Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Playdough Parlor

Aunt Kate sent her a My Little Pony Playdough Kit for her birthday. Technically the playdough was supposed to be molded into hairstyles for the ponies but Audrey discovered something much more fun.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

precious things

"Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? .... Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm."
~ Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Friday, March 26, 2010

seeing through a glass dimly

I was standing in line at a nearby optical center, waiting for my number to be called, when I saw my optometrist step out of his office in his long white coat. Curious to know whether I might be a good candidate for lasik surgery, I approached him and asked whether he remembered our consultation from the week before.

“Of course I remember,” he said, smiling, “You’re the one with very near-sighted vision.”

In a flash of recognition, the obvious meaning of the term “near-sighted,” which I had never really stopped to think about or seen written on a page, became suddenly clear: being near-sighted literally means your visual capacity is restricted to objects which are very near. How was it I had lived so long - thirty years! - without realizing this?

But as a child I never understood the term. I can see just fine close up, I used to think, it's when I try to focus on the far-away chalkboard that I start to squint.

I assumed the diagnostic label should have been written in negative, instead of positive terms: in fact, I was "far-blinded" or "distance-impaired."

To this day my vision remains crystalline to within five inches of my face; beyond that, objects are a blur; people appear like “trees walking around,” and I am literally helpless without my glasses.

By the time the man behind the counter finally called my number, I was deep in thought: I realized I am not only biologically near-sighted, I am spiritually near-sighted. That the temporal and spiritual are fused. Scripture affirms that God willfully created me this way - for “we see through a glass dimly;" that is, we were made to walk by faith and not by sight.

I realized, too, that there exists a kind of geographic security that is independent of whether you know where you are, or how to read a map.

Audrey is only dimly aware that we live in a place called ‘Arizona’ and that it is different from other places like ‘Portland’ or ‘Pittsburg.’ I’m not even sure she knows the difference between boys and girls let alone what street we live on… But she knows me; and when she lays her weary head down on her pillow at night she believes beyond speaking that I will be there when she wakes up in the morning; and that she can trust me to guide her through the day.

In the same way, my Compass is a Person: Jesus Christ. And He not only gives me vision to see just enough space in front of me to take the next step, He promises there is no place He will ask me to go where He won't go with me. That is part of what the crucifixion accomplished, after all.

Thus from a spiritual standpoint, my limitation is also a blessing, making it possible for me to learn to trust God.

And while it is true that I cannot apprehend what heartaches or triumphs are waiting wrapped up in my tomorrows, Jesus can. Jesus sees and knows all. And though I may not “see” Christ as crisply and solidly as I see my reflection in the mirror, I know that He sees me – and with more depth and insight than I will ever see myself.

What is more, while I cannot see into my future, I can, in a very real if mysterious sense, “see” Jesus. I see Him in the Scriptures; I hear His Voice in my heart; and every moment presents me with the opportunity to cling fast to His hand just as Audrey clings to mine.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

She had so much fun at the party she didn't want to change out of her dress... I was reluctant to let her sleep in it but Dutch convinced me. She slept long and soundly, the whole night through.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Visit to the Beauty Parlor

Today is her birthday; tomorrow is her party. So what better way to prepare then a visit to the beauty parlor? It was her first one. And though she was near to tears by the end, she did a grand job sitting still.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March "Teen!"

She turns 3 tomorrow. Dutch spent two days making her a dollhouse; and tonight I will be up late painting it. Would you believe that Lowe's has specially a formulated household color to match Tiffany blue?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An homage to the Irish

We spent all morning coloring pictures for a certain Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Dunn Brennan of 2 Robyn Drive, New York: my grandmother, of whom we are most proud.

If only we lived around the corner we would have dropped by to give you this plant, the oxalis regnellii, or, Everblooming Shamrock.

We love you Nana B.!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Playing with Matches

I have always wanted a set of longstem matches... I got some in the mail from a dear friend a few days ago. Audrey immediately put them to good use.

It was performance day at ballet. I remembered the camera, but forgot to charge the battery. Ah, well, I suppose blurry pictures are better than no pictures.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

my modus operandi

In his Preface to Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes, and I agree, that "It is the spectator and not life that art truly mimics." In other words, human experience must be filtered or translated through someone's conscious mind; and it is this consciousness - and not merely life -that is truly being represented in any work of art.

Put another way, what we create betrays who we are.

Consider a most obvious example: creation. The beauty and order of the universe reveals, in part, the character of the One who created it. Scripture affirms this notion, saying, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Romans 1.18-19). In the same way, we ourselves are God's living works of art - each individual, His poema, or, workmanship, illuminating some aspect of His personality (Ephesians 2.10).

Just as God reveals His character in that which He has created, so we reveal ourselves in what we create. This principle is perhaps most evident in the world of painting where what you see on the canvas is not just a reflection of the outside world - it is a window into the world inside the artist - a picture or mirror of his soul.

In The Cry one momentarily partakes of the anguish of Munch:

Dance reveals the colorful exuberance of Matisse:

One need not be told that Mary Cassatt harbored a reverence for motherhood; one need only look at one of her paintings:
When I absorb myself in a novel, I am really plunging into the mind or soul of its author. I am achieving a kind of sustained, if temporary, psychic unity with him - borrowing his glasses, walking as he walks, seeing the world as he sees it.

Thus, in its barest essence, art is not only a reflection of the soul of the artist; it is a representation of his mode of perception, his way of seeing, and it is this mode of perception which, more than anything else, he is sharing with his audience. Here we are presented with a paradox: for on the one hand, all art is "true;" and on the other, none of it is.

But what may be stated unequivocally is this: there is an ongoing if invisible transaction which takes place between the observer and the work of art whereby the artist's mode of perception is translated onto his art and then imparted to the observer. In this way all artists, whether they like it or not, are in some sense teachers.

I will never forget how my imagination lit up like a torch when I first read Fern Hill, the poem in which Dylan Thomas describes his rambling walk through the English countryside: "All the moon long I heard," come the words, "blessed among stables, the nightjars / Flying with the ricks, and the horses / Flashing into the dark."

Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem, Pied Beauty, with its infectious, seemingly spontaneous rhythms, had an almost identical effect: "GLORY be to God," he writes, "for dappled things— / For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; / For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; / Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings..."

I was compelled to ask myself whether this world of flashing horses and skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow was the same one in which I was living, for I palely recognized the silhouettes. Were these ordinary glories things I had learned to overlook? Or, perhaps worse, had I yet to learn how to really see them?

Either way I knew that something wondrous which in me had been lying either dead or dormant was awoken... and I became alive to the sacred beauty of the world in a new and more vigorous way.

Interestingly, both artists had one thing in common: they did not view the world as an accidental collision of atoms but a sacred universe, something God created, and into which He breathed His breath of life. Hence their mode of perception was primarily influenced by Christ - their imaginations, along with their hearts and minds, had been touched - baptized, even, into a new way of seeing.

Like Thomas and Hopkins, I believe that Christ created the world through the power of His Word; and that it is this same Word which - even now, at this moment - holds atom upon atom together in the great fabric that forms the sea and the sky - and even the skin that envelops my body.

For this reason, to resist allowing His Word to influence - yes, even dictate - my "reading" of human experience would be like trying to fly a kite while banishing the presence of the wind.

Instead, like Paul, I consider it my highest aspiration to "know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified," - in hope that all I touch will be tainted with the fragrance of Christ. This does not mean that I cannot rest my narrative eye on that which is not Christ - for then I would have to shut my eyes to the world; nor does it mean that I should exclude the grotesque admission or representation of sin and suffering. Rather it requires that I see Christ - and by that I mean, the possibility of redemption - in everything.

His flesh and blood sacrifice becomes the lens through which I perceive the world.

For example, my father told me of an encounter he had with Haitian refugee children in a town outside Port au Prince. The children were sitting in a dirt yard in front of a clapboard church, making kites by stretching scraps of plastic over sticks that had been tied together with string. When they saw my father they approached him smiling and, in spontaneous unison, burst into song: "We are not forgotten! We are not forgotten!" they sang, in broken but discernable English. They took my father's hands and they laughed as they sang,"We are not forgotten! He calls us by name!"

Now from a purely common sense standpoint, there is a great sense of irony in this story for one could argue that, if anyone is forgotten, it is these children. But when viewed through the lenses of Christ, the situation begs a different reading for, in Christ, there is hope for these children because there is a God who sees. And though they may be but nameless faces to most of the world, there is a God who calls them by name, and Who suffered unimaginable torments so they could come unto Him and be not only comforted, but saved.

In this way, the whole of the Christian life is a process of transformation, of learning or re-learning how to see. We not only see things in terms of what is; but what can be - indeed, what will be.

And it is this way of seeing which I hope will give flesh to the bones of my work - just as it gives breath to my life.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Meet the Woodmouse Family

It is very large, especially when you take grandparents and cousins into account.

But there is one particular couple whom Audrey has taken a particular fancy to: William and Celestine.
This is William and Celestine on their wedding day:

Only when we arrive on this particular page, she stops me and says, "No, Mudder - that's you! And that's Daddy... when you're getting married!"

"Well," I admit, "It does look a little like we did. Only with a bit more lace."

Side Effects of the Flu

Audrey's been having this problem with excess mucous which sometimes triggers her gag reflex. My solution: a throw-up bucket by her bed.

The other morning, at about three am, I heard her crying, then the door knob clank open - first hers, then ours. In a moment she was in bed beside me. "Oh, Mudder!" she said. "I forgot my blankie!"

"Okay," I mumbled hoarsely, "Where is it?"

"Outside da door!"

I stumbled, half blind, into the hallway to discover - not only her blanket, but Princesses Snow White and Sleeping Beauty packed snugly into the throw-up bucket. It looked like a comfortable way to travel, actually, though I couldn't help but ask myself, chuckling, what kind of child wakes up in a fright but takes the time to safely pack and carry her 'necessities?'

Mine does, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sisters. Friends.

They are so young but already becoming fast friends. It is a marvelous thing to behold.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Taking Shelter

I awoke on the morning of my 30th birthday, caked in pillows, from a long and uninterrupted sleep, to a schmorgasboard of my favorite things: among them, Dutch, a stack of newspapers and books, steaming hot tea, fresh-baked croissants, and a crackling fire.

This morning - and every morning this week, in fact - offered quite the contrast... Two sick girls meant that Dutch and I didn't get one single solid night's sleep. Last night Audrey ambled into bed with me somewhere between three and five; when she arrived, Evangeline was already there.

When I awoke my pajamas were caked in all manner of unmentionable substances, I couldn't see or feel my right arm, and getting out of bed required what I imagine to be the willpower equivalent to thrusting my bare feet through a pane of glass.

Someone once said that, for the Christian, the most important word is not "faith," "hope," or "love," - but endurance. This morning, I agreed. When I mentioned this to Dutch he was more skeptical. "Love is of supreme importance for the Christian," he said. "But you can't consistently put others above yourself if you haven't developed endurance. Endurance is the method by which we maintain and enlarge our faith, hope, and love. We endure in faith, hope, and love."

I sighed. You may be able to accuse the man of many things, but theological imprecision - or flippancy - is not one of them.

And so I will continue to remind myself, when I feel my well of patience going dry, when my back is sore from toting babies, and my brain almost numb from the words, "Mommy, I need you!" of Christ's response to His disciples when they had been arguing with each other about which of them was the greatest. "If anyone wants to be first," He says, "he must be the very last, and the servant of all."

Jesus took a child into His arms and continued, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."

How heartening it is to consider that when we serve our children - any child for that matter - we are serving the Lord Christ Himself! In this light even the most mundane and miserable tasks are transfigured into something beautiful.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A stroke of...poetry

Audrey came to me crying after pinching her fingers in the sliding glass door. Once we had "bathed the wound" she began mumbling to herself, a bit of free verse set to a little song. "It's for you, Mom, for you!" she said.

"Let me hear it."

"I won't forget you and your little star," she sang, swaying from side to side. "I won't forget you and your little star." I was instantly swept up - such whimsy! such imagination! I am an unforgettable star-like creature? How wonderful! How magical! - only to be cast down - or should I say "snuffed out" - by the concluding line: I won't forget you when you get blowed out, ffffffff!"

The force with which she delivered it took me quite aback.

But then, what is great poetry without a little tragic realism, right?