An Opening in the Ordinary

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Often I complain to my husband about every day being ordinary. For us, very few events break up the time, making each day seem pretty much like yesterday, tomorrow too. It is a sad state of affairs to have stopped expecting anything extraordinary.

But there is a remedy for me when all seems mundane. I get out my watercolor paints and lose myself in creativity for a few hours. It works. . . not creating any masterpiece to be sure, but letting my dreams loose so that they flow out from paint brush to paper. The colors, one blending into another and another, is my passage out of reality and into the possibility of transformation.

It is definitely, as Bishop Stephen Charleston writes, “an opening in the ordinary.”

Here’s how he expresses it.

An opening has occurred in the ordinary, a passage between the reality we have always accepted and the possibility of transformation . . . This is the day, the everyday, the extraordinary day, when we step over doubt to trust, over resignation to hope, over now to forever.

So in the midst of my ordinary days, I can still hope for an opening in the ordinary, for the possibility of transformation. I can find extraordinary moments smack dab in the middle of an ordinary day. Β I give thanks to God for the grace of transformation.

Oriental Rug

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Oriental rugs are woven by hand. Usually, there will be a group of people weaving a single rug together under the directions of an artist who issues instructions to the rest. The artist determines the choice of colors and the nature of the pattern.

Often one of the weavers inserts the wrong color thread. The artist may have called for blue and instead black was used. If you examine an oriental rug carefully, you may be able to detect such irregularities. What is significant about them is that they were not removed. The skillful artist just proceeded to weave them into the pattern.

Here is wise counsel for our lives. We would like the patterns of our lives to be woven exclusively of brightly-colored threads, woven without flaw into the pattern. But every now and then, a dark thread steals into the fabric. If we are true artists of life, we can weave even a dark, out-of-place thread into the pattern and make it contribute its share to the beauty of the world.

– Rabbi Sidney Greenberg

This is wonderful piece of wisdom attributed to Rabbi Sidney Greenberg. I can say assuredly that dark threads have have made their way into the pattern of my life. The off-colored threads were always noticeable and out of place, threatening to spoil the beautiful weaving. But the truth is that the dark threads worked themselves in with scarcely any notice of a flaw. The beauty was still there, even with dark threads all over the place, woven into the lovely pattern that was my life.

The Soul of Music

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Music is the stuff of the soul, a universal language that speaks to the depths of our being. I have long been a devotee of the choral composer John Rutter. I have marveled at his art and his giftedness. I recently read an article about his faith. Here is what he said.

You certainly have to have a sense of faith. That is not usually difficult for a musician, as musicians move easily in the realm of the mysterious and the transcendent. I don’t think it matters whether you are a signed-up believer of one particular faith.

I learned also that his faith is not of a specific tradition. It is more about spirituality than religion. He describes himself as a reverent believer at the time he is working on a sacred piece. He adds,

When I take a sacred text I believe every syllable of it while I am setting it to music because I think it’s part of an artist’s job to enter into states of being which are not necessarily his or her own. As long as I’m writing or conducting I am a firm believer and when I have finished I go back to being what I am the rest of the time, which is Agnostic.

Regardless of our religious tradition, God places a kind of brilliance within us. John Rutter, no matter his faith, has inspired the world of sacred music for decades. Music emerges from the soul, and John Rutter has created music of the soul.

I invite you to listen to his brilliant arrangement of the hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth” at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PaMkj4_H8WM.

Broken Crayons

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I remember the sheer excitement of getting a brand new box of crayons. It was nice to get a box of eight crayons. At least they were new and I didn’t have to search through an old, ragged box of broken crayon pieces. When I got a new box of twenty-four, I knew it was a special day. But getting the jumbo box — sixty-four crayons and a crayon sharpener — left me ecstatic.

Getting that jumbo box never got old. I never lost my sense of excitement when I opened the box. Those crayons started my love of color and the sheer joy of putting colors on paper.

Those new-box days were rare. More often than not I searched through bits and pieces of crayons that had long since lost their points. They would still color, but coloring was not such a joy when all the crayons were broken.

Still, coloring with broken crayons was a reality of life. I made the best of it and even managed to create a few masterpieces. Once in a while, I would come up with a new way to use them, like melting the pieces between wax paper sheets and making “stained glass.”

Now that I’m grown, I realize that life is filled with broken crayons. I use them anyway and do the best I can with the pieces. The important thing is not to give up on your broken pieces. Use them. Create with them. Try to enjoy them. Marvel at your own colorful masterpieces. Don’t despair over broken crayons. Broken crayons still color!

Lessons

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I don’t throw too much of my art into the trash can, but my painting on the day before yesterday was an abysmal creative failure. I love the serenity of Louisiana bayous, but I cannot paint them. I’ve tried before and it simply does not come out serenely, nowhere near it.

It makes me wonder how one might capture serenity on paper or canvas. It takes creative giftedness to be sure. I’ve seen it captured before by great artists. Which begs the question, why would I continue to paint knowing beyond any doubt that I am not one of those gifted artists?

I think the answer is that, though I cannot create works of genius, I can definitely engage in reflection and expression. Art is one of the ways I relax, refresh, and even worship. Trying too hard to create a worthy piece of art just spoils the experience.

There are some lessons here about not turning self-expression into the creation of a product.

1. Don’t worry about the final art. Instead relish in the creation of art.

2. Know that anytime a brush strokes paper, you are expressing a part of yourself.

3. Let your art come from within, a soulful gift you give yourself.

There are probably many other lessons, but this is a good start. The same lesson probably holds true for any creative endeavor, teaching us once again that the important thing is the journey, not the destination.

And all this emerged from a painting disaster destined for the trash. That’s a lesson in itself!

Dreamers and Misfits

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In my younger years, I was a dreamer of dreams, big dreams, impossible dreams, dreams that I had to fight for. Without a fight, the dreams would not have become reality. I was brave and fearless. I would stand my ground in front of any person trying to thwart my dream. I would face off against any obstacle.

Where did all that bravery go? When did I stop taking risks? When did I give up on dreams? When did I lose my strong resolve to help create a better world?

Aging had a role, as did illness. Yet, I cannot help but believe that somewhere beneath this exterior reality, the old dreamer and misfit still lives. I cannot help but believe that I still care about justice and hope, hope for a better future. I am convicted and inspired by the words of Bishop Steven Charleston:

It may seem odd, in this age of doubt and disillusionment, that some of us still believe in a hopeful future, a time of justice, and the power of love to overcome every evil. It may seem odd, in this epoch of technology and consumerism, that we still believe in God, in a conscious and living presence that cares for us and helps us to care for one another. It may seem odd, but there is a perfectly reasonable explanation: we believe these things because we are odd. We are the odd ones out, the misfits and dreamers, the mystics and advocates. We do not follow the party line, but step over it, together, every chance we get. – Steven Charleston

The Bible calls us pilgrims and strangers, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people. Yes, misfits as Steven Charleston says, misfits that go against the grain of the status quo. Misfits that still dream in spite of those who want to maintain the world as it is.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.

So I want to spend my remaining years stepping over the line, taking risks in the name of love, living out of a compassionate heart, challenging the world’s evil ways, dreaming of justice, being a maker of peace, and not counting the cost. I hope you will do the same, sisters and brothers. This world needs all the misfits who still care and all the dreamers who won’t give up.

I Am Creating Me

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As a fledgling artist, the metaphors in this quote by Bishop Steven Charleston resonate with my experience.

You and I are artists of time. We bend and shape, color and texture, make and form what is to come by what we do now. Now is our tool, our brush, our chisel, with which we work diligently to create something new. We use all of the materials we have at hand, our experience, our memories, our dreams, and seek to put all of those into a finished piece both recognizable and beautiful. Our work never stops. We are born to this art. It is our vocation, our passion. Time is our medium, life our creation, reality our gallery, tomorrow our masterpiece.

What a lovely way to say that we are the creators of our lives, that our experiences, our memories and our dreams fill our canvasses with untold beauty. We are each unique, artists in our own right. We work incessantly, through wake time and sleep time, through every season, to create this art. Indeed, it is our masterpiece.

The reality is that I am in the holy process of creating me, and no one else gets to add to the masterpiece.

We create our darkest tones in difficult times. Brighter days call for the most vibrant and bright colors. Melancholy blues . . . joy-filled yellows . . . greens that hint of growth and change. Our palettes are endless as we swirl and mix the colors of our lives.

So we must never let another person disparage what we are creating. We must take our inspiration, not from other individuals, but from our own souls and from our Creator. This gives a whole new meaning to the declaration we should imprint on our hearts, “I am beautiful!”