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.

White Lake (on the Patio of a Friend)

an imitation of Billy Collins In a Room of a Thousand Miles

I like to write about where I am
where I am sitting: the wooden patio
across from an empty pool,
an the old man next door chopping wood,
a pine tree, the yellow tulips bent in the wind,
and when I drink water from a bottle
or a metal can of Dew
I will write a line about
the CRUNCH–the metal in between
my fingers and my thumb.

My friend’s dog Leo thinks I ought to open
the screen door and let him in.
He sticks out his tongue. Pants. Perhaps
he thinks I ought to write the desert
the in-between Douglas and Agua Prieta
the world of pointy cactus and motion
sensors in the mountains.

“I’ll try again,” I say, and travel back
to the chair beside the stool.
Wiggle my toes beside God’s word
and God Bless You,
Mr. Rosewater. The chair faces
the chain-linked fence.
I think about the future of US.
I consider planting a garden between US
and Mexico perennials come back every year.
I visualize mint, tomatoes, forget-me-
nots under an unforgiving desert

sun, and then–just between the two
of US–I take a swig of water and in imitation
of Gipson, Steinbeck, London
I pick up my host’s pen
and write the dog on this side
of the links
the one that barks
pauses
barks again.

The only appropriate thing to post on Easter Sunday

All power and glory and honor to the Lamb who was slain and is risen.  He is risen indeed!

I found my match in the poetry world in the 16th Century English  poet, George Herbert.  This is the poem he wrote for the occasion.  I hope you enjoy it.

Easter

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.  Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or, since all musick is but three parts vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

Foreigners, Slam Poetry and el “Dia del Turkey”

Gina Loring was the first slam poet I ever heard.  I was on a college visit to the small liberal arts school where I ended up spending the last three and a half years.  A small stage was set up with a tall microphone and a slender woman with powerful words.  “You move me.”  She wrote in the second person.  Speaking to someone in between us her audience.  “You move me like a long, cool drink of water after the steepest hike on the hottest day.”  Was she talking to us?  To man or to God? Continue reading

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.