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 | 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 | Gustave Caillebotte’s “Sunflowers Along the Seine”

Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte, “Sunflowers Along the Seine,” ca 1885-86, Oil on Canvas, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, from the Estate of Diana Dollar Knowles

I did not plan to post today. However, my hubby dropped by my office and surprised me with a beautiful bunch of sunflowers, so now I’m in a sunny mood! This is in direct opposition to my pre-sunflowers mood—blah, eh, weary.

I will eventually share photos of my office blossoms here, but for now, let’s pause to enjoy a little bit of sunflower heaven–French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte’s (1848-1894) Sunflowers Along the Seine.

My Love Notes friend Eileen V sent this stunning masterpiece to me after we tragically lost my nephew.

Sunflowers Along the Seine by Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848–1894) is a dynamic composition in which a frieze of golden sunflowers dwarfs a view of sparkling water with a floating, white pavilion moored at the riverbank in the background. […] The flowers, which feature prominently in this depiction, and the lively color palette Caillebotte used for this subject, suggest his passion for the garden that he cultivated there. The artist often used his garden for painting en plein air to capture the effects of radiant daylight, which are conveyed here in rhythmic brushwork across the water’s surface. —Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Sunflowers have this way of seeming almost human in their interactions. Look closely and you will see sunflowers gazing across the Seine and others in conversation–some gossiping, some in deep, meaningful dialogue.

Pretty amazing artwork, right? But they still can’t take the place of beholding these beauties in real life.

Now, as promised, a little soul work with Meister Eckhart:

Nothing of My Deeds
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

When I am in the wrong mind
I presume that You desire my goodness,
but when my mind turns aright
I find that You want nothing of my deeds
and everything of my heart.


Note: You can see a couple of pics of my pretty sunnies by clicking the link in the first sentence or by checking out my IG page. 🙂

The Masters | John Bratby’s Sunflowers

John Bratby, Sunflowers I, Oil on Canvas

For our final week of Sunflower Month we will survey a few sunflower masterpieces–works of the sunflower masters that leave us in awe. We cannot possibly feature all the masters, so we will focus on [some of] those who are featured in my personal “sunflower collection.”

The sunflower art above is featured on the cover of Book of the Heart, so it is perfect for our first post of the week. The oil painting was one of many sunflower paintings by English artist John Bratby (1928-1992), best known for his central role in the Kitchen Sink School of Art, a style of realism active in London between 1952 and 1957.

We have reached the point in the pandemic at which we are all overwhelmed, anxious, and restless, so I will be sharing with this week’s sunnies selections from Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for a Restless Soul. In this collection Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows “attempt to [re]voice” the mystic’s thoughts. I hope the posts brighten your days (sunflowers) and stills your soul (Eckhart).

“Sometimes You Have to Break Things”
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

It’s true:
Sometimes you have
to break things
if you want
to grasp God in them.
In the breaking,
we allow what is holy
to take form
in us.  

Be sure to click the links to learn more about Bratby and his art and be sure to join us for more, more, more brilliant masterpieces!

Four Promises and a Gift

Tyhara Rain

“Tranquility” by Tyhara Rain

Yesterday, a friend dropped by to bring me a gift. Her gift and note became the impetus for the theme of this week’s blog posts—the gift. I will share some details of her gift later this week, but today, I’m sharing most of a blog post I wrote four years ago. I realized as I was thinking about today’s post that I wrote the post before…pretty much.

Instead of “reblogging” the post, I’m giving you the salient points and a little artsy goodness.

In order to see God’s vision for your life and become part of God’s story, there are four promises you must claim:

  1. You have a gift only you can give.

  2. Someone has a need only you can meet, only you can heal—no matter how inadequate you feel.

  3. Joy is the journey where the gift and the need collide. God’s path for your life is a collision course. The intersection where your gift crashes into the world’s need is where you will truly begin to live.

  4. Your journey to give your gift will break you…but it will also make you.  –[from Better Than You Can Imagine: God’s Calling, Your Adventure by Patrick Quinn, emphasis mine]

The excerpt from Better Than You Can Imagine unveils a principle I embrace. If we are to create change in the world then we have to find the gift someone needs—the world needs—that only we can give. We don’t just wake up one morning and decide what we’re going to give. We decide to accept and share the gift, but discovering this gift is a journey—not a decision.

Imagine how much collective change we can create if all individuals would take the journey to find that one thing and exercise it. We would literally change the world! As we partner with God on finding this “great need,” our lives are transformed from the inside out and we experience the “symbiotic” nature of change: the world opens up and reveals to us what it needs and we open up and provide.

Far too often we get caught up in the idea of making a name for ourselves or doing something grand when what seems smallest can make a huge impact on someone’s life and ultimately in the world.

Tyhara Rain

“Turbulence” by Tyhara Rain

A long time ago, I read “A Grammarian’s Funeral,” a poem by Robert Browning, which celebrates the grammarian’s lifelong dedication to Greek language study and his discovery of the articles. While he lived, his colleagues criticized his “wasting his life” and his brilliant mind on such trifles. For them his work was menial, but, though they seem a small contribution, the articles—a, an, and the—are so essential to our languages.

Like the grammarian, we must be keenly focused on finding our part and then doing it. In doing our “small” part, we change the whole.

I encourage you, if you have not already done so, take the journey to find your unique gift. In affecting even one person’s life, you’re doing your part to change the entire world.


About the Image: The artwork above is the work of one my students, Tyhara Rain. They are two of three companion pieces she gave to me as a parting gift when COVID-19 forced campus to shut down during her final semester of college and abruptly ended our long chats about art, literature, and life. :-/ We are still in touch, and I am glad she left so many precious gifts from the heart.  [Note: the scans do very little justice to these paintings].

Let’s Make Lists: Seven Bits of Wisdom from Seven Favorite Books

“Lavender in Old Book,” Photo by Ekaterina Antonova

If you haven’t been around long enough to notice, I love, love, love books and, therefore, words and quotes. When people ask “What’s your favorite book?,” I hand them a 10-page list of books (slight exaggeration). And quotes? Who can select a single favorite? “Not I,” said the rabbit [the rabbit is me].

“Old Books,” Photo by Oksana Nazarchuk

So, for today’s list—and #WednesdayWisdom—I’m sharing seven life-changing quotes from seven of my favorite books. The selection is limited and random and in no way represents a privileging or prioritizing of other works over others. If I were to list all the quotes and all the books, this blog would be about books and quotes, not pics and posts.

So here’s my list of quotes. Maybe, they’ll change your life too.

“The Shepherd laughed too. “I love doing preposterous things,” he replied. “Why, I don’t know anything more exhilarating and delightful than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection.’  Hannah Hurnard, Hinds Feet on High Places

There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.―Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart

“The life of faith is not a life of mounting up with wings, but a life of walking and not fainting.”Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

“Literary Paris,” from Obvious State

Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care, nor your nights without a want and a grief, but rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.  Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’ – or else not. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down. Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

books1

Like any other list, it would be easy for me to go waaaaaay overboard, but I’m trying to practice what I preach to my students. Sometimes, less is more.

What’s your favorite quote? Are any of these a new fav?


About the Images: Each postcard in this post was for bookish swaps on swap-bot. Aren’t they fabulous?

Creative Prayer with Maya Angelou

No Weapon

One of the most beautiful books in my extensive collection is Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter. In the collection of short essays, Angelou, ever the sage, dispenses wisdom and inspiration with snippets from her life and experiences.

In a passage entitled “Mt. Zion,” Angelou reflects on the precious moment when she realized that God loves her:

There was a possibility that God really did love me. I began to cry at the gravity and grandeur of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things. I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me, since one person with God constitutes the majority?

It is always amazing when we enter this moment of knowing God is absolutely enamored with us. Nothing can thwart our purpose when we encounter that profound love and allow it to possess us. We can walk in confidence that “come hell or high water,” through the Divine, we will win every.single.time.


About the Image: I promised myself that I would participate in Sheila Delgado’s 30-Day Creative Gathering this month. I create doodle art or photo art to “highlight” a passage of scripture [almost] daily, so to make my participation in “the gathering” easier [and more likely], I decided to pair the daily verse with my “art of the day.”

Today is Day 1.

I thought of Angelou’s words when I read the “Verse of the Day” in the Bible App (YouVersion) this morning. They seem connected to me.

Creative Prayer and Divine Power

Snapseed 63

The last couple of days were crazy-stressful.

I always become a little anxious around the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, but when a major storm hit Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of that storm, it felt like a little too much. I spent much of the weekend stress-creating (Saturday) and stress-working (Sunday) until I tired myself out.

My family in NOLA did not/could not evacuate, so when we lost contact due to power outage and sketchy cellular service, I had to constantly remind myself to remain calm.

I read the scripture featured in the doodle art above early last Thursday, and it offered calm assurance near the end of a strangely chaotic week. Soon after, I learned of Ida’s threat to the Gulf Coast and the unlikelihood of its veering in another direction or “dissipating into nothingness.”

The full Bible verse reads:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. —2 Peter 1:3 NIV

My heart needed the first phrase, so I wrote it in my journal and planner to remind myself that God has given me everything I need:

  • to tackle the endless list of tasks
  • to deal with challenging situations that pop up during the day
  • to exercise patience when my urgent questions aren’t answered
  • to overcome fatigue
  • to remain calm in the face of adversity

“To remain calm…” through Divine grace and power. That part.

My friend Cy relabeled my weekend art “creative prayers.” I think I like that phrase better.