I should find a new job or try to start an independent business.

As for the words, what do they mean? Give a Bible, or a Bible gives? Seek the answer in the Bible, is what I’m getting out of that. And the first set of letters? The canvas test for? Or test the canvas? The canvas has the answers – keep painting and doing collage. There is healing there. So I need to combine the Bible and canvas – read and create. Read what others have drawn down, and draw down my own revelations.

And trust the process. Trust that God has got it all, and God is leading me in the right place. I ended up with cities, not stuck on the edge of nowhere. I ended up safe, even though it wasn’t where I thought I’d end up. In fact, I didn’t know where I was going, so I’m lucky I ended up anywhere at all.

Later, I attached the loyalty cards and other ephemera. Some of them are mine, some are ones I found while cleaning out the drawers at work. I’d considered using all my actual loyalty cards, to give it more energy. I’d already removed them from my keychain and put them in my craft room. The problem is, I’ve lost them. I felt a little fear about having lost them, which only speaks to their power. If I’m afraid of someone hacking my information from them, then why am I using them?

I thought about cutting up the cards to give them even more feeling of being dis-connected. I also thought about randomly arranging them in jarring ways and angles, but I felt that making them properly horizontal or vertical looked better. I also don’t have a market for this, so I’m going to have to look at it for a while. I don’t want to look at disharmony and chaos in my craft room. I get enough of that at work.

Communication connection

I’m starting to see a connection with all the classes I’ve been taking on my own, the art I’ve been making, and the tutoring I’m doing. It is all about communication – in as many different ways as possible. It is about giving other people permission, as well as different ways, to express themselves.

Pastoral care, the Circle Process, Dialogue in Diversity training, the Remo Healthrhythms Facilitator training – they are all classes I’ve paid for. Tutoring and the classes I’ve taught in prayer bracelets – that has been without pay (mostly) and taken my free time. This is all in addition to working a full-time job.

Something has driven me to take these classes, but I didn’t know what the unifying theme was until now. At the heart of it, all conversation is about communion – our connection with each other, with our own selves, with the Divine. If that sounds too out there, I can say it is about connection to yourself and others.

And that is part of it too. I want to include as many people at once. All races, all cultures, all levels of understanding and ability. This involves learning about different ways of learning, different cultural norms, different myths and legends that shape us. This involves leveling the playing field for everybody – nobody is higher. We are all working together.

I also want people to be able to express themselves not only so they will feel understood, but so that they will understand themselves. Just because English is your native language doesn’t mean that you feel comfortable communicating in it. You may write well, but don’t like speaking out loud. You may speak well, but are embarrassed about your handwriting. Or you can’t spell because you are dyslexic.

I want to remove all of these barriers between people. I want to learn as many tools as possible to get people not only talking with each other but also listening to themselves. Dance, singing, drumming, fingerpainting, puppetry, beading – whatever. I want to learn as many ways to communicate as possible.

It is critical to get out feelings. I believe that unexpressed feelings are the source of all addiction and many diseases. I believe that giving people different ways to communicate is as important as providing equal access to buildings by making them handicap accessible.

We are all handicapped in one way or another. Written and spoken language is artificial. We aren’t born speaking or writing our “native” language. It is an arbitrary system of sounds and shapes assigned to the things around us. It is symbolic, and often difficult to use.