Where Dwellest Thou?O what is it that wanders in the wind? And what is it that whispers in the wood? What is the river singing to the sun? Why this vague pain in every charmed sense, This yearning, keen suspense? Often I’ve seen a garment floating by, fringe of it only; golden brown as it lay On the ripe grasses, fern-green on the ferns, And in the wood, like bluebells’ misty blue Whitened with mountain dew. I laid me low among the mountain grass; I laid me low among the river fern; I hid me in the wood and tried to hold The lovely wonder of it as it passed, And tried to hold it fast. It slipped like sunshine through my eager hands; See, they are dusted as with pollen dust, Soft dust of gold, and soft the sense of touch, Soft as the south wind’s sea-blown evening kiss; But I have only this… This dust of vanished gold upon my hands, This breath of wind blowing upon my hair, Stirring of something near, so near, but far, Glimm’ring through color’s fleeting preciousness– The fringes of a dress. O Wearer of that garment, of its hem, Hardly perceived, can thrill us, what must Thou, Its Weaver and its Wearer, be to see? Master, where dwellest Thou? O tell me now, Where dwellest Thou? The grasses turned their golden heads away, And shyer and more wistful stood the ferns; The little flowers looked up with puzzled eyes; Only the river, who is all my own, Left me not quite alone… But mixed his music with my human cry, Till somewhere from the half-withdrawing wood Sounds of familiar footsteps: Is it Thou? Master, where dwellest Thou? O speak to me. And He said, “Come and see.“ -Amy Carmichael from a collection of her poetry titled, Toward Jerusalem. **May you enjoy this poem today and walk through the day’s moments with an awareness that they are but fringes of His dress.
This post feels a bit scary. I’m going out on a limb and starting a side blog, another blog for a specific purpose and period of time. It is called Letters To An Artist with the tagline being “365 Imagined Letters from the Father to His Artist Child”. Today will be the only time I reference this blog to you, my dear readers on Drawn2Life. I will NOT be posting daily post alerts on Facebook or Twitter or EDM Yahoo. The blog is there for you if you have interest in it. It offers share buttons at the end of each post, because it’s the kind of thing you may want to share with a specific friend or friends. But if you want/need alerts about the daily postings, you’ll have to subscribe to the blog, since I will not post alerts like I do for Drawn2Life and my other blogs.
I know, I know…I’m crazy to do this. With only a few days away from the busiest time of my year, the Art Show at the school where I teach, here I am starting something that requires I tend to it each and every day. The only thing I can say to you is that I am compelled to start this project both for myself, and for any readers who may be encouraged by it. Many things have been brewing lately in my heart and mind ever since last weekend when Maddie was sick with strep throat. (If I ever needed proof that interruptions in life are actually seedbeds for new or renewed creativity, it’s been this week!) I won’t go into all that. But I’ll tell you a bit about the blog’s reason and purpose.
I’m pretty sure I’ve shared with you here in Drawn2Life some of the struggles of being an artist alongside being a wife, mother, teacher. What I do not tend to share with you outright is that I daily take these struggles to God, my Creator, and I write it all out in journals. I’ve done this for years and years. A few days ago, I began to switch the direction of the writings. Instead of me pouring out these struggles I deal with day in and day out, year in and year out, as if I’m talking to Him; I thought I’d see what it would be like to write, imagining that God was writing to me. I have received such good direction from my Maker for many years, through many sources. Sometimes the direction has been hard or difficult, yet always needed. Ofttimes it’s exhilarating and renewing.
When I wrote the first one, the second one then flew off my pen, and I haven’t been able to stop writing since. But you may have no interest in this, and that is your prerogative! This “side blog” DOES include artwork. It is purposefully set small in size compared to the “letter”. But you can always click on the image to get a better view of it. I toyed with the idea of creating new artwork for this blog. But quickly realized I need to be realistic and cull from the trove of artwork I have already.
Rest assured, business as usual will go on here on Drawn2Life!! Keep tuning in here, whether or not you decide to follow on the “side blog”. And some of you are so kindly checking in on me at Drawn2Knit and Drawn2Be. It must be dizzying for you. But I do appreciate each and every one of your visits, and as always love reading and responding back to your comments.
I’ve kept the blog on a private setting for a couple of days, giving it a dry run, so-to-speak. The scary aspect of this is the 365 thing. The commitment to do this for an entire year. I really don’t know whether I can do it or not. But I’m up for trying and I know it will be enriching for me to put my mind to this. Perhaps it will be for you…I’d love to think so.
Click here if you’d like to check out this “side blog” of mine. May your day be a drawing day, a painting day, a make something day!
I sit outside, in a brief interlude of warmth and peace, gazing up at the winter trees. An idea begins to form…those lines, those lovely lines…they make shapes, hold spaces where shape resides.
The idea I have doesn’t take shape fully yet. I’m searching, thinking about these spaces and the shapes that inhabit them. I can’t sleep ’cause the formless shape won’t let go. I rise early to search it out on paper. I draw.
The shapes that come out are round inside those lined spaces. I didn’t know ’til now. All these circles, these doodles in the tree, the tree that sits IN the path, with a couple others off the path. Why am I drawing this? I still can’t make it out.
I’m nearing the end of my search, my doodling, and one circle, which has lifted off the tree develops a tail and becomes a balloon. A balloon! Oh! How fun! But I still don’t know it’s significance, or why, or what for.
I paint. White opaque gouache mixing with the watercolor, some light tones, some vibrant. Enjoying the process of searching. I “finish” the doodled page wondering what it is, why I had to get this thing out of my head. Would this just be a searching page with no answer? That’s ok.
I go to rinse the chalky water out of my bucket, I clean dishes leftover from the night before. I wonder, a bit frustrated with myself (once again), why I do so many different types of creative stuff, even different types of drawings and paintings? Why can’t I stick with just one thing? Just splashy watercolor? Or just pastel? Just portraits? Or just knitting? JUST ONE THING?
And it hits me full force, hands in the sudsy dishwater. It’s my tree. My creative tree. Full of bright colored balloons sitting there waiting for the right breeze to come along and nudge them free. No two balloons exactly alike. Some have shades that are similar, but each one waits to be loosened from the lines. To rise gently and softly, without fanfare, off into the great beyond.
I’m no longer frustrated with myself. I get it now. It’s all ok, these differing ways of creating. It’s because of my Tree, and I like that tree. And there are many balloons yet to be released. And I can’t wait to see what each of them is going to be.
Thank you for checking in on the Balloons that get nudged out of the Tree. Maybe you have a Balloon Tree too? Please share it with me.
Terror and Wonder
Two thousand or so years ago, a baby entered this world. The golden drop of Heaven descended into a manger of hay. Events surrounding His descent were filled with terror and wonder. Shepherds were terrified at a Bright Being telling them Good News of His arrival. These same shepherds later marveled at the manger and returned home filled with wonder, rejoicing at what they had seen.
Even in that day, a massacre of children was a ghastly part of the story. Terror-stricken parents grieved the loss of their babes, as distant Kings were wonder-struck by an infant King for whom a Star heralded the way.
We are never asked to sugar-coat the very real terrors of our world. Nor are we left on our own to deal with them. We are asked to hold both the Terror and the Wonder in our hands and hearts. We are called to allow the Golden Drop to permeate everything and undo all the sadness and fear.
C.S. Lewis knew this well. In the chapter (from which this series takes it’s title) from Lewis’ third and final book of a space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, , we read:
“Do you know,” said Ivy in a low voice, “that’s a thing I don’t quite understand. They’re so eerie, these ones that come to visit you. I wouldn’t go near that part of the house if I thought there was anything there, not if you paid me a hundred pounds. But I don’t feel like that about God. But He ought to be worse, if you see what i mean.” ”He was, once,” said the Director. ”You are quite right about the Powers. Angels in general are not good company for men in general, even when they are good angels and good men. It’s all in St. Paul. But as for Maleldil Himself, all that has changed: it was changed by what happened at Bethlehem.”
For today, at least today, we need not pull. We need not strive. Our efforts to bring bits of heaven into our darkened world can be set aside for a moment. Deep Heaven has come to us. All we need do is receive. Laying down our weapons of peace for beating back the darkness, we can marvel and wonder at the incarnation of God. Light has come to us. Heaven has descended. And we gasp and whisper the Beauty to one another, like candles lighting other candles, saying He is here! He is here!
May your Christmas Day be filled with a Wonder that seeps into the sad and fearful places of your life. May it lift you aloft to be able to see Light in places you haven’t seen it before…in manure filled barns, in empty stockings, in stars, and even, (can we speak it?), even in terrifying tragedies.
It came upon the midnight clear
It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, from heav'n's all gracious king The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing. Still through the cloven skies they come with peaceful wings unfurl And still their heavenly music floats, O'er all the weary world. Above its sad and lowly plains they bend on hovering wing And ever o'er its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing. O ye, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow Look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing. For lo the days are hastening on, by prophets seen of old When with the ever circling years shall come the time foretold When the new heaven and earth shall own the prince of peace their King And the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
If I climbed up
to the tippy-top of a tree,
and held out my bucket-
Could I catch the sun-drops,
and keep them with me…
…then share with others
at the base of the tree?
If any creative act, (be it visual, musical, theatrical, written or otherwise), is a definitively spiritual endeavor, then there are certain qualities to that activity that are common to all of us. For one, there’s a sense that a battle is going on. At the very least, the effort involved in climbing to the tippy top of the tree to pull down heaven is hard work and can be very exhausting.
Lately I have felt, alongside the exhilaration of creating, an increasing weariness. Participating in an art show, painting commissions, looking for and recording beauty can be very tiring in a manner different than other work tires. My husband read one of his incredible short stories to the students and faculty at my school where I teach. He recounted how exhausting that was, to offer his work “out there” in the world. As we drove home from this event, the weariness was palpable. Every time we talk to our daughter at college as she studies music, she is exhausted, pulling long hours in the practice room, theory tests, exams, and an unbelievable performing schedule. And my music educator friend, Sheri, told me in our swim team conversation, how tired and worn out she is at the holidays teaching music and performing in various holiday events in the area.
I am learning from a wonderful book by Steven Pressfield, that art is war. His book, titled, The War of Art, affirms the spiritual nature of our creative commitment to bring beauty into the world. He speaks in a martial tone, rallying us as if we artists are, in actuality, soldiers fighting a cosmic war. He outlines the weapons needed to pull down deep heaven, though he does not use that specific phrase.
The effort involves showing up to the page or canvas, doing our scales, honing our craft, working on technique, practicing, preparing. And then we must offer it, share it, put it out there, get in the ring or out on the dance floor, run the race, fight the good fight, never giving up no matter how beat down we may feel by critics, reviews, circumstances, or our own thoughts. We are to fight the resistance that comes in any form it may throw at us to keep us down, or out of the playing field.
Being engaged even on a small level in pulling down deep heaven is no mere trifling. It requires a soldierly mindset mixed with childlike mirth as we place one foot in front of the other up the tree, climbing ’til we reach the tippy top. The climb down may be harder…carrying what we have gathered there from the heavens, and then summoning the courage to share it with others. It requires miles and miles of walking or riding on a donkey to an unfamiliar town, to give birth to our heaven-sent burden in less than ideal surroundings and circumstances. We are to write, draw, paint, make music in and around our messy lives. None of it seems to go the way we imagined or think it should. I have a hunch Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have thought this as well. Yet we are to continue on this journey, like Mary and Joseph, until it is time. Time for what heaven wants to bring to us and through us, be it a babe, a sonnet, a drawing, a song.
May we have the martial spirit of Mary in our hearts and daily lives this season. May we be encouraged by the thought that our exhaustion in creative endeavors is due to the fact that we are in the fight: the calling and work of pulling down deep heaven.
I wrote the above several days before Friday, December 14th, the day someone entered a school in Connecticut with the express purpose of killing. Children, adults, his aim was all. If ever there was proof that a battle is going on, and that we need to engage in that battle to bring down the light of Deep Heaven to shine in these dark days, it is now.
Rise up, oh Artists of all kinds…Rise up and wage battle with the darkness! For we do not fight in vain!
*If you missed Part 1 of this series and would like to read it, click here.
A Christmas Line
If you followed a line from the angel on your tree
All the way down to where presents should be
Would you revisit memories of the years gone by
Curling ‘round ornaments with a twinkle in your eye?
Would you find yourself there when your babies were born?
When they made preschool ornaments, now shabby and torn?
Would you see faces of friends who made or gave one to you?
Would you relive your childhood, tracing baubles from then too?
And as your line meandered through santas and stars,
Penguins and trees, toy trains and cars…
Would you find ‘neath your tree more gifts than you could count?
Dazzled by the ache as your memories mount?
Your line would’ve found, from the angel to the earth
A trove of presents that fill you with mirth.
Though the tree will soon fill with wrapped boxes underneath
They can never surpass what I’ve already received.
December 13, 2012
*I created the drawing in ONE LINE. Perhaps you can see the beginning of it up by the angel’s hair and follow it to the tree-skirt end. Sometimes I drew over and through things, sometimes I retraced my steps back to where I needed to go. But one line it is, and only a splash of color.
**If you’d like to read more of my poetry from around Christmastime, click here. This is page 2 of the Poetry Category that you can always access from the category section in the right hand margin. Just keep scrolling ’til you get to the section from last December.
It can happen even at a swim meet. A dear friend of mine and I sat talking in between watching our kids swim their events. She, a musician and music educator. I, a visual artist and art educator. Our middle children swim on the same team. Our oldest children are in college learning to be music educators and singing with an incredible choir at their school, Wingate University. We spoke of the breathtaking music we had each heard recently at different events the University Singers were participating in. Each of us recounted how thrilling and enriching these musical events were to us. Sheri said:
“I sat there hearing the Messiah for the umpteenth time…and I had never heard it so beautifully played or sung. It was as if we were hearing what heaven must be like. As if heaven had come down to us sitting there in the auditorium. That was, for me, my Christmas. But I wish it was performed all through the year.”
We continued to discuss the wonders of how art and music, the lines and layers, the chords, the phrasing, the brushstrokes, all combine to give us this taste of the world beyond. Today, in light of our conversation, I’m thinking that we, the artists, are pulling down bits of deep heaven. Sometimes, it falls in big huge plops, other times it’s as light as mist.
However it comes to us, through music, through a painting, a drama or play, a book or an essay… deep heaven it is. C.S. Lewis used this phrase, Pulling Down Deep Heaven, to title one of his final chapters in That Hideous Strength, the third in his science fiction trilogy. It is a phrase pregnant with a meaning that comes out in many of his writings, both fictional and otherwise. This weightiness of glory (Lewis wrote a book titled The Weight of Glory) descends on us and both terrifies (as in the shepherds being sore afraid) and satisfies with wonder (as in those who worshiped Him at the manger).
It reminds me of another favorite author, Annie Dillard, who wrote:
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. -Teaching A Stone to Talk
Dillard goes on to speak of a god who terrifies. Those who find Him in the manger know that though He is not tame, He IS good. Deep heaven brings with it a wildness that borders on dangerous, a beauty that aches, and an exquisiteness that fills and suffuses with joy!
When we are involved with any form of art making and sharing it with the world either in shows, or choral concerts, symphonies, theatrical productions, gallery openings, poetry readings and the like, ANY measure of this activity is a definitively spiritual endeavor. We are involved, no matter how small our part may seem, in ushering deep heaven down to us. Bless those who give their lives to this endeavor. Bless those who sing in the Messiah’s this holiday season. Bless our children who are studying to be musicians and teachers, artists, and actors, writers and playwrights.
Even in our swim meet conversation, with splashing and diving, screaming and hollering all around us, our glistening eyes told that a drop or two of heaven had come down in our words to each other. It can happen that way. In the most unassuming places as well as in the concert halls and galleries of our world, the tunes of heaven can be heard. In small sketches dashed off in a sketchbook, in the music played at coffee houses and malls, it’s there, raining down on us.
As this season unfolds before us, may we have eyes and ears to take it all in, to anticipate, and even participate, in bringing down deep heaven to our world.
*This is the first in a series. Others will be sprinkled throughout my postings from now ’til Christmas.
As I walked this morning, I looked at the swept-clean world and thought of a favorite poem of mine. I thought I would repost it here for you. My jaw just dropped on the floor as I looked at the date of this drawing and poem. One year ago, to the day, exactly. Enjoy!
Like hands raised in praise
they stand tall and freed
From the dripping colors
that bowed them in the breeze.
Unfettered now from leafy sails
Which bent them low in windy gales
Enabled more to endure the season
Unburdened by Beauty’s reason.
The cosmic broom has swept away
the fluff and fancies of an autumn day.
All that Beauty which weighed them down
Has been brushed clean…nary a leaf on the ground.
‘Tis Beauty too, these fingered wrists
which pierce the heavens and the mists.
And so I’ll stand among them now
with hands raised, though they bow…
In hopes the cosmic broom will sweep
away the follies that I keep,
The fluff that weighs my hands from raising
that I might freely stand, the heaven’s praising.
upon my walk…again
“How in the world do you do what you do?” This is an interesting question I get either verbalized or emailed to me. I’m always surprised at the question. I wonder what it is they perceive I’m doing or accomplishing, since USUALLY I’m thinking I can’t do anywhere near what I’d like to do or accomplish. Crazy isn’t it?
Typically my first thought is: I have no idea. In the past I have said, “I do it because it’s my sanity.” And that is true. I’ve also said, “I do it because I have to/need to.” And this too is true. I’ve also responded, “I do it because it’s so fun!” True too! But recently it has begun to form in my mind, the real “how” of all the creative stuff I love: drawing, painting, knitting, crocheting, designing, illustrating Genevieve, blogging, writing poetry every now and then, and the occasional collage. If this seems too self-oriented, then do just click away from this post. I only write it in hopes that it might encourage or inspire you in your creative endeavors! Here goes:
How do I do a creative life?
1. Look for Beauty. So honestly, this is the crux of the matter. Without something beautiful, I haven’t any reason to draw or paint, to knit or crochet, to write in prose or poetry. Sometimes I’m struck by a lovely thing without looking for it. Many times, I purposefully look for beauty in and around my little life. And on days when I’m hard-pressed to find anything of beauty, I search for it. It’s actually a discipline, this artist’s life…to scour your world for the Beauty you know is there even in unexpected places or places where we don’t think beauty could be found. Beauty can even be wrapped in painful or discouraging circumstances.
2. Find a way to express it. So for me, merely looking for, seeing, and noting a thing of beauty (whether it’s the inside of my dishwasher or the gorgeous fall trees in my neighborhood) is not enough. I must record, express, celebrate, honor, capture, harness it in some way. Most times, that way is drawing in a sketchbook. Or painting the faces and places in my life or in others’ lives. Other times it is writing. And yet others it is knitting something in the colors I’m seeing out my windows. There are many many other ways to express the little beauties in your life: photography, music, composition, dance, theater, etc.
3. Do what I can, with what I have, where I am. This is actually a quote by Theodore Roosevelt. It is incredibly helpful for someone like me who has more ideas I’d love to see come into being than I know what to do with. I can get really stuck in thinking: well, I CAN’T do X, Y, or Z (due to time or money or ability) so I just won’t do any of it at all. I camped out with this block for nearly two years a few years back. I was wanting to make it big-time as a professional artist, painting big paintings, being represented by a gallery or two, entering exhibits all over the region, etc. And when it seemed to be way out of my reach, I just stopped drawing and painting altogether. What ended up happening during this period, is that I picked up my needles and yarn and began knitting and crocheting like a fiend:). But one day, I literally ran into the book ISH, by Peter Reynolds, and realized that all I really wanted was to draw, no matter whether it became a professional thing or not. You can read more about that here. And you all know of my desire to travel to France, a longing to have a life that allowed for this kind of travel, (both in time and money), only to realize the amazing beauty of my own little town of Kernersville as I began to look for it and draw it!
We tell ourselves that we don’t have enough money for canvases or paints, when a cheap sketchbook and watercolors is sitting underneath a stack of books somewhere. We tell ourselves we have no time, while we sit in a car pick-up line for ten minutes and could sketch something or knit a few rows. We tell ourselves we are too tired at the end of a long day, when the very best restorative medicine is a swoosh of color on a page, or a few rows of crocheting that blanket.
4. Blast through resistance. I’ve been reading (and re-reading) a book by Steven Pressfield titled The War of Art. In it he defines what resistance is and how it keeps us from doing the thing(s) we are really longing to do and need to do. I highly recommend this book! I am continually learning all the myriad of things that resistance throws in my path to keep me from being creative. In some ways, this fight through resistance is very difficult! But in other ways it’s really simple: I put on my artist armor and hack through the underbrush of weedy resistance. I show up to the page, the yarn, the blog. Whatever it is, whatever it takes, for however long I have to give it (10 minutes or 2 hours) I SHOW UP.
5. Relish the FEW creative projects I have going. It is good discipline for me to limit how many creative balls I juggle. What has happened to me time and time again, is that when I have too many going on, my energies are splintered, my focus grows fuzzy, I feel overwhelmed to the point of paralysis, and I can’t seem to accomplish or finish anything. Boundaries are good. Limitations are actually an ASSET!! Disciplining the bouncy, creatively ADD, artist child within you is necessary to a slow-but-steady-progress kind of life. AND it actually allows me to RELISH what I’m doing NOW, being present in the lovely creative moment, instead of hurrying through it to get to the next thingS on my accomplish list.
Well, there it is. An answer to a question you may or may not have wondered. It has helped me to write it down. It’s a touchstone for me. A way to remember why and how it is I do what I do. Perhaps it will help you as well.
**Addendum: If any of you saw my recent Instagram photo, you would see that I’m not doing that well with #5! Oi! What’s a girl to do?!!
This year, at the Dixie Classic Fair in October, something significant happened. I was reminded of it this morning. To read what happened, click on the drawing above to enlarge it.
When words fly out of my mouth like this, they often have a sense of gravity to them, as if I’m not just saying them to the other person, but saying them to myself as well. There are so many things I long for. We could call them dreams, but that word seems flimsy in comparison to what I’m trying to convey. They are the things wrapped up in our creative dreams, in our relational hopes, in the things we both have and want. I know my own self, as an adult, to be just like my youngest, when something has been taken away, or it breaks, or it’s just out of reach.
Lately, I’m trying to remember my own words…
Leave it with your Dad, Jen. Put it at His place at the table and leave it there for Him. He WILL get to it in His time. It may not be tomorrow or next week, or even in this life. But He will get to it.