A man and his paints

“Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely”
Sir Winston Churchill

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(photograph of Winston Churchill at his easel taken from the Daily Telegraph Sunday insert 1965 / Julie Cook / 2015)

What is it that defines a man?
What is it that defines greatness?
What sets some men apart from others?
Does eccentricity and genius run merrily along hand in hand?

January 30, 1965, exactly fifty years ago, there was a funeral held to mark the passing of a life from this world to the next. I was a mere 6 years old. There was not the streaming online constant and instant 24 / 7 news coverage in 1965, beaming and streaming live action of the funeral around the globe, but that is not to say that the world did not briefly stop that somber January day, so very long ago, in order to take notice of the silent passing of greatness from one dimension to the next.

It is a rare event in the United Kingdom to afford anyone other than a crowned monarch or consort a state funeral. Rarer still is the assembling of much of the world’s leaders, statesmen, monarchs and dignitaries for the funeral of a mere prime minister. Yet after having lain in state for three days in Westminster Hall, affording the general public a chance to offer a personal farewell, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was honored by both prince and pauper at one of the most memorable state funerals, other than that of Queen Victoria and King George, which the 20th century had ever seen. Within Sir Christopher Wren’s 1675 architectural marvel, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the world bid a splendid farewell to one of the most renowned figures of the 20th century.

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(even the often cold and arrogant honored this giant of a man as witnessed by a final salute offered by General Charles De Gaulle )

However, behind the façade of soldier, commander-in-chief, statesman, historian, author, MP, Prime Minister, husband and father, resided a man whose peace and solace was found quietly behind a canvas.

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These photographs are pulled from several of the English periodicals dating from 1949-65 which are a part of my beloved Churchill collection. It is because of Churchill’s stalwart leadership during World War II which most of the world thinks it knows this enigma of a man—however the true identity of a man is not always found in the obvious places nor within plain sight. This most brilliant and equally eccentric man, who helped to shape much of the modern world as we know it today, was much more than statesman or commander. . .he was more than husband and father, or Victorian dreamer— Winston Churchill was a prolific painter who sought and found inner peace during the turbulence of personal, professional and world tragedies, through the simple art of painting.

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(images of paintings on loan to the Millennial Gate Museum in Atlanta, Georgia offering a tribute of the man and his pairings)

Yet below, in this most famous image of “the Big Three” taken from the conference at Yalta, in the waning months of the war,there is much more taking place than just an orchestrated famous photo op of the three men to whom responsibility fell to mould and remodel a new world. . . There is actually much more going on in this image—there is a hidden and secret dance of diplomacy and duplicity being secretly choreographed by a cold and calculating man who was a master deception–this image is the pure essence of power plays, betrayal, death, and hidden terror all silently playing out before the cameras of a painfully yet hopeful naive world.

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The slight smile on Winston’s face is misleading. Stalin never hid his disdain for the Prime Minister. He also believed he held the President as a puppet in his hands, being able to manipulate a frail shadow of a man as Roosevelt was tired, sick and not much longer for the world. Roosevelt died of a massive stroke only two months following the conference.

Roosevelt came to the conference looking wistfully towards a new world order. At this point he didn’t care what sacrifices had to be made in order to establish his elusive global Nirvana. Winston was more weary, cautious to the resetting of a dangerous chess board with equally deadly results as compared to the game which was in the process of just being played out. Winston felt beaten and betrayed. He had been mislead, left out, manipulated, lied to and betrayed by a dear friend as well as mocked and ridiculed by a wolf, or in this case an angry grizzly bear, in sheep’s clothing. He too was tired as the weight of the world rested upon his aging hunched shoulders.

And it was to his art that Winston would retreat, again and again and again. . .as most often it is to the gift of creativity that a man finds himself turning to, being drawn to, in order to set his world back to balance. In the mere act of painting or to the repetitive laying of brick in order to repair an ancient wall to a family home, Winston found comfort. He was able make sense of often senseless situations. . .in the freedom of putting paint to canvas he could find the easing of mind and solace of spirit both elusive and often battered and bruised from the realities of an often cruel world.

Outlets, diversions, distractions, escape—whatever form of creativity a man seeks, it is all a part of his birth right, a divinely inspired gift of talent and wonderment, bestowed upon him by the one true Master of Divine Creativity. It is what is good in a man. It is what is positive. Just as man works toward waging death and destruction, he works equally towards that which is aesthetically pleasing, beautiful, redeeming and edifying.

Man’s ability to create, to make “art”—is a source of peace and calm. It is a counterbalance in a world bent on death and destruction. It is the tiny piece of hope instilled in man by his Creator which helps to serve the betterment of all of mankind–a gift within an individual which has the ability to ripple outward throughout the ages, resonating to generations yet to be. . . that hope, beauty, good, wonder and joy are indeed alive and well and still very possible as the world continues to allow the dark clouds of death to gather overhead.

It was to this very “gift” that Winston sought his peace, his time of release and his place of balance in a world spiraling out of control. May we all be mindful that such a gift is still very much a part of each of us and has the tremendous ability to heal and comfort in our own equally dizzying time of madness. . .

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Very soon

The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions – the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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(faded, frozen and spent crepe myrtle and loropetalum buds and blooms / Julie Cook / 2015

Somewhere ’round a corner, in the secret garden of my mind
I thought I caught of glimpse of things that now are hard to find.

What stands before me now is simply lifeless browns and greys
Yet soon this empty landscape will bask in sunny rays.

Lifelessness and emptiness will soon be long departed
As hopefulness and happiness are finally getting started. . .

Here’s to the secret garden within all our winter weary hearts and minds. . .

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(hyacinth and tiny garden buds / Julie Cook / 2015)

contentment

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

― Lao Tzu

“Satiety depends not at all on how much we eat, but on how we eat. It’s the same with happiness, the very same…happiness doesn’t depend on how many external blessings we have snatched from life. It depends only on our attitude toward them. There’s a saying about it in the Taoist ethic: ‘Whoever is capable of contentment will always be satisfied.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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(Percy and Peaches enjoying life / Julie Cook / 2014-14)

Where is
your comfort
your peace
your happy place. . .

“Come to me my beloved. . .
My outstretched arms are longing waiting, aching, hoping to embrace you. . .
to hold you, to comfort you, to protect you, to warm you. . .
In my arms you may let go. . .
You may let go of all your worries, your excess, your burdens.
I want you to fall freely into my arms where you can finally exhale and rest. . .
Where you may finally find peace, warmth and contentment. . .
I am here my beloved, waiting. . .
Waiting for when you are ready. . .
Ready to let go of those things which separate us, which separate both you and I, keeping us apart. . .I am here, waiting, to offer you my warmth, my heart, my love. . .”

Perfect Love

“As people who have hearts that long for perfect love, we have to forgive one another for not being able to give or receive that perfect love in our everyday lives.
Henri J. M. Nouwen

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

1 John 4:16

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(White shelf fungus / Troup Co, GA / Julie Cook / 2015)

We spend a lifetime in search of it. . .
We expect it from parents
We demand it from siblings
We seek it from friends
We look for it in a spouse
We hope for it from various organizations
We yearn for it in our jobs
We assume it’ll be in our
churches
pastors
priests
We want it in our
physicians
healthcare providers
teachers
students
Our pets seem to come the closest. . .

We rationalize that we certainly give this “perfect love”. . .
so therefore. . .
Why don’t others give it back to us?

The end result of this lifetime spent digging, demanding, expecting and searching, all for this elusive prize, is. . .
frustration
resentment
heartbreak
anger
bitterness
and emptiness. . .

and yet. . .
It waits, quietly and patiently—waiting to fill our hearts with an unquenchable, yet satiating, one and only true Perfect Love. . .

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:16-18

Holding on? Maybe it’s time to let go. . .

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.
Hermann Hesse

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(male flicker takes to the tree tops in search of something tasty / Julie Cook / 2015)

Perched somewhere high above indifference and stagnation,
we walk a tight rope stung across the gaping crevasse of demise and despair

A ravenous world beckons to the would-be high wire traveler,
traverse the hungry precipice it hauntingly implores

Seducing
Luring
Tempting

Wanting hands beckon.

Trembling and afraid, one foot, then two, we inch ever closer
To light?
No.
The way grows ever more dim
We edge our way closer to empty darkness,
No longer able to see the rope

Only darkness and emptiness stand before us
And what of below?
A hot wind whips up from beneath our feet
The wire sways as our arms instinctively flail and thrash

Vainly we frantically reach out seeking something firm for balance
Desperate
Fearful
Alone

Footing is lost
Balance gone
Grab the wire quick!
This being the last chance before certain death

Once we slip downward, deep into the abyss, there is no hope, no return
Hang on!
Maybe hand over hand in order to complete the journey?
Pain sears through bleeding hands
The wire cuts deep

Energy and strength are drained
Resignation
then, the final letting go

We begin to fall
Spiraling
Fearfully lost
When suddenly something, someone, out of the darkness, snatches us in mid fall

Redeeming Grace has grasped our flailing arm
Lifting us up
ever higher

The darkness fades as the heavens open
Chains worn once heavily, disappear down in the abyss
As the sun begins to warm frozen fingers

The cherubim and seraphim sing
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia
For one more child has joyfully come back home. . .

Obligatory obligations

Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.
Elie Wiese

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(tufted titmouse / Julie Cook / 2014)

To rise with each new dawn,
with prayer upon my lips. . .

To greet you in my waking hours,
with praise for a brand new morn. . .

To give to you this time,
which you first freely gave to me. . .

Despite the sleepiness and fatigue
Despite the press for time
Despite not being in the mood
Despite the freedom not to pray. . .

There remains my obligation, an obligation to you. . .

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A definition of Obligatory—–
Binding in law or conscience; imposing duty or obligation; requiring performance or forbearance of some act.

Having an obligation means there is a responsibility.
There is a requirement.
A duty is to be done, performed, or to be said— carried out as a specific task.
A responsibility to act on behalf of self or others.

In the book Meditating on the Word, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer with translation by David Mel. Gracie, the word obligatory is applied in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he instructs seminarians, instructions which may be equally directed to us today, regarding the responsibility for prayer, in particular, the importance of the responsibility to morning prayer.. .

Before the heart unlocks itself for the world, God wants to open it for Himself; before the ear takes in the countless voices of the day, it should hear in the early hours, the voice of the Creator and Redeemer. God prepared the stillness of the first morning for himself.
It should remain his.`

The morning must yield an hour of quiet time for prayer and common devotion. How else could we prepare ourselves to face the tasks,cares and temptations of the day? And although we are often “not in the mood” for it, such devotion is an obligatory service to the One who desires our praises and prayers, and who will not other wise bless our day through His word and through our prayers.

Should we, those of the Christian faith, not find it odd that the muslims, who both Jews and Christians look upon with distrust, make time daily as they are called to prayer 5 times during the course of each day? Are we not reminded by the psalmist that we too are called to pray. . .to pray 7 times a day. . .
Can we not carve out time for the communion, conversation, fellowship and relationship with the loving Creator as He has stated we are required to do—to worship, to praise, to petition, to seek, to learn, to grow, to find peace, solace, and ultimately love. . .

I hate and abhor falsehood,
but I love your law.
Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous ordinances.

Psalm 119:163-164

Show me your Glory

“I caught a glimpse of Your splendor
In the corner of my eye
The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen
And it was like a flash of lightning
Reflected off the sky
And I know I’ll never be the same”

Lyrics by Third Day
Show Me Your Glory

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest “well pleased”.”
― C.S. Lewis

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(rain droplets dangle from a blue spruce / Julie Cook / 2015)

Isn’t that what we all want. . .
We want to see and then we want to see more.
We want God to show Himself, to prove Himself, to, in turn, prove ourselves—
our existence. . .
To prove that’s it’s all been worth it—that we were right to believe all along.
We want Him to make things right, stop the badness, set the world right. . .
We want to see.
We want to know.

One day, we catch a glimpse, a momentary shining light.
We feel something.
We hear something.
We actually see something as if a dream had come to life.
A wave washes over us.
We are filled with something we can’t explain.
A peace, such as we’ve never known, engulfs us.
Time stands still.
Certainly, everything, no matter what is within this single moment of time, okay.
Instantly we suddenly know, we are certain, it is all real.
He is real.

And just as suddenly, with the mere blink of the eye, the moment passes.
We desperately try to conjure back the moment, holding on to the rapidly fading wonderment.
However our senses are back.
Sound has returned.
The noises are blaring.
The lighting is now back to normal.
Movement, all around us, is passing rapidly by.
There are people.
There is pain.
We feel reality again.

And then we wonder.
Was it really real?
Did what just happen really happen?
We doubt ourselves.
We doubt Him.
We want it back.
We long to have the moment back.

And just like that, it is gone.
We are left wondering what to do.

Mother Teresa had such a moment.
It was the time she experienced what she later referred to as the “call within a call” experience.
It was when she was still a young nun and teacher, it was 1946. . .

In 1928, 18 year old Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu had left her native Albania for Ireland, to join the order of the Sisters of Loreto.
It was there that she would eventually make her solemn vows, taking the name of Teresa after the gentle saint known as the Little Flower, Thérèse of Lisieux.
Eventually her journey would take her to India, where she worked as a teacher and later principal at the order’s Calcutta run school for the local children.

One bright morning, 20 years into her life in India, while sitting on a train as she was embarking on a brief annual retreat, she had a profound encounter with Jesus. Time stood still and she was aware of only one being, that of Jesus himself.
He called out to her to help feed His poor. He revealed the pain of His heart over those who were hungry and dying. “Feed my lambs” He implored —yet He also implored the little nun to satiate His thirst. His thirst for the world filled with the hungry and hurting souls so in need of the literal and spiritual feeding of which He yearned for her to take upon herself.

It wasn’t until several years following her death, that through her letters and conversations with her confessor, when the world actually learned of this tiny obedient nun having never experienced that vision and feeling of nearness again. Despite her longing to hear and to see Jesus again, she was filled with only silence and emptiness.
There was nothing.
The only thing that remained was the daily task, each and every day, of doing what she was told to do that fateful day in 1946. . . “Satiate my thirst”. . .
Alone within herself, Mother Teresa felt empty, frustrated, and sad.
Yet no one was the wiser. No one knew of her pain, her emptiness, her “dark night”. . .she spent the next 51 years doing as He had instructed—working to satiate His thirst and to feed and care for “His lambs.”

Some may say that it must be a sadistic God who would play hide and seek, as it were, with someone as good and as holy as a Mother Teresa. Yet we must understand that it goes well beyond such simplistic observations. To us God may seem vexing and fickled, yet that is the human mind attempting to explain the behavior of the Divine and the Omnipotent—it simply cannot be done.

As C.S. Lewis so eloquently reminds us, “God does not exist for man’s sake.” Nor do we exist for our own sake.
God does not “need” us– it is us who needs God.
The crux of the matter is simply that God wants us.
Made, created, out of Love.

The difference between our need and His want.

Oh I suppose there are those who proudly exclaim that they do not need some invisible God, some deity to serve and to worship.
Self puffs up as we become our own deity—full of failures, let downs, pride, selfishness, vain glory. . .One would think time would be our teacher, yet we continue ignoring the past as we march forward, waving our own flag and thumping our own puffed up chest. . .

It is to these few and far between glimpses, of those miraculous moments, the overwhelming senses, and unexplained experiences, time and time again, that push us forward. . .still looking, wondering, hoping. . .forward to an encounter with the Divine—yet we simply cannot “will” it to happen. It is for God, and for God alone, to reveal Himself in such intimate ways—we cannot force His hand. We cannot trick Him or persuade Him. He is the Creator and we are but the created.
Yet we were created in and for Love. . .

We know that from such moments and chance experiences that we are forever changed and forever different, no matter if we never experience such a moment ever again in our lifetime. . .just knowing it happened, we know it can happen again and we know we won’t rest until we see Him again. . .

“When I climb down the mountain
And get back to my life
I won’t settle for ordinary things
I’m gonna follow You forever
And for all of my days
I won’t rest ’til I see You again
Show me Your glory
Show me Your glory
I can’t live without You”

lyrics by Third Day