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Your real, new …


Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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Alive to God

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New Creation

“Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.” – Anne with an “e”

I love fresh beginnings, and I don’t think I’m the only one. For the past few weeks, the media has been overflowing with self-help remedies and resolutions that tend to sound like broken records. Stick with that diet. Exercise every morning. Work less and play hard because, in the end, family and friends are the only things that really matter in life. We hold on to the familiar but know that change is always necessary.

My family was holed up in our house for the entire break. When my sister rediscovered a few old family videos, we immediately began filling our afternoons by popping in tape after tape into the only VCR left on the face of the planet. I’d like to think that it was a type of “closure” for me… seeing several different versions of myself over a span of eighteen years. There happened to be a consistent documenting phase during my most awkwardly petty season, and I found that, for once, I preferred the current version of myself over the fantastical version from my childhood that I often glorify when nostalgia sets in. Although I had a “Narnia childhood” (as one friend named Rebekah put it), I couldn’t be more thankful to experience a different, more realistic spin on growing up. Change. I want it– the entire package.

“It is not settled happiness but momentary joy that glorifies the past.”– C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy

The idea of change has always scared me. But, what scares me more than change itself is the possibility of being left behind by it. I suppose that’s why these simple words in Malachi 3:6 have a resounding message with me, “I, the Lord, never change…” More so, He is unchanging in His compulsion to make me change.

“The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.” – C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy

Over Christmas break, I was overwhelmingly struck with the reality of sin in the world. My girls’ Bible study visited a widow in our church and sang a few songs to her. We talked, and she let us explore her house, allowing us to find in each nook a wealth of antique trinkets. But, more than that, we listened, we looked, and we saw the effects of a sin-eaten world. Mrs. Mary told us the story of her daughter, who never quite felt forgiven and so let drugs swallow her joy. She is kind and a dear Christian lady, but she is not unaffected. I am not unaffected. There is emptiness in the nonspecific mantra, “Peace and good will to all men,” when we know that all men do not feel peace. They dream of change and are not able to accomplish it.

-3-4-5-6-7Like Lewis, I am also “a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books.” And I’m sure we often are confused in thinking that our “Narnia childhoods” should be exchanged for adulthood. My friend Heidi encouraged me to read Surprised By Joy, where Lewis abolishes this myth. He describes joy as being an unsatisfiable desire that is in itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. The past is often filled with mere reflections of true joy. Yet, this joy is not dependent on our pasts, but on the object of that joy, which transcends all (even the categories of our human existence). The more Lewis realized that this joy was an object outside of himself–outside of his fantastical land of Boxen and his glorified past– extroversion was made possible. He discovered Joy (or rather, Joy discovered him), and change was a natural fruit. “Peace and good will to all men, with whom He is pleased.

-8My sister has an annual ritual of reciting T.S. Eliot, just before the final countdown of the new year: “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

The ADBC Girls’ Bible Study has been studying Romans for the past few months, and it remains a favorite subject of Paul’s to bring up the need for a new beginning. In order for true change to take place, we must bring certain things to their end. Namely, ourselves. The end is where we start from.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.– Romans 6:11-14

Eliot begins to make sense. The fact that there is a struggle to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies suggests that being “alive to God” is not only a status but a process. And, that is why I am thankful for new years and fresh tomorrows.

In August, I found some fat, grubby caterpillars in my mother’s garden. Joel and I put them in jars, harnessing twigs that acted as branches against the Mason glass walls. After a few days, the jars began to stink. Those chubby creatures had eaten the entire food supply we had given them and more. I considered the project a lost cause (like my many attempts to grow a plant) after I saw steamy condensation dripping off of the jars and onto the window seal. It all became repulsing to me, and my interest was only piqued again when I happened to glance at my jar and see three cocoons as I walked out the back door one day. A week or two passed by, and a few of the cocoons had hatched. But, I had not been around to witness my new friends leave. There was one left.

It happened when no one else was around. I came home from work early and walked through the door, only to find a butterfly struggling to force its wings through the rim of the jar. I freed it, and he rested on my index finger for a good forty-five minutes. Nature had never felt that comfortable with the close proximity of my presence, so I relished the experience on my front porch, marveling at what I formerly had known as “fat” and “grubby.” I could not reconcile myself to the fact that this butterfly was the same creature. There were no traces of the past behind. Periodically, I would set him down on the slate porch tiles to dry out his wings. He seemed uncertain, however, so I would always end up picking him back up and observing him closely as he perched on my finger. It was as if the caterpillar had died, and something else had been reborn inside that cocoon before re-emerging. It seemed re-awakened and alive to an entirely new world. A miracle.

“Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The message of Christmas moves fluidly into the New Year. I’m glad we’re not historically correct in the timing of this holiday, because a week later, we’re reminded that the way for peace and joy was not paved by filling in the pot-holes of an old road, but by building an entirely new thoroughfare, reaching up to the sky. Its pilgrims, always gaining ground.

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” -T.S. Eliot

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Architect

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Soaking in Gaudi’s Cathedral…

I’ve always been fascinated by architecture– I just didn’t always know it.  Recently, my brother got married on my grandparents’ beautiful property by a lake in Louisiana.  In keeping with the rustic, “farm-esque” theme, a few of us gathered goldenrod for the rehearsal dinner while the sun was still hanging high over the endless sea of cotton fields.  My grandfather went with us.

Papa has always been a source of endless inspiration for me.  Once he sets his mind on something, he only has one mind for it.  I remember when I first walked into his office while he was drawing up and designing his dream for Honeybrake Lodge.  There were topographical maps hanging on his walls and blueprint sketches scattered all over his desk.  It seemed as though he was building a city, and reminded me somewhat of how my art studio looked during the semester of my senior show.  Even though he graciously claims no credit of my artistic ability from his side of the family, I smile inside, because I know exactly where it comes from.

Honeybrake Lodge

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.     -Matthew 5:14

After studying abroad, I couldn’t seem to get enough buildings down in my sketchbook.  They represented more to me than mere brick and mortar.  They created the moods of the places I visited, whether intimate or majestic, and I found that their anthropomorphic qualities allowed them to speak to the memory of a place louder than any passing thought could.  There are few better feelings in the world than getting to know a large city like the back of your hand.  Something quite big suddenly becomes quite graspable.  Kind of like God.

Great cities and the buildings within them have left their mark on history.  People live in them and amongst them. I suppose they are the only man-made things that are built big enough to outlast time (although none have).  Like Babel, they are often built with high hopes, but stop short of Heaven.

View from the oldest library in Toledo, Spain.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God…

I hear people say all the time, “Give me the country” or “I’d take a farm over the city any day.” As I gathered goldenrods and picked cotton alongside Papa, I realized that I preferred the countryside, as well.  In the country, God’s creation brings peace, whereas man’s creation of industry lends itself to chaos.  Yet, in all our strivings for peace, I believe that humans were designed for a city.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Jews were constantly longing for “Mt. Zion” or Jerusalem.  It took them a while to realize that the city they longed for was a heavenly Jerusalem. The past presidential election taught me a few things about how tightly I hold on to and put my hope in certain things in this world.  It taught me that man-made cities will always go awry.  However, I still hold on to the notion of cities.

…These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.   –Hebrews 11:10-16

My mom was raised on a farm.  She jokes that Lot chose to move into the city, while Abraham chose the country.  I long for the day when I don’t have to choose, because the peace that I am looking for is not in a city built by human hands.

If the beautification of the world is a mere work of nature, then it must be as simple as the freezing of the world, or the burning up of the world. But if the beatification of the world is not a work of nature but a work of art, then it involves an artist. And here again my contemplation was cloven by the ancient voice which said, ‘I could have told you all this a long time ago. If there is any certain progress it can only be my kind of progress, the progress towards a complete city of virtues and dominations where righteousness and peace contrive to kiss each other. An impersonal force might be leading you to a wilderness of perfect flatness or a peak of perfect height. But only a personal God can possibly be leading you (if, indeed, you are being led) to a city with just streets and architectural proportions, a city in which each of you can contribute exactly the right amount of your own colour to the many-coloured coat of Joseph.’

-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Cinque Terre: City of Color

Barcelona, Spain

The Importance of Adventuring

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Happening upon an old library in Geneva, Switzerland

St. Augustine once said that the world is a book and that those who do not travel read only a page.  This past summer, I felt as though I had embarked upon the second page in a series of tomes.  Rebekah, Ruth, and I picked up our backpacks and jumped from plane to train throughout Europe, seeing life from a different vantage point.  I teach my art students that the appearance or shape of an object can change, depending on the vantage point one uses.  Now that my little adventure is over, I am pleased to find that the globe is still round, yet I feel that I have come to know it better through seeing its different shapes and variations of values.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. – Bilbo Baggins

Toledo, Spain

What is an adventure? I think of the Latin words advenire (to come to) and adventus (on arrival).  Christ’s coming into the world (advent) was the taking on of an “adventure” of utmost importance in the sense that it was crucial for the saving of mankind.  Still, as the Christian grows and matures, he becomes increasingly aware of his need for continual saving.  And so we are still in need of adventures.

Soon after returning from my trip,  I decided to reinstate a few basic principles of human hygiene, one of them being to get my hair trimmed.  I remember my hairstylist interviewing me on my recent European excursion in-between snips.  When I told Daniel about all the places I had gone, he asked, “You’re not one of those hippies who’s trying to find herself, are you?”  At first I was confused by the question, then I said, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said, “My ex-girlfriend back in high school was a lot like you — always traveling the globe.  A few years ago she went to Australia with no set plans, just making it all up as she went along.  Turns out, she left her fiancée for this guy that she met over there who was trying to find himself too.  They got married and moved to the mountains together.”

“What are they doing now?” I asked.

“That guy left her.  He said he was still searching for himself.”

This sad story reminded me of a movie I saw once.  In Eat, Pray, Love,  Julia Roberts plays a character who is unhappy with the mundane prospects of domestic life with her fiancée, deciding to go to Italy and India in search of experiences that will improve her opinion of the world.  She finds herself discovering the power of prayer to an unknown entity and searching for love in several different places.  I remember enjoying the movie for its scenery and exotic foods, but that was the extent of my enjoyment.  In fact, I found the plot ultimately hopeless, yet I’m sure it was meant to be aimlessly inspiring.

Ruth, jumping for joy with the windmills of La Mancha.

I used to always run into college students whose fascination with being in search of themselves caused them to skirt the issue of the end goal.  In fact, it has become unpopular to know where you are going.  People nowadays are far more concerned with journeys than they are with pilgrimages.  The Medieval mindset of arriving at the resting place of a sacred relic in order to kiss it before returning to the mundaneness of everyday life has clouded the true beauty in the meaning of a destination, and so it is far more comfortable to be a journeyer.

Mr. Bernard Shaw has put the view in a perfect epigram: ‘The golden rule is that there is no golden rule.’  We are more and more to discuss the details of art, politics, literature.  A man’s opinion on all things does not matter.  He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost.  Everything matters — except everything. – G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

This blog post is not about learning the importance of traveling, but about knowing the importance of traveling well.  It’s not about ignoring the destination in order to exalt the journey, but it’s about realizing that the significance of the journey is decided when the destination is kept in plain sight.  To enjoy the freedom of living Carpe Deum, because it is a present fruit of the future consummation of Corum Deo.  Knowing who you are and where you are going frees you to not merely experience a journey, but to have an adventure.

Rebekah, walking through the hills of Tuscany after helping the Giovanni Ammirabile pull up wild onions in his garden.

…but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing.  You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters.  So you shall plunder the Egyptians. – Exodus 3:22

Sarah Grafton was my ninth grade English teacher.  One day, she wrote this phrase on the board:

“…plunder the Egyptians for all their gold.”

She then proceeded to expound.  I can’t exactly remember the context or specifics of the lecture that followed, but it must have left its mark on me, because that phrase and its meaning has always stuck with me.  It’s an easy thing to enslave yourself to the lie that gold is bad, or to even convince yourself that plundering the mines of the world is a sinful act.  This ancient lie convinced Eve that she was limited in the trees she could pick from in the garden, when, in fact, she was promised the abundance of every tree except one.  The beauty of grace is that the Christian is given the discernment to see the good from the bad and the freedom to choose the good gifts.  To partake in naming the animals with Adam because you are practicing dominion over the garden of the world, not being controlled by it.  To experience new lands, foods, museums, people…

Frolicking in the Coliseum

The good news of the gospel is that Christ has conquered sin and death, and with them every meaningless and destructive end.  Our final destination infuses every word, action, desire, and response with meaning and purpose.  There are no completely hopeless situations.  The gospel welcomes us to a hopeful realism.  We can look life in the face and still be hopeful because of who Christ is and where he is taking us.  Everything God has brought into your life has been brought with your destination in view.  God is moving you on, even when you think you are stuck… Christian joy is not about avoiding life while dreaming about heaven.  It is about taking an utterly honest look at all earthly life through heaven’s lens.  There we find real hope… What God has begun in you, he will complete.  Your destiny has already been decided.  The One who decided it will give you all you need to get there. – Paul David Tripp, How People Change

Last summer, I found myself enjoying not knowing where the journey would take me, because one thing was sure: I had already bought my ticket home.  To travel well is be an adventurer, and to be an adventurer, one must be a pilgrim.  Life’s pilgrimage can only work its magic if one has already discovered the destination and found that the destination is, in fact, the starting point.  The intricacies of the binding are reflected in the pages between, but the pages are only meaningful because they illuminate the very first sentence: In the beginning, God…

Last stop: Paris

Olive orchard in a Tuscan hillside outside of Florence.

Rebekah happened upon the perfect attic room in the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Paris

Day Trip to Chamonix, France

Bike-riding in Lucca

Crazy Italian families are the best.

Geneva, Switzerland

Duomo in Milan, Italy

“Conquering” the Swiss train system…only to experience missing our train to Paris later on that weekend.

“Don Pasquale”- experiencing the Italian opera.

Gaudi’s House in Barcelona

Tossing a coin in the Trevi (Roma)

The view from our room (Tuscany)

Sneaking a photo of Millet at the Musee d’Orsay

Cinque Terre, Italy

Gathering stones on the beach our last night in Barcelona.

Thanks for an unforgettable adventure! This post is dedicated to Ruth Dane and Rebekah Grafton, who are old souls. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Today.

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“The man who lives in a…


“The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce variety and uncompromising divergences of men…In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized society groups come into existence founded upon sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique.”

― G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

Trest Home | Laurel, MS

Transposition: A Way of Understanding

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During the second semester of my sophomore year, Elisabeth Dell and I escaped college in the deep South to visit our sisters in Washington D.C., for a long weekend.  My major in art was particularly demanding that semester, and I had been struggling inwardly with conflicting feelings.  While I waited for my sister to get off of work, I remember sitting in a coffee shop called Ebenezer’s, letting the soothing steam from my vanilla latte caress my cheek as well as help to clear my mind.  For a moment, the overwhelming feeling I was experiencing temporarily evaporated, allowing me to pick up my book.  I happened to be reading through Proverbs at the time, and I realized that, like Solomon, I needed to ask for wisdom.  So, I asked, facing a window that displayed its white-collar contents on a continual-running conveyor belt of sidewalk cement in the snow.

The Skilled Craftsman

It’s hard to grasp wanting something that you’re told to want, yet not being able to pinpoint in exact words what it is.  What is wisdom?  I know that Solomon was wise in asking for it, but, I admit, I’m often lost to its meaning.

wis·dom/ˈwizdəm / Noun: The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.

Recent editions of the dictionary have deluded the definition of wisdom to a sentence merely having to do with knowledge, evoking the notion of a fat owl with spectacles and a graduation cap, perched comfortably on a tree limb.  I find it annoying that a word can reappear in so many of its own definitions.  It’s the world and culture’s attempt to make sense of it all, I guess.  This can only mean that, when truly defined, wisdom must be otherworldly.

My Sunday School class has been discussing a commentary on Proverbs by Jim Newheiser.  At the beginning of the book, Newheiser writes that the essence of wisdom is skill, the ability to do a job.  I had never quite understood wisdom to be so external. It is so often painted as a wellspring of unattainable knowledge that can only be reached through experience.  But, the hard truth is, few people work to build upon and into an experience that truly counts.

The goal of wisdom is that you might achieve a life of beauty and significance so that at the end of your days you will have accomplished something worthwhile and lasting. – Jim Newheiser

On a certain afternoon in Cambridge, I was standing on a bridge that overlooked the Cam River in the Kings Backs.  I had a perfect view, right before dusk, and was hurriedly sketching away.  I’ll never forget the little British man who stopped to peep over my shoulder and said, “How clever!”  The reason this comment struck me so much may have been because I had never thought of my artwork in that light.  When I draw, I go into “the zone,” forgetting everything else that’s around me.  I don’t ever recall any mental exertion when I pick up a pen.  The ink just flows.

… the pencil will be steeped in the marrow of life. – Edmond Duranty

Newheiser talks of a time when his family attended an organ concert where the musician made his virtuoso performance seem effortless.  I suddenly realized that all those countless hours of reckoning with my sketchbook– all those millions upon millions of controlled strokes– meant something.  Paintings that defied the norm were the defining works of art throughout history, yet, any artist would tell you that, as with anything, one must exhaust the rules in order to break them successfully.

Being a person with a wide scope of interest, I often struggle with what to focus on.  The predicament I found myself in during my sophomore year was questioning exactly how hard I should devote myself to my major.  I didn’t work well holed-up in a studio for hours, yet my work suffered when I went through periods where I devoted more time to my other social hobbies.  I would feel guilty for a while, but, whenever I plunged myself into an art project, it was difficult for me to remember the world outside of the art building.  Newheiser writes that the book of Proverbs equips the reader with moral skill for holy living.  If the word holy means “set apart,” shouldn’t my time be set apart as well? I am finding that the fight to prioritize is an exhausting yet worthy cause.

Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. – 1 Timothy 4:7

In his T4G sermon, Kevin DeYoung discussed the oxymoronic content of the term “workaholic.” So much of what the culture defines as a “hard work ethic” is really a lack of discipline in prioritizing.  He went on to explain to pastors that it’s easy to spend all your time slaving away in your library.  The hard part is really working when there is work to be done so that, when you clock-out, you can really invest yourself in the art of relaxing with your family. This statement struck a cord with me.  Although I’d like to think that I’m well-rounded, the bulk of my time is spent feeling guilty doing a lot of things at the wrong times, while filling the void of not investing in the right thing at the right time.  Instead of being multi-faceted, it’s actually a very one-sided existence.

Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. – Proverbs 22:29

In Exodus, Bezalel and Oholiab were artisans who were put in charge of masterfully crafting the plans for the temple.  God cared about how he wanted His dwelling place to look, but He also cared about how it was accomplished.  Exodus 36:1 says that God put skill and intelligence in them so that they could know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary. In Ryken’s book, Art For God’s Sake, the author explains that it’s not enough to just have a heart for art.  Skill is required. And yet, the skill required for the temple was not something that these craftsmen could conjure up themselves.  It had to come from God.

How often do we adopt the workaholic mentality, trusting that our strong work ethic will produce certain results?  We have no control over results.  In the end, the real fight is about working hard to abide.

Abiding in the Process

I’m reminded of a sermon by Ligon Duncan, in which he discusses the prophet Elijah’s disappointment when things didn’t work out the way he expected them to.  God patiently leads Elijah to the mountain…

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – I Kings 19:11-13

Just as God chose to whisper on the mountain to Elijah, so Jesus came to earth, whispering of the Kingdom of Heaven.  There He was…the long-awaited Messiah…the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Jesus didn’t use forces of nature to establish an earthly kingdom, like many Jews expected Him to.  In John 15, Jesus gives a simple command:  “Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”  Christ reduced all the “wisdom” of the rabbinical laws to two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).  Apart from Him, there is no existence.  Apart from loving Him, there is no true wisdom… “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

We all have an Elijah complex that causes us to think our way is the best.  We look for a concept in the storm, instead of listening to the whisper.  The wisdom from the world is based purely upon mental acumen.  But, Jesus is saying that the key to living beautifully is only through Him.  Loving Him.  Having communion with Him.  Yes, it’s that simple.  Just abide.

Duncan poses an interesting point.  Elijah could have never foreseen the New Testament concept that God had fore-ordained.  Centuries later, he would be called back to witness Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.  All the best ideas come out of…the work itself.  Things occur to you.  If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens.  But, if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction.  Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. – Chuck Close

The frustrating fundamental rule of all the arts is to do away with the notion of concepts.  Concepts can only come after experimentation.  And, unfortunately, experimentation means a lot of work.  My teacher called this philosophy “the process.”  I grew to hate that term because it meant that, no matter how many hours I had put into an almost-perfect drawing, I would always have to discard it before returning to my studio for the next draft.  I was trusting myself to this process, waiting for results I could not control.  To me, the process meant defeat, yet Bob knew that with each controlled stroke of my pen, I was learning and re-learning the fundamentals of composition and technique.  When the time was right, I would feel freedom to be inspired in my craft.

My senior year of college was “crunch time.”  I had all year to prepare for my senior art show, and yet, when faced with this daunting task, a year seemed like not enough.  I aimlessly played around with materials in my studio here and there, searching hard for a concept.  I thought back to the pen and ink drawings that I had slaved over a few semesters back and opted out of that avenue.  At the end of my first semester, I realized that I was getting nowhere.

Although I lacked momentum, I came crashing into a brick wall, crumbling to my knees in prayer.  I knew that the wisdom I needed was outside of myself.  There was no way I could accomplish a meaningful show without devoting myself to “the process.” And, in doing so, devote myself to sustained amounts of incessantly working hard.  I picked up my pen again and began drawing furiously, hardly coming up for air.  At some point, it stopped being about my end goal and more about my process of discovering all the different types of things I could accomplish with the materials I was working with.  Once I was willing to give up the notion of a concept, I could give up the need to control the outcome.  The surprising thing was, I came to enjoy it.

If wisdom is achieving a life of beauty and significance, I’d like to think of my life as a blank canvas.  More fittingly, a crisp, white piece of bristol board, ready to be inked.  For the composition to work, every stroke in each area must be treated with equal care. I want my life to be beautiful, so why would I not go to the source of all wisdom? It’s crucial to remember that God is that source. If I abide in Him, the outcome will be beautiful.  Throughout the Bible, He is faithful to describe Himself as the creator, potter, artisan, author, designer, craftsman… His wisdom is beyond anything we could ever imagine.  I Corinthians 1:25 says, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

John Constable was a Romantic painter in England.  He refused to follow after his contemporaries, who painted fabricated landscapes from setups in their dark studios.  Instead, he painted from life, and his mantra said that the imagination could never compare to the realities of nature.  He sought to imitate the highest form of craftsmanship.  I wonder if he ever viewed it that way.

The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens. – Proverbs 3:19

This verse has always gripped me, because I never think of wisdom being required to create something.  Proverbs 8:22 talks about God possessing wisdom at the beginning of His work, “the first of His acts of old.”  In the following verses, God is described as a sculptor, shaping and crafting the world into existence, accompanied by His finest tool, wisdom.  [Wisdom] was beside Him, like a master workman, and [wisdom] was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always (Prov. 8:30).

So, what is wisdom, exactly? Or, more importantly, what is its purpose?

A Means of Understanding

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom …

{Throughout the Psalms and Proverbs, wisdom is consistently accompanied by understanding.  Our culture was brought up to think that knowledge precedes wisdom.  Just have enough knowledge about the world, and you’ll make “wise” choices.  This entire notion is devoid of the discipline involved in the process of abiding moment-by-moment.  The internal is said to precede the external.  However, the opposite is true.  If the essence of wisdom is skill, then it is the fruit of something internal, understanding.}

… And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. -Proverbs 9:10

There is a certain movement in the Christian fine art world that I am very wary of.  Art is often seen as the savior of the modern church.  Because it is more obviously linked to the skillful, creative attributes of God, it is defined as being more iconic in nature, rather than representational.  Christians everywhere are weeping over the loss of the Eastern intent of the power in a beautiful piece of art to transport or transcend.  Therefore, the intent of art is seen to be purely intrinsic, rather than extrinsic.  Just as the venerated icon was supposed to transport a hopeful follower to a heavenly realm, so the arts are sought after in order to break through the barriers of this world.

C.S. Lewis has some interesting thoughts on the subject in his book, A Grief Observed.  In it, he discusses the pain of losing his wife.  I need Christ, not something that resembles Him. I want H., not something that is like her. A really good photograph might become in the end a snare, a horror, and an obstacle.  Images, I must suppose, have their use or they would not have been so popular. (It makes little difference whether they are pictures and statues outside the mind or imaginative constructions within it.) To me, however, their danger is more obvious. Images of the Holy easily become holy images–sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers. All reality is iconoclastic.

As an artist, the problem that I must come to terms with is that my sketches will never look as real or be as glorious as the actual thing that I am drawing.  The nature of the process is to work skillfully in order to achieve understanding.  The artist doesn’t draw to create something better than the original, but rather he draws in order to understand better what he is trying to depict.  I love going to see the real-life version of a house after I’ve drawn it from a photograph.  I feel as if I’m meeting someone I’ve known all my life for the first time.  Yet, upon approaching it, it’s infinitely better than what I had pictured in my head.  The jump from paper to three-dimensionality is so jolting, that the sensation is almost like looking at a giant doll house.  Lewis saw that the significance of art lay not in its power to transcend or present a higher wisdom, but in its ability to transpose.

He writes:  Let us construct a fable.  Let us picture a woman thrown into a dungeon.  There she bears and rears a son.  He grows up seeing nothing but the dungeon walls, the straw on the floor, and a little patch of the sky seen through the grating, which is too high up to show anything except sky.  This unfortunate woman was an artist, and when they imprisoned her she managed to bring with her a drawing pad and a box of pencils.  As she never loses the hope of deliverance, she is constantly teaching her son about that outer world which he has never seen.  She does it very largely by drawing him pictures.  With her pencil she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities, and waves on a beach are like.  He is a dutiful boy and he does his best to believe her when she tells him that that outer world is far more interesting and glorious than anything in the dungeon.  At times he succeeds.  On the whole he gets on tolerably well until, one day, he says something that gives his mother pause.  For a minute or two they are at cross-purposes.  Finally it dawns on her that he has, all these years, lived under a misconception.  “But,” she gasps, “you didn’t think that the real world was full of lines drawn in lead pencil?” “What?” says the boy.  “No pencil marks there?”  And instantly his whole notion of the outer world becomes blank.  For the lines, by which alone he was imagining it, have now been denied it.  He has no idea of that which will exclude and dispense with the lines, that of tops, the light dancing on the weir, the coloured three-dimensional realities which are not enclosed in lines but define their own shapes at every moment with a delicacy and multiplicity which no drawing could ever achieve.  The child will get the idea that the real world is somehow less visible than his mother’s pictures.  In reality it lacks lines because it is incomparably more visible. 

So with us.  “We know not what we shall be”; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth.  Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like pencilled lines on flat paper.  If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown up open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun. [The Weight of Glory, Transposition]

I love the arts because they transpose, not because they transport.  I love God because He is bigger than my artistic attempts to fashion Him.  The blessing of a life lived beautifully is to gain understanding– to know the Holy One more intimately.  Therefore, practice wisdom not only by drawing often, but by drawing well.

This post is devoted to my dad.  Thanks for teaching

me how to pursue true wisdom.

Happy Father’s Day!

Day 6


Taking time to doodle is a famous pastime of mine.  Mostly, I just mindlessly move my pen across a piece of paper while talking, thinking, listening to music, or pondering my next move… it’s very therapeutic.  When I wake up on the other end of things, I’m always pleased to discover the results.  Never underestimate the power of mark-making.  This old piece of cardboard had multiple purposes, besides being used as a make-shift mouse pad.

Rabboni


Today, the high school where I teach had its awards ceremony.  As I sat in the audience, I remembered keenly how squeamish I felt when I used to sit in the exact same pews as an awkward high-schooler.  It’s interesting, looking around and recalling each insecurity that the children next to you are feeling.  Simple clues like a cock of the head in a certain direction or a hasty shrug and flushed face brought on by an unwanted onslaught of attention.  Yes, I remember that phase distinctly, even if I wish not to.  Pimples, crinkly cotton shirts, slicked back hair, bushman eyebrows, and a surrender to the knowledge that one must always settle for hand-me-downs and knock-offs while your peers are decked out in American Eagle attire. Such is the life of a private schooler.  At that age, everyone is trying so hard to be different that they end up looking the same.  The older you get, the more you realize the importance of conforming to some sort of order, and the revelation frees you to finally discover yourself for the individual you have been all along.

The more I remember myself then, the more I wonder at how anyone could have ever loved me at that time in my life.

My life is full of proverbial “never’s,” and I’m only twenty-two.  I said I would never return to Laurel Christian School, yet here I am.  I said I would never teach, yet teaching has become a passion.  I said I could never teach lower than a high school level, yet the majority of my time this year was spent teaching jr. highers to appreciate art. I said I would never teach more than one year, yet I have committed to another year.  I said I would never teach elementary school, yet next year I will be the new elementary art teacher.  I’m catching on to a pattern, and the temptation to somehow trick Fate by declaring “never” about things I actually wish for pulls at me.  As in Greek mythology, it doesn’t work that way.  So thankful to not be living in a fatalistic realm.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him…
-Psalm 103:8-11

There was a sappy saying on my 5th grade teacher’s desk that read: “2Teach is + 2Touch a life = 4Ever.”  I’ll never forget it.  I used to wonder at it’s meaning.  As a fifth grader, I couldn’t fathom that someone could view a job like that with such intensity.  Now, I look back on my life and think of all the people who shaped me.  They were mainly my teachers.  I had time to reflect upon this truth at the beginning of my first semester of teaching.  The sudden rush of responsibility made me short-of-breath.  I realized that my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t affect the lives of the kids who sat across from the board that I wrote on each morning.  Yet, every time my mom would try to encourage me by saying, “Don’t worry, honey.  You’re leaving a lasting impact on these children that you may never see in the future.  Keep doing what you’re doing,” I would cringe at the idea.  Me?  A lasting impact?

Lately, I’ve been reading through the gospels, and I love how Jesus chose to be seen as a teacher.  He was so patient in dealing with His disciples.  One particular instance in Luke chapter 9, when Jesus and His disciples happened upon a village that did not receive His teaching, stands out in my mind.  James and Andrew asked, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  Jesus simply rebuked them, then, it says that they went to another village.  All along, the disciples were too busy taking notes on Jesus’ classroom lectures that they forgot to actually listen to what He was saying.

For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. – Psalm 103:14

I feel like I am daily learning a lesson in long-suffering with my students.  But, the thing that helps me most in having patience with them is remembering back upon my own life.  People never really get rid of insecurities.  The insecurities just manifest themselves in different ways as we get older.  Things like responsibilities occur with adults to make us take our eyes off of ourselves for a few moments before returning to take another look.  Yet, teenagers have the luxury of staring long and hard in the mirror, whether or not they like what they see.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. – Hebrews 4:15

At the awards ceremony,  I gazed around the room and noticed something that I had never noticed before back in high school.  The parents.  No matter how many times a child looked awkward or insecure or a-little-too-pleased-with-themselves as they wandered toward the front of the room, the parents were always there to clap and encourage.  I even spied a parent, whose child hadn’t won any awards, silently assuring him with her presence of how much she loved him.  The child kept looking down, too self-focused to even acknowledge her.  At times, I feel like there must be nothing harder to love than a teenager.  It would be impossible if we were not able to sympathize with one another’s weaknesses.  The amazing thing is that a holy God chooses daily to sympathize with my weaknesses, yet He never knew the defeat of giving in to them as I do.  It remains one of the great mysteries of sanctification.

One of the most tender moments in the Bible occurs right after Jesus’ resurrection:

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).  –John 20:11-16

At the beginning of this school year, I think I based my validity as a teacher on all the wrong things.  First of all, I didn’t know how to be a teacher, which intimidated me.  I was unorganized, got information wrong, and didn’t have the resources that I thought I needed to create a perfect situation.  It didn’t take me long to realize that there is no such thing as a “perfect situation.”  I kept thinking of all the things I wasn’t getting right and was blinded to everything else around me.

Jesus was the perfect Teacher.  He spoke with authority yet knew how to be tender.  He could overturn tables in temples, yet He knew how to retreat to gardens.  He knew how to love.  I want to care about the souls in my classroom so much that everything that flows out of me is seasoned to perfection for each situation.  I want to be long-suffering because I know that God is patient with everyone. The temptation is to think that love is merely creating an environment where people feel comfortable with who they are.  But, true love is pointing others to great Rabboni.

Someone once said that my attitude as a teacher should be: “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  This is what it means to truly love.  This is what it means to teach.

Grade: A +

sketching away in art class…