Sunday, December 30, 2007

Prayer Pictures

(I gave this picture away.)

I did a painting during the Christmas service last week (see previous post).

Painting isn’t exactly the right word. I didn’t use paint. I used ordinary, medium point Sharpies.

I wanted to say something about the banality of the world in which the Messiah entered... the mess, the smell, the conditions of where he was born. I wanted to emphasize the animals, put them in the foreground. A different sort of Nativity.

I created the image by writing with those variously colored Sharpies. I began with the nativity story in Luke (the face of the cow in the foreground), and put the lineage of Jesus in the walls of the building.

The rest of it was mostly prayers that came to me as I stood on the platform of the filled sanctuary of our church, tuning out the people around me.

When the second church service ended so did the picture. I moved quickly to a corner where I could avoid speaking to people.

Something wasn’t right about that picture.

While I did it my prayers were sincere, but they were dry. It was as if I was feeling the mundane part of the Nativity myself, not taking any joy in what was going on in the background. Just as I tuned out the congregation that morning, I was tuning out the joy of God incarnate.

Someone, a good friend, pointed out that there wasn’t the bright colors I often put in my images... no bright yellows, no golds, no emerald greens.

Lately I have had a dryness to my prayers, and it is showing in my art prayers as well.

I usually want nothing much to do with my prayer pictures after they are finished, but this was truer for this one.

So I gave it away this morning.

We have a prayer room at our church, and I often do such prayers on the walls in there. About once a year a friend paints it over for me (I sometimes help). He thinks of himself as my Etch-A-Sketch shaker.

I want to shake off all the pictures I have done. I’m looking for a way to do that.

There are three:

Infant Messiah - Infinite Messiah
Acrylics - The laughing infant Jesus (my deceased son as the model) bearing the marks of His crucifixion.
(I gave this picture away.)

Acrylics - Mary learning she will bear the Messiah, set in a modern, imposing cityscape.
(I tried to give this picture away. Shipping cost too mush.)

Shepherd in the Woods
Sharpies and watercolors -made up of prayers and scriptures.
(I gave this picture away.)

I’m not sure how to set them loose... Perhaps I can find folks who want them, perhaps they can make a donation to our church’s building fund or the food pantry or something. I don't know. We'll see.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


(Scroll down for pictures)

I did a picture during the service today. The watercolor pens I brought wouldn’t stick well enough to the canvass board, and the thin point Sharpies where to faint, so I did the whole thing with a limited range of colors, all in thick, regular tip Sharpies.

I was looking forward to praying through the picture. I no longer think about the congregation behind me. I just plugged the iPod into the sockets I call ears, and start praying.

There were a few key things I made sure was in there. I included Jesus’ lineage in the gray on the wall, and the nativity story from Luke is the primary layer on the cow in the front.

I wanted to do a picture that emphasized the baseness of where Christ was born. I wanted to make the animals center-most. I wanted folks to think a moment about the smells, the dirt, the actual filth of where God deigned to enter the world.

For many of us the idea of having a child in a place where feces litters the dirt floor is disgusting.

I would suggest that simply being born human was, for God, a greater step toward the crude than it would be for one of us to give birth in a stable.

My son Isaac, took some pictures and I share them here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I’ve a got a good friend fooled.

He thinks better of me than I am.

He sees the gifts I have been blessed with, creativity, love of science and literature, a knack for stringing words together on glowing screens, and thinks I’m special.

He’s pretty special himself. He has a great passion for his family, for nature, for teaching children.

If he sees my flaws he keeps it to himself.

I think that is what I fear, that people will know what is really wrong with me. It is probably what most of us fear.

I fear the flaws which caused me to say and do things which alienated my wife’s affections. I fear revealing my sins will rob me of the affections of all who I would have love me.

Despite what my friend thinks, I am flawed. More flawed than he knows.

I suppose he is flawed as well, though I do not know what those flaws are.

Why are we so desperate to hide our true selves?

I think for several reasons.

First, we absolutely need to belong.

The other night Brenda and I went out to a movie, I Am Legend with Will Smith. It is a post-apocalypse tale. The protagonist, immune to a deadly virus, has lived three years with no other companion than his dog.

A part of the story deals with his reactions in coming in contact with other people. He is borderline insane from his isolation.

Tom Hanks also displayed the symptoms of isolation in the movie Cast Away. He created a friend out of a soccer ball.

I once spent over two months without speaking, or even seeing, another person. I read a lot, satisfying a curiosity about world faiths. When I left that cave on Saddleback Mountain I was terribly awkward with people. I had trouble making simple conversation.

Such isolation turns us a little odd, it can create Ted Kaczynski’s.

We need people. We need people for our mental health We need people to give us a place in the world, a place with others. Without others we start unravelling.

A second reason we are so desperate to hide our true selves is because of our egos. We start our lives having every need cared for by others. As we become more independent we secretly wish to remain the center of all things.

Could people really love us, really want to be near us, if they knew we weren’t perfect?

You have probably guessed, I’m headed toward the point about how we question God’s love.

I’d like to take it a little further.

Imagine if we were perfect.

Imagine if we never sinned, never had dark secrets to keep from each other, from ourselves.

Our lives wouldn’t be the mess they are. We wouldn’t worry if people loved us or not. We would love everyone, never hurt them, never betray them, and they do be the same.

Sounds pretty nice.

Sounds wonderful.

Sounds like Heaven.

Sounds like the way God must feel.

His perspective must come from the absolute knowledge, the absolute experience, the absolute being that is thoroughly good.

If we were like that... if we were without sin, without the sense of failure and sorrow, we would be able to love so much more deeply. I would guess that if I were like that I would be able to see the goodness in souls which wanted to be different than they are, which longed to be free of sin. It wouldn’t be an affection for them out of pity, either. I would love them because I saw in their heart the desire to become better, to become pure. It would be a love for them simply because love is the center of being perfect.

I look at my life, at my failings, at the things I am which make me think that I am fooling my good friend, and I know that there is someone who does know all those things about me, and loves me anyway.

He loves me because that is who He is.

He loves me because he sees in me the spark of our soul, the part of me that is made in His image, which wants to love and be loved, and simple be love.

I’m a screwed up mess. But I am loved by perfection which stretches throughout time, beyond time, beyond the realm of physical matter, and simply wants me to stop hurting, to stop beating myself up, to simply pause and experience a little of what He feels for me.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Well Water

When I was a kid we lived in a house that had well water. Sort of. The well was running dry. The water was brownish and the pump once sucked air.

I don’t know if there was a drought or some subterranean dilemma causing my parents to promptly move to another house.

Sitting in church today I felt a little lift. Not a big one, just a little of my old self responding to the worship music. I shut my eyes, stood up, raised my hands. I was the only one standing.

I didn’t care.

For a moment I felt connected to God.

It was like the water pump in my well had gulped a small surge passing through the water table.

I was watching TV last night with Brenda and an ad came on for worship CDs. The faces in the commercial seemed completely transported by the music they were singing. The advertisement implied that purchasing these CDs would make me feel good too.

I didn’t say anything. But I was thinking about something.

I was thinking that faith isn’t like that for me right now. All joy for God's love, radiance beaming from my face.

I don’t feel enraptured by the relationship I have with God.

I feel something more... serious.

I don’t hold God responsible for the problems in my life. I understand how the choices people make, a natural result of free will, can create situations which harm me. I also understand how a living world, such as ours, will have disasters which hurt people as well... earthquakes which shrug mountains, volcanoes which vomit toxic gases.

I love God.

Not because of what He can do for me, healing me of my psoriasis (which is acting up again, splitting my skin), or leading people to come alongside my wife and encourage her... I love God because...

How can I explain this?

I am so very sad, so very tired. So much so that I have trouble praying.

But I pray, I still pray, sort of.

I have been having trouble asking God for things, even things that are very important to me. Instead I have been having conversations with Him. Just stating what is going on, what I am feeling, what I think.

I know He is listening.

More importantly, I know He is real, He exists, because I can sense Him in the wonders of the universe, the elegance of the balance of things great and things very small. I know He is real because of the odd gaps which continually appear as science pushes forward and our Lord smoothly maintains the space for faith, deftly sidestepping faith-destroying proof.

When I raised my hands in worship this morning it wasn’t because of the wonderful skills of the worship team or the inspired lyrics and melody of the song writers.

I raised my hands because I knew He was there, holding me close while He holds the universe together.

This isn’t to say the music had nothing to do with my response. In fact the lyrics of the song which opened and closed the service fit the sentiment I am awkwardly trying to express here:

"It Is You"

As we lift up our hands
Will You meet us here?
As we call on Your name
Will You meet us here?
We have come to this place
To worship You
God of mercy and grace

It is You
We adore
It is You
Praises are for
Only You
The heaven's declare
It is You
It is You

Holy, holy is our God Almighty
Holy, holy is His name alone, yeah
Holy, holy is our God Almighty
Holy, holy is His name alone

It is You
We adore
It is You
It is You

As we lift up our hands
As we call on Your name
Will You visit this place
By Your mercy and grace
Holy, Holy is His name alone

I love Him because He is God and I am not.

I have felt this low, this sad, only a few times in my life. I do not think my marriage is going to make it (I may be wrong). I have been thinking about divorce and that I won’t make a decision about it until after the holidays (no sense in creating that association for my children).

I do not despair or blame God, or think suicidal thoughts (though I couldn’t help staring at a policeman’s gun the other day, which was weird, thinking about that deadly tool hanging so casually from his hip).

I still feel God is near, though our conversations often begin with:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!!...”

My pump has been sucking air of late, the water is brown...


I am here, He is near, that is enough.

Fresh water will somehow flow again, I know it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Please bear with the literary analysis here, but Will S. put this rather well (reading the stuff in parenthesis will provide the condensed version of what the bard is saying):

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
(to exist, or not...)
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
(is it morally right to fight against all odds...)
And by opposing end them?
(even if it means my death...)
To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd.
(This life is full of such troubles, wouldn’t it be better to end it, especially in fighting for what is right?)
To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
(The visions that sleep may bring when we shrug off this body which traps us...)
Must give us pause:
(But, since we don’t know what will come we cling to the troubles we have, the troubles we know...)
there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
(And we just suck it up, all the crap of our lives, the health problems of aging, the trespasses of others against us, the sneer from the wealthy and sophisticated, the arrogance of those who govern but no longer care about those who suffer, the rejection and unfaithfulness of those who swore to love us, the imposition that we be patient to those who are not worthy but believe they are superior...)
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?
(When we could end it all with a sharp knife...)
who would fardels bear,
(who would carry heavy burdens...)
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
(except that we fear that after death...)
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns,
(the foreign land for which we have no maps and no one comes back from...)
puzzles the will
(saps our resolve...)
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
(and we suck all this crap up because we are afraid to step of what we do not know...)
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
(and therefore, we stick with what we are, we are cowards...)
And thus the native hue of resolution
(and our resolve is colored...)
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
(by the shadow of our weak minds...)
And enterprises of great pith and moment
(and our hopes to do great things, do the right thing...)
With this regard their currents turn awry,
(drift away...)
And lose the name of action.
(and we fail.)

Hamlet wasn’t suicidal. Neither am I.

He was torn between to world views. Anger and revenge versus love and forgiveness. Standing up to do the right thing would cost, cost him everything, perhaps his life. His pain was so great he would do almost anything to make it stop, and in fighting against all the resources of the king it might kill him, and wouldn’t that be a good thing too? Except... what is death?

There are all sorts of death. It is the natural result of life... at least life as we know it, based on entropy... in consuming the order created by plants and animals, and sucking a little energy from them before turning them into excrement.

Some deaths are easier to take than others, but most are at least a little hard.

A favorite pet, the loss of a good job, the chilling of a friendship.

Some deaths are not so easy.

Willy’s death was so hard I haven’t recovered yet. It will be fifteen years this Saturday since he died in my care.

His death wasn’t a single event. It was a spiked twisting thing which beat within my chest for over a year. It was a shattering of my identity, losing my fatherhood, losing my dreams of teaching him about science and art and literature.

It was a time of stumbling through days, a walking death of grief which made me a zombie to joy and love and beauty.

I did my best. I maintained straight A’s in college, studying art and literature. I dove into Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, and Philip K. Dick. I learned all I could about architecture, the development of art, the basics of color and design.

But it was all ashes in my mouth. Every bit of news about suffering in the world, every milestone of grief, every reminder of his time in my home, stabbed me, bent me, made me ache to fly to that “undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveller returns.”

I contemplated suicide that year.

There was the death of hopes and dreams before that which echoed in his death. When we learned that Brenda could not have children there was the death in losing the promise of a family I had always hoped for.

In adopting my current children those dreams we reborn, and then died slowly as we became aware that they couldn’t fulfill my dreams of teaching them about science and art and literature.

I've some current troubles in my life. This isn't the place to go into them. But they feel like a death as well.

This death feels much like the pain of Willy’s death, except I no longer have the luxury of stumbling through my life. I have children who need me. I have a job which requires I pour the best of myself into my charges.

The sadness I feel has taken root and I need healing, spiritual cleansing, to drive it out.

Death is fearful because it is a door into the unknown, and perhaps because the deaths we know have taught us that it is often painful.

Shakespeare grieved over the death of his child, Hamnet, and his writing was steeped in that grief. That is one reason he touches us still.

But death is also the source of life. The energy mined from the life of plants and animals gives us life. Indeed, aside from the source of energy the sun provides plants, all life sucks at the decomposition death brings.

Likewise, there is a death I experience every time I sin. It is the loss of a tiny portion of my soul, of the goodness, the image of God created in me.

The decomposition of those small deaths I fling at the universe, at God, is absorbed by the cross.

I think the only true life I can glean is from the source of energy the son provides.

I am in a dark place today. I suppose I should seek Sonlight.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Last night I had another strange dream. They are pretty common. From what I understand what is uncommon is my ability to recall them.

We were painting the inside of the house and some of our furniture was outside where it was starting to rain. There was a myna bird in a tree talking up a storm: “I can get you some money.” Then it went into a series of William Shatner imitations.

There was something I needed and I found myself racing along at over sixty MPH on a Segway and I was flying along the bed of a disused railway between old brick warehouses.

I passed Washington Irving’s headless horseman going the other way.

I traveled up and downstairs, through security check points, police stations, across the landscape of an Orange County, California of 40 years ago.


Who knows what it all means? I once dreamt of Caterpillar tractors pulled by rhinoceri racing through mud, while Roseanne Barr stood beside me complaining about tenants in a house she was renting out.

Dreams can be pretty strange stuff. I suppose life itself is pretty strange. Especially if one looks at the quantum level, below the size of sub atomic particles. At that level things are completely random. Things do not need to be one way or another. In fact things don’t seem to be real at all. Effect can precede cause and we can find that the universe seems to be literally sung into existence by the vibrating chords of 12 dimensional strings harmonizing in parts divided by threes.

At that level it seems that the very act of looking at the way things work seems to change what they do. The act of observation constrains the universe to behave in new ways. It is almost as if the effect of a consciousness on the universe manipulates reality.

I have people close to me who wonder at the existence of God. He can seem capricious, even cruel, if one assumes that He is pulling all of the strings (especially the quantum ones).

It can be hard to imagine He exists when the universe we play in does not seem to even let us clearly see Him.

Ah, there’s the rub. The universe we play in is rather limited.

Humans are making great progress in understanding the complete strangeness of the true nature of reality.

If the reality of all things includes eight more dimensions than we can perceive (we are stuck in this reality of three physical and one time dimension), then how can we know what lies beyond the edge of the curtain of reality?

Here is an odd thought: what if we are the dream? What if the reality of being who we are is less real than the one that may lie just beyond the edge of what is real? From that perspective, beings of 12 dimensions might consider us as scribbles on a sheet of paper (since to us the reality of a drawing is less because it lacks just one dimension less than ours.

So... why would He create us at all? Of what value is there in creating beings in His image which are so narrowly defined?

Try to imagine a universe where beings of additional dimensions experience even one more dimension of time? With a second dimension of time such beings would be freed of the inexorable pull of time, dragging us all in the direction off entropy.

There would be no sense of aging... for all time is relative. Billions of years of experience would matter not at all. Even in a reality where all experience is filled with goodness, love, and community, as I believe the presence of the Almighty encompasses, there would be no texture to existence. No rough spots.

Perhaps the purpose for creatures such as ourselves is to form experiences in souls which include selfishness, sin, and the rejection of self, voluntary love.

In other words, might not our souls bring a certain variety and spice to the grand community of beings which inhabit the halls of the one true Holy Court?

One day I will wake up and find that the strangest dream I ever had was the one where I lived a few score years as a human being.