Beauty Demands Engagement
Have you ever wondered about the subjects in a painting or a photograph? Truly great artists have developed the ability to capture their audience’s attention beyond a single, cursory glance. So aptly will they have portrayed their subject’s expression, the activity of the moment or even the stillness that we, as their audience are compelled to lapse into storytelling. No matter where we are, time seems to stand still for a moment and like small sailboats we bobble away from the shore for just a moment and we wonder…
How is it that I can feel the community in this painting? Edward Henry Potthast was particularly gifted at capturing the simple connections between people. The women have their arms around one another and you can almost feel the intimacy of their chatter. The children are splashing and giggling together, entranced with the kersploosh! they can make by tromping in the water.
I can’t help but wonder at the way in which Johannes Vermeer, the 17th-Century Dutch Painter who created Girl With a Pearl Earring captured his subject’s expression. Was it really as Tracy Chevallier described in her magnificent novel by the same name? Tracy’s story is so well written that you step back into time with her and perceive how a young girl might have come to be a model for a renowned artist in the city where she lived, and all of the ensuing conflict that occurred. R.Z. Sheppard reviewed Chevallier’s book, Girl With a Pearl Earring, and offered the following review for Time Magazine:
Tracy most certainly did her research of Vermeer’s art. But even she gives evidence of the way in which Vermeer’s art compelled her to see the paintings in person, and to understand more about why he painted the subjects he did.
Our culture demands detachment and isolation. Beauty demands connection and engagement, no matter how tragic the underlying story. Enter into a moment this week. Really see something beautiful. Ask questions. It’s analytical, to be sure, but it’s restful as well.
There are a couple of exhibits occurring at the Joslyn Art Musuem presently through the mid-part of September. Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism and Beyond Impressionism
Leaving a Legacy
I remember when I was growing up, my Dad would show us stuff. He was intent on teaching us to identify trees and plants, like Morrel mushrooms, Bittersweet and Sumac. Of course he taught us useful stuff too, how to back up a truck with a trailer; how to drive a boat; how to collect sap and make Maple Syrup and, best of all, how to fish. Although my growing up years are mostly wrapped in nostalgia and I have few opportunities to exercise those skills, what I actually learned was this: I am limitless in my ability to learn a skill and do it. Dad taught us to be learners, and to not be afraid to try new things.
One year Dad decided to build a cabin on the back edge of our property. Dad was neither a builder nor an architect but he and my lovely, artist-in-residence Mom put their skills together. With the help of generous builder-type friends, the tiny, humble building came together. At the time the cabin served as the best fort and doll house a girl could ask for! We loved it! With it’s steeply-sloped corrugated roof, woodstove and dry sink, the cabin stood on stilts and overlooked the trout stream that ran through our property. My friends and I would traipse around in the woods and slosh in the creek for hours at a time.
It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that I learned the strain that building the cabin placed on our family. Apparently it wasn’t the most fiscally responsible undertaking, nor was the building designed to withstand 25 years of rugged weather. My Dad has been gone for some time now, and yet the cabin stands perhaps as a tribute to his tremendous influence on our lives.
Talk is cheap and we spout ideas of who we are and what we’ll one day become. The fact is, we are not who we say we are. We are what we do.
Dad didn’t leave behind a cabin. He left behind a legacy of attempts to show us how important we were to him, how deeply he cared and how much he wanted us to love the things he loved.
Plain and simple, Dad wasn’t great at communicating. I still wonder about who he really was, and why he called me Scout.
But I know he loved me.
And I’m not afraid to try stuff.
Perilous Peaks of Awkwardness
Not too long ago I had the inexpressable joy of attending a party and running into a former romantic interest … together with his new fiance. Ah! What have I done, and whom have I angered in order to gain such an opportunity?
As this Unrequited Love made his way around my friend’s home, glad-handing old friends and schmoozing strangers, I couldn’t help but wonder how I had once been so enamored with him, so enthralled by his charm. Not that he was unclean, but he reminded me of Pigpen, the Charles Schulz cartoon character as he wandered around, leaving a billowing trail of unresolved conflicts and unfinished conversations in his wake. As I headed into the kitchen, it certainly felt like I was the one with a terrible headcold and a dearth of dateable men. It certainly felt like I was acutely alone, and not quite able to hide the extra ten pounds of fluff that has accompanied me this past year. I poured myself some lemonade and snarled at the yummy looking treats on the dessert table…certainly they’d been my companions far too often during the cold winter evenings. When another acquaintance walked up and asked the inevitable question, I clutched with disbelief. “So, are you seeing anyone?”, she asked. So this is how it feels! Thus far I’d only read about these perilous peaks of awkwardness. Since she wanted to tell about her own dating life more than she really wanted to know about mine, I listened meekly and later, excused myself and headed for home.
One of my favorite authors, Ann Kiemel, said this many years ago, “We all have a place of stretch in our lives. It’s what makes us strong. Rich people have troubled children, and poor people have healthy marriages and brilliant kids. It’s what makes us long for God with our whole being.”
And so I’ve given you a glimpse of one such place in my life but I would add this to Ann’s comment…we often do not realize that we are the ones who are rich. The truth is that we all suffer a private battle of some sort. Our failing is not that we are faced with situations that cut us to the quick. Rather it’s in believing that we are somehow poverty-stricken, and unable to do anything about them. Each one of us has so much in our lives that is rich and good and beautiful, things to make us laugh and love and hope.
“Don’t let your longing slay your appetite for living.” — Elizabeth Elliot
Getting Back With You
Not long ago you trusted me with some rather heartfelt questions. I’ll be honest. The questions caught me a bit blind-sided and my answers were small, I thought. I just wanted to say thank you for trusting me enough to express them. With your permission, I’d like to try to answer them again, having given them more consideration.
Understanding the purposes of God can be a bit tricky. As I navigate this turf I want to point out my frame of reference – or starting point – for this response to you. I truly believe that there is a God. If we wanted to talk about the proofs of the existence of God, we could. But I think that you know – deep down – as well as I do, that He most certainly exists. I also believe that our God has feelings, just like you and me. The Bible says we are created in God’s image. There’s a whole lot of meaning to that statement. Just as you or I wrinkle our brow or feel a tear drop on our cheek, why shouldn’t God do the same? Every single thing that we know about ourselves, we can know that our God is wired similarly. Simply because you cannot see Him wrinkle His brow, or shift His gaze doesn’t mean that He hasn’t the ability. And so, this God who has feelings has deep feelings for you, and for me, wants to be in relationship with you.
He wants to know what *you* think, Friend … even your ugliest thoughts. He can take it. In fact, He’s better at fielding the questions that I am. I find that He doesn’t even care if I use rotten, un-ladylike language. (Yes, I did balk at your language. But it’s because I love you, and want you to become a fierce and lovely lady; one the world must reckon with.)
But, I digress…
I think it will help you in your discoveries to know that absolutely everything about God will be upside-down from the way you think it should be. That means that the reasons why He does things will often confuse you at first glance. But when you look a little deeper, and you ask Him about it, He will show you the deeper meanings and reasons of His ways. But you have to ask Him. He’s the kindest Person you’ll ever meet. He waits for you to look at Him, for your questions. And, once you ask, He will answer.
It will also help you to know that when we become followers of Jesus Christ we actually transfer our citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven. In doing so, we suddenly realize that our priorities and focus has shifted as well. Remember that God created all things – all things – and through Him all things hold together. So, that means that He created time. And space. And stuff. And people. He created the enemy – satan and his household- that antagonizes us and, for a time, they rule this world. Knowing that there are two kingdoms at work sometimes helps me understand the conflicts
Whenever I get bogged down with the questions, “Why did You leave me here?” “Why was I born into this family?” and “Who are You, anyway, and why don’t You speak to me?” I really only do one thing… I sit quietly and ponder God’s big-ness. Smile. I become like a first grader, and expect that, as my real Papa, He’ll explain everything to me. So where do I look to understand God’s big-ness? I might look at Scripture. I could just look at the horizon, or the night sky, and see the stars and all the things around me that He’s created. But I happen to like Scripture and usually after I read the book of Job, or even just the chapters 38-42, I almost always get a sense of the magnificence of the one true God.
Ciao! Until next time…
The Courage to See
There are sights I’ve seen as I’ve travelled through life that simply could not be replicated with a camera or words. No matter how hard I would try to show you what I saw and how I felt when I saw it, the breathtaking Caribbean sunset or the snow-covered Swiss countryside would remain truest in my own mind’s eye.
Something unexplainable happens when we perceive a thing of beauty, and attempt to capture its image or our thoughts of it on paper. Expression of its beauty is mostly about me … what I felt, what I saw, what I was thinking when I saw it. It’s an entirely different thing of beauty when you see it, and capture your own thoughts.
This is also true in one’s journey with God.
No one can have that relationship with Him for you. Each of us stands alone before Him. With regard to my journey, I can show you what I see, what I hear, what I say, but in the end it’s still my experience.
I have had the pleasure and challenge of walking with the Lord through many decades. I recall learning to be in relationship with Him as a very young girl, and then coming to understand the thoughts and intentions of His heart. Then of course there was the tricky bit of letting Him see my heart, my thoughts … and being real with Him. There was nothing sophisticated about it and no flashy terminology to describe the priceless exchanges between us.
Even as the years have flown by, I find that nothing has really changed from the time I was a little girl. The most important things remain. He speaks. I listen. I speak. He listens. He acts on my behalf, and I’ve been learning to obey Him. There is no one closer to me than He, and that won’t change. When I look into His face I can feel, and even see what is on His heart.
It’s my desire to share with you, as I write, my glimpses into the realm of the Holy Spirit, the realm of God. I find He makes His home among ordinary things, a stable, a manger, a cross. And so we have to look twice sometimes to see things the way He sees them. It takes courage to see the unseen, and to walk with God. My challenge to you then, Friend, is that you would look around you and begin to see things as they really are.
The Toilet Tango
Have you ever? Watched paint dry, I mean. Dries unevenly. Uneventful. Unclear as to whether a second coat will be needed to cover those first, hand-thrashing attempts to be Michelangelo on the wall. Between that and my electrical prowess? Look out! You’re liable to …well, you’re just liable.
Yesterday my commode backed up. Yeah, I know…TMI. Well, here’s the good news. The bowl wasn’t full of #2, like you thought. Just paper and LOTS of water. And it kept filling…gushing, actually, like a woman after a bad date. Oh, I don’t know, the toilet had lost it’s mind and I had to stand there and hold one of those thingies inside the tank until my good, patient neighbor could rescue me. I was in heels and headed out the door. Clearly not a good time to tango with the toi-toi. But kersploosh! The water sloshed over the side and all over the !! floor. Stop already! Jiminee! I was so not liking this as I glanced around to be sure there was nothing suspisciously brown lurking behind that wad of paper. So I risked electrocution by standing in a pool of water and used my cell phone – take me now, Jesus.
My neighbor must have had to drop everything he was doing, gear up – he just never knows with me – and in he walked. Do you know what highly technical task he performed, to fix my toilet? He flushed it seven times, and watched it. He peered – you know, looked – into the tank with that highly intelligent look he has. (It’s the one where he’s smothering a grin.) Yep. Seven times. “I don’t know, Sam. Looks fine to me.” And off he went.
What is it about these projects that completely and utterly drain me of energy, as well as common sense? Why couldn’t I have flushed seven times before screeching? That’s a bit like “Knock three times on the ceiling…” I don’t know, maybe I thought I was going to need a row boat? Can’t be sure. That’s the thing about owning a home with neither house husband nor Pops nearby. It’s exhausting. You can shake your head all you want, and say, “I told you so…” But! I wanted a yard, and I wanted to garden so bad I couldn’t hear you tell me how much work it was going to be!
I keep coming back to the thought that there’s beauty in the becoming. I’m pretty sure that God likes the process just as much as He likes the end result. I keep twitching and thrashing because my house is not perfect, my circumstances feel chaotic, the future is clearly unclear and will likely need a second coat of paint to cover my fierce and furtive attempts to be in control. And even though I lose my sense of humor easily and I get so serious and so, okay I’ll say it, uptight over the small things, I want to be laid-back, you know? I want to trust Him to work it all out. And I think He likes that about me. In just the same way that my neighbor smothers his grin at my demise, Father is so fond of me (and you!) and rather amused at the things that stretch me out of my comfort zone and help me to grow. And He doesn’t withhold the growth opportunities. He knows that, in time, I’ll laugh again and so He just lets me work at it until the sun comes out and all is right with my world.
Living in the Moment
I’d just exited the freeway, and was driving down the little highway leading to my sister’s home. I was looking forward to seeing everyone, and knew that we’d laugh, share stories and Thanksgiving dinner as soon as I arrived. I had a few moments of quiet ponderings yet, and I looked out across the horizon.
The afternoon sun shone across the plowed fields, with a few head of cattle here and there noshing on the leftover cornstalks. It’s not unusual to see a good-sized train making its way across the country, and I’ll recognize cargo from San Franscisco Bay. Where is he headed? I passed the beaver pond with its piles and piles of wood heaps. Marshy waters, tired cat-tails and yellowed prairie grasses stood in the stillness. I didn’t stop but I let the peacefulness of the sight wash over me.
Some gals dream about the future, and want things to be just so. They find deep satisfaction in planning how it’s all going to go. She’ll wear the red dress with her black heels, and have her hair up. And there are men who will be satisfied when they get that shelving unit installed or the spare bedroom carpeted. Some girls insist on roses but why won’t a daisy do? I’m kind of funny, I guess. I don’t know if it’s because I need to learn to dream or if I so absolutely live in my moments.
The hubbub of my days is consumed with my search for a bit of something for my spirit to nibble on. A strawberry sunrise while in a traffic jam…how else do you get strawberry jam? Snowflakes…just because. Napping with my cats in the sunshine. Seeing the look in a friend’s eye when you have shared with one another, deeply from the heart.
Beauty, yes. Or is it life?
T is for Technology
Recently I began a new project at work. The purpose is to design a document management, collaboration, and workflow system using a platform comprised of Microsoft SharePoint, Workflow Foundations, and SQL Reporting Services. Nice. Fun, actually! I haven’t been this excited about something at work in a while.
The combination of technologies is somewhat new for our department. I’m not sure why, but it seems like my name is associated with phrases like, “We’ve never done this before” or, “We’re the first in the industry to attempt this.” and my favorite, “This isn’t technology anymore, it’s art.” Yet, implementing new technology and automating business processes are what make my world go around so I’m game for trying something new.
So, technology as an artform. Discuss.
The thing is, technology is art… except that it’s beauty is nearly always hidden. A well-designed system or application rarely gets much attention. A poorly designed system gets negative publicity and rarely recovers, like Vista without service packs, for example. Or what about the systems that we use everyday, i.e., Internet Explorer 6 or the new 7 (slick!). Mozilla Firefox and the latest version of iTunes — will they ever reach a steady state? I digress…
I’ve heard it said that many do not acknowledge beauty in their work because they do not perceive themselves as artists or their work as art. Engineers, architects, programmers, and a myriad of others in the geek squad, daily make bridges stay put when I drive over them, make buildings stand up, and make things work when I click the [Enter] key. But the thing is, I expect the bridge to be there. I don’t know why but I expect Starbucks to have an ambiance that invites me to sit and chat…never realizing that the midnight oil was burned in order to achieve it’s design. And, lastly, I’m not interested in artistic aspects of my online banking system when I’m checking my bank balance. I just want it to work. And yet, the crisp fact that it calculates my withdrawals correctly implies that a DBA has been hard at work. For all you techies out there… there are fewer things more beautiful to behold than a good ER diagram plastered across your wall.
I would say that we fail to perceive the beauty of our work because our work lacks exposure as a thing of beauty.
And beauty is still found in the eye of the beholder.
Dancing Before The David
This morning I had a picture of myself dancing before Michelangelo’s David. The high ceilings and marble walls of the gallery proved an amazing setting for perfect pirouettes and pas de bourrée. The beauty of my dance was perfected in my thoughts, and it became something akin to Viviana Durante in the Rose Adagio of Sleeping Beauty, … a wordless contribution of beauty for beauty.
It wasn’t long before I pondered not the perfection of my dance ~ this is my dream, after all ~ yet why dance before The David? An online travel guide for Florence, Italy so aptly reviews the sculpture, “Its position, though expressing perfect balance, alludes at movement, … The attitude is strong, arrogant and, above all, filled with inner life like no other similar classical statue.” 1
Balance. Movement. Attitude. Inner Life.
Isn’t it interesting that the reviewer detects these qualities, in a sculpture? That is part of the mystery of beauty. Just like a masterful pirouette depicts the paradox between strength and delicacy, so a marble statue depicts movement and inner life.
Reviewing the flawless dance in the presence of unparalleled, sculpted beauty, I was reminded of the nearly spontaneous combustion that can occur when individuals come together, in unity, to produce something more significant than they can produce individually. Musicians demonstrate this when their skill takes them collectively away from the written score to a breathless improvisation. Each one has submitted their skill, even rescinded their individual identities, to the greater purpose of the collective. Only mutually agreed-upon, non-verbal expressions lead to a change in key or tempo. Each musician not only participates, but also cooperates. No one person leads throughout, and no one hides. Eventually, each one takes his place to lead out into the unknown with precision. 2
2 Bents, E. Identity
I’m a girly-girl at heart. There’s nothing that makes my heart flutter more than a tiny bit of bling. Shiny, swirly, rings and things that go round and round and catch the sunlight, and make me smile for a while. Even better when that little something is accompanied by a word or two, an “I love you” or “I’m sorry”.
It’s a story worth telling since it still makes me chuckle. A former boyfriend erred by spouting words that were less than complimentary to me. Clearly, the memory is blocked due to trauma, but it involved a reference to a barnyard animal. Perhaps I was munching or crunching something with a bit too much enthusiasm. I hope I never recall. But he was rewarded with the opportunity to restore my smile that day with jewelry. We wandered into a sterling silver shop, picked out a bracelet, and together decided it was a bit of Barnyard Bling. Whenever that bracelet manages to spin about my wrist, I don’t recall the offense as much as I recall the apology. It was sincere.
I don’t own a lot of jewelry, but I treasure some of the pieces I’ve collected. A periodot from an antique shop at Five Points, NC. An amethyst from Basel, Switzerland. Two wedding bands from my Grams. A swanky 60’s necklace from my Mother comprised of blue glass ‘fingers’… fabulous. None have much financial value, and needn’t have, for the pieces I like the most are those with intense or unusual color.
The emerald-cut peridot is of the palest green. I like to flutter my hand in the sun and watch the room glitter with refracted rays piercing through it’s planes. The amethyst has a triangular gold ring band. It was one of the first pieces of jewelry I purchased for myself. When I wear it, I’m reminded of my jaunts to Europe. The old, yellow-gold wedding bands are chock full of family history, and remind me of my darling grandmother. She always wore one of them on her middle finger, and it seemed so classically handsome to me. Mother’s blue glass necklace speaks for itself as one that enters the room before its wearer. It’s dramatic and heavy, but lovely.
Color is provacative. It’s characteristics, whether brilliance or pallor, demand a response from their observer. Our minds make mental and even emotional connections with colors. The beautiful thing about color is that we are forced to engage with it, to really see it, and to let it affect us.
A man is never more masculine when his boyish grin flashes at the sight of a bright yellow biscuit joiner. They make power tools in canary yellow for a reason. A woman is never more feminine when she utters that childlike, “Ohhh LOOK!” and flutters over a proffered daisy with petals to ponder, “He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me….”
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