When God Speaks Through His Word and Our Art

The bold black ink on white canvas caught my eye.  As I walked under the shaded outdoor patio of Elevate coffee, I noticed a girl tracing the penciled words with a thin brush; “Wow, that’s beautiful,” I said.  I took a closer look; the canvas read, “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.

“Can I take a picture of it?” I asked.IMG_0644

She said yes and I clarified, “I’d like to show it to my husband.”  The phrase sounded pleasant though unfamiliar and I smiled.  I stretched out my hand and introduced myself.  My new friend’s name is Jasmin.  I promised her I would return to see the finished product.

God has done this before.  Once before Asa and I started dating, I was looking at his pottery on the shelves at Desert Dragon.  He had carved around his vessel the words: “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  The Lord had been speaking these words same words to my heart.  He was using them to make me desire holiness and freedom from sin.  Now, Asa and I had barely talked at this point.  In fact, I had seen him throw and had not appreciated his work.  It wasn’t until I saw his carved pottery that I realized how talented he is.  A couple days later, I apologized to him, “I’m sorry, but I totally underestimated you,” I said.  He smiled and proceeded to win my heart and marry me months later.

But the point of my story is that God speaks to us often through His Word and moreover, through art, which I love.  When I saw Jasmin’s canvas, I saw God’s faithfulness.  I know I can trust him.  Despite the fact that, last night, my husband and I talked about silence, uncertainty and money, I know I cannot falter in my heart when it comes to God.  Because he told me, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”.  He reminded me of his Word last night.  And then, there it was today in black and white: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.

Inside of elevate, I found a friend from the ceramics studio.   “I just saw Asa last night at the studio!”  Heather hugged me and congratulated us.  We sat on the couches near the window.  On the other side friend continued working on her lettered canvas.  I felt in my heart something/someone say, “That canvas is yours.”  I continued to share pictures from the wedding.  My friend and I chatted for a while until I finished my Mocha Frappuccino and she needed to leave to pick up her kids from school.

I returned to my new friend Jasmin on the other side of the glass.  She was sitting with her finished canvas and her boyfriend, Washington.  I asked her why she picked that verse in particular.  “Sometimes God speaks a verse into my heart for that particular season of my life.  This is a time of transition for me and I felt like this verse spoke to that.”

“I love it,” I said.

Washington handed me the canvas, “It’s yours.”

Dear Lord Jesus, I always underestimate you.  I pray you continue to show me your faithfulness through your people, your Word and our art.  Thank you because you are not silent.  Give me ears to hear and eyes to see.  In your name, Jesus, Amen.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13IMG_0648

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RISE

for the students of a certain learning institution

I was a copy:
another yellow shirt,
a pair of khaki pants.

I was contained:
a lunch inside a paper bag
labeled in black sharpie.

I was detected:
a belt, a couple lose coins
I throw into the bin.

Now I am here:
a star with a name
on a desk.

Soon I will Rise;
you’ll spot me in the dark
burning in the distance.

A Simple Story about Sakura Petals and Physical Contact

Urayasu, Chiba Japan 2012

“We’re going on a walk,” My host mother says in Japanese, not the same day I arrive but on an afternoon when the sakura are in full bloom.  “Cherry Blossoms,” she says in English as if I can’t understand.  Because usually I can’t.

“Watashi mo!” I say and tag along down the concrete ramp.  She pushes my host father’s wheelchair in front of her.  We cross the street to the canal.  I walk beside my host father.  A white sheet covers his thin legs.  The wind is strong today.  It flaps and folds it over.  He struggles to pull the cloth back into place with his good hand.  I cover his knees but the wind keeps blowing.  Sakura petals fall like pink snowflakes.  My host mother wheels over the flowers on the sidewalk.

“My father was a fisherman,” she tells me simple stories in Japanese, “Once I went to Disney Sea.  They gave out free passes to all the people of Urayasu when it first opened.”

We pass a white cherry blossom tree.  “Beautiful, don’t you think?” She tilts her head over the chair to see the face of her silent husband who smiles and nods.  “Don’t you think?” She asks me.  I nod, too.

“I take a picture.”  She parks the wheel chair and pulls out her magenta camera.  “For your mother,” she says, “So she can see how beautiful they are.  How beautiful you are.”

I lean against the fragile frame of the tree.  Cheese.

“Now one with Masaki san,” she says and tucks me beside her husband’s chair.

Hope, I thought my hands could heal.  I though perhaps if I could rest a hand over the man’s shoulder he could rise dancing.  I didn’t want to do the Mexican hat dance over Japanese cultural boundaries.  I wanted to restore.

I place my hand on this man’s shoulder.  Before the camera snaps, I pull away.  I blush into the lens.

The next morning I watch Moko’s Kitchen like usual before class.  My mouth full of French toast made by my Japanese host mother.  I sprinkle more cinnamon over the yellow/brown bread.

“Deiji san,” she calls from the room, “Come here, please.”

She’s sitting on the edge of Masaki san’s bed.  “Come here,” she urges again. She faces him.  “He asked for you.”  But I have few words and he has none.

Instead he holds out his hand.  I take it.   I look at my Japanese father’s moistened eyes wishing I could tell him about the One who healed me.  But if I flew 13 hours for this moment alone, it was well worth it.

I know Christ healed two people that day: a tired stranger and a beautiful man, both longing for contact.  I have yet to see my host father rise from his chair and dance for the Lord.  But I am certain of this, God restores.  He has restored and he will continue to do his work in us and through us until the day of Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory forever and ever.

Grown-up?

I’m not sure if the kids at my church understand that I am technically an adult and not just a larger version of a kid. It doesn’t matter I guess. I like pretending. I’ll humor them, like they humor grown-ups, like I humor grown-ups too.

“You’re under arrest,” transformers t-shirt, age 5, tells me. He wraps my hairband around my wrists like handcuffs.
“Why?” I ask.
“You gotta come with me,” he says. With all his authority, he takes me to the small scale replica of noah’s ark which doubles as a prison cell and library.
“You stay here and you don’t come out”
“I demand a lawyer.” I pound at the imaginary bars. Pretending is a serious act. You gotta play by the rules.
This is the playground. The place where life is lived, where scenes are built, where stories are created. Here is the kitchen where tony the tiger t-shirt, age 4, brews invisible coffee and pours out an empty cup (“Be careful. It’s hot.”) for me to sip with a satisfactory, “AHh!” at the end.
“What are you doing outside your cell,” asks transformers, pulling me off of a teeny yellow chair. He looks at tony the tiger in the eye, “she’s gotta go to jail.”
They are little actors in a self-directed drama.

“What does it take to be a grown-up?” I ask you in the international lounge on a Friday. I’m humoring you. Perhaps, I think I’m wiser, older. I’m wrong on both accounts of course.
You say, “You gotta know how to handle kids.”
“You gotta know how to change a tire,” I offer. “Do you?”
“Yeah of course,” you say, “You gotta exercise and eat and sleep right.”
I nod.
“You gotta…manage your finances.”
This doesn’t sound as much fun as my nights in the nursery. I think about our conversation much deeper into the night and dream about it a bit. I suppose, I’ll have to live it all out at some point. After a brief three months, I’ll have to act in my own little drama called, “Life after Hope.” Pretending works for the kids at the nursery. Through story-telling, they learn how to play by the rules, how the “real” world works. Can’t I do the same?

My roommate wakes me up the next morning too early to go sledding, but, after a couple of runs, my adrenaline is pumping. I spin a couple times down the hill. I think, this ought to be on the checklist. I fall over and climb back up the hill. That’s when we bump into each other, and I say, “In order to be a grown-up, you gotta know when to be a kid.”

So humor the grown-ups, humor the kids, go ahead and humor yourself thinking you’re a grown-up. But know this: God is not done with us yet. Let him teach you about his world through everything: snow, stories and coffee mugs. In the time frame of eternity, we are all still crazy kids pretending to have it all together.

My Bro and Me

Hunger for Glory: Beowulf Dies on an Empty Stomach

Aside

“‘If more of us valued food, cheer and song above hoarded gold it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!'”
Thorin’s last words from The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien

While the writer of Beowulf, a classic epic poem, intertwines heroic values and Christian values, the tension that these often contradictory values create does not threaten the overall integrity of the story. Although the Christian writer illustrates heroic values of glory, treasure and pride, he equally illustrates the ephemeral nature of life and thus questions the significance of these values.

The last three lines of the poem glorify Beowulf as a “man most gracious and fair-minded kindest to his people and keenest to win fame” (lines 3180-2). Beowulf had generously given to his subjects both kindness and riches which is clearly a Christian value. On the other hand, the later trait, his hunger for fame, taints the first. Humility would be the more Christian of traits for a king, but Beowulf does not appear to have a humble bone in his body.

Well, even if he did have one, all his bones were burned on his funeral pyre. Every battle in Beowulf’s past had climaxed to the final one with the dragon, a symbol of Beowulf’s burning hunger for glory.

Beowulf and the Dragon (J.R. Skelton, 1908)

Perhaps this hunger, this greed, points to something bigger.  Perhaps, like all humans, Beowulf longs for the eternal.   To quote C.S. Lewis, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  Yet, Beowulf would die without the satisfaction of the knowledge of Christ.  Beowulf would sacrifice his life for earthly treasure  and afterward would be consumed by fire.  What use to man is a pile of gold and a chorus of exaltations once he is dead?  Can riches and respect defer the judgement of the Almighty?   All the ashes that were left were buried with the treasure “as useless to men now as it ever was” (line 3167).  With these words, the writer laments that the treasure was unworthy of Beowulf’s life.

Which brings us to another character from familiar story of a rich fool.  Jesus tells us about him in the 12th chapter of Luke.  The man can be commended for his shrewdness.  How many people could benefit from storing up treasure for many years to “relax, eat, drink and be merry”?  But God calls this man out, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you and the things you have prepared whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).  In the same way, Beowulf faces death on an empty stomach.  “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (12:21).

Similar to The Hobbit’s hero Thorin, Beowulf is a noble character with both admirable qualities and tragic vices.  The integrity of the writer of Beowulf lies in the fact that he neither undermines the importance of heroic values to the protagonist nor does he neglect the futility behind the objects of his pursuit.  Let these men be like parables to all of us.  That we (myself included) may learn to give our lives for true gold that doesn’t perish.

Dumpster Diving: The Make-Up of Stories and Dreams

I am one chapter into Robert Olen Butler’s book “From Where You Dream.” This is the first post I write among many about his sharp observations on the process of writing fiction.  Butler advises the aspiring writer to toss aside her ambition “to be the person on the dust jacket” (13). Trash the desire to be published! to be famous, to win a prize, to create art.

self explanatory 🙂

Instead, let the sensual experience of life teach you a little something about creation. The worst stories come from ideas: generalizations, abstractions, analysis. For a story to be real it must be experienced while it is written  like a dream. As new-agey as this is going to sound, bear with me, a story much be entered into like a house. You must find the door: what color is it? Wrap your hands around the handle, and swing the door wide open. Walk in. See, hear, feel. Taste, smell. Simultaneously, write.
Butler ventures that our bodies have built up plenty of defences to keep us out of our dreams while we are conscious  I can see why. The other night I had another one of those pants-less-in-class dreams. I’m not sure why those are so typical. I am an awfully forgetful person, but in my waking moments seldom do I ever forget to put on pants before I go to class. The point is that normal people don’t want to revisit the place they dream. Which is why it’s so hard to find the door to a good story.

For me it is more of a heavy lid to a dark dumpster full of sensory details both good and bad. Many of them I try to avoid because they are broken and I don’t want to be hurt. My literal dreams, those that take place when I’m asleep, are not always pretty and often take the colour of those past experiences that I would rather not relive.

When I first became a Christian, I thought I was no longer allowed to break. In my father’s house there’s this bowl of porcelain fruit. My poetry, like this hollow fruit, was shiny, polished and completely artificial. Inedible. When my readers asked for substance, I was insulted. Why couldn’t they accept my ideas? Were they too religious? I didn’t want to cut myself on the jagged edges of the things inside the dumpster.

This isn’t me, but, next time I dumpster dive, I’ll make sure to wear heels, nylons and a long black skirt. Pretty classy.

But in the end, it wasn’t poetry that called me to deal with my past. It was God:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

Recently, I have heard a rumour going around that Christian art is dead or dying at the least. But I don’t think its true. Most art worth your time speaks truth. Most art worth your time recognizes the fallen nature of this planet. If anyone on this crazy globe can speak these about these two things, it is the Christian, broken and familiar with her hurts and failures.

I am not attached to my past. It is afterall in a dumpster. But I will not refuse to scavenger there for pieces, images that glorify God. Whether for their brokenness or for their wholeness. Mr. Butler, I will take your challenge to dumpster dive from where I dream. I got my head lamp on, and I’m about to take the plunge