Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bursting into Life....the journey of Lent

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.  For me, it is the completion of a painting journey I have been on for the last month -- a journey to explore how we are reborn out of the “ash” of our lives; how reflecting upon this ash can rewaken our souls.  
Why? Because ash is the first symbol for the Christian Lenten Season.  My favorite artist and theologian, Jan Richardson, blogs in The Painted Prayerbook, “Ashes can be a thing of wonder, of rebirthing, of renewal. This day in the Christian year (Ash Wednesday), this day of ashes, tells us that ashes—dust, dirt, earth—are the stuff from which we have been made, and to which we will return. It seeks to ground us, to make us mindful of the humus, the humility, the earthiness of which our bones and flesh are made. And yet, in the midst of this, the season calls us to open ourselves to the God who brings life from ashes, who works wonders amid destruction, who cries out and grieves in the presence of devastation and terror, and who breathes God’s own spirit into the rubble.”
As I am preaching tomorrow evening, I wanted to know what that looks like.  What does it look like when life is reborn from ash, when the Holy breathes Her own spirit into the rubble of our lives to bring it to life anew; to bring wholeness, fullness, Energy?  I learned two important things on this painting journey.
Being reborn from ash is not a slow process where the Energy of the Holy slowly creeps in and covers the darkness of our lives, like Clifford Still’s paintings where color slowly creeps its way across the black bringing new life into the painting.  I thought that when I began this journey.  But as I allowed the creative process to teach me the truth of this Holy Energy, I have come to understand that is not the case.  Rather, the Holy bursts forth from within us; bursts out of the box we have worked to contain Her in like a supernova exploding in space; like a flame of fire bursting up from a pile of ash and wood.  
This rebirth is an explosion within our souls that unleashes a tremendous Energy to propel us forward onto a path that we otherwise would not have had the energy or willpower to take -- a path that will lead us, if we follow it, to a Re-Awakening of our Soul!  
It is a tremendous gift, that Holy shove out the door of our cocoons of safety.  And yet is it also a scary gift to loose the safety of that shell so quickly and, sometimes without preparation or warning.  It seems to me that this is the way the Holy works.  We get too comfortable, too lazy.  We accept our lives the way they are.  It works for us.  I may not feel passionate about what I’m doing.  I may feel stuck.  I may feel boxed in.  I may feel contained.  But, that is okay because I’m comfortable and I can live with that.  I’m nesting, settling....
In my life, that is when the Holy comes and bursts out of Her box cracking the shell of my cocoon and leaving me bare to the world around me.  Sometimes it does not feel like a gift.  This time, it feels like a gift.  This time, although I was not ready, the explosion gave me enough momentum to continue down this new and inviting path of Re-Awakening and Re-Visioning.
And that leads me to the second thing I learning.  This Re-Awakening and Re-Birth that starts with an explosion continues as a journey.  It is all about the journey.  We need that first huge burst of Holy Energy to get us started; to propels us forward out of the quicksand that has bogged us down; to give us momentum to continue down this wonderfully exciting and fearful path.
This is what Life is about:  the invitation to journey as close to the Holy as we can; whatever the Holy means you.  This Great Cosmic Energy in the World is inviting us to tap into Her Unending Reserve to Re-Awaken our Soul and in the process bring about justice and peace and shalom. 

Know and believe that what the Holy creates and graces and blesses may be beset and broken but will not destroyed. “Life finds its way: ancient memory takes hold, follows the path of the ash, inscribes itself anew, beauty blazing from the wreck and ruin” Re-Awakening our Soul. (Jan Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook)  Trust that this invitation from the Holy to set out on a journey that allows the ashes of our lives to be transformed and born anew, that invites us to tap into the Unending Energy Reserve of the Holy will Awaken our FULL selves.  It is an invitation to live LARGE in the world.  Unashamed.  Whole.  Strong.  Joy-filled.  Centered.   

It starts with that cosmic bursting within our Souls that propels us forward; that invites us to explore where our passion is; where our hearts are most alive; where are Spirits are least contained.  It beckons us to put one foot in front of the other as we follow the journey of considering what is most basic, what is elemental, what survives after all that is extraneous is burned away.  It is a journey to work through the chaos stripping away layer upon layer that threatens to dulls us to the presence of the Holy, and insulates us from that Energy that can bring us to a place of full Awakening.  
My advice:  allow that Cosmic Energy to burst forth from your soul and follow it.  It will take you to places you never dreamed of.  It is worth it!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ashes to Paint...

I pastor a very small church.  There are usually about 25 people in worship on a Sunday morning, choir included.  It is probably the smallest church in town, although there are two other small Protestant churches.  We have begun doing things together, worshipping together for specific occasions, such as Christmas Sunday and New Year’s Sunday.  So, we will worship again together, us and the Reformed, on Ash Wednesday, exploring what the Holy is inviting us to reflection up during this Lenten Season.  The Reformed are hosting, which I love because that means I can just show up and worship, maybe read, but not have to preach.  Well, not this time.  
Clyfford Still Painting
The Reformed pastor invited me to preach Ash Wednesday.  My head said no.  My gut said, “wait a moment”.  My creative spirit thought, “you could express Ash Wednesday through ash and paint, through art and preach from that.”  I liked that.  So before I could say no, I answered that I would preach and committed myself to this creative process and expression.  Then I walked in and painted my root chakra.  (Yes everything gets all intertwined in my life.)
Clyfford Still Painting
I began to have images and thoughts about the paintings.  I must take an aside and tell you that one of my favorite artists is Clyfford Still.  Clyfford Still’s art is mainly one color, black, textured with other colors creeping in.  My favorite is an all black painting with the hint of red on the edge.  It hung in the Art Institute in Chicago on one end of an open room.  If you turned around, another hung opposite it.  That one was mostly black with more color invading the black.  It felt like by turning around I moved from death to life, from woundedness to healing and wholeness.  I could feel a spiritual movement in my soul as I went from one painting to another.  I love those paintings and when I lived in Chicago visited them often.  They have stuck with me.  Now, with this invitation to preach, I felt an invitation to play with ash exploring through this style of painting how we are reborn out of the “ash” of our lives; how reflecting upon our past experiences can inform our future vision and growth.
Luckily for me, I was staying with friends who have a fireplace and use it!  Before leaving, we filled two bags with ash.  One from the bottom of his fireplace.  In it was not only ash but pieces of wood and kindling that had not quite burned completely.  The other from the basement where the extra ash falls.
Then once home, I went to the art supplies store and bought paint and medium, canvas and paper, paint brushes and sponges.  Medium to turn the ash into paint.  I brought it all home and it has sat for that last week or so.  I have busied myself with other things: painting doors and walls with rollers, cleaning, writing sermons, working, walking puppy, laundry, TV -- all along ignoring that invitation to create.....until last night.
I took out all my supplies.  I covered the table with the plastic and drop clothes I dug out to paint the doors and walls.  I pulled out the paper and canvas and set it on the table. I opened the ash and began to mix it with the medium.  And I painted....
It was like painting with mortar, thick and rough.  I thinned it with water and covered the canvas.  The color was different than I thought it would be.  The texture was nice, interesting. It really would allow me to express woundedness quite well.  I began to layer it, creating texture, creating the wound.  
Then as I was mixing another batch of ash paint I came across those pieces of not-completely-burned wood and chunks of ash.  I took them and placed them in different places on the wound.  I sprinkled ash over it.  I then took more of the paint and began to work it all together, adding layers and clumps and texture where it felt right to do so.  I grabbed the large unbroken black chunks of ash and broke them apart allowing them to sprinkle on top of the wound.  Then I left it to dry, to harden...
I came back and added some red.  The red was too powerful.  It overpowered the painting and took away from the wound.  I tried to hid it with more ash, but that didn’t work.  I scrapped it off.  It left a hint of red stain on the canvas and I covered it with more ash paint.  The effect was cool.  That seemed right.  I did the same around the edges of the wound, integrating the red so that only hints of red appear.  And I walked away to allow it to dry.
I went and ran errands for a few hours getting all the business of the day done.  I got back and the painting completely changed between wet and dry.  The ash changed color.  The red stain became like clay hughed.  
I stared at it.  I took the pup for a walk.  I stared at it some more.  It seemed complete.  I had thoughts of wanting to add more color but my gut said, “no this is the wound.  Nothing else should distract from this wound.  It is a powerful wound, one that echoes the wounds of Christianity with ash and wood.  It is complete.”  I signed it.
I feel like I finally got that wound that resided deep down in my soul out.  It started with painting the Inner Goddess; with ripping the paper and creating that wound; adding color and flowers and working at expressing both woundedness and healing.  This time, I just expressed woundedness.  I allowed for that wound to show up on that canvas.  I poured into it the tearing that oppression and discrimination and abuse and violence does to our souls, especially when it is steeped in Christian doctrine; when its goal is to tear at the Holy residing in our soul, to take God away.   That’s why the red didn’t go.  This is Good Friday:  the darkening of the sky; the crucifixion; the tearing of the curtains on the Holy of Holies.  Then and now.  For Christ, for God, for me, for you.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What is My Root?

What is My Root?
As I wrote in a previous blog, I prepared for the painting of my root chakra.  I read all about the root chakra and what it governs.  I learned the foods and color and exercise that you could do to open your root chakra.  I wore red.  I ate root veggies.  I found amazing lavender chocolate.  And I walked and walked and walked putting my feet on the ground, feeling the energy of the earth under me. 
And I dreamed in red.  I dreamed images of yoga poses.  I dreamed of red rivers flowing forth from the Holy.  I dreamed of Paradise.  I was curious heading toward this painting experience to see what would happen when the brush touched that paper.
I started painting placing the image of my dreams on the paper.  I painted a red figure in tree pose in the center of the paper.  It seemed to me that energy radiated out from that figure and so I sponged color radiating out from the figure.  It was cool.  And that is when this experience got interesting...
My teacher came to me and asked if I was painting from my root chakra.  I thought so.  Wise as she is, she did not.  And, of course, she was right!  As I stared at the painting I was painting from my dreams, from my head, not my root. So I did the only thing that I could think of -- I painted down, down to my root chakra.  I took the brush and began to paint down turning the legs into a river --  echoing in my soul the images of first century Paradise. 
The invitation was to continue to paint down, down and wide.  So I added more paper and painted down widening out this river that was flowing from my soul.  As I filled the paper with red I began to realize that it was not a river but a meadow and the invitation was to inhabit that meadow, to bring to life all that is growing within the meadow of my spiritual foundation -- my root.
The problem  was that images of houses and boxes were coming into my head.  I knew in my gut that no box would ever appear on this painting.  I was not going to box or contain my spirit, my energy, my soul.    All that I have experienced over the past two weeks was about bursting out of boxes not being contained/housed in them!  I ignored those boxes, those houses, and turned to nature, to wonder, to exploring the image of the tree that was so powerful when I painted my Inner Goddess.  I began to paint trees and flowers and a river.  Then I put feet on the flowers.  I don’t know why.  It just seemed like that was the right thing to do.  It felt right.  It felt good.  So I did it.  I went back and painted feet on each flower.  And I smiled.  Something was opening up, moving, inviting me to move deeper toward the Holy inside of me.
That was when the figures appeared.  In yellow.  There but not there.  You can easily miss them when you look at the painting because they are so light.  Because they are LIGHT.  There in my soul, my spirit -- the Incarnation of the Holy.  In tree pose -- solid, rooted, spreading upward toward heaven, connecting heaven and earth.  In child pose, resting, stretching, being quietly.  In “bring it on” (as a friend calls it) inviting the universe to bring forth whatever it will, defiant, strong, ready to act in the world.  In seated namaste, mediating, listening, breathing in the Holy, centering myself.  There it is:  the balance between action and rest, between play and work, the Sabbath Center and how it is growing out of me.
I sat and pondered the painting, taking it in, waiting for the next invitation when  The Critic came.  This was not the invitation I wanted, yet one to struggle with.  It came and I felt unhappy with the painting.  I felt that the red of the meadow did not go with the red of the paper above.  So I attempted to blend it with a sponge.  Sponging the paint from the river above onto the meadow and back up, darkening the red of the meadow.  And that is when the Critic left, when the painting became physical and therapeutic and cathartic.  
Somehow when I painted with the sponge up a strong feeling said “Keep going.” So I did.  I kept sponging up.  And I saw it.  I saw the volcano of my soul ready to explode.  I sponged up and out in red covering all the purple, covering the initial figure, covering the paper with movement and explosion.  But it did not feel quite right.  It was not exploding.  It was emanating.  It needed to explode.
Ah, I could throw paint at the painting.  Yes.  That is it.!  I asked for help from my teacher who taught me the technique simply inviting me to just do it.  I did.  I flung paint at that painting.  I flung with all my might, all my frustrations, all my grief, all my loss, all my anger, all my energy.  It seemed too contained on one sheet.  It needed to explode more -- wider -- upward and outward.  So I added paper....
And I flung more paint.  Everything came up and out with that paint.  All the obstacles, all the blocks, all that which has contained me, boxed me, kept me from doing what I want to do.  All of it.  I threw it out of myself like a volcano that explodes.  I smiled and glowed.  This was fun.  It was powerful.  It was cool.  It was a crescendo, a finale.  
When I was done, done flinging paint, the painting was complete.  I sat down and looked at it.  It was complete.  There staring at me was a beautiful meadow nourishing my soul, allowing me to commune with the Holy, inviting me to allow this vision to explode forth into the world and follow it.