Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturday, September 26, 2015 - No comments

Bristles and Dirt

“The artist must be obedient to the work...  Each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am.  Enflesh me.  Give birth to me.’  And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses.”

- Madeline L’Engel

This summer, I went through a workbook entitled “The Creative Call:  An Artist’s Response to the Way of the Spirit.”  It challenged me to see the making of art as a holy calling - to attend to the work of writing an article or crafting a photograph or preparing a lavish meal with the same zeal and sense of purpose as the craftsmen who were “filled with the Spirit” to produce articles of gold and stonework and beautifully designed curtains and carvings for the tabernacle.  It pushed me to recognize the lies and the distractions that suck the creative life out of me and keep me from rising up and stewarding the creative gifts I’ve been given.  And it spoke to me of connecting with the Creator Himself and allowing Him to inspire me and live His life through me as I bring to form the things I see in my mind’s eye.

During the course of my season of going through this book (which I highly recommend, by the way) I had the chance to get glimpses into the creative lives of two artists who are also good friends of mine:  Mike, who is a painter, and Brooke, who is a potter.  My time with each of them sparked a whole host of things in my heart as I watched them pursue their individual crafts.  Both are courageously prioritizing their art in the midst of busy work and family lives.  Both came alive as they talked of their current projects - the ones they’ve been commissioned to do as well as the ones they are working on for the pure joy of putting brush to canvas and fingers to clay.  And both spoke of that incomparable feeling of co-operating with their Creator as He created something beautiful through them.  With them.  In them.

Mike is my best friend’s husband, and I’ve loved seeing the way his talent adds colour to his world, be it purposeful paint “splatters” on the tablecloths at their wedding or the fantastic sketches he’s done of their baby girl.   I’ve seen plenty of his professional airbrush work (it used to form a border three canvases deep around their living room...) and have watched his eyes light up as he flips through pictures on his phone of sculptures and murals he’s been doing for water parks and climbing gyms.  (The guy can take you all the way to the bottom of a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee explaining the nuances of shading and palette brush definition.  He’s passionate about his stuff!)  This summer, I got to see him in action at the Painters’ Circle in Stanley Park as well as at the Grand Prix of Art in Ladner and was amazed at the way he can bring a scene to life with a brush.  

Brooke and his wife Dana are friends from my days as a Tennesseean, and when I made the rounds down South this summer, I had the pleasure of sharing a meal with their family in their dining-room-cum-pottery-studio.  On Facebook during the previous months, I’d been watching their pottery business come back to life after a long hiatus, and it had stirred something in my heart.  Here was a man with six kids and a whole lot of work responsibilities making time and space in his life to do what he loved:  create.  Over supper, Brooke (and his faithful firer/glazer Dana) talked about their passion for making something out of nothing, and the communion they experience with their own Potter in the process.  They’re rearranging their lives to incorporate an art form that will be a source of income but also, and more importantly, a source of life.  They’ve got a workshop in the dining room and a kiln in the backyard and a “Gehman Pottery Works” sign out back to make it official.  And I respect them so much for it.

After the meal, Brooke sat there at the table and spun a lump of clay that soon took shape as a deep dish.  I watched him coax it from nothing into something, and then painstakingly add two tiny holes on one side and a little groove on the other -  a resting place for a pair of chopsticks.  The perfect noodle bowl.  And I marveled at this reflection of the One who dreamed up humans and then made us out of dirt.  That feeling of breathing life into something that, just an hour before, only existed in your imagination - an incomparable taste of what it means to partake of the Divine nature alive inside of us, to co-create with our Creator.

I bought a mug from the Gehmans that night, carefully selected from the dozens of earthen masterpieces on their dining room rack.  Brown and teal with the faintest streak of glitter.  I wanted to take home a piece of the magic, I guess.  To hold something in my hands that says, “Art is worth your time.  Don’t neglect the gifts within you.  Make space for them, take time for them, fight for them.”  To have something to remind me my creative pursuits - whether for profit or for play - are about so much more than making money or entertaining myself or even bringing joy to others.  They’re about connecting with the One in whom creativity itself originated.  

Check out these talented guys and their work online:

Mike the Painter:

Moser Creative 

Brooke the Potter:

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015 - No comments

That Same Sea

Chicken Caesar wraps and watermelon.  Families on picnic blankets and vendors plying the beach with thermoses full of tea and Nescafe.  Kids in water wings and a parasailer floating overhead.  The sun setting over the mountains.  A cool dip in the Mediterranean to wash away the 38 degree day.   

My friends had convinced me that, on my first day back in Turkey, the best cure for jetlag would be an evening trip to the beach.  They were right - the swim woke me up and the catch-up conversation kept me awake until my 9:00 goal.  But as I bobbed in the waves and let them tumble me against the pebbles, I couldn’t stop thinking about another beach - a beach 450 km away where just over a week ago a limp little body in a red t-shirt was tossed to shore by that same sea.

I knew that, in just a few hours, as soon as darkness fell, that same sea would be lapping against the sides of flimsy dinghies crammed with dozens of people willing to place their lives and those of their children in the hands of uncaring smugglers who would shove them from the shore into the merciless waves.  Their hopes for new lives free from war and terror would carry them to Greece, then up on to the Balkans where they would begin the long trek to Austria or Germany on foot...if their inflatable rafts made it across at all.

Three days before my return, my mom and I went to the memorial for Aylan, Galib and Rehanna Kurdi.  We wept with the boys’ aunt, their community, and a hundred or so strangers who, like us, couldn’t let these deaths go unmarked.  That same day, we cheered as the news showed Austrians handing refugees bags of water and food along the road and Germans welcoming migrants at the Munich train station with open arms.  And we rejoiced as, seemingly all at once, the world “woke up” to the refugee crisis and asked a collective, “What are we going to do about this?”

But an “awakened world” has not changed the number of boats departing the Turkish coast every hour.  Two days ago, the coast guard rescued 153 migrants from the sea, and yesterday another thirty-four drowned a few miles from our shore.  Among them, four babies, six boys, five girls.  Eleven little Aylans and Galibs.  A heartbreaking headline that has become all too commonplace.  

Tonight I was reading a piece by CNN’s Arwa Damon about how she connected with several refugees as she documented their journey through Hungary on their way to Germany.  And I couldn’t stop crying.  Migrants fleeing through cornfields as police chase them like criminals.  A grown man sleeping on a train’s luggage rack.  A mother saying she wished her family had been killed by ISIS instead of living out this slow, shameful death.  

This week I travelled halfway around the world in a mere 22 hours. I sat in a passably comfy seat that (except on my middle flight) tilted back when I wanted to sleep.  There was a TV loaded with dozens of movies and TV shows and a map that showed precisely how far until our destination.  Someone brought me a blanket when I was cold, food before I even had the chance to get hungry, and seconds of coffee if I wanted it.  The fact that my original itinerary was cancelled due to a pilots strike was no big deal - there was a free hotel room and meal vouchers to make sure I lived through the inconvenience in comfort.

Sure, I had to deal with jetlag.  The neighbours’ rooster did nothing to aid me in my plight.  On my first trip to the market, one side mirror fell off my bike because it had melted in the summer sun.  The grapevine has taken over my balcony and it may require the jaws of life to reclaim the chair it ate, meaning I can’t sit in my favourite spot just yet.  And some freak error with the phone company has rendered my cell temporarily useless.

But I had a home to come home to.  And a bed and a bike and a balcony and a phone.  I have a blender, an air conditioner, photo albums, a pillow, a box full of every letter and Christmas card I’ve received in the past nine years.  I was greeted with a welcome note from my roommate and food in the fridge from some thoughtful friends.  

My journey here didn’t involve a desperate flight from a terror-stricken country.  There was no panicked sea-crossing with an inner-tube for a life-preserver in case the boat sunk.  I didn’t have to walk for a good part of a 2000 km trek (Athens to Munich) that Google Maps says should take two hours and twenty minutes by plane, or nineteen hours and forty-four minutes by car.  There were no police dogs, no barbed wire fences, no hard train station floors.  No wondering whether my apartment building was still standing or if the rest of my family would make it out alive.

Instead, I got to end the trip sitting with my toes in the Mediterranean, thinking about how I have everything.  Everything except the one thing I’d give anything to have right now:  a way to stop people from having to cross that same sea.