Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Looking back, looking forward

Moments ago as I sat at my computer trying to decide whether I wanted to post this image or not, the sun broke through the morning clouds and illuminated the trees out the window (some of the same trees as in the painting). They were  brilliantly yet fleetingly ablaze with what I call "Irish light"--the particular quality and intensity of sunlight born of overshadowing clouds' breaking up, and clear air, often after a rainstorm has washed things clean and left surfaces ready to glisten. 

(A digression: Maine light and Irish light have a lot in common. But Ireland gets lots more rainbows, probably because the rainstorms are more frequent, and more often mingled with sunshine, and (if you're lucky) they are more fleeting.)

The trees this morning were briefly illuminated as in the painting, but of course from the right rather than from the left, that would be from the east rather than from the west. It was enough to prod me to include the painting in this post.

My hesitation? I think there's a little touch of sadness for me in this painting, although I don't believe I was feeling sad when I painted it. I think it's something about that dark, somewhat brooding background, and also the knowledge that it was painted in September (its title is "Afternoon light, September"). There's always something poignant about the beauty of autumn, at least for me, due to our knowing that the earth is entering its dying season, and that winter's hunkering down is not far off. (And here we are, back in real time, and it's the last day of March, and the snow piles still linger, though they are dwindling daily!) And the beauty of afternoon shares that same rhythm on a smaller scale; we know it is the prelude to the dying of the day (which of course allows for the very different, mysterious beauties of the night).

Somehow this painting, with that hint of sadness (do others see and feel it? or is it just me?), feels appropriate to the present moment for me. Last year at this time, I was just days away from formally renouncing my ordination vows, and the enormity of that step, however much I felt it to be right and good, was very much with me. Those last few days were kind of an autumn/winter time of allowing myself to let go of something that had been part of me for almost half my life (twenty-six of fifty-four years, if you count the years I spent in seminary). I felt very vulnerable and quite sad through those days, and I tried to give myself room to grieve in anticipation of the big day. I sense that I'm revisiting those days right now as I approach the first anniversary of my renunciation on April 3. 

"Renunciation of the Ordained Ministry" is, by the way, the official, canonical name in the Episcopal Church for what I chose to do. It's a somber, serious name for a somber, serious step, one not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, if I may borrow some language from another, more familiar, liturgy. I consider my renunciation to have been more truly a break for freedom, a coming out party, the laying down of a very heavy burden--you get the idea. 

But however lighthearted that sounds, don't be fooled. There was death, there was grief, there was fear. There were no guarantees. There were also some surprising gifts in those days (and not exactly the kinds of gifts one normally associates with dying and grief). Which is to say: more stories are on the way.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Enjoying the dark, knowing the dark

I enjoyed our family's small participation in Earth Hour on Saturday night. When 8:25 rolled around and our kitchen timer went off as a reminder, I realized I hadn't replaced our stubby dining room candles with fresh ones or located other ones that could help us out for the hour without electric lights. It was probably 8:35 by the time I was candle-ready, turned out the lights, and started to settle into the candlelit darkness (albeit with book and flashlight for part of the time).

I always enjoy these voluntary tastes of darkness, and even sometimes the involuntary power outage ones. They somehow only reinforce the sense that we human animals would benefit from tasting of "real darkness" more often. The absence of electric glare has a calming, quieting effect. Once more I found myself way more relaxed than I would have been after an hour of more "electrified" activities. (Which is not to say that I'm ready to give up electricity altogether. But maybe less?)

This morning I remembered a lovely poem, "To Know the Dark," by Wendell Berry, about getting to know the darkness outside. Here it is (though I can't vouch for the line breaks, or even that this is the whole of it):

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light
is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.
Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Earth Hour Saturday Night!

3,900 CITIES AND TOWNS IN 84 COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD WILL TURN OUT FOR EARTH HOUR: More than 300 cities and towns in the U.S. representing 43 states and the District of Columbia are going dark as part of the largest global climate event in history. Before the rooster crows in most American cities on Saturday morning, lights will already have gone dark in cities like Christchurch, Sydney and Brisbane. By breakfast time on the U.S. East Coast, the cities of Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Singapore and Manila will be celebrating the arrival of the largest global climate event in history. Just before lunchtime in America, the lights will be dimming in Mumbai, Amman and Dubai. And by early afternoon in New York, it will be lights out in Paris, Istanbul, London and Copenhagen.

READY, SET, LIGHTS OUT!: Set your clocks for 8:30 PM on March 28th and turn out for Earth Hour. Remind friends, colleagues and family members to sign up on the Earth Hour website so we can count their Vote for our Earth! Details for taking part in this historic call for global action on climate change can be found at www.EarthHourUS.org.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who's Looking?

A few weeks ago I was part of a "Madness Workshop" with Carol Bass. The "madness" refers to a line from Zorba the Greek: "With a little madness you can cut the ropes and be free." 

This is one of the six paintings that I did in those two playful and colorful sessions. (The image in my first day of spring post, "Raucous Spring," is another.) Although I didn't intend it when I started to paint, I think it shows the influence of my having looked at a book of amazing photos of rain forests and their inhabitants--trees, flowers, birds, reptiles, mammals, and more. 

Until recently I thought the eye was a reptilian eye, but now I'm not so sure. So now I'm wondering, who's looking? 

Besides me, that is. And now you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Remembering Michael Dwinell

Using the bathroom at Michael's downstairs den of an office, the first place I actually remember meeting him (the office, that is--not the bathroom), was a trip. I learned fast that I had to really need to pee badly in order to make that short but immense journey through the bowels of his house to a bathroom that probably hadn't been cleaned in years. One of the benefits of making the trip, besides the obvious, was being reassured that I was not, in fact, the worst housekeeper in the world. Along with the usual old basement-y smells and look, and the unkempt toilet, there were dozens and dozens of empty toilet paper tubes collecting everywhere. Peeling paint and a tiny just above ground window that looked through garden greenery to the quaint alley were also features.

But really, that's just a small physical token of the adventure that a visit with Michael could be. Especially for me, who was in most ways very much a "good, nice girl"--polite, ready to tell my truth to the extent that I was aware of it, yet not given to doing so with much color, guts, or chutzpah, and certainly not with four-letter words. Michael filled in for whatever I lacked in that way! 

His den was papered and smothered in cards, photos, quotes from wise people of various times and places, artwork, and a fish tank in which it's amazing any fish survived, since it was probably cleaned about as often as the toilet. But I think I remember live fish swimming lazily in there! (Friends who visited Michael back at the "old place" can corroborate or set me straight on that point.)

Michael was truly one of a kind--a large presence in all respects. You kind of had to get used to him (or at least I did) before his immense gifts could be received in their fullness. Get used to the bracelets that slid  and clattered up and down his forearm; his way of seeming to be falling asleep on me, which of course provoked all my old insecurities ("I really am the most boring person who ever lived!"); the scratching, picking, and grooming of scalp and nails (it must have helped him focus or something); the straight-shooting talk that could leave me gasping for air or, best of all, reduced to gut-splitting laughter and tears. 

One of my favorite such comments came after David and I had left St. Bart's in Yarmouth, a daring/crazy, momentous, and wrenching decision after fourteen years of loving and being part of that community. Michael knew that our choice to leave a lively, healthy congregation without a plan in mind or a new place to go, and especially without any indication of the usual clergy journey onward and upward through parishes of increasing size, would not exactly win us fans among our ecclesiastical and clerical colleagues. When we visited Michael about a month after we had left St. Bart's, he said, "And what kind of support and reaching out have you been getting from your brother and sister clergy? I bet your phone has just been ringing off the hook!" And after we caught our breath and mopped our eyes from hysteria, the sad truth that no one had called us was a little easier to acknowledge and to bear.

Michael both served the church and skewered it regularly with his insights and humor. He was my compatriot in that we both eventually left the Episcopal priesthood, renounced our ordination vows, and as he had done so a few years before I chose to, he could assure me that surprisingly wide vistas would open up after doing so. And in that he was right.

I haven't got a clue what, if anything, awaits us after death. But I wish Michael more wide open vistas, radiant with love and joy and some really good jokes, and a wide, wide open embrace to take him in. Those already on the other side had better be ready for some rollicking surprises of their own as he joins their ranks.

Blessings, Michael. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Raucous Spring

Even though it's quite chilly this morning, at least we can celebrate the fact that it's the astronomical first day of spring. And the birds know it, too. The bird chorus has been getting more and more raucous these days...louder, more varied, more songs of different species. I love it! It's hard to stay grumpy when listening to birds singing.

A month or so ago, David told me that his expert birder friend had explained that the singing of cardinals that I was hearing in mid-February was not a sign of emerging spring, as I wanted to think it was, but only the birds' response to an occasional warmer-than-normal day. I have to say I was a little disappointed. Make that very disappointed. I liked thinking that those richly red male cardinals were sensing the first faint signs of spring's emergence and heralding that news to the rest of us (well, really, to the eligible female cardinals among us). 

This happened right around the time of Imbolc, the Celtic/Irish first day of spring, February 2. Imbolc means "in the womb" and refers to the lambs gestating in the wombs of ewes--I love that way of thinking forward in the circling of the seasons, marking the beginning of the season by noting what's on the way, before it has fully arrived.

Eventually at this time of year the birds start singing not only on those occasional warm days but because they "read" the lengthening of daylight, and then they sing a lot, and they sing on grey days as well as on sunny days. (And they don't bother with silly conventions like Daylight Savings and changing clocks!) 

So here's to spring and to birdsong, to melting snow, swelling buds, and "all that juice and all that joy," to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins. 

And that (somehow) reminds me that I gave this post the title "Raucous Spring" in a bow to Rachel Carson, without whom our springs might be a whole lot more silent. God forbid. And thank you, Rachel.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thank you, Natasha.

I know, it's not exactly the most sophisticated of movies, but I have to confess that I really did enjoy watching the remake of  "The Parent Trap" with Bekah and Anna when they were younger. Except maybe in those stages when they seemed to want to watch it all the time, I usually ended up watching with them, at least the scenes with Natasha Richardson. She made the movie for me.

She also did a truly wonderful job reading and recording Roald Dahl's The BFG which Anna purchased for herself years ago. I am glad we still have that around to listen every now and then to her narration and her portraying all the characters--the little girl, the queen of England, and the B(ig) F(riendly) G(iant) among them. 

While I've never seen her in the kinds of raw and gutsy roles for which she is best known (I can imagine her power in them), I am grateful for the loveliness she added to my children's childhood days and to my part in them. And I'm sorry for her way too sudden death of a skiing accident, and a seemingly benign one at that (wear helmets, please, skier friends). 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Linking makes the world more fun

I actually started this post in a totally different way and then realized it hadn't worked--in particular, my attempt to include someone else's on line article flopped. So I'm starting over and doing just this: giving some links to a few other people's blogs. Clearly I have lots more to learn about cybertechnics.

First, here are two newer blogs by people I know and love: 

"Distant Temple Bell" at http://distanttemplebell.blogspot.com (just launched by my husband, David Heald).

And "Cosmicity!" at http://cosmicity-sarah.blogspot.com (a couple of weeks old, by my dear loud-laughing librarian friend Sarah Dorsey). Check 'em out!

And here are two blogs of artist friends with whom I spent some wonderful workshop hours last week.

I hope you enjoy them. And meanwhile, I'll be back soon with another post of my own.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Buddha H. Christ

Pardon me if I've already offended you with the title of this blog. If so, you could opt to read no further. But then, you may just find this a tiny bit enlightening, though not exactly in the Buddha's way of enlightenment. 

Not long ago Anna said that she and some of her friends had been discussing whether "Christ" was actually Jesus' last name  (they didn't think so). And of course I gave her a succinct yet eloquent mini-lecture on the fact that Christ is a title, from Greek, and what it means, etc. Actually, I probably told her more than she ever wanted to know and was not exactly spellbinding, but...whatever. I did also happen to mention that Christ as a last name gets a funny (and some would say, irreverent, disrespectful, and blasphemous) tweak in the expression, "Jesus H. Christ"! 

So I've been asking myself: where does that expression come from? A short trip to wikipedia offers up the following very interesting little explanation: 

"Jesus H. Christ is an example of slang serving as a mild profanity. The expression can be used in an angry, wry, sarcastic, cynical, exasperated, or even joking tone. The expression implies that the Christ is a surname rather than a title (Christ comes from the Greek christos meaning "anointed".) [For you punctuational types, wikipedia has the period inside the parentheses, thus leaving the actual sentence without a period!]

"The expression dates to at least the late 19th century, although according to Mark Twain, it was already old in 1850, and likely originates with the ancient Christian symbolism IHS (the Christogram). (Smith 1994, p. 332)

"Using the name of Jesus Christ as an oath has been common for many centuries, but the precise origins of the letter H in the expression Jesus H. Christ are obscure. While many explanations have been proposed, some serious and many humorous, the most widely accepted derivation is from the monogram of Christian symbolism. The symbol, derived from the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus..., is transliterated IHS, IHC, JHS, or JHC. Since the transliteration IHS gave rise to the backronym Iesus Hominum Salvator (Latin for "Jesus Savior of Men"), it is plausible that JHC similarly led to Jesus H. Christ. (Smith 1994, pp. 332-3)"

"Smith 1994", by the way, is Smith, Roger, "The H of Jesus H. Christ", American Speech 69 (3): 331-335. (Do you think somewhere there's a PhD dissertation on the topic?!)

I don't know about you, but I find that quite fascinating, entertaining, and maybe even enlightening! (Confession: despite being a bit of a language geek and learning a chunk of New Testament Greek in seminary, I never could manage to remember what the letters "IHS" stood for and why they are always elaborately embroidered on altar hangings and such. Now, finally, I think I will remember.)

Still, you may be wondering: where did the title of this blog post, Buddha H. Christ, come from? Well, a few nights back David enlisted my help in batting around possible names for a new blog he is thinking about starting, and he mentioned his hybrid religious identity (my words for it, not his) as both Christian and Zen practitioner. And in a moment of inspiration I said, "How about 'Buddha H. Christ'?" At which point we both lost our selves, and our recent bad moods, in laughter. In case you're wondering, I don't think that will be the name of his blog.

Philosopher Dog/Artist Dog

Digory has tramped out a perfect question mark in the snow. He went out around some object, or just because he felt like it, curved around, then stopped and retraced his steps. The only thing missing is the dot at the bottom. 

I wonder what his question is. Something tells me it's not about the existence of g.o.d. (which reminds me of the one about the dyslexic atheist, who didn't believe in the existence of dog, ha ha!). 

Or maybe he's not a philosopher dog at all, but an artist dog who likes making cool curves in the snow. He also likes rolling on his back in snow, and  also endlessly cooling and cleaning his muzzle in it, pushing himself along like a plow with his thick stumpy forepaws folded back at the "wrists" while his head makes small rocking movements to get the snow sensation on every last itchy inch. Dog bliss in winter.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Strange Case..., continued

A week after painting my self-portrait, the regular teacher was back, and as usual we started the class by putting up our work for a brief critique. The teacher was quite complimentary of my portrait, but she did point out one area of skewed perspective--that being my mouth. She said it was likely that I had changed my head position slightly while painting the mouth in order to see it better, so that the spaces from my nose to mouth and mouth to chin were a bit larger than they should be. I had to agree, although it also didn't bother me at all. I wasn't really setting out to do a "realistic" portrait, more to enjoy the process of painting the portrait. I had enjoyed the process and also rather enjoyed the result.

My teacher suggested that I might want to scrape the mouth (and surrounding face parts) off and redo it, to get the proportions and the perspective right. I didn't really think much of that idea, but for some odd reason, when I got home I decided to try it. (This is really not like me; I don't usually go back to paintings to redo things. Maybe it's from all those years of sermons--it's just so hard and so unsatisfying to revisit them once they've been preached. What's on the page seems kind of...well, flat and lifeless. I guess I feel similarly about paintings; the experience of the painting process is a big part of it for me. And at the time, most of what I had painted were landscapes, and it's very hard to go back to changing natural circumstances. Interesting...I hadn't really thought of this analogy until just now.)

So...anyway, on this occasion I decided to try redoing my mouth, so that meant taking a palette knife and scraping my mouth (oops! Freudian typo? my fingers typed "my mothe..."--where'd that come from?), that is scraping my mouth off the canvas. This in itself I found quite disturbing, more than I might have imagined, as if I were seriously marring and silencing myself. After the mouthectomy was complete (well, a slight trace remained--I couldn't make myself scrape any harder), I had run out of time for that day and put the painting aside. 

It sat there mouthless for two days before I had time to get back to it, and each time I walked by it, I felt another visceral stab, punch, assault. It was horrible! I wanted my mouth back! I did not like being mouthless or voiceless, not one bit! When I finally repainted the mouth, I couldn't find the small brush I had used the first time, so the "new mouth" is a bit hasty. In fact, I don't think I managed to change the proportions at all, and that's just fine. At least I have my mouth back.

PS. I have to admit that the whole class, what with my inner wrestlings with the teacher's approach, was one huge opportunity for me to exercise my voice, so this incident is all the more fitting.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Strange Case of the Mouth in the Painting

The image that you see here is also my handsome new profile picture. It's a self-portrait I painted in a class last fall. I actually don't have time to tell the whole "strange case of the mouth in the painting" right now, but I promise I will. The short version has to do with the fact that I took a portrait painting class even though I don't really have a strong interest in painting portraits (in retrospect, a bad idea). I thought I'd see if I could paint someone's head with the same kind of freedom and joy and energy that I often find in painting landscapes. More often than not I found myself feeling bound up, wishing I were outside, tangling with the teacher's suggestions, and probably fighting with myself.

The self-portrait was done one week when the regular teacher was away (tra la!), and I told myself just to have fun while painting my portrait. The other members of the class had already spent one week on their self-portraits, but I had intentionally missed a week and so got to do mine all in one fell swoop. And I did have fun. 

The mouth part of the story will have to wait for another day!