Gratitude and Grace | #ThursdayTreeLove | Thank You, Trees

11-16-21 Tree Walk-8

In our recent exchange about one thing in nature we’re grateful for, my bestie was surprised that I did not say sunflowers. We all know how much I love sunflowers [I am indeed grateful for them]. But trees? They save my life! In fact, none of us would be able to live without them…literally.

This fact was underscored in an exchange I had with Elaine V, one of my colleagues, a couple of weeks ago. I was feeling a little under the weather, so I mentioned that maybe some time outdoors in the sun would help. She responded that would be perfect because “trees give off natural negative ions that help boost immunity and kill pathogens.” [Did I mention Elaine is a biologist?] This made me love trees even more! Who knew that was even possible?

11-16-21 Tree Walk-9

I’m sure you learned about the benefits of trees in elementary school—how they pull the yucky stuff like carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with good stuff we need to survive, like oxygen. But there are many, many other things trees provide for human life and for our planet. You can read about the goodness of trees by clicking any (or all) of the links below.

11-16-21 Tree Walk-10

Thank you, trees.

Thank you for the air we breathe, the homes we live in, the fires that keep us warm.

Thank you for the endless creativity you offer in your diversity and thank you for the continuous inspiration.

Thank you for the homes you provide for the animals.

Thank you for teaching us how to reach for the stars while staying true to our roots.

Thank you for teaching us balance.

Thank you for teaching us how to climb, swing, and dangle; thank you for all the good times we’ve shared.  –Michael McMillan, “Giving Thanks to Trees”

It’s a special treat that #ThursdayTreeLove always falls on Thanksgiving. Thank God for trees!

Happy Thanksgiving!


About the Images: The iPhone photos in this post are from one of my mid-November “tree walks” on campus. I escaped my office for a quick break between meetings and to move my body. I was headed back when the bright yellow leaves tree beckoned. I walked past my office and spent about 10 minutes with the tree. Solid tree therapy.

I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Gratitude and Grace | Start Here

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I can’t help thinking no word will ever be as full of life as this world,   
I can’t help thinking of thanks. –Suji Kwock Kim, “Slant”

Since we are in the season of thanksgiving, my bestie enlisted a group of women in her circle to participate in a gratitude challenge this month. She shared a November calendar that offers daily prompts and invites participants to ponder on the things for which they are grateful. 

Indeed, it has been a challenge selecting just one thing daily, but that’s a good thing. It underscores a life overflowing with goodness, and I do not take that for granted.

What I really appreciate about the prompts is that they invite us to focus on experiences instead of material things. I am indeed grateful for the necessities and the creature comforts, but it is experiences, not things, that make a full life.

Thankfulness doesn’t have to begin or end in November, so if you’d like to start a gratitude practice, start with the simple prompts we used: Gratitude Journal Prompts.

Until next time…

November Chaos | But. I. Must.

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Hard times require poetry, so I’m throwing myself into the works of some of my favorite poets this evening. I’m laying down all the challenges of the week, the month, the year, all the disgust I feel over the Rittenhouse verdict, and all the pent up emotions over [it seems] a hundred other things.

If we are not careful, the bitter disappointments and horrors of this world can make us distant and cold, so let’s meditate on the wisdom of Maya Angelou and strive to show up in a way that will stand for eternity.

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“Continue” by Maya Angelou
(This is part of the poem written as a gift for Oprah Winfrey)

My wish for you
Is that you continue

Continue

To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness

Continue

To allow humor to lighten the burden
of your tender heart

Continue

In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter

Continue

To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined

Continue

To remind the people that
Each is as good as the other
And that no one is beneath
Nor above you

Continue

To remember your own young years
And look with favor upon the lost
And the least and the lonely

Continue

To put the mantel of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless

Continue

To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise

Continue

To plant a public kiss of concern
On the cheek of the sick
And the aged and infirm
And count that as a
Natural action to be expected

Continue

To let gratitude be the pillow
Upon which you kneel to
Say your nightly prayer
And let faith be the bridge
You build to overcome evil
And welcome good

Continue

To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit

Continue

To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing

Continue

To float
Happily in the sea of infinite substance
Which set aside riches for you
Before you had a name

Continue

And by doing so
You and your work
Will be able to continue
Eternally

I pray that you continue…

November Chaos | “Too Many Funerals”

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“Too many funerals.” That’s how one of my friends ended her reply to my “thinking of you” text message this morning. Moments later, I read a post by another friend in which she mentioned that she was gathering photos for the double funeral of her aunt and her cousin.

I’ve lost count of the number of “death” calls, text messages, emails, and conversations I’ve had over the last few months. Our unfortunate reality is that we have all suffered too much loss since March 2020, and we are in a constant state of grief and coping. On top of our collective sorrow, the losses are personal. Therefore, it is crucial that we not use the reasoning that “everyone is going through something” to downplay individual pain.

We must also be careful to not allow the steady repetition of this “news” to desensitize us to the significance of every single loss. Rather, we should tune in and allow ourselves the space and time to give into the sadness and accompanying feelings.

We ended my British Literature class yesterday with 16th/17th century poet John Donne’s “Sonnet X,” perhaps better known as “Death, Be Not Proud.” This is one of my favorites because Donne, in spite of his discomfort with and fear of death, pulled out of himself a direct address to death. He called it out for the powerless perpetrator it is and reminded it that–because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection– paradoxically, death’s own end is imminent.

I’m looking forward with hope to that moment when we will grieve no more.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
–John Donne, “Holy Sonnet X” or “Death, Be Not Proud”

November Chaos | A Moment with the Willow

Anxiety to Joy

We are halfway through November, and I’m finally making my first post of the month! Gasp!

I had this month’s posts planned since September, but after I realized how chaotic this month would be, I “aborted” the mission–to daily share a piece of art I created in September for Sheila’s Creative Gathering. I will share those pieces as the “Spirit moves” and let November be what it will be. [Many prayers, hugs, and hearts for Sheila who is seriously ill and in the hospital].

Today, I am moved to share one of the 10 “abstract” photo art pieces I created for the Gathering. It captures my time with one of the weeping willows at the Unity Pond on campus. However, it is the Bible verse I paired with the photo that compels me to share–a verse of scripture I meditate on frequently and one I often repeat to others as they grapple with anxiety and stress these days.

When anxiety was great within me,
Your consolation brought me joy. —Psalm 94:19

We have been dealing with a bit “too much” over the last 19-20 months. In the early months, we realized and appreciated our need for the slowing down the pandemic required. Now, instead of seeing this time as an opportunity to do things differently and better, we are trying to force an old norm that no longer serves us. I’m convinced that besides the loss and trauma of this moment, much of our sense of overwhelm and anxiety comes from our rush to normal—exacerbated by our not taking time to sit with and process our grief.

It seems everyone I encounter these days is overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious. I have this horrible sense that if we don’t pause or slow down, we’re headed for an even bigger crisis.

Perhaps, you’re feeling all those things too.

I hope a moment with the willow and these words remind you there is relief. Thankfully, in God’s presence we can find comfort, peace, and joy, even when life makes it difficult to pause or slow down.

May you carry that with you.

The Masters | Faith Ringgold’s Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles and “Our Dedication to Change in the World”

Faith Ringgold. The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles. Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border. 1991.

The National Sunflower Quilters of America are having quilting bees in sunflower fields all over the world to spread the cause of freedom. Aunt Melissa has written and informed me of this to say: “Go with them to the sunflower fields in Arles. And please take care of them in the foreign country, Willa Marie. These women are our freedom,” she wrote.

For our last sunflower masterpiece we bask in the awesome “presence” of Faith Ringgold’s  The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles. A print of the masterpiece sits in my home office [still] waiting to be framed. I have been trying to get to this post since I purchased it, but put it off many times because I am inclined to approach her work academically. For sanity’s sake, I need to keep my academic work and my blog separate.

Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) is an African American painter, mixed media sculptor, performance artist, writer, teacher and lecturer. Her work often carries strong socio-political messages about the African American experience. 

The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles is the fourth piece in Ringgold’s French Collection, a collection of 12 story quilts, that “uses a combination of painted images, narrative text, and decorative borders to explore the often absent role of African-American women in the art-world, particularly in Paris during the 1920s.” (Ellen C. Caldwell).

The story quilt features “The Sunflower Quilters Society of America” and its March 22, 1922 effort, a quilt bedecked with gorgeous sunflowers. Eight influential African American women hold the edge of the quilt, surrounded by a field of sunflowers in Arles. A “tormented” Vincent van Gogh stands just behind them offering his still life, Fifteen Sunflowers in a Vase, to the queens of change: Madam C.J. Walker, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ella Baker [In a 1996 print, Ringgold added her fictional character in the lower left beside Madam C.J. Walker].

Around the edges of the quilt is the story–in 12 parts–of the Sunflower Quilters, as told by Ringgold’s fictional character, Willa Marie Simone. Van Gogh is a troublesome presence to some, like Harriet Tubman, who demands, “Make him leave. He reminds me of the slavers.” But Van Gogh is firmly planted: “Like one of the sunflowers, he appeared to be growing out of the ground.” And when the sun went down and it was time for the women to leave, “the tormented little man just settled inside himself and took on the look of the sunflowers in the field as if he was one of them” [Part 7].

I got to get back to the railroad, Harriet said. “Ain’t all of us free yet, no matter how many them laws they pass. Sojourner fighting for women’s rights. Fannie for voter registration. Ella and Rosa working on civil rights. Ida looking out for mens getting lynch. Mary Bethune getting younguns education, and Madam making money fixing hair and giving us jobs. Lord we’re sure busy.” [Part 11]

Through The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles Ringgold pays homage to and celebrates African American women and their contributions to education, freedom, and justice. She also honors the fine artistry of African American quilt making. Through the piece she acknowledges van Gogh’s contribution to the art world, but she calls on us to also recognize the equal contribution of African American women artists.

Want more information? Be sure to click the links in this posts and check out these additional links:

Until next time…Shine on!

 

The Masters | Anguish and Gratitude: Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers with Heart

Vincent Van Gogh. “Three Sunflowers in a Vase.” Oil on Canvas. August, 1888, Arles. United States. Private Collection.

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with all the sunflower goodness this week. Sadly, we’re just two more posts away from the end of “Sunflower Month.”

I am clearly intrigued by the approach of the masters to the sunflower. Many of them seem to have been as taken with its luminescent beauty as I am. I am in no way an artist like the masters featured all week, but sunflowers are certainly the most doodled flower in my journals, sketchbooks, and letters.

When I began this final week of “Sunflower Month,” I had intended to do only three posts, but I got a little carried away because there were more than three sunflower masters in my collection. My favorite, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch Post-Impressionist, was always on the list. Let’s consider the “sunflower tree” a bonus post, because this week of masters will not be complete without attention to his still life sunflower series—especially with the final masters post I have in mind. 😉

Vincent Van Gogh. “Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers.” Oil on Canvas. August 1888, Arles. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

From 1888-1889, van Gogh completed seven sunflower still life masterpieces in the studio he shared with Paul Gaugin in Arles, France. He had intended to fill the walls with their brilliance before Gaugin’s arrival. The two featured above are in my postcard collection, thanks to Debbie T, my Love Notes pal (Twelve Sunflowers), and Eepy on swap-bot (Three Sunflowers).

There are four others in the Sunflower Series that were completed in 1887 in Paris. One of them–Four Cut Sunflowers (below)– took my breath away the first time I saw it!

Vincent Van Gogh. Allotment with Sunflower, Paris, July 1887. Oil on Canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

In a letter to his sister Willemien, van Gogh writes:

[…] the desire comes over me to remake myself and try to have myself forgiven for the fact that my paintings are, however, almost a cry of anguish while symbolizing gratitude in the rustic sunflower.  (Letter 856)

Perhaps this tension explains why van Gogh’s “still life” sunflowers are anything but “still.” Each sunflower–in the vases or cut and wilting on a table–is full of personality, life, and movement. Each evokes an emotional response.

I read somewhere that van Gogh wanted to be remembered for his brilliant sunflowers (goal accomplished!) and that people honored his desire by wearing sunflowers to his funeral.

What a radiant sendoff!

Like the Heart

Let me seek You
in the darkness
of my silence

and find You
in the silence
of Your light.

which is
love shining
like the sun

flowing
like a river
and joying

like the heart

Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

The Masters | Claude Monet’s Bouquet of Sunflowers

Claude Monet. Bouquet of Sunflowers. 1881. Oil on Canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All of our “masters” posts thus far have focused on sunflowers growing in their natural spaces, so today we turn to still life with Claude Monet’s (1840-1926) “Bouquet of Sunflowers.” Monet was one of the founders of the Impressionist Movement, and this masterpiece was exhibited at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition. The bouquet was arranged and staged with sunflowers that grew along the path to his garden in Vetheuil (France).

If you do a little Google research you will find comparisons of Monet’s and Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers. Even the greats like Paul Gaugin and Van Gogh himself compared the two–Gaugin favoring Van Gogh’s over Monet’s and Van Gogh “conceding” that Monet’s is the better of the two.

For me, there is no comparison. Each artist brought his gifts to the canvas and presented the sunflower in his own unique and timeless style.

You will know

When God has taken up residence in your heart.
How?
Your spirit will move with swifts and striving,
you won’t be caught just thinking about things.
For this God of ours is not a God of thoughts
so much as a God alive.

Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

#ThursdayTreeLove | The Masters | Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflower Tree with “Room to Grow”

Vincent Van Gogh. Allotment with Sunflower, Paris, July 1887. Oil on Canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

Of course, I realize this is not a tree, but if a sunflower were a tree—this is what it would look like, towering over us all with all its sunny goodness—maybe with a few more blossoms.

I’d planned a different Vincent van Gogh post for this week, but since today is “tree love” Thursday, I decided to try passing off a sunflower as a tree. This is the type of sunflower that my student Wanéa finds a little scary. No flower should be taller than a human, in her opinion, so for her sake, yes, let’s consider this a tree.

Please enjoy van Gogh’s Allotment with Sunflower with a meditation for the restless soul:

Room to Grow
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

My life is like a page on which
So much is already:

hurts and joys and the tumble
of fears and uncertainties.

What You want of me, God, is
that I clean the slate, emptying

it of all this to make room for
the freedom of nothingness

where alone You, my God,
have room to grow.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

The Masters | Gustav Klimt’s Sunflowers in Gardens

Gustav Klimt. Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen (1905/1906). Belvedere Palace and Museum, Vienna.

What is the purpose of creation?
That everything might simply be. —Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows, from “Lesson I” (Unlearning)

Since we’re on the subject of postcards from Eileen V, I might as well share the two Klimt postcards she sent last year. Eileen keeps me well supplied with sunflowers, so it was with pleasure that she sent and I received–not one but–two sunflower postcards featuring the work of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). Klimt was a Symbolist painter and a founding member of the  Vienna Secession (Art Nouveau) movement.

Despite his extensive portfolio. I am, unsurprisingly, drawn most to his sunflower pieces.

The piece above is entitled Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen  (or Farm Garden with Sunflowers). My camera and I would love to explore such a garden exploding with color.  [Note: I have seen four different dates assigned to this work, so I am not sure of the correct date–1905-1906, 1912, 1913, 1916–but 1905/06 seems more likely].

The second scene, Die Sonnenblume (or The Sunflower), could have been extracted from another part of the garden presented in the first piece–though that is clearly not the case.

Klimt

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), “Die Sonnenblume” (“The Sunflower”), 1906/1907, Private Collection, Vienna

The scan does very little for this postcard. The broad leaves of the sunflower are trimmed in gold and the postcard itself features gilded edges. Unfortunately, the scan rendered them a strange, dark color, which wasn’t visually appealing (so I cropped away the border). Notwithstanding the subpar scan, Her Majesty is pretty impressive.

For a glimpse of the unaltered original, click here: Die Sonnenblume, and for Farm Garden with Sunflowers, click here: Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen [Be sure to click the links above to learn a little about the artist and the works].

Klimt gifted us sunflowers and gardens that serve no other purpose but to live gloriously in their natural state. Their brilliance beckons us and we simply stand in awe.