luck of the draw

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealin’s done

The Gambler
Kenny Rogers

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(my husband trying the make the most of Tropical Storm Colin’s arrival when all others ran for cover/ Watercolor Resort, Santa Rosa, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

There are many days that I am pretty certain that I’m married to Job.
You know, the Typhoid Mary of the Bible…
That lone figure everyone avoids like the plague as it seems God’s got it out for this poor lug.
He’s the Bible’s idea of a bullseyes,
while Satan enjoys a fun little game of darts…
As God’s watches silently in the distance…

Yet, one must wonder, is He all that distant…..?

And you know that expression…
if it wasn’t for bad luck, there’d be no luck at all….?
Well that sums up my husband’s life in a nutshell.

And not only did I marry a very unlucky man,
I bore him a child who has followed suit to a T.
As my husband resignedly notes that our son’s luck is just as bad, just as unfortunate and just as typical as his—that being abysmal.

If it can go wrong, it will.
If it can get worse, it will.
In a 50 50 shot on calling it, theirs will always be the wrong call.
What are the odds?
What is the luck?

And yet…
I for one do not hold on to such a notion…
despite often feeling the sting of a mother’s and wife’s frustration…
I am constantly reminding any and all gloomy Gus’s in my path that in Christianity,
there is no such thing as luck!
Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been left to chance in God’s book concerning His children.

When I was young I never liked reading or hearing about the Book of Job or even Revelation.
I found in both of those books everything and anything other than that
“peace which passes all understanding.”
Rather I found heartache, trials, turmoil, death, loss and
even the final separation of those fateful sheep and goats.

Both Books, both stories, scared me.
I didn’t want to know that side of God.
For in my young immature understanding, God was simply love and merciful,
end of sentence—
None of this wrathful, cold, distant business.
He was not this exacting God who could, in my opinion, turn His back and allow pain,
suffering and calamity.
God was love, right?
And love doesn’t let bad things happen….right?

Lord knows, I have seen my share of heartache and calamity these near 57 years.
Any one who has ever lost a loved one to a ravenous and non discriminating illness,
which seems to gleefully and eagerly snatch away prematurely those we love,
understands all too often the anger that can follow suit against this so called “merciful” God…

I shamefully admit to having had one too many defiantly angry fists raised,
more times than I care to mention, to God when I, as mother, wife, daughter, friend…
witnessed the catastrophic unfairness, when indiscriminate illness and or death,
or any other of life’s unfairnesses, had come calling.

Yet the key piece to this unsettling and often unfair and ironic puzzle is actually to be found in that very odd tale of our poor friend Job…
That single key piece being human understanding.

It is easy and quite human to rile in anger when we witness unfairness, pain, suffering, heartache…
Especially when we know that there is a God, as Father, who loves His children…as we are even told that if we who are “evil” parents know how to give good things to our children, then how much more can the God of heaven who is pure goodness and love give…..
yet here is this loving Father demonstrating anything but love…
But what we don’t get, don’t understand…He’s not the doing these things…

As we live life in that role of helpless witness, time and time again, to the sadistic unfairness of this thing we call life….as our anger, resentment, frustration and even defiance continues to mount against an unseen God who we so wrongly blame for all of life’s tragedies, as the dust settles, we begin to see that our friend Job slowly, mysteriously and miraculously understood…
He understood that which we are currently blind to see…
for Job once stood where we stand now—in that place of helpless victim to the tragic luck of life.

We sit in our towers of self-righteous human knowledge presuming to see all and know all…
that is until something catastrophic throws us the guaranteed monkey wrench.
Tragedy strikes and more often then not, we wrestle with its presence and devastating aftermath.

But what we must know, must claim, is that it is God who sees and knows, not us.
He sees endlessly out before us, long into our futures.
Just as He has seen our past and our present.
He sees into the lives of all involved and into the lives of those who are to each be affected despite our having no knowledge of their involvement…yet.

His is the grander picture.
The greater and far reaching picture.
The vision that eclipses both time and space—of which we are permanent prisoners.

So no…there is no such thing such as luck….not with God.
Rather just Life lived in a fallen and broken world.
Just as there is also our hope, our grace and thankfully….
our salvation….

“I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You, therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:2, 5-6

You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.

Job 11:18

what might a modern day plague look like?

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague

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(a ravenous locust passes through the yard / Julie Cook / 2015)

I really don’t know where to begin. . .
I suppose I’ll start with the latter of the two trains of thought, work my way backwards (a little educational approach. . .backwards design) and hope the two will merge into one nice thought. . .

My son was showing me a video clip yesterday by some quasi news/ entertainment group that seems to take current event images out to the average joe on the street in search of reactions. They show random folks some random recent “viralesque” image, ask a question about the image and then record the responses and reactions. My son is 26 and he starts this little show and tell moment with “so this is how dumb folks are these days. . .” and he proceeds to show me a clip. . .the clip is filled with folks his age and a tad younger. . .hummmmm

It seems that with the new Jurassic Park movie having been recently released, Steven Spielberg, feeling a bit nostalgic, posed in front of a triceratops that was used in one of the movies in the series. The automaton dino was apparently dead and laying on its side with a smiling Spielberg sitting down in front of the creature. . .the not REAL creature.
A harmless enough image of some Spielberg nostalgia. . .

This little quasi news group was on the streets of London with microphone and camera in hand showing the picture of Spielberg and his dino and asked random folks, all of which who were young—late teens through mid 20’s, what they thought of the picture. . .

First of all may I just say that I was appalled by the blatant cursing–if someone with a camera and microphone asks me to answer a question for them while they are filming, I don’t think I’m going to pop out with the “F”word or the other lovely litany of expletives these kids spouted. . .

The other troubling thing was, and this was the point of the posting of the video, that none of those kids asked seemed to know A. that that person in the picture was Steven Spielberg and B. that that was a dinosaur, not to mention a nonexistent dinosaur.

It seems they thought how terrible it was that “this man” was posing in front of “his kill” with a sleazy smile. They were all appalled and thought how awful it was that he had shot and killed a rhino or hippo, as was the common assumption, and that he actually seemed happy about it.
Please note that my eyes are rolling around my head. . .

So now I am not only greatly troubled by the lack of decorum, manners and respect demonstrated by young folks on the street, but I am equally troubled that our young folks don’t seem to know the difference between a dead, non existent, triceratops and a rhinoceros or hippopotamus. . .

The other train of thought is even more troubling and has to do with a recent real life news story.

It seems we had a political debate in this country over this past weekend that seems to be all the rage in the world of news and politics.
Now I am not a fan of either politics or politicians—I don’t watch these so called rating topping debates as I could frankly care less. Comments, questions and responses boil down to the adult version of the he said, she said fussing of children.
Petty, bickering, hateful, assumptive. . .
These “professional” adults begin to sound like the teacher on the old Charlie Brown cartoon’s. . .
“waah waah, waah. . .”

This world of ours has some very real problems and some very real troubles yet we’ve got our potential top leader wannabes and our major news agencies babbling on and on about the idiotic comments offered by a bombastic business mogul / reality show personality and that of his loud-mouthed flippant comments during one of these dog and pony shows debates.

Frankly I want to know who really cares??!!

Who cares what a man dubbed “the Donald,” as if he were some sort of ancient royal, has to say about TV personalities or news commentators when we have the sort of troubles raging, in not only our country, but around our fragile world. . .What does this say about our priorities. . . or perhaps more correctly, what does this all say about how out of touch our major news agencies and entertainment shows seem to really be. . .or how really stupid they think the average American must be. . .
My observation. . .no one is on the same page!

The real issues and worries, such as our country’s latest implosion over race, the overt and rampant escalation of violence when people simply feel wronged, the continued killing, kidnapping, raping, torturing of individuals across this globe by militant Muslim extremists. . .all of which seem to me to be taking a backseat to the latest media obsession of men becoming woman, presidential wannabes, debates over flags being the catalyst for hate. . .

All of this as people continue demonstrating, looting, rioting, as if that’s going to help solve the real issue at hand, that people seem to think that it’s okay to kill for a killing’s sake . . . that Christians in the Middle East continue being systematically eliminated one by one, African girls continue being “taken,” Greek bailouts make the global economy nervous, Turkey erupts in violence and what of Ukraine. . .

I don’t know. . .I think those types of issues might be what those presidential contenders ought to be discussing and thinking about rather than the he said, she said stuff of children. . .

I tend to feel a bit like Goldilocks when it comes to reading the News. . .I scour a variety of sites, shifting though the printed stories, hoping to sort out the real stories minus the slants.
The following story concerning the latest attack on Christians in Syria caught my eye.
I can’t help but agree with the author’s concern about what our political leaders seem to be thinking when it comes to the blind eye to the global attack on Christianity.

Is anyone who has any sort of authority ever going to look at any of these latest crises with any sort of real concern. . .cause I really don’t think God needs to send any new plagues to get our attention, I think we’re plague enough . . .but then again when our younger generations can’t tell the difference between a dinosaur and a rhino maybe none of this really matters. . .

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/08/07/more-christians-kidnapped-in-syria.html?intcmp=hpff

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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