Tag Archives: art

art = rest for the soul

I recently joined a Christian art group. I am by no means an artist, I dabble with a bit of painting and quite like colouring, but I would not consider myself at all skilled in visual arts.

At the first meeting I confessed to being an interloper. I explained I am more of a wordsmith than a visual artist, but that I enjoy dabbling. I also read them one of my poems – ‘Hibernation‘ – that I written quite recently. One lady commented that she could really picture the tree as I had described it. I remembered then that a long time ago I had had an idea of publishing my poems in a book with a corresponding picture to go with each, as a kind of meditation/reflection aid.

For this month’s meeting we were given a Bible passage to reflect on and try to create a piece of art inspired by it. I actually suggested the passage, but couldn’t come up with anything so gave up on that idea and read through some of my old poems instead. I realised that quite a lot of them use visual imagery to create parallels and give meaning. I chose one of my favourites – ‘My Life in Your Service‘ – and tried to find pictures that I could use as inspiration for a piece of artwork to go with it.

Now, remember, I am not very good at art, and I am hoping to get better. However, I am quite pleased with my first effort…

 

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What was more pleasing, though, was how peaceful I felt. Even when I messed up and had to rub bits out and try again, I didn’t get frustrated, I just enjoyed the process.

The first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that He is creative. The first thing we learn about humans is that we are made in His image. When we create, we are reflecting the image of God and to me it feels like I am bringing my soul in tune with his.

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A Lost Masterpiece

I have always been a bit of a geek, so it may not surprise you that some of my very favourite things to watch on tv is are documentaries. I especially love those about history or the arts, so my ideal viewing choice is a documentary on art history.

I recently discovered a new favourite, which adds whole new levels of excitement to the genre. In Britain’s Lost Masterpieces, two historians browse the hidden collections of small city museums to see what they can find in the storage rooms. Between them they pick out a painting of unclear origins, which they suspect is worth more than it seems. While the painting is cleaned and restored by an expert team – which involves removing layers of dirt and grime, and often extra paint that some overkeen previous restorer has added in an attempt to improve the picture – the historians research both the history of the painting and the collection to try to trace the origins of the work.

What I love about this programme is the idea that sometimes things of great value can lie hidden, perhaps covered in the dirt and grime of life, perhaps suffering from failed attempts to fix their issues, their true worth undiscovered. Then someone has the idea to take them out, clean them off, patch them up and put their beauty on display for all to see.

Sound familiar?

To me, this is the essence of the gospel. So many times, the Bible talks of seeking out the lost, the broken, the unclean and making us new, restoring our value. A fair amount of Jesus’ parables are on this theme, for starters (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the pearl of great price…) But my favourite Bible text on this theme is a little more obscure…

Zechariah 3:1-5:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’ Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’ Then I said, ‘Put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

 

Sometimes it can be hard to see ourselves as valuable. When society and the media present an image of what success/beauty/worth looks like we can feel like we have no value because we don’t match up. Sometimes we can be blinded to the value of others, if we feel like we tick all the right boxes. This passage reminds us that we all fall short of a standard, but that the one who set the standard elevates us, saves us from the fire, dusts us off, cleans us up and makes us as good as new. We are diamonds in the rough, buried treasure, a lost masterpiece…

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

Film Review: Lars and the Real Girl

Way back in May last year my church hosted the excellent Dr Elaine Storkey, who gave a talk about Film and Theology (one of my favourite topics). There were several films she talked about during the course of the evening that I have been meaning to check out, and I finally got around to getting a copy of one of them…!

Lars and the Real Girl is a quirky romantic comedy starring Ryan Gosling. To be fair, the concept is quite odd, but please don’t let that put you off as it is executed BEAUTIFULLY.

Lars (Gosling) is a socially awkward 20-something from a small town. His brother and sister-in-law try to encourage him to be more outgoing but he has some quite deep-seated issues to work through. One day, to their delight, he announces that his new girlfriend, Bianca, whom he met online, has come to visit. They soon discover that Bianca is actually a lifesize doll. Lars, however, is convinced she is a real person, and his doctor requests that his family play along with his delusion to help him work through his mental illness and social anxiety. Gradually, as Lars’ family, friends and colleagues come to accept Bianca, she takes on a life of her own, and Lars learns what it means to be part of a truly caring community.

I don’t know if I would have watched this film if I hadn’t already seen a few clips from it, because the central idea of a man treating a lifesize doll as his girlfriend to me sounds a bit creepy… But it works, and that is down to the quality of the writing and acting, especially Ryan Gosling as Lars. I entirely believed in Lars’ innocence and naiveté. To him, Bianca is a real person whom he truly loves. Moreover, it is the acceptance of the community in which he lives of Bianca and his love for her that makes the film so beautiful. To me, the film is a powerful lesson in how we should treat people with mental illness – with compassion and understanding. There are some very funny moments and some truly heartbreaking ones, as Lars works through his problems with the help of those around him.

One of the criticisms I’ve read of this film is that it is unrealistic – that no community would be as utterly supportive of someone with such a visible delusion as Lars has. But maybe that’s the point of the film. Maybe we should all be aspiring to be as compassionate as Lars’ community, so that people who are different (for whatever reason) feel accepted as they are, and feel safe enough to work through their issues.

All in all, I really loved this film. It is definitely one I will rewatch and I think it will be counted among my favourites. I know it’s not for everyone as it is a bit odd, but if you like quirky and beautifully made films that make you feel better about humanity, this is one for you.

True Love’s Kiss

I started writing this post a while back (I’d say about two years ago) and couldn’t work out where it was going. Then last week we started a new series at church on the fruits of the spirit and I remembered it.

It was a bit of a strange evening, as nothing for the team had gone to plan. The vicar had laryngitis and couldn’t preach, the curate had been away on retreat and hadn’t had time to prepare anything. The worship team couldn’t get in the building because the key safe was broken, and the vicar was picking up the curate from the station. So by the time myself and the other members of the congregation arrived, everyone was a little bit unsure how the evening would pan out.

The curate made the inspired decision to get us all to do an exercise called ‘lectio divina’. We were looking at the first of the fruits of the spirit, love, so she selected a passage from 1 John 4. It was read out three times, and she asked us to reflect on one word or phrase that stuck in our minds.

Unfortunately, I am not very good at listening, so the phrase I chose to focus on isn’t exactly in that passage – I heard the start of verse 13 “this is how we know” and my brain filled in the next line from an old worship song: “this is how we know what love is”.* The following line in the song says: “just one look at the cross”. So this phrase was circling round in my head, and brought to mind the post I started writing two years ago. So I decided to finish it tonight.

 

I’m a big fan of fairytales. I love the mix of frivolity and seriousness, fantasy and wisdom. I love that the ordinary person can become the hero and that with courage, determination and something to fight for they can overcome any foe, and Good can triumph over Evil.

One of my favourite shows is Once Upon and Time (but I’m only on season 2 so no spoilers, please** – and actually I should warn you there is a season one spoiler up ahead). In this show, all of our favourite fairytale characters are trapped by the evil Queen’s curse, in a small village called Storybrooke in the middle of nowhere in modern America, with no idea who they really are, unable to be who they are meant to be. The only one who can free them from the curse is Emma, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, but she was brought up in a foster home and doesn’t believe in fairytales. A theme running through the show is that the only thing more powerful than magic, more powerful than any curse, is true love, often demonstrated by true love’s kiss. It is only when Emma realises the depth of her love for her son Henry that the curse is broken and all the people of Storybrooke rediscover their true selves. It turns out that a fail-safe was built into the curse so that Emma, the product of Snow White and Prince Charming’s true love, could break the curse by an act of true love.

This show brings a new take on many old stories and weaves them together beautifully. But there is a deeper parallel to this story that was hinting at me from under the surface…

We are all like the inhabitants of Storybrooke. We are all under a curse that we cannot break on our own. We have all forgotten the people we were created to be. GK Chesterton puts it like this:

‘Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; but thou shalt not know thyself. We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our lives we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstacy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.’ (Orthodoxy p211)

A while back, I was reading Lisa Bevere’s Girl’s With Swords, which also picks up on this theme of the curse we are under. She talks about how at the beginning of time there was a garden, and an act of disobedience, and that brought consequences. The curse consisted of three layers of separation – man was to live in disharmony with God, with the earth, and with each other. But there was always a plan to free us from the curse, a plan that required an act of true love:

‘You see, the Cross was always part of the plan. It was not a backup plan that was set into motion when Adam and Eve failed. It was the fail-safe. Each day Jesus lived to express the Father’s heart, will and nature to the lost inhabitants of the earth’ (p69, emphasis added)

The thing about the cross is, the parallel I mentioned earlier, is that we use the symbol of the cross as kiss when we write a letter to a loved one. I don’t think that this is a coincidence when the ultimate symbol of love was Jesus’ death on a cross to save all of us from the curse we are under. One of my favourite hymns puts it beautifully:

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

(William Rees)

The cross is True Love’s Kiss – the only thing powerful enough to break any curse and release us to be our true selves.

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* I just checked and it actually appears in chapter 3, so I’m not a complete heretic…

** I have actually been so busy that I have not got much further than the start of season three still… really must get on with that…

New Year’s Resolutions Part Two – Wellbeing Goals

I think I’ve said this a few times, but 2017 was a pretty intense year for me. (I won’t go into all the details again, I promise…) So when I started thinking about what word I wanted to pick as my defining word for 2018, one kept coming to mind:

Breathe.

The other day when I was sorting through some boxes in my flat, I came across a picture I painted a few years ago. I am by no means a great artist, but from time to time I dabble in art worship, and this particular picture I had painted in response to a time of reflection on Psalm 23. One particular verse had stood out for me, verse three, which in the Message translation reads:

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction

Elsewhere in the Bible, several of the authors talk about the Christian life being a race,* and I love this image, this idea of God allowing us to pause and take a moment to rest, to breathe, before picking up and carrying on.

You let me catch my breath - Psalm 23

So this year for me is about hitting pause, and going back to basics. I have spent the last three years working steadily towards the goal of finishing my Masters, without much thought for what came next. I have been working in public sector administration to fund my studies, which is enjoyable enough but not something I believe I am called to long term. I have some ideas of what I would like to do, and what I believe God is calling me to, but I need for now to not rush into the next thing. I need to take some time just to be with God. To remember how to read the Bible for relationship and not just for study. To rediscover my talents for musical and poetical worship. To find joy in having the time to volunteer for things again. I need to catch my breath.

And sometimes I need to be reminded not to worry about my future. For a long time the background of my laptop has been a quote from Winnie the Pooh, the great fountain of wisdom. It says: ‘Rivers know this: there is no hurry, we shall get there someday’. I cannot tell you how comforting I still find that every time I open my laptop. It reminds me that it’s okay not to have it all figured out yet. I sometimes feel like I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and I’m missing out on God’s Big Purpose for my life. But with God, nothing is wasted. He has put me where I am for a reason (which I am still discovering) and will lead me on to the next thing in the right time. Until then I will keep my eyes and ears open for what He is calling me to, pushing at doors to see which ones will open, and trusting in His promises.

So this year is about resting and trusting, and focusing on my spiritual and mental health, but also my physical health. Basically I’m looking to take better care of myself.

The truth of the matter is, last year during the height of dissertation season I got into some pretty bad eating and exercising habits – the former I did too much of and the latter nowhere near enough. The result being that I put back on a fair amount of the weight that I’d lost in the previous few years. So I am aiming to shed that weight again (roughly 1st.) through eating more healthily and exercising more. I have started planning ahead my meals a bit better and finding healthier alternatives to favourite snacks. I’ll be going back to dance classes again and I really do intend to either use the gym at work (I get a bit bored at the gym but the work one is free to staff members) or take up swimming again as there is a pool really near me.

This morning at Church we had our covenant service, where we celebrate all the great things God has done through our community in the past year and commit to serving Him together in the next. Our youth minister reminded us that resolutions are easier to keep in community, where we can encourage one another. This resonated with me as I thought about my New Year’s resolutions and the fact that I have shared them fairly publicly on this blog. I hope that it will help me to stick to them as now other people know and can hold me accountable. And if you would like to share yours in the comments please do so that we can work towards them together.

On which note I feel I should share that I have not done very well at my writing goal this week, today being the only day that I have managed to write for an extended period… BUT on Monday I went to a second hand bookstore and didn’t buy a single thing, which is a huge win for me!

Going back to rivers, often when I think about that Winnie the Pooh quote, a certain song comes to mind which I find soothing to my soul. I’d like to share it with you. (You can read the lyrics here).

 

* e.g. Hebrews 12v2; Acts 20v24; 2 Timothy 4v7

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my second favourite Christmas present

My favourite Christmas present last year was easily our family holiday in Cyprus. No competition. I love travelling, seeing new places and different cultures, and to be able to do so and tie-in visits to my extended family, courtesy of my wonderful Nan, is hard to beat.

Coming close second in the Christmas present rankings was the gift from my parents of a new Bible. It is no ordinary Bible, though, it is a new version of the NIV with lovely wide margins for making notes and doodling, and COLOURING PAGES. I find colouring quite a soothing activity, and the Bible is one of the few books I don’t mind scribbling all over, so this really was a perfect gift.

It is such a beautiful book, however, that it has taken me a few weeks to build up the courage to tarnish its pristine pages. There was one day last week though, when a verse kept tumbling through my mind and I just needed to doodle it out. I sketched a bit in pencil first, but when I was happy I outlined the text in pen and got colouring. I’m new to this type of artsy-creativity (more of a crafty person myself) but I was quite pleased with the result, and am now filled with the desire to learn more calligraphy and lettering styles…

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Start

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Approximately one year ago I followed a link to a blog I read occasionally. The author was Jon Acuff. The blog post was looking for adventurers, all you had to do was fill in a quick form. I closed the window and tried to forget about it but it kept tugging at the back of my mind.

I was a few months into a new job and I was supposed to be happy. I was where God wanted me to be (I still believe that, by the way). But there was still this longing for something more. So I went back to the post and filled out the form, not realising how significant that small action would turn out to be. I soon found myself a part of something called ‘The Start Experiment’ (more recently reinvented as the ’30 days of Hustle’) an amazing online community with daily emails and encouragement to push you towards achieving your goals and seeing your dreams become reality.

One year on, my life is so different. I have left that job and am currently unemployed and living back with my parents, with very little in the way of concrete plans. But I have my dreams and the last year has taught me that they are worth fighting for. I am taking chances I never would have dreamed of a year ago. I have best friends who live the other side of the world whom I’ve never met but who feel like my sisters. I have bought a domain name and am starting to take myself seriously as a writer. This is the power of community.

My goal in that original Start Experiment was to see myself as a writer. As part of that experience I wrote the following poem, and posted it on a Facebook group of more than 3000 people. and they liked it.

Start

Sometime,

In a time before,

I was afraid

so I hid.

I thought I had

nothing to share

nothing to give

I thought I was

Nothing.

And I was afraid

that people would see

the nothing in me.

But now I know

what was really scaring me

was the simple idea

that I might be

Something.

That I might have

something to give

something to share

and it might be

Amazing.

But I’m afraid to be

the person I could be

if I let myself be me.

I am made

for better things

than I’ve settled for…

So I’m choosing

to let go

of the things I’m holding onto

that hold me back

And I’m choosing

not to be afraid

of where my dreams may lead me

and the person I could become

if I let myself believe

that the One who created me

Didn’t make a mistake

But saw me

and knew me

Even before I was made

And He filled me

Brim-full of potential

to be creative

for I am made in the image of Creator God

And He filled me

with a deep-set longing

to find Him – for in finding Him I find myself

This I now know

I need not fear

who I have been

or who I could be

Because I am loved

and there is no place for fear in love.