Perhaps becaue Van Gogh lived in Arles and painted 300 paintings here, or perhaps people here just like color, but I found more colorful doors here than anywhere else I have visited in France.
Tag Archives: imagination
What the future will bring
I learned to sew in Home Economics class when I was eleven years old, and I continued to sew for the next 40 years—until I got a job that required travel more than half of the year. When I was at home, I had too much catching up to do to sit and sew.
For me, sewing requires dedicated time and a certain state of mind. I need to be able to focus on what I am making. Sewing gives me the most pleasure when I can spend an hour or two (or more) at my sewing machine.
Knitting has taken up some of the space I would have devoted to sewing; gardening has taken up some as well. They are both creative outlets for me, but they are not sewing.
Sewing was spiritual for me. I thought it was almost miraculous that I could take a rectangular piece of fabric and in as little as a half hour, turn that piece of fabric into a skirt. The idea of something being transformed into something else spoke to me of God’s creating from nothing and of God’s being able to reshape us (I love the image of God as a potter, creating something from a lump of clay).
I have other hobbies I can do while doing something else (I can knit while watching television, for example, or read a book while I am in a waiting room) but sewing requires its own space and time without distractions.
By the time my friend Jim got brain cancer, I hadn’t done any serious sewing for about ten years. We had not talked about my sewing, so I was surprised when, a few days before he died, he said, “I hope you sew again.” It seemed to come out of left field, but when I reflect on it now, I can see what he saw—my life was fuller when I sewed. I was more myself with that creative outlet.
But since he died ten years ago, I still have not started sewing again.
Then one day in France three months ago, I had the thought, “I want to sew.” A few days later, I was in a baby shop looking at hand-sewn bibs, and again I thought, “I want to sew.”
Ironically, that morning at prayer, two Scriptures had spoken to me:
Isaiah 43:16-17: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new, and
Philippians 3:14: Just one thing, forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead….
Sewing is from my past; could it also be in my future?
Is it time for me to return to this hobby of old, even to see if it is still something that brings me joy?
Do you have a hobby from your youth that still calls to you? That still engages your imagination and fosters a sense of creativity?
Leaving my losses at the foot of the cross
In the early 1980’s. while working at University Lutheran Church at the University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to go on a Palm Sunday weekend retreat with the Taize brothers from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. I felt privileged to be among this group of pilgrims preparing for Holy Week. The retreat house was in rural Maryland, and signs of spring were all around us.
The small chapel where the brothers led us in Taize prayer services was dominated by a large wooden cross, and we were invited to meditate on the cross.
I remember sitting in front of the cross on Saturday afternoon and imagining the scene on the day Jesus died. I imagined Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalen (my patron saint) at the foot of the cross, overcome with sorrow, crying out in anguish. In my imagination, I joined them at the foot of the cross and looked up at the dying Jesus. I gasped at the sight of Jesus in agony.
As I sat with Mary and Mary Magdalen, I joined in their questioning the scene before them. Poor Mary, recalling the prophesy of Simeon that her heart would be pierced. How right he had been!
Poor Mary Magdalen, losing the only man she truly loved, the man who had given her hope and loved her into wholeness.
How could this be? Where was God in all this? How could God abandon Jesus and us?
Even though Jesus had suggested bad things would happen in Jerusalem, we had no idea he meant this bad. I wondered how I had missed the signs, how I had misinterpreted what Jesus had been saying. How blind I had been, how comfortable in my denial.
As we watched Jesus dying and heard him cry out to God in his abandonment, my heart broke, and I wept along with Mary and Mary Magdalen.
Tears streamed down my face as I thought of the losses in my own life, of times when things did not go as I had hoped, of unmet expectations and crushed dreams. I joined Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalen in the depths of despair. I questioned God’s love and care for me.
And then, one of the Taize brothers approached me and gently invited me to lay my burdens at the foot of the cross. “Lay them down,” he said, “and walk away.” He told me to trust that Jesus would take up whatever was weighing me down.
What? Just let go of the hurts I had been carrying around for so long? Let go of those losses that had shaped me? Those painful events that I had survived and carried as a badge of honor?
The brother sensed my hesitancy, my resistance, and reminded me of the resurrection. God did come through. God is faithful.
By the time we left that retreat house on Sunday afternoon, I felt ready to enter Holy Week, believing that God’s love would transform my sorrow into resurrection joy.
Originally published in Manresa Matters, Spring 2022.
A message from art
I love to travel, and last week, I visited friends in Ireland. When I travel, I try to be especially mindful of my surroundings and pay attention to what I notice.
My friend and I visited the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and there we saw, among other great works of art, The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio, which had apparently been hiding in plain sight above a mantle in a Jesuit house in Dublin for many years.
The Taking of Christ is full of emotion, and I stood looking at it for a while. What caught my attention, though, were Jesus’ hands, which were clasped loosely in front of him and looked like a sign of acceptance or surrender. His face had an air of resignation; his hands confirmed it. Jesus was not going to put up a fight; he would be led to his execution.
Later, I came upon The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Giovanni Lanfranco, and I again noticed the hands in the painting more than anything else. There are hands raised in supplication, hands being used as support and hands pointing. Most of the hands are empty and outstretched, waiting for bread.
I wondered why the hands in these paintings were grabbing my attention. Is there something in the position of the hands that might hold some meaning for me? Am I being invited to a deeper level of surrender? How am I like the people in The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes? Am I grasping for some nourishment?
I also wondered what my hands might be saying about me—do they convey a message about what is going on in my life? Is there something in the way I position my hands that reveals something about me?
My friend did not notice the hands in these paintings. She noticed the expressions on the faces in The Taking of Christ and the people more generally in The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, so I know there is some invitation or message specifically for me in my noticing the hands in these paintings.
Last month, I saw an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art called By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500-1800. Perhaps that set off some sort of fascination with hands in art, although I don’t remember being particularly drawn to hands in any of the paintings at that exhibit.
As I walked through the National Gallery, pondering the possible message of the hands in those two paintings, the words of St. Theresa of Avila came to mind: “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet but yours…” How am I using my hands? How might I use them to benefit others?
My spiritual director recently reminded me that God speaks to us through all sorts of channels—prayer, scripture, people, rituals, events, art, etc. These two works of art spoke to me, inviting me to pay attention and to be open.
Rich interior life
I used to joke that I was going to wear something by Eileen Fisher when I went on the Oprah Winfrey Show. That line contained two examples of my rich interior life—that I would ever be on Oprah’s show and that I could afford Eileen Fisher clothes.
People who didn’t know me well would be confused—more about the Oprah part than the Eileen Fisher part—and ask if I was really going on Orpah’s show. “In my dreams,” I would say.
In truth, I never saw the Oprah Winfrey Show because I worked during the day, but I heard a lot about it, and it seemed like a show one would want to be on—a bit of a fairy tale. (At some point, a friend suggested I change my aspiration to the Ellen Show, which I had also never seen, but seemed just as attainable.)
As to Eileen Fisher, I sometimes browse in her store at the mall. Most of her clothes are in neutral colors, but occasionally, she will have something in a bright color that catches my attention, and when that happens, I imagine being wealthy enough to afford the piece and therefore famous enough to be on television.
A few weeks ago, I was on the road with some friends and one of my favorite dance songs came on the radio. “I am going to dance to that song when I go on Dancing with the Stars,” I said (out loud).
I have watched DWTS, and I do know I not a likely contender, but I love to dance and if I get famous enough to be on television…who knows?
I think lots of people have rich interior lives, but they don’t tend to say out loud what is going on in their heads.
My friend Ted used to tsk, tsk when I shared my inner thoughts and dreams, which was kind of funny because Ted would share some of his inner thoughts with me. They usually ran along the lines of some very attractive woman being romantically interested in him.
“In your dreams,” I would respond, but he would insist he had picked up some vibe. “You have a rich interior life,” I would say.
I have been thinking of Ted’s rich interior life lately because a couple of men have recently chatted me up—one while waiting for a take-away order and the other while walking in a park. Ted died a few years ago, so I cannot call him to tell him about these encounters.
I imagine, though, that Ted would appreciate my rendition of these chance encounters and indulge my fantasy about returning to those places to see if I can recreate the experiences.
It is all in good fun, and I think the world needs a bit of fun, a bit of fantasy.
And who knows? Maybe one day there will be a television show featuring ordinary people living ordinary lives, and then I will get my big break.
Rhythm of my heart
(Originally published in Red Tent Living on the theme Woman in Red)
Learning about Spanish culture was one part of my college summer school program in Madrid, Spain, and that meant churches, museums, bullfights, and flamenco dances. There were also many visits to nightclubs—called discotecas—but I don’t think my professors considered those part of my cultural education.
I thoroughly enjoyed every museum and would gladly return to Spain to see more art, but I could have done without the bullfights (they were quite gory) and after about ten churches, I was pretty much churched-out. Flamenco dancing was in its own category though.
Those women in red, flounced dresses, spinning and stomping their feet, touched something deep inside me.
While I sat still in rapt attention, seemingly quite contained, everything inside me was exploding, and I was joining in the dance. I could imagine myself dressed in a flamboyant red dress, flipping the hem back and forth, creating the impression that I was in perpetual motion.
My love of dance goes back to my childhood when I took tap and ballet classes at the local community center. I was the self-conscious child during recitals whose movements were restrained. On the outside, I was timid and shy, afraid of drawing attention to myself for fear of being criticized. Deep down, I was tapping up a storm and my ballet moves were swanlike, but that movement stayed inside.
Neither tap nor ballet lasted long. I didn’t know how to explain what was happening on the inside, how the dancing was giving me the opportunity to be free, how those tiny movements of my body were amplified on the inside. My mother thought it was a waste of money since I did not seem to be having fun.
In her thirties, a friend took tap dancing lessons, and I went to her recital. She wore a Carmen Miranda hat and danced her heart out. She inspired me to take belly dancing classes, which I did for several years. I thought of it more as exercise than dance, but I did buy a red hip scarf with gold coins dangling from it.
Fortunately, these classes were in a room with no mirrors, so the only image I had was the one in my mind, and in my mind, I was one great belly dancer! The teacher encouraged us to make dramatic movements—hips swaying from side to side with a little oomph for emphasis. It was tremendous fun, and it helped free me to let what was inside out.
A few years ago, I saw Riverdance in Dublin, Ireland, which included flamenco dance. My reaction was the same as it had been thirty-some years ago. I was swept up in the movement and could imagine myself dressed in red, swaying rhythmically.
Dance has always touched something deep inside me. Whether I am distressed, sad, or even happy, I find that dance can help me express my emotions. At home, I often turn on music and dance. It is a great stress reliever, and it helps me get in touch with my body. When I can let go of my inhibitions and let my body move freely, I can also let go of tears. Dance is cathartic.
My Dad had two talks with me, the first was when I was about ten and the second was when I got my driver’s license.
The first talk coincided with my starting to venture beyond my immediate neighborhood, going to the library and the movies, which were both a half-mile from home. I always went to the movies with friends, but visiting the library was a solitary activity.
Library time was sacred, and I wanted the freedom to do what I wanted for as long as I wanted. The library had the same allure as church, drawing me into its silence, scents and rituals.
At the library, I could freely live out my love of reading, and I was even praised for it. The librarians engaged me in conversations about what I had just read, asking if I had liked the book, which was my favorite character and what was my favorite part of the story. They encouraged me by offering suggestions for what I might read next.
Their encouragement made me feel normal, as if escaping through books was what one did. They inspired me to read more and to expand my horizons. The library was the place where my imagination and curiosity were unfettered. Through books, I explored other countries, peoples and cultures.
I used to wish I could live at the library, surrounded by silence and books.
My dad’s talk was about getting to and from the library.
My dad was a cop, and he believed that if his children were going to survive in the city, we had to figure things out on our own. He knew he and my mom would not be able to protect us once we left our neighborhood.
I had no curfew growing up and no defined boundaries; the whole city was mine to explore.
The advice my dad gave me was this: Always walk facing traffic—on the left side of the street—making it more difficult to be abducted. My dad explained that most children who were abducted were walking with traffic—on the right side of the street—so they did not see or hear someone approaching from behind. If I walked toward traffic, I would see who was approaching, and I would also make it more difficult for someone to snatch me because I was going in the opposite direction of cars.
The second talk, when I got my driver’s license, was this: While driving alone, especially at night, don’t stop if you see flashing lights approach from behind; it might not be a police car. Slow down, put on the blinker and drive to a public place (gas station, convenience store, etc.).
My dad knew what could happen to a woman alone in a car at night.
I’ve not had the flashing-lights experience, but I still follow my dad’s advice and walk facing traffic.
My dad would not have used these words, but his talks were building my resiliency toolkit, and I am grateful.