looking forward rather than at now…

“Let us love the Cross and let us remember that we are not alone in
carrying it.
God is helping us.
And in God who is comforting us, as St. Paul says,
we can do anything.”

St. Gianna Molla

“Every pious desire, every good thought, every charitable work inspired by the love of Jesus,
contributes to the perfection of the whole body of the faithful.
A person who does nothing more than lovingly pray to God for his brethren,
participates in the great work of saving souls.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

I think I’ve touched on this thought before.
I think it was most likely this same time last year.

It never fails that each year, during this particular season of the Chruch calendar,
this season of Advent, this time of notable anticipation,
I just can’t help but look forward.

Maybe I shouldn’t look ahead…
but I just can’t help it…I do.

I just can’t help but not to look.
I can’t help but know already how the story ends.

Of course I’m not alone in that…
most of us who are Believers already do know how the story ends don’t we?!

And yes I know, technically the story doesn’t really end…
but perhaps that’s a bit of a spoiler for those not exactly in the know…

However that’s not today’s worry.

The lamenters will cry “why can’t you just enjoy the moment?!

And maybe I should…maybe I should just turn a blind eye to what I know
while ignoring the facts.
Maybe I should just bask in the magic of this season;
enjoying this time of joyful expectations, of mystery, of hope and of celebrations.

But I can’t ignore the fact that there is a looming foreboding shadow that I
simply can’t shake.
Consider it the ying and yang if you will.

For both Advent and Christmas, this mix of a season that speaks to all that is to be,
happiness and joy, is what some might call the front end of the story…

Or maybe it’s actually what is known as the backstory to the end story…
the story that is behind the real story.

Figuring I wasn’t alone with this notion,
I poked around a bit and found the image above at the front of the post.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one who understood that there is more to this
time of all things of happiness, newness and of birth.

For we all know, whether we like it or not, birth leads to life which in turn leads
eventually to the grave.
But who wants to think about a grave and or death when we can be toasting to what
is happy and bright right?

Not a self-absorbed culture, that’s for sure.

And so whereas we do indeed rejoice, as so we should,
we do so with a knowingness.

I’ve used this image of this particular painting before.

It is a painting by one of my favorite artists, Michelangelo Merisi
(Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio–or just Caravaggio for short.
He’s known by his town of birth and not so much by his birth name.

The painting in question is known as Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)

Caravaggio’s paintings and subject matter can be unsettling to some viewers.
His life was no less unsettling.
And he was certainly far from saintly as his life would make any modern-day gossip tabloid
green with envy as his life truthfully read of such fodder and yet his talent,
his skill, his gift, his vision, his juxtaposition of his subjects
along with his use of light and dark, shadow and dramatic lighting…
all seem to be an exclamation point to his chosen imagery and subject matter.


(Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri) 1605-06 / Galleria Borghese)

I love this painting because it is so dramatic and powerful…

Allegorical yes, but it’s that end story in a very stalk and near visceral nutshell.

The end being the crushing of both Evil and Death.

Leaving us with birth, life, death, grave and yes, finally, victory…
All of which is rolled into this one single painting.

As both Mary and her small son, all under the watchful gaze of both Mary’s mother
and Jesus’ grandmother, St Anne…who watches on as now both mother and child put an
end mark to that which desires nothing more than to haunt their lives…

Mary’s yes to God, along with Jesus’ willingness and sacrifice, are all that was necessary
and needed in the resounding NO to Satan.

In the painting, they figuratively demonstrate victory, our victory, over both Evil and Death,
in a very decisive fashion.
Crushing the head of the snake.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

Mary who was told great things by the angel Gabriel and who was told great things by
the Magi, and who was told great things by Simeon…basked in the celebration of the
birth of her child, all the while looking forward.

She had been told and she knew and she held it all in her heart.
And I doubt that a day did not pass while she lived the life of a loving mother to this
atypical son of hers, that she didn’t feel the same foreboding that I sense now.

My sense of foreboding, however, pales in comparison to the one whose heart
had been pierced the day she said: “yes, I will do your bidding, Lord.”

Mary knew both joy and sorrow, both life and death…but the most important thing
that Mary knew was that there is victory over death…victory that just so happened to be
found in the birth of her son…

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
Blessed Among Women

Luke 1:38 MSG

And Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them,
I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge;
the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me
a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

John 12:44-50

We can’t help but look forward….

redeemed from paradox

“Without the Way, there is no going,
Without the Truth, there is no knowing,
Without the Life, there is no living.

Thomas à Kempis


(a persistent strangler of fall hangs on / Julie Cook / 2017)

“But he never said to people, ‘Come as you are and stay as you are.’
His promise was always that all were welcome –
but that they would be radically changed.
All need to be reborn.
Jesus does not affirm us in our lifestyles.
He redeems us from them.”

David Robertson

There is really so much to say.

Too much really…about so very much.

About all of this really.

As in…there is so very much that needs sorting, weeding out and pruning…

Such as those overt ‘he said, she said’ issues taking place daily….

The egregious name calling of those we do not see eye to eye with….
nor actually even see…yet everyone feels free and safe to use all manner
of vile ugliness, rather gleefully and clandestinely, behind these screens of ours
as we joyously lash out…..

There is tolerance of the intolerant and intolerance of the tolerant.

One no longer knows which one is best to be…tolerant or intolerant…
perhaps just both.

Why is it that at “this time of year” we hear about a spike in crime…
often violent crime.

Why is it that at “this time of year” we hear of what seems to be an escalation
in the sorrowful and tragic…that of accidents, death, fights, wrecks,
abuse, overdoses, fires…etc

Yet why is it that “at this time of year” we actually can witness a softer,
kinder, more generous and giving world….

A paradox found in the juxtaposition of man.

All the while there is some sort of misnomer running around out there that if
you don’t open your arms to embrace everyone and everything….
then there is something terribly wrong with you and you are made
to wear the Scarlet letter P….

P because you are phobic… homophobic…or maybe transphobic.

P because you’re just paranoid…you think that the Right and Left are
collectively out to get you…and maybe they are….

P because you’re just proud…a little too proud…as a good many of the
proud and arrogant have suddenly tumbled from their thrones.

P because you’re just pissed off,
mad as hell at all the fake news, lies, angry rhetoric, news outlets turned
tabloid junkies, anarchists burning down the towns…
mad at the progressive left who want nothing more than to destroy you and
your little corner of the world….
so no, you’re not going to take it any longer…

And right when someone hears or reads that you’ve just said as much,
you are now brandished as an extremist who should be locked up…

Maybe you should be locked up because you cracked and own a gun…
never mind all the uncracked folks out there who own guns….

Maybe you want to celebrate Christmas but since it is Christmas, you can’t call it
Christmas….
Yet you are repeatedly told to buy, buy, buy….for Christmas.
The same Christmas you’re not allowed to call Christmas.

Maybe you want to celebrate Hanukah because you’re Jewish…but a lot of folks
out there blame Jews for everything so maybe it’s best not to light the candles.

So now it is P because it is all so precarious…
especially since our vision is no longer clear.

It’s difficult crossing the narrow log spanning the deep chasm when
one’s vision is clouded…clouded by the upside down lies being offered
as what is true.

Yet how is one to know truth verse lie…
Or do we simply believe the loudest voice?

Across the chasm on the far side, across the narrow log, a tiny lone light
is lit…
And you know deep down that it is a light offering clarity to the obscured….

For from out of all of our darkness, a great Light has shone…

All that was, all that you have known, will be no more…
You cannot exist in the paradox and juxtaposition…
caught in the cycle of in and out, yes and no, left and right, up and down…
nor can you abide in the acceptance of what you know to be false yet
are constantly told that this false is absolutley true.

As all the little truths are merely by-products of the fickleness of the times…

Yet the question is asked of you….
Will you be able to ford the chasm on the narrow log, pressing ahead
toward the lone light offering clear vision or do you prefer to remain where
you are in a world turned upside down and mad upon itself?

Are you happy with what you are hearing and seeing day in and day out
as everything you once knew and thought is now turned inside out?

We are living a paradox and conundrum yet yearn for the clarity and light…

And I don’t see why the choice needs to be so difficult.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him,
the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God—
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 9:14)

My secret German love

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Call it Feng Shui, Chi, Balance, harmony or simply symmetry–
however you wish to view it or to name it, it is me and I am it.
I don’t know if I came preprogrammed this way or not,
but I am a very symmetrically oriented person.
Equally weighted and equally balanced.
None of this asymmetrical business for me.

And so it goes when I work on my own art.

I have always loved working with watercolors…
I like working with people, birds, nests, eggs, and you name it.
However, all my life I have felt that I have really wanted / needed to create
some type of opus, some sort of monumental tribute to God.

Why is that you ask?

Well, I think people who have talents and gifts—
well, they just don’t plop out of the sky.
A gift is just that—a gift…and it is something someone has given to someone else.
God has given me much, so what little I can give back…
well I’ve wanted to do it with a visual piece of art.

I’ve spent a lifetime looking at the Italian Renaissance masters,
passing later on to the Northern Renaissance…
with then the Germans and Dutch masters.
Powerful artists, who not only mastered body and mass,
but captured the epitome of emotion.
I can find myself in tears, full of emotion, while staring at various pieces.
I love the works of the Italian Caravaggio (see post What is an Icon).
Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Paul, or as it is actually known,
The Conversion on the Way to Damascus… is but one such piece.

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The space is tight; the figures juxtaposed with precarious lines of placement
and the use of light, crucial light—
oh Caravaggio’s use of light…
Critics argue about the use of space with the horse,
Paul /Saul, the groomsman, too many legs, not enough focus on Paul, etc.
I must disagree with the “critics” as I find it powerful.
Very powerful!

It is my belief that because this is a tremendous moment in time and
that it is somewhat crammed into a tight space as the horse seems to precariously
control his mighty weight so as to not step on Paul…
who is splayed out on the ground beneath him,
as a sword is dropped to the ground, just as the stricken figure of Paul/ Saul
lies now defenseless having been struck blind…
It is because of all of this and more that seems to make this big moment even bigger.
It’s a millimoment in time that is captured… and it works—or at least works for me.
It makes me feel overwhelmed and leads me to believe that I am witnessing something that is
shattering time.
Oh those Italians——always masters of emotion——
the wonderful excess of such.

However as far as an artist who captures raw emotion with such vivid use,
there is none more so, to me, than the German Matthias Grünwald.
Who you ask?
A German, not an Italian?
All I ever talk about is my love affair with all things Italian and here I am suddenly
coming out with a secret German love?!
Yes.
I confess, a secret German love.

Unfortunately there is not much to the history books regarding Matthias.
He is a bit of an enigma.
His last name is really not his real last name.
As it seems a 17th century biographer inadvertently added Grünwald.
It is believed his name was actually Matthias Gothardt Neithardt.
He was born in Würzburg in 1480 but even that comes under question.
Who he studied under, who studied under him, all remains but a mystery.

The one thing that is not a mystery is Grünwald’s use of emotion.
We must remember that the artists of Grünwald’s time operated in a time even before
the printed word.
Images were everything;
they spoke volumes to the viewer—–their works, their paintings,
were the You Tubes of the day.
And yes, I like art that evokes emotion, passion and feelings–
why stare at something that speaks of nothing?

It is Grünwald’s Isenheim Altarpiece that, for me, evokes that tremendous emotion.
(again see the post “What is an Icon” as I’m taking from that post a tad)

crucifixion

This is one of my most favorite images of the crucifixion,
as it shows not a languid image of an intact pretty European body of Christ seemingly
floating against a cross, but rather in contrast,
it shows in graphic, vivid detail the results of a deadly beating,
a body nailed, pierced, abused, now dead body in full rigor mortis—-
the altarpiece was commissioned for a hospital in Colmar (now France but originally in Germany)
for patients with various skin afflictions (most likely plague and leprosy and St Elmo’s fire).
Hope in suffering—
resurrection form death…
Glory and victory over sin.

It is believed that Matthias may have been a plague victim and perhaps he had seen the
Black Death up close and very personally…
leading to his apparent visual knowledge of the human body in the midst of the mystery
known as death.
It is also his vision of what transpires after that death which is also worthy of attention.

It is from my appreciation of Matthias, and other artists,
who can so realistically capture the emotional dramas of human life and death,
as well as the mystical beauty often found in illuminated manuscripts,
that has lead me on my own journey of exploration of such mysterious moments
in time through my use of the visual arts.

I started working on my “spiritual” pieces about 12 years ago.
They began with the idea of the cross, ancient medieval texts,
the use of biblical languages such as Hebrew, Latin, Greek, and Aramaic,
as well as the use of mysterious mystical images as teaching tools.

The latest piece is a Triptych—
hence my love and need for balance and the symbolism as captured most
respectfully in this piece for the blessed Trinity.
It is not complete.
This whole “retirement” issue threw me for a bit of a loop and the groove of my diligent
quest has been slightly sidetracked.
There is a monastery in Hulbert, Oklahoma, Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey that I wish to
eventually donate the piece to—
they are a group of Benedictine monks,
originating out of Notre-Dame de Fontgombault,
a French Abbey, which belongs to the Solesmes Congregation.
I will write a later post about St. Benedict and the Rule of Benedict—–
a wonderful standard in which to conduct ones life.
I will also showcase the monks of Clear Creek Abbey.
http://clearcreekmonks.org/

I thought that during Holy Week,
it would be fitting that I share my love of God’s idea of symmetry
(Trinity/ Triptych/tri/three) with you, my viewing friends.

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