Why Art? January 25, 2016

Filed under: faith,learning to art — Christina M @ 2:11 pm

Lately I’ve been doing a whole lot more visual creating than writing. You can tell by the conspicuous lack of posts on Carmel Sundae. But for me, painting and art journaling and book binding have become almost a means of contemplative meditation, and one question keeps coming forward to me: why this obsession with art? Why do you feel drawn… why do you do it… why you, Christina?

And 45 different answers seem to emerge. One day it is because I want something to keep my hands busy, and to experience the tactile expression of feeling the friction of brush or pastel on paper. Another day it is because God is a creator and I am made in His image so I have a natural desire to create something. Another day it is because I am intrigued by some new technique or supply I’ve heard about and I can’t wait to try it. What it all boils down to is that there are many, overlapping reasons I draw, paint, and bury myself in this obsession.

What’s more, I have joined a number of groups and forums where I see other artists (dare I call myself that?) give reasons quite different from my own. And their reasons are just as valid as mine. One thing that I feared finding in the arts and crafts communities was exclusionary attitudes, and I have to say I’ve been relieved to find that such attitudes seem to be rare. Most people love sharing their craft with whoever wants to learn. Many have for-pay websites where they teach more formally, and I can’t find fault with someone who knows their bacon trying to earn it by doing what they love. I’m not in that position, but more power to those who are qualified or otherwise able to monetize. Me, I’m much more of a student than a teacher. Since I love being on a journey with fellow pilgrims, though, I invite others to join me on this travel. If you are more knowledgeable than me, feel free to contribute your voice of experience to the discussion. If you are just starting out, like I am, please feel free to learn with me and to ask questions. I love doing research, and if you ask something I don’t know, there’s a good chance I’ll be looking it up in short time.

Most of all, I want to encourage you to have courage. I believe we are all called to some form of creativity, and if you have even the remotest interest in visual art, don’t let self-doubt arguments stop you. Professional artists are not more “real” than those who finger paint with the kids on the kitchen table, any more than those who only draw in their private journal are more noble than those who exhibit their work in galleries. The fact is that even on the same pilgrimage, any two pilgrims are on their own journey even as they walk side by side. So professional, amateur, public, private, these things mean nothing. Whatever you do, do it with great love, and with God beside you, and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

 
 

Five Things about Manna August 3, 2015

Filed under: faith — Christina M @ 12:40 pm

Some personal reflections about Manna and yesterday’s readings…

1. Manna is about trust. God keeps laying out the manna in my life, too. And I keep wanting to collect it up and save it till it rots, because stupid me, I keep forgetting to trust. What is it that is so hard-headed that I still worry that even though the sun has risen every day since creation, tomorrow it might not rise? And if it didn’t, how could I be so foolish as to think that there’s anything I could do about it?

2. Manna is about gratitude. God has already kept the Israelites alive until this point. But instead of praying to Him that they are hungry, they grumble that He is starving them. I’ve grumbled, too, so many times. Sometimes it’s not really about trust but about comfort.

3. Manna is about patience and forgiveness. God’s that is. They grumble, He provides. I guess He understood that they were still children in their faith, having been brought up in godful Egypt.

4. Manna, and the whole desert experience, is about slavery. It’s pablum to wean the child off of the infected mother’s milk of children who have never known freedom. Like the talking horses in The Horse and His Boy, they do not yet know how to run to their fullest power, because they are still inhibited by having been slaves. They are not yet ready for Everything, so God first teaches them that He will provide Everything. Depend on Him, and He will meet your needs in the way He chooses.

5. Manna is about complaining. Complaining is a special kind of tunnel vision in which we can easily get so wrapped up in criticizing God for what we don’t have that we forget to bless Him for what we have. The Israelites griped about having nothing but manna, even as they roasted their quail. It is awfully easy to get caught up in complaining to God that He doesn’t do things the way we dictate, rather than thanking Him for doing things according to His infinite love.  In the end, until we stop complaining about the manna, we aren’t ready to get to the milk and honey.

Forty years I endured that generation. I said to myself ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways. So I swore in my anger they will not enter into my rest.

 
 

Learning to Art July 19, 2015

Filed under: faith,learning to art — Christina M @ 2:10 pm

So in all this time that I’ve neglected you, you might wonder where I’ve been. Aside from being pretty busy with family, I’ve become consumed with a new passion. Art. More specifically, learning to art. You see, my daughter told me for years that anyone can learn art, and for years I didn’t believe her. Till one day I found myself obsessed with it. And I learned two things: one, I do not have natural talent. Some people do. I don’t. And that’s ok, because two, it’s true: it can be learned.

What I’m finding is that I dearly love the learning process. I am enjoying trying new things and following tutorials. I am really enjoying experimenting and following lessons. And I am loving trying new materials and getting my hands messy. I even sometimes like what I produce.

As I go through this learning process, I am beginning to realize I would really like to share the journey. I don’t have all the answers, and some of what I think  I’ve found will probably be wrong.  But I’ve come to believe that creativity is to share in God’s work of creation. Maybe the creative urge is part of what it means to be made in his image. So with that in mind, I have become convinced that art – with or without talent – is worthwhile. And if my faith is worth sharing, maybe so is my art, and my journey into its world.

I can’t wait to keep learning. I hope you’ll join me!

 
 

Runaways and Prodigals June 30, 2015

Filed under: faith — Christina M @ 9:57 am

I think we’ve all run away from something or someone at some point in our lives. Running away sometimes looks like a big, scary, life changing thing like a kid running away from home, or a spouse getting divorced. Sometimes, though, it’s less visible to the outside world. Maybe it’s a worshiper who stops going to church, or a friend who starts neglecting relationships.  Maybe it’s a retreat of a spouse into a hobby or non-communication, or an employee who stops trying.

It could even be a blogger who goes six months between posts.

And do you know what all of these scenarios have in common? A feeling of failure. Sure, there are other reasons for any of these things; but I contend that the single biggest reason for relationship breakdowns is a feeling of failure.  When the Prodigal Son was jealous of how well the pigs ate, he hit rock bottom and finally returned; but why did he take so long to return? Was it because his plan was working out so well? No, he didn’t want to go home and face his father and brother with his failure. For him to find, finally, the courage to return it took a realization that he had no other options.

Biblical parables reflect real life. Sometimes the only reason a spouse or a kid sticks around is because they have no other option. Sometimes the only reason a worshiper keeps going to church is because he or she feels there’s no choice. And having no choice is better than breaking up the foundation of marriage or faith, but it’s not the best way. The best way is to break the hold of the thing that makes the runner want to run. The best way is to help the runner stop feeling like a failure, or to prevent the runner from feeling that way in the first place.

I have a confession to make. I’ve run. I haven’t left my Charming and Patient Husband (and I have not wanted to, either.) But I’ve been terrible about church attendance. I’ve been terrible about maintaining friendships. I’ve been terrible about blogging. All of these things matter to me, and I’ve essentially run away because I felt like a failure. I have something to learn from them. I also have something to learn from the thing I haven’t ever felt like running from, my marriage.

What I have learned:

  • If you feel like a failure and you run away, you feel like a bigger failure. The longer you stay away the more of a failure you feel like. Bite the bullet and return.
  • If it’s an unsafe or unhealthy thing you’ve run from, don’t return. That’s not running, it’s rescue. (But don’t con yourself into thinking “I don’t like it, so it’s unhealthy.”)
  • Prayer and discernment are always helpful and healthy.
  • The key to staying on track with another person is making sure that other person knows that he or she is successful.
  • The key to staying on track with another person is making sure that other person knows that he or she is successful. That’s not an editing error. I repeated it because it’s that important.

A friend of mine once said “for every one negative thing you say, make sure you say five positive things.” That was some powerfully good advice, and it goes really well with helping to make the other people in your life feel successful. Or, I should say, know they are successful. Because if they feel successful in their relationships they probably are.  Tell your husband what he does right. Tell your wife what you appreciate about her. Let your kids know that you are proud of them, and why.

And finally, what if you are the one feeling like a failure? Go back. If you haven’t gone to Mass in a while, go back. If sitting with one foot in the water hasn’t motivated you sufficiently, put both feet in. And remember, God is with you. The Bible says “Pray without ceasing.” What better time to remember that than when we are struggling?

 
 

Thoughts about prayer December 1, 2014

Filed under: faith — Christina M @ 11:07 am

I was thinking today about worry, and all the things I worry about… and there were a lot. I’m a certified worrier. But then I think about all the things I’ve worried about that haven’t come to pass; and I realize that I don’t even remember what most of them were. Maybe they weren’t as important as I thought at the time that they were. And those that did come to pass? They didn’t destroy our life. And worrying didn’t stop them.

Prayer simply works better than worrying.

But… so far we are still talking just about earth prayer. Earth prayer is when I pray for my earthly needs, or my earthly concerns. Not all of them are “gimmes” but they are about the things that matter to me in this life, from the selfish (please let me get such and such) to the unselfish (please help me to be a better person) to the compassionate (please help the victims of the latest catastrophe.) But they are all about this life and its concerns. And there  is nothing wrong with praying for this life and its concerns. Bless my friend. Heal my child. I offer you this day, Lord. These are good prayers. They contact God and invite him into my life. They connect my life with the love of my Father.

They are probably the prayers Martha prayed. And she had a good lot; but Mary chose the better lot. Because she prayed a different kind of prayer, as well.

Mary didn’t just bring God into her world; she brought herself into God’s world. That’s what meditative and contemplative prayer are made of. When we stop looking at our world, and start looking at Christ’s.

My beloved is mine and I am his.

He pastures his flocks among the lilies.

A shepherd doesn’t plant lilies in the wild grazing pastures on faraway hills. He doesn’t plant them in enclosures where sheep normally live. He plants them in his very own garden, within the walls of his very own courtyard. Our Shepherd is inviting us to be fed at His own home. When our prayer is so stuck in the here and now that we forget to glance in the direction of His lilies, it is as though we didn’t even recognize that we are invited into His courtyard, on the very edge of Heaven itself. And we keep grazing away at the dried summer grasses on the wild hills, and begging our Shepherd to water us. Patiently, He leads us to still waters to drink; but all the while He is inviting us to taste the springs that flow from Paradise.

When you have a need, pray for that need. When you have a friend, pray for that friend. These are good, good prayers. But don’t forget to gaze at the Shepherd in His own garden, too. Don’t just invite Him into your world; accept His invitation into His, as well.

 
 

God of the Universe October 9, 2014

Filed under: faith,Uncategorized — Christina M @ 8:08 am

I read this post today about the size of “space” and I really think it’s worth sharing. Go ahead, click on it and go read it. I’ll wait.

There. Aren’t you glad you took the time?

Here’s the thing: there may be many perspectives on the size of the earth, relative to the rest of space; but there are also many perspectives on what this information can mean to us. Scientifically, obviously, we can see all sorts of implications, not the least of which is the question of how far our current understanding of physics can take us. And then there are the obvious questions about whether this means there might be other life out there. I’m not going to speculate on either of these.

Rather, I want to take you on a journey into heaven. Or the heavens.

Has it ever occurred to you how big a God it takes to make something this astounding? For millenia, thinkers have asked the question: Did God invent us, or did we invent God? No matter how strong your faith is, if you have never at least acknowledged the question you are probably a rare person. Questioning doesn’t mean we have weak faith, it means we seek truth. Since I believe that God is the author of truth, I see no contradiction whatsoever. And I’ve never been disappointed. It seems ridiculous to me to think that everything I see could come into being by means of something else that came into being at the hands of something else that came into being, etc. The only way it makes any sense, logically, is there must have been a Creative Force that never came into being, that always was. So asking the Big Question about God isn’t scary to me as a believer, because logic backs up my faith, and my faith includes trust in God as the ultimate Truth.

But today, when I saw these pictures of this little tiny corner of space, my thoughts on the subject did, indeed, take on a new perspective. Not a new belief, but a new depth.  A God who can create the earth, and all I can see on earth and in heaven, is astounding. A God who can create the inner life of biology, a system that can maintain itself for this long, is truly awe-some. But a God who can create so much more than I can even imagine in that tiny corner, and a God who can create a universe where that genuinely unimaginable array is just a pinpoint….

This God is mind-boggling.

Then, to take it backward. Our earth is not even a fleck on that pinpoint in space. Our earth should be invisible. Here I am, a single organism on an invisible planet, right alongside you. And God sent His Son, Co-Creator of the universe, to be one of us. To rescue us.

Yes, you. Invisible you on an invisible planet in an invisible solar system in a corner of the universe tinier than that invisible one that teems with the unimaginable. He sent Jesus to you. And me.

The One who created all that considered us important enough to rescue us from the sin that we brought upon ourselves. That is love.

 
 

May the still, small voice of the Lord be with you. October 29, 2013

Filed under: faith — Christina M @ 9:05 am

And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19: 11-12

 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27

 

I think one of the hardest things many Christians go through is the feeling that God is talking to everyone else. We read the saints, we read the Bible, and they hear God speaking to them; or they see  God in a burning bush. Most of us don’t really want to trade places with Moses, but it would be kind of nice if we had some of the assurance he must have gotten from such an obvious, visible sign. But He seems to save the big signs for people who have to be really, really sure that it is God calling them to lead a nation out of slavery or something.

Me? You? We’re just His ordinary followers. He calls; oh, how He calls. But the details of our vocations sometimes seem absent.

You want me to do what? Ok, fine. Just tell me how.

Silence.

Lord, You led me here. Now what?

Silence.

Father, I think maybe you are calling me to do a really scary, big thing. How can I be sure it’s you?

Silence.

 

Discernment is a really hard thing sometimes.

When we really do want His answers, or His instruction, or maybe even just His consolation, sometimes we reach up and understand how Jesus must have felt when He said “Father, why have you forsaken me?” We know He hasn’t, but sometimes it’s an act of faith just to remember that.

But what if He really is speaking to me, and I just haven’t learned to listen?  What if, when He uses actual words, that is His equivalent of baby talk, and He wants to communicate with us in a deeper way?

I have come, in recent times, to believe that “peace” and that “still small voice” may actually be the same thing. Sometimes, the “voice” that speaks to me isn’t a voice at all, in the sense that I think of it, but a peace that settles in my gut and I just know. It isn’t as shocking, and it doesn’t cause goose bumps. It doesn’t have that exciting feeling of a miracle. On the other hand, for me to have peace may well be a miracle.

I think this started to sink in with me about a year and a half ago. I went to a CCD meeting, and I was trying to discern if God wanted me to volunteer to teach a class. I didn’t really want to make that commitment, but I was willing if that was what God wanted. I prayed about it, and didn’t hear any answer. The meeting was about to start, and I still didn’t know. So I said “God, you’ll let me know.” Then, I let go.

At the end of the meeting, when they asked for volunteers, I knew. I realized that I’d known for at least a half hour. I was at peace. God’s voice had settled not my brain but my nerves. His voice was peace.

I still forget to trust in peace. I still ask for signs, and I sometimes get them. I still listen for an earthquake or a fire, and sometimes God really does shout. But usually, He waits patiently until I stop listening for a boom and start listening for stillness. And when I do, sometimes I realize that God answered me a long time ago, and I just didn’t hear Him over the loudspeaker I was listening for.

 
 

Peace June 7, 2013

Filed under: faith — Christina M @ 2:19 pm

Peace.

What peace?

Peace be with you.

Easier said than done. I can’t seem to make peace happen.

Peace is my gift to you.

I have no peace! I have no quiet! I have no rest! And trouble keeps coming.

One handful of peace and quiet is better than two handfuls of hard work and of trying to catch the wind.

That’s what I keep saying. I pray for peace all the time.

We hear cries of fear, cries of panic. Not cries of peace.

You know, Lord, that this is not a peaceful world. Where is this peace you keep talking about?

I’m leaving you my peace. I’m giving you my peace. I don’t give the kind of peace that the world gives. So don’t be troubled or cowardly.

So now I’m a coward if I’m troubled? Given the way things are, I’d be a fool to be at peace. Heroes cry in the street. Messengers for peace cry bitterly.

I will bring peace to your land. You will lie down with no one to scare you.

I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.

Blessed are those who make peace. They will be called God’s children.

First you say you give me peace, then you say make peace. How can it be both?

Make peace with God.

I’d like to. I long to. But it is so hard when the world seems out to get me.

Oppressed people will inherit the land and will enjoy unlimited peace.

Lord, you keep talking about peace. You make it sound important, for you seem to push for it constantly. Why?

Be in harmony and at peace with God.In this way you will have prosperity.

Maybe I’ve been looking at it the wrong way. I’ve been treating peace like a sacrifice you want me to make for you, but…

The mountains may move and the hills may shake, but my kindness will never depart from you. My promise of peace will never change.

Be at peace again, my soul, because the Lord has been good to you.

Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.

 
 

Jesus is not my homeboy. February 18, 2013

Filed under: faith,Uncategorized — Christina M @ 7:57 pm

Jesus is not my homeboy.
He is my Lord, my Master, and my King.
He is my example and my better.
He is my Bread of Life.

Jesus is not my buddy.
He is my constant companion,
My shepherd, my guide.
He is my strength,
My rock,
My refuge.
He is my beloved, and He pastures me among the lilies.

My faith, my hope, my love,
Jesus is all virtue.
He is lovely and exalted.
He is mighty and worthy.
He reigns in glory.

Jesus is not my homeboy.
He is my way, and truth, and life.
He is my beginning and my end.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.

He is.
I am unworthy to untie His sandals,
But His mercy endures forever.