My Soul’s Muse

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The Muse Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance in Greek Mythology; Rare Ancient Greek art pottery plate. https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/muse-goddess-terpsichore-greek-1868160296

I never dance anymore, and that’s a real shame. It’s about losing a part of my soul, really. Letting persnickety circumstances overshadow what my soul loves and desires, maybe even needs. Persnickety circumstances like . . . My back hurts. I’m too old now. I can’t remember how to do it anymore. There’s no room in my living room. It’s just no fun dancing when I’m dancing by myself. But those thoughts describe now! In the past? Well, as you might expect, my past was very different! I lived to dance whether the music was Rock ‘n Roll, Soul, Greek Folk Dancing or Motown. Especially Motown!

If my friends from the past described me, they would most certainly declare that I was a dancing fiend. I think that would be a fairly accurate description. As a young child, I cut my teeth on what I would describe as Big Fat Greek Dances. There was simply no place to be that was as much fun as those Greek dances that could last well past midnight. Did I fall asleep in a chair in a corner as the music filled the hall? Not a chance! When I heard music, I had to dance! Greek dances in big halls or hotel ballrooms included a lot of Greek dancing, which is probably more fun than any dancing known to humankind. But when the band played American music, I waited in my chair, smiling, and waiting for a boy (or a man) to ask me to dance. The men usually came through — favorite uncles, my Godfather, my Godbrother, family friends. It is no exaggeration to say that I traveled far and wide with my Aunt Koula and Uncle John to go to Greek dances — Montgomery, Atlanta, Mobile and, of course, at home in Birmingham.

So that’s my dance-filled childhood. My teenage years were another story altogether! I continued to dance at Greek weddings and other ballroom dances with my friends Suzanne, Frank, Demetra, Xane, Greg, Terry, Sammy and Gussie, to name only a few that come to mind.

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Here’s Proof: I’m posing with my best friend, Suzanne . . . as Ancient Greek Goddesses 

But my best friend, Suzanne, and I were all about Motown! With Motown, there was no holding back, and we didn’t hold back. We scandalized every Motown venue we could find with our slick and sultry dance moves.

On one day, we might be depicting beautiful and stately Ancient Greek Goddesses, golden laurels in our hair. On another day, you might find us at The Hangout in Panama City dancing to the sounds of Motown.

And that’s how I earned the reputation of being a “dancing fiend.”

 
Now that I think back on those years, I don’t accept the title “Dancing Fiend!” Especially now that I am remembering the ABBA song . . .

Friday night and the lights are low, looking out for a place to go
Where they play the right music, getting in the swing
You come to look for a king.

Anybody could be that guy
Night is young and the music’s high
With a bit of rock music, everything is fine.

You’re in the mood for a dance, and when you get the chance . . .

You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen.
Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tambourine.

You can dance! You can jive!
Having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene
Dig in the dancing queen!

With that ABBA inspiration, I declare myself, not a dancing fiend, but (Wait for it!) “The Dancing Queen!”

But that was then and this is now. I don’t dance anymore, and that is beginning to trouble me. What troubles me isn’t really about the dancing. It’s that something that was a part of my soul has withered away. That can happen to all of us when, at some point in time, we stop hearing our soul’s music. When a certain life circumstance, a crossroads maybe, cuts us off from our muse,* we lose a part of ourselves. We awaken one morning with the stark realization that something that was important to us is lost. So I ask you, as I ask myself, what important thing have you? What does your soul long for, something that you have lost that was once so healing, so comforting, so fulfilling, so much fun?

These are the pressing questions I am asking myself: What has my soul lost? When did I lose it and how did I lose it? For some it might be singing, dancing, teaching, painting, writing, walking, reading. We could list dozens, maybe hundreds, of things that once nourished our souls and we sometimes deeply regret those soul losses.

Sometimes we seem doomed to feel nostalgic despair or disappointment. OR . . . might we find a way to unearth whatever we have lost? Could we reclaim our ability to once again do what we love, in spite of any limitation that the passing years have brought us? It is indeed a question worth pondering.

So you see, this post isn’t just about dancing. It’s about embracing whatever your soul has lost and allowing your muse to spark within you the creative spirit that nourishes the soul. So go ahead and take a chance. Dance! Sing! Teach! Preach! Garden! Read! Paint! Throw yourself again into whatever your soul loves and needs. I predict you will find comfort, peace, joy and a new refreshing of your soul.

As for me . . . If we ever break out of our social distancing mode and you drop by my house, you might just catch a glimpse of me dancing in the living room!

Motown, of course!

 

SPECIAL BONUS: I want to leave you with a “social distancing video” that will lift you up and inspire your soul. It isn’t Motown music at all, but its music will probably inspire you to celebrate the gift of ballet. Take a few minutes to enjoy it and to celebrate the enormous talent it brings to us from all over the world.

 
* The Muses were the nine Greek goddesses who presided over the arts, including music and dance. An artist or poet about to begin work would call on his particular Muse to inspire him, and a poem itself might begin with such a call; thus, Homer’s Odyssey begins, “Sing to me of the man, Muse” (that is, of Odysseus). Today a muse may be one’s special creative spirit, but some artists and writers have also chosen living human beings to serve as their muses.

 

 

 

Gift of Inspiration

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Sometimes I am inspired by the strangest things. This time the inspiration centers around Mexican-born, American-educated artist Enrique Chiu. While the Trump administration remains intent on separating us from our Mexican neighbors with a border wall, Enrique Chiu is leading a cadre of bi-national volunteer artists to paint a mile-long mural on the border fence. The reason? To celebrate unity and peace. Their intent is to turn the fence from a dividing wall into a work of art that spreads a message of hope to families that cross the border.

Enrique Chiu calls the project, “The Mural of Brotherhood” (and “Sisterhood” emphasis mine), and enlisted more than 2,600 volunteers to paint uplifting messages on the Mexico-facing side of the U.S.-owned fence. The goal is to create an artistic riposte to Trump’s nationalist and anti-immigrant politics.

30233B1A-840D-46C0-8705-990FF3424D4DChui has a very personal motivation for the project. When he was eight, he crossed that border with his mother and lived in Los Angeles for a year without legal status. He grew into a renowned artist and envisioned this project, which he dedicated “to all those people who are looking for a better life. Who take enormous risks. Or those have been deported and are separated from their families.”

That inspires me. Creative gifts used to make a statement; Volunteer work offered to encourage; Personal conviction making a statement about unity, peace and justice . . . through an in-your-face act of resistance to divisive, oppressive policy. 

Godspeed, Enrique. May God bless the gift of inspiration you share.

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant currently scheduled for November 12th at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to rea the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

“Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

Seeing the Light: A Spiritual Discipline

DF9BF7FC-6583-4F1A-A78F-3F5CD0D37117I seldom talk much about the spiritual disciplines that have given me strength. A private retreat — just me and God — in a beautifully isolated hermitage was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life. While there, I also practiced another of my spiritual disciplines — iconography.

Iconography is not merely a visual art, it is Christian sacred art, and has been an integral part of the worship and mystical life of Christians since apostolic times. Referred to in the Eastern Christian tradition as “windows into heaven,” icons have inspired and uplifted millions of the faithful, and have at times been the instruments for demonstrating God’s miraculous intercession in the life of humankind.

29074C09-C2E4-49B3-ACA8-FAED6A6069B8In describing the purpose of icons, the early Christians used the Greek work anagogic, literally meaning “leading one upward.” Photios Kontoglou, a renowned modern iconographer, expressed this perfectly: “Icons raise the soul and mind of the believer who sees the icon to the realm of the spirit, of the incorruptible, of the kingdom of God, as far as this can be achieved with material means.” 

So to appreciate iconography fully, we must approach it as a liturgical art form whose function is essentially spiritual. Since the creation of an icon is itself a sacred activity, the iconographer must be a person of prayer, not merely a technician. If the iconographer’s work is to inspire and illumine others, then it is essential that she leads a life of prayer and fasting that she may be inspired and illumined by the Holy Spirit, that her iconography becomes itself an expression of her spiritual life. Kontoglou writes: “The iconographers painted as they prayed.”

355CF8CB-A1B6-4D08-B5DD-DF59A9618C9AMy love of iconography resulted from the prompting of my dear Aunt Eirene. She was an artist extraordinaire and a gifted iconographer. She studied and practiced to hone her skills and each year, she went to an intensive iconography workshop at a beautiful retreat center. One year, she persuaded me (forced is a more accurate term) to go with her. Of course, I was extremely reticent to try this new art form.

At first, I called on my artistic skills and was doing a barely decent job. But then a lovely nun who sat next to me said words that literally imprinted on my heart. She said, “Your rendering of the Holy Child is beautiful. Look into his eyes. When you see the Light coming from them, you will fall in love with your icon.”

286998AD-4ACD-4E54-BBD6-EDCC0B0D4ED0She was so wise. I began to think more about the Christ Child’s eyes than my own art, and within a day, my iconography transformed from a painting to a prayer. It was worship, meditation and reverence. It touched my soul as I added color to the board, layer upon layer. It was an incredible experience to see the Light. I share with you here some of icons I created, as I remember the experience I had with each of them that opened my soul to the Light.

 

 

 

 

Transformation, Pursuits and Productions

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A Recolor page that brought me fond memories of my beloved Uganda

My mind needs rest and renewal. My soul needs trasformation. My heart needs peace and serenity.

The problem is that not many activities relax me. Being the wretched Type A personality that I am, I turn every pursuit into a production. A dear friend has a saying that she uses when a task morphs into more than it should have been. “That was a production!” she would say, and we all knew what she meant — a project got way out of hand!

Such is my life. Compulsive. Driven. Perfectionist. All words that have often been used to describe me. I have to work on it diligently, this need for serenity and the renewal of my mind. Reading Scripture leads to writing a sermon, an opinion piece, or a blog post. Praying leads to a plethora of things I feel I must do. Swinging in the sunshine leads to working in flower beds that need tending.

My first waking thought is always about what project I will do or what meal I will cook. That decision influences my day. When I have decided what I will do, I’m off. I’m all in to get it done.

My greatest need is to find my way to peacefulness and serenity, to experience a renewal of my mind, to learn to be quiet and still so that in the stillness, I might find God in new ways. And I might even find myself in new ways and learn some things about the depth of my “self” snd the longings of my soul.

It is my soul, of course, that craves the serenity. I work on it often — deep breathing, brief praying at many times during the day, singing hymns (to myself) as I fall asleep at night. All of it helps. None of it makes a permanent difference.

Interestingly, I have found a pursuit that does not lead to a production. It is a computer app called Recolor, which is simply for coloring on devices like the IPad. Each day, Recolor adds two or more pages for coloring with your finger or a stylus. I have found nothing that relaxes me more than getting lost on a coloring page. As of today, I have colored 1,062 pages and have received 66 thousand “likes.”

One might observe that this pursuit is not at all a spiritual practice, not a contemplative activity, and is pretty much a waste of time. The thing is, it really is a spiritual practice for me because I am learning how to waste time. I needed to find a way to immerse myself into a creative activity that did not consume me. I needed an activity that would clear and renew my mind. As the Scripture urges, I need to be transformed by the renewal of my mind.

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

— Romans 12:2 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

So I will continue coloring to clear my mind and slow me down. And I will keep working on the renewal of my very busy mind. Who knows? Someday I might find myself transformed.

 

A Perfect World?

IMG_5924When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.

– Buddha

Perfect is not a word I would use to describe the world. Ominous storms, wildfires, demonstrations of hate, violence, terrorism, threats of deportation, leaders devoid of compassion, homelessness, war, refugees seeking safe haven and shelter . . . This is just a partial description of the world we call our own. So perfect is but a dream. And yet, it is perhaps our calling to expend ourselves creating a more perfect world.

Today, my friend Elaine posted this passage on her wonderful blog, “The Edge.”

Learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding, so that you may at the same time discern where there is length of days, and life, where there is light for the eyes, and peace.

– Baruch 3:14

The wisdom in these words prompted a time of contemplation for me. I pondered the refreshing possibility of finding “length of days, life, light and peace.” Sounds like getting closer to a perfect world.

In these unsettling days, that is the kind of world we long for, the kind of life we desperately want. And yet we find that at times we are crying out for peace, and there simply is no peace.

Baruch’s words present us with a task, a rather difficult task to be sure, but one that leads to the goodness of life we seek. Baruch’s wisdom calls for us to learn, to increase our ability for discernment. And most importantly, Baruch proclaims our critical need to discover where we might find wisdom, strength and understanding.

My world is filled with incessant voices — politicians, governmental leaders, media personalities, newscasts that include everyone who has an opinion on every possible subject. Certainly, I have the choice to turn off the news and listen to soothing music on Pandora. And I do that frequently.

But the state of the world is so volatile that I am compelled daily to be aware of what is going on. In fact, that is a part of my personal mission — to know what is going on and to respond by making my voice heard advocating for justice and compassion. Which is exactly the reason it is so important to “learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding.”

So may we all create moments when we can silence the incessant voices and instead enter into quiet times of solitude, contemplation and prayer. That is what we can do for a very imperfect world that seems to be falling apart. In the process, we will more clearly hear the voices that lift hope high before us. In that holy space where hope abides with us, we will find “length of days, and life . . . light for the eyes and peace.”

Tikkun Olam is a lovely jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to heal the world, to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah and is often used when discussing issues of social justice, insuring compassion and care for persons who are oppressed.

Tikkun Olam! Heal the world! This is our highest calling.

Is it even possible to create a perfect world? Maybe not. But shouldn’t we envision it, work for it, pray for it, ennobled by God to return our world into the perfect creation of God?

May God guide us in making it so.

 

(Visit my friend Elaine’s blog at https://theedgeishere.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/contemplative2017-wisdom-4/)

 

 

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.  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!