Carmelite

Words and Wonder-ings to Hearten the Creative – Who Is, and Serves, Art

For those who would serve the work of creativity – who must, in order to be true to their life’s (or this moment’s) call – there is a wonder in this serving and seeking.

art-heartsWhether one’s work is with words or mixed media, paint or clay, glass or stone, metal or cloth, threads or tonalities, human movement or drafting, musical instruments or voices, drafting boards or firing ovens, food stuffs or growing things, human interaction/dynamics, the knowledge or wisdom of the ages and ways to educate, or the soul’s own journey – the process of seeing and creating and collaborating is rife with amazement and not-too-few tears.  Carnage is done in shaving off what once seemed precious and necessary to an end product, in seeking what is at heart and truest.  Materials and words and worlds fall at the feet around the tables where we create, as we chase and name the fleeting glimpses we see sideways and fabricate textures with our media that approximate our visions.

If each of us is “God’s work of art” (says Paul’s epistle), I wonder what truth we express in flesh and sinew.

Is it love, most of all?  Are our different textures of temperament and giftedness reflections of the color and variety of goodness?   What were the remnants cut away in our creation, to get at the truth that resulted in each of us?  Our core is important to the Artist, and is a delight to be treasured in this large Creation’s art show.  There we are, displayed next to the Milky Way and the intricacy of a butterfly’s wing.

God’s art in human form is functional too and participates in creating more beauty and spreads the circle ever outward.  We are makers too, splashing life and color with our work and selves like spin art at a carnival which ecstatic children whirl and splatter paint everywhere.  Thus we continue the efforts begun by God and stamped in the hard drive of our hearts, not entirely knowing what we are about, but recognizing when the art we serve approximates in its process or product more closely some element of who we most are, and what is most true about life-love-work-suffering-joy-the human-the divine-the journey.  We often do not know what we set out to name or visually represent, but we know the creating itself is a good and serves.

Our beings and our efforts then are art-in-process.  And we have need of a muse, a companion, an inSpiration to carry us.  Our art-ing often comes forth from the vulnerable and most sensitive centers where we see and feel and breathe and fear and dance and seek, and we need still points and words and ways that tell us that this ‘hunt’ is ‘worthy of all tears’.

And so I share these well hewn words from Carmelite poet Jessica Powers to hearten those involved in this journey which gives joy and also costs the journeyer.   May we know ourselves accompanied, and find our seeking draws us home.

Since the luminous great wings of wonder stirred
over me in the twilight I have known
the Holy Spirit is the Poet’s Bird.

Since in a wilderness I wandered near
a shining stag, this wisdom is my own:
the Holy Spirit is the Hunter’s Deer.

And in the dark in all enchanted lands
I know the Spirit is that Burning Bush
toward which the artist gropes with outstretched hands.

Upon the waters once and then again
I saw the Spirit in a silver rush
rise like the Quarry of the Fisherman.

Yet this I know: no arrows of desire
can wound Him, nor a bright intrepid spear;
He is not seen by any torch of fire,

nor can they find Him who go wandering far;
His habitat is wonderfully near
in each soul’s thicket ‘neath its deepest star.

Let those who seek come home through the vain years
to where the Spirit waits a shining captive.
This is the hunt most worthy of all tears.
Bearing their nets celestial, let them come
and take their Quarry on the fields of rapture
that lie beyond the last gold pendulum.

– Jessica Powers

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Categories: Art in Life and Work, Carmelite, Poetry | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Not Live Our Whole Life as a Dance?

SAMSUNGJOY!  SMILES!  DANCING!  Advent (and LIFE!) practices!

This year I have been reading a number of ancillary works on Therese of Lisieux, my ‘confirmation saint’ and one of my (thank God, many!) familiar companions within the communion of saints.  As I finished one of these texts today, I came across an excerpt of a song that I wanted to share with you all, as Advent’s O Antiphons draw us daily closer to the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Joy, rooted in utter confidence in God’s mercy and love, was for Therese a way of expressing her love of God.  She invited the novices she mentored to PRACTICE SMILING.  This joy of which Therese spoke was not for her – or for her novices, or us – the absence of suffering or the presence of comfort and consolation. It is a way of making concrete our gratitude for God’s tenderness with us and for us, and God’s entering into everyday companionship with us.  It is a way of making concrete – literally – with our faces – our trust (or desire to trust) the Abba that the Babe of Bethlehem will tell us about and connect us with in wondrous ways.  It is a “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” sung in the very everydayness of each of our lives – from laundry and dishes to errands and bill paying, from creative work to doldrum must-dos, from loving and caring to weeping and mourning.

In a time when we hear of Laughter Yoga meetings and the great value of humor and lightheartedness for our health, it strikes me that this young Carmelite friend tutors us to live this in a very grounded way.

thereseLife brings moments of happiness and of suffering — seasons sometimes of both.  Our weaknesses and sufferings Therese sees as opportunities to both let God lift and carry us (Jesus’ arms as the elevator, as she puts it), and as ways to give our lacks of courage or downright failures or very difficult pains to God who can meet and transform and use these.  Her confidence in God’s love – felt or not – is a reciprocity to this extravagant love she has received.  And she insists that that confidence should appear in our manner of speaking, walking, talking – and appear on our faces!  Smiling and communicating a positive presence are possible for us to choose — and they make a difference in others’ days as well as enhancing our own.  Truth is more that whatever this moment’s emotion, pain, joy, work, delight, grief bring.  Truth is that we are “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians).  Will we choose to inform our way of being with this truth, and so communicate Good News?  Evangelize, if you will.

What better way to prepare a way, these last days of Advent, for our hearts to welcome the Child of Christmas with true eyes that see hope and wonder?  God enters our vulnerable flesh, our everydayness, our seasons and moments.  Can we live in the reflection of that joy, that gift?  Can we inform our faces?  Our lives?  Our tones of voice?  Our interactions and chores?  Our work?

Can we just smile?  How about practicing that this week — all of us?  Perhaps we might find we can do more than smile…. we can make of life a dance!  Or better, we can wake up and say yes to dancing, as our Dance Partner stands by with hands and arms outstretched, inviting our entering in.

Check out this prayer/song, from the text on Therese of Lisieux.  May we celebrate being here and now – alive as we are in this moment, with whatever music is playing!

“Teach us, Lord, to put on anew every day
Our human condition
Like a ball gown, that makes us love about you
All its small details like indispensable jewelry.

Make us live our lives –

Not like a game of checkers, where everything is calculated,

Not like a sports match, where everything is difficult,

Not like a theory that breaks our head –

But like a feast without end
Where the encounter with you is being renewed
Like a ball,
Like a dance,
In the arms of your grace,
To the universal music of love.” *

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for us!  May we open our hearts to learn this lesson, this way.  

* [1] Song sung by Madeleine Delbre (1904-1964):  Nous autres, gens des rues.  Quoted in Therese of Lisieux and Marie of the Trinity: The Transformative Relationship of St. Therese of Lisieux and her novice, Sister Marie of the Trinity,  by Pierre Descouvement, trans. By Alexandra Plettenberg-Serban

Categories: Advent, Carmelite, Saints | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Casting Down the Compass of the Wither and the Why: Living With the Spirit, Part II

wpid-2014-08-18-20.11.23.jpg.jpegThe soul that walks where the wind of the Spirit blows
turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love.
It may lament like Job or Jeremiah,
echo the wounded hart, the mateless dove;
it may rejoice in spaciousness of meadow
that emulates the freedom of the sky.
Always it walks in waylessness, unknowing;
it has cast down forever from its hand
the compass of the whither and the why.
 

I promised Jessica Powers’ poem on Living With the Spirit in three parts over a few days.  Alas!  Robin Williams’ death sent my reflections another direction — along with many more.  And there are so MANY MANY things happening throughout the world and in and around Church these days that merit so much conversation, reflection, prayer, work, silence.  Still, my path leads me back here — to the next stanza of Powers’ poem above, and a few thoughts below.  See if any of this invites your integration with what is going on in the world or your life too.

If we walk where the wind blows, we go hither and thither, without a whither or a why.  This seems inefficient, at least!

wpid-20140818_193149.jpgI am presently reading a 2014 title by Sarah Lewis which I recommend – The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.  I’m not far in, but two early images strike me, and enter into dialogue with this stanza as I muse.

One is the perspective of an archer, committed to her art.  There is built-in to the craft of pulling bows and launching arrows compensations that must be made for curvatures, and deliberately aiming off-target in order to actually find the target, let alone anything near center!  Huh?  How can this be?  The human body bends.  And eyes see from a perspective, and over a curving landscape.  If one wants to be near the mark, one must learn – counter intuitively – to ‘aim’ off the mark.

The second image is that of finding oneself in a place where the curvature of the earth at its horizon is obvious to the eye, and what that does to our ways of perceiving.  In Utah, over the Bonneville salt flats, Lewis notes that mountains look like they are suspended in the sky.  Their base is beyond the horizon, and so they do not ‘reach’ the ground, as the ground that is seen does not have mountain on it!  And if one then starts to walk in a line directly towards these mountains, the sense of curvature occasions the footprints in the flats to reveal that the most direct route between two points – on this earth – seems to be a curved line!  We meander naturally, with no knowledge of having done so!

So we aim “off” to find “true”, and when we walk “true” we end up walking “curved”!

So what can keep us truly true?  What do we depend on?  What can we depend on?

Jessica’s words say it simply:   “the soul…. turns like a weather-vane toward love”.

We do not understand.  We cannot understand, so very much.  Instead, this is the advice.  Celebrate that very incompleteness!  Try to be as responsive as possible to the turns that the Spirit takes and listen to and for Love, who is a Person (or – more accurately – persons), who is our intimate and friend, who is our path and our goal and companion, who also whispers how to be love too – which is our noble call.

We do not control our way.  If we follow the Spirit’s wind-breath, we will lament, be lonely, rejoice, and dance freely.  What we know most and best is that we do not know much at all.  (Ah, well Jessica Powers IS a Carmelite — friend of John of the Cross, and her words echo his of unknowing paths.)  The soul, “always it walks in waylessness, unknowing”.  This is simple fact.

When we grasp to know-Know-KNOW, we aim our arrows at the centers of targets and they fly past.  Our most authentic ‘knowing’ is a commitment not to waste time chasing knowing, but to relax into the mystery named in the last blog on this poem.  Our way-going can perhaps be best described as  a simple intention and a humble listening to wind’s (and Spirit’s) slight breaths.  It requires that we “cast down forever” from our hands “the compass of the whither and the why”.

For most of us, relinquishing our compasses and submitting to willy-nilly wandering seems nonsense.  It’s not responsible!  It’s not proactive!  It’s not adult or the best use of human potential!  It’s lazy!  It’s not self-actualizing!

OR… it is the absolute and only way to the truth that we are and the way we can go.  It is our true self, deepest identity.  And “may your inner self grow strong” (Ephesians) in just this way!

The quote under my senior picture in my high school yearbook read “A bird does not sing because she has the answer, but because she has a song”.  So, we are invited to sing… and with our distinct voice… as we wander.  This will call us, challenge us, draw us to healing, send us over edges, help us be with and lead others.

bagger vanceThis week I re-watched the 2000 film “The Legend of Bagger Vance”, which connects for me here as well.  (Hey – the Spirit uses all kinds of things, yes??)  You’ll remember the film’s setting at a golf tournament, and Bagger  Vance (Will Smith) appears as caddy (as well as a wisdom figure? divine messenger?): he helps a WWI vet (Matt Damon) to face himself, his past, his life and to choose to go forward with all he has.  The game of golf is the field of formation, and Smith’s character continually invites Damon’s to let the field tell him what to do, and to find his authentic swing in response to the field, as it brings forth an investment of who he truly is, and he is to give it all in that moment, in that one swing.  Words to us too?

The only authentic way – I’d dare to say that Powers’ instructs us to in this poem, and a way that echoes her Carmelite saint patrons – is to listen to love by living with the Spirit.  Live each moment, let the Spirit turn your soul, your weather-vane, toward that love – whatever joy or grief or dance it leads you to or through – with no compass, but with all your you.

May we each and all find our true ways of living this – in peace, and for good.

Categories: Carmelite, General, Mystery, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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