Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

I’ll Be Back

Really.  I will.

But for now… Look at this cool picture my 13 year old daughter took in New York!



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(n.b.  I’ve noticed that when my blogging buddies get busy, they still find time to post a quote, even if it’s without any comment.  I feel a bit lazy here, but some of these little nuggets I’ve been running across lately really do move me, so please consider these cheap and easy quotes as still some small part of the dubious pursuit of knowing what’s going on inside my head.)

Ruskin here, aptly describing why I care about teaching students to “get” that beauty in art matters:

And all delight in fine art, and all love of it, resolve themselves into simple love of that which deserves love. That deserving is the quality which we call ‘loveliness’ … and it is not an indifferent nor optional thing whether we love this or that; but it is just the vital function of all our being.” (John Ruskin in Traffic, 1864)

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Rick posted this photo on FB today.  I’d forgotten about it.  baby-ellie-in-the-plowed-field

When Ellie (a senior this year!) was a baby, we used to dress her this way quite a bit because we had a friend who had a tye-dye business and kept us well supplied in fun outfits. One spring morning, when she was probably about a month and a half old, I went outside to find that Rick’s brother had just plowed the field adjacent to our house.  I LOVED the way the freshly plowed field looked and smelled, and I LOVED the way my baby looked and smelled, and I impulsively thought the two should be together, so I put her down in the dirt and snapped this photo.

The look on her face cracks me up.  Any caption ideas?

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Useless Beauty

I spent the day painting at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C.   Ever since I registered for this particular workshop, called Painting the Amaryllis in Oil, my anticipation of this enjoyable weekend (the class continues tomorrow) has been mixed with odd twinges of guilt.  For the last several days, I’d recognized this but I hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on why I was feeling that emotion. Was it because I was going to spend two eight hour days away from my family?  Was it because I’d spent a hefty chunk of change on the workshop fee – money which I should probably be saving for my next seminary class or, better yet, Ellie’s upcoming college tuition bills?

The answer hit me, in the middle of the day, as I slowly came up for air from a couple hours of concentrating on the shapes of six amaryllis petals on one particular stem.  I realized that my vague sense of guilt had been coming from the fact that I wasn’t taking a broad, drink from the fire hose, whole-lotta’ bang for the buck sort of class.  In other words, I wasn’t taking something that was immediately and perfectly “relevant” to my job of teaching art to high school students.  I didn’t intend to have them paint amaryllis any time soon, and I never teach oil painting, in the confined spaces of our tiny classrooms.

In other words, I’d been subtly giving in to the idea that I was doing something useless.

When that realization fully hit me, I immediately felt giddy with relief as my theology restored balance to what had been going on in my subconscious.   Useless? Useless? How could spending these hours immersed in seeing beauty ever by any stretch of the imagination, be considered useless for those who have been redeemed by the Creator of beauty?

Satan loves to trip us.  He uses all the obvious “sins”: bitterness, slander, thievery,  lust…  But I think he positively chortles with delight when he deceives us into barging through weeks at a time without taking the time to stop and see the “useless” beauty around us.  When our eyes glaze over and we don’t notice the pattern of the shadow cast by the bare tree branches on a bright winter day, or the contours of the sweet cinnamon-skinned hand of the noisy baby in the shopping cart ahead of us in the checkout line… When we can’t hear or taste or feel or see anything beyond our computer screens and the ugly overflow of ink in our datebooks… When our minds replay hurtful words and unjust losses until they hardly have room for anything else… THEN, Satan smiles.

So, the best part of my day today wasn’t the new oil techniques I discovered. It wasn’t that I spent the day with some excellent artists and enjoyed the personal attention of a favorite teacher.  It wasn’t even the excitement of painting in a studio with a view of the next door Capitol building, all gussied up for the coming inauguration (though I must admit, that was pretty cool.)  The best part of my day was remembering this: that to see – to loose myself in the seeingis to kick Satan in the teeth with one of the best gifts God’s given us.

Praising Him tonight for the grace of “useless” beauty. And thankful for how Satan is muted by the power of the shape of amaryllis petals…

And all delight in fine art, and all love of it, resolve themselves into simple love of that which deserves love. That deserving is the quality which we call ‘loveliness’ … and it is not an indifferent nor optional thing whether we love this or that; but it is just the vital function of all our being.”
John Ruskin,
Traffic (1864)

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I use a “Book of Hours” on days like this in particular, to at least mechanically walk the steps of trust from which my heart is so prone to stray.  This prayer, a few minutes ago, for the noon hour, is an example of just why I need to continue in this discipline:

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.”

(Thanksgiving, Wednesday Noon, Hour By Hour, resources from the Book of Common Prayer)


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I’m trying to decide which “growing mushrooms” metaphor to settle on. There’s clearly one waiting to be called into being right now. I don’t hesitate to find the metaphorical lessons in life around me, even when they border on banality. I’m well convinced that creation is to be one of our chief textbooks in the Christian life.

This morning, for fun, I’ve listened to the book of Ecclesiastes on CD three times. (OK, maybe not really for fun: it’s part of an assignment. But there’s something about hearing Max McClean say “He has made everything beautiful in its time'” that makes at least chapter 3 delightful…) It’s hard to top the total tonnage of metaphor in Ecclesiastes, and maybe that’s part of the reason that my simmering thoughts about my mushrooms are starting to roll to a slow boil.

But I’m torn. For those of you who think of fungi as one of the distinctive signs of the fall, and shun their consumption in all forms, it might seem appropriate to think of their growth as a kind of cancerous symbol of the persistent, recurring darkness with which I wrestle. But, for those of you who share my affinity for these white wonders, a sort of Isaiah 61 (“beauty instead of ashes”) interpretation might be in order.

I’ll continue to think on that, but meanwhile, here’s a photo update. Note the growth (for better or worse, depending on your bias as described above) in just three days!

Forget turkey, I’m having steak and sautéed mushrooms this Thanksgiving.

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A couple weeks ago, one of my chief delights on a certain day came from receiving in the mail my long awaited mushroom growing kit.  I was so excited when it came that I took a picture of it, even though it was only a box of dirt and invisible spores…

As I unpacked the contents of the box and worried that perhaps it had been left on my front door mat, in the heat, for too long before I noticed it (we never come in our front door,) I was aware of my own quivering sense of excitement.  There I was: one part excitement over my package, one part skeptic (thinking, “Will this thing REALLY grow enough mushrooms to be worth the cost”,) and one part amused onlooker, laughing at the fact that a box of promised mushrooms could produce in me the other parts of that equation.

And then it hit me: 

I’m becoming my father. 

 I’m growing strange things, largely for the pleasure of seeing if they can be grown.  My father, who could (and would, and does) grow ANYTHING…  My father, who’s always interested in the next thing…  My father, who, I’m sure, would be delighted to open my mushroom box with me if he didn’t live so far away in Florida.

I’m becoming my father. 

Only I’m not.  I actually kind of tend to kill things, because my interest in them is usually sort of flash-in-the-pan interest.  I caught my father’s curiosity, but not his ability to nurture things through to the end…

I remember, growing up in Michigan, how on days like this (it’s a rainy, blustery, COLD fall day here in Maryland) there was still work to be done in the garden.  There were potatoes to be dug and tomato vines to be pulled up and a multitude of wooden stakes and supports to be collected and carefully stored.  Even the “ending” of the garden was accomplished with careful discipline.  All was brought to completion, all was stowed, all was made ready to begin again.  Seeing it all through, with beauty and order, was just as important as beginning it in the first place.

But with me? Now? The corpses of my store-bought flower baskets hang, pitifully naked, for half the winter.  My cannas (transplanted from my father’s own stock) shrink in size each year because somehow I never get around to digging up the tubers and storing them as I should.  My compost pile has great potential, but never gets turned and used.

When I think about how I’m a poor reflection of the better parts of my father, I can’t help but be stuck by the bigger truth: I’m a poor reflection of my heavenly Father.

But I’m a reflection, none-the-less, of both of them.  And any small way in which I reflect either of them: this is grace.  I may roll my eyes and laugh at myself at how I’m like and unlike my earthly father, but the truth is, the like him part is probably the greatest.  I can’t help the things I caught from him.  I can’t help it, because I’m his.

And mercifully, only by Grace, I can’t help the image I bear of my heavenly Father.  I can’t help it, because I’m His.   I may bear His image poorly, but I bear it, none-the-less.

I’ve let my mushroom kit go several days past the directed “ten days in a dark place at 65 degrees.”  I’m a little afraid to open the box and move on to the next step.  But I will.  And I’ll take down those denuded hanging baskets some time before the spring, too.  I will, because I am at least becoming just like my dad.



P.S.  Just after I wrote this, but before pushing “publish”, I worked up the nerve to open the mushroom box.

Here’s the progress:


I must say, I’ve certainly never been soooo excited to find “small, gray, threadlike mold growing over the entire surface” of anything!

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