Archive for the 'Church' Category

15
May
13

re-drawing sacred circles

Drawing Sacred Circles transformed: the story in three parts:

Part I • The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century rejected religious imagery as being idolatrous—the baby was thrown out with the bath water. Five hundred years later, the baby struggles to make a come back, crawling inch by inch over ideologically traditional terrain looking for water in which to bathe away years of neglect.

Part II • Despite attractive altar flowers and holy season decor, much of what greeted me when I returned to the church after being gone nearly 30 years, seemed trite, contrived and lacking in a sense of spiritual mystery. I was unmoved and wanted to see visual art taking its place as a significant element of worship equal to music. Although there was some movement afoot in this area, centuries of visual deprivation seems to have left a gap in terms of spiritual nurturance.

Part III • I began introducing liturgically oriented art forms into the church I was attending. My efforts were not an immediate home run. Sadly, thanks to the esoteric quality of modern and contemporary art, many people distrust their own visual sensitivity. (The world is turning so fast…we see without knowing and know without seeing.)

In 2010, I started Drawing Sacred Circles, a blog where I could present visual art as a creative process inherent in human beings—circular and sacred—whether designed for church/synagogue/mosque worship, gallery viewing or personal enjoyment. I sought to give form to this view by keeping two separate, yet parallel archives—liturgical art under the heading, Worship Circles and personal art under the heading, Meditation Circles.

Having spent considerable time presenting art in this manner, it’s time for these categories to meld into an inclusive celebration of life expressed through any and every art form, at any and all levels of accomplishment, whether professional or amateur.

“The practice of art isn’t to make a living. It’s to make your soul grow.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Man Without a Country

I like the sound of that…it’s all about soul and spirit. We engage in the arts because something within wants to reach higher and go deeper  all the days of our lives. This kind of growing is at the spiritual core of doctrine, creed and liturgy. When the creative thing we do reaches another soul, a connective circle is made. Connective circles complete and make sacred, the artful process. How and why we do this soul-growing thing through the arts is the nexus and raison d’etre of Drawing Sacred Circles...take a look…subscribe.

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31
Jan
13

deep memory days

Have you ever had times when you feel a life-time of painful memories sweeping down around you, enveloping you, not letting you go; memories that spread their awesome distortions on the today of where you are but cannot claim being there? These are the memories of things wrongfully done either to you or by you, that have woven their woeful song deeply into your name. You may feel it somewhere around your heart, but it’s not about your heart; it’s physical as well as emotional, but not organic. It’s about feeling trapped in the old songs with their voices—loud in the head—fueled by something in the present—words or deeds that layer themselves upon each other until the deepest pain is reached and you are just a mass of deep purple hurt. Sometimes it happens fast and you’re down for the count. Other times distinction between today and all the yesterdays melts slowly downward like an ice cream cone…all over your hands. These are times that I struggle to stay oriented and call upon God as the Ground of My Being for help. They are also times when, as an aging person, I feel tired of the effort and just want it all to be over. (Don’t worry, I’m okay.)

This can be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder…what is now referred to as PTSD. It is that for me. The inclusion/exclusion experiences of the past several years since returning to church, have attached themselves to a number of earlier church experiences of abuse, as well as early personal experiences of betrayal. I am sensitized to this in many colorful ways. Now, thanks to thousands of veterans, survivors of military malevolence, we have an explanation for what happens to people when they can no longer tolerate painful memories that tend (like flash-fires), to blossom disproportionately without consent. For some of us with much simpler forms of this human condition, compassion and consideration is a good bit of first aid. I would like some of that please. And for dessert, I would like affirmation. One never outgrows the good affirmation can bring. It’s like yeast: makes the spirit rise and the soul feel loved. This quote from Gladys Bronwyn Stern is a favorite of mine: “Silent gratitude isn’t  much use to anyone.”  Ah…so very true for me.

I am cycling out of this gloom that I’ve been in this morning. It’s a given…I always do…eventually. But I never stop wondering why it has to be this way…so complicated and dense? Maybe it’s because we are always the same age inside? Human nature, I guess…we are all a little bit dumb and careless with each other. Me included.

I need to dance.

I feel better already. I hope I didn’t bring you down… 🙂

13
Jun
12

art then / art now

I need to reorganize the house I’ve been living in for the past four years!

In 2008, we moved from a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright house to a small, unassuming, 1960s tri-level with joyous expectations of becoming part of a particular church community in the neighborhood. Shortly after moving the housing market fell, leaving our FLW house without a great many qualified buyers. At the same time, we entered into what became a long, painfully drawn out series of backwards and forwards efforts to become part of this church. Toward the end of that first year my sister died and I was heartbroken. Then partway into the second year our dear friend Bettina discovered her cancer was on the rise and she moved in with us. We were a chosen family of three working for inclusivity until the end of May, when the church body proclaimed that it could not, would not make the leap to inclusiveness. We were stuck with two mortgages, taxes, and much deep bruising around the heart and brain. By January of 2010, when it was clear that her cancer was unstoppable, we turned our home into a hospice dwelling encompassing all of us. Then, when she died on March 6, 2010, my world fell apart for a very long time.

We lived here in this little house for four years with shattered dreams and could not make it a home. Now we are on the brink of finally selling our FLW house, albeit at an enormously reduced price. It is time to move into this unassuming tri-level and make room for the next chapter of our lives. Making room means re-organizing and that requires cleaning out and thinning down my files…all those things I’ve carried around thinking that they will be needed at some future time. As I am in my seventh decade and climbing, I think the future is now.

The process of reducing files requires opening and looking through them. I could only manage four drawers without mental/emotional exhaustion overtaking me as I walked back into my life, folder after folder, making decisions that sometimes brought unwanted memories to the surface. In one of those folders I found correspondence with a friend from the past—an artist from Armenia whom I’d met a decade earlier when Judy and I were visiting friends on the east coast. It was a period of my life when I was doing a lot of genealogy in an effort to understand my heritage as a building block for knowing myself. This period culminated in an exhibition I produced involving nine Armenian/American artists.

Inheritance: art and images beyond a silenced genocide. (The electronic version is hosted by the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota.)

Curious about this old friend and somewhat lonely for people of my own ethnic temperament, I looked him up online and found he was here in this country, with a partner of six years and still a practicing artist. I sent out a Facebook friend request, Twittered and emailed him at the art center address where he teaches ceramics. About a week later I received an email from him that made me happy; he is a person like myself in so many ways, and one of the few remaining links to my own heritage. When he asked so plaintively why I got out of the art world, I had to give a brief history of the past decade since I’d last spoken with him. Haven’t had a response to this yet…must be busy…

His question brings me front and center, having been asked by others from time to time: Why did you get out of the art world…why would you? Revulsion is one answer. Cancer’s clearer vision is another. I am a professional artist gone AWOL. There is an article in the New York Times—How the Art Market Thrives on Inequality—that simply renews my sense of revulsion. I recommend reading this for all art lovers. It’s educational.

I will always be an artist. That is my temperament and training and it filters into everything I do. Some have questioned why I pour so much of that artfulness into the church I attend when they see so little reason for doing so. My answer is: Why not? The Church having separated itself—to its own detriment—from visual art at the time of the Reformation, is in desperate need of beauty for soul’s nourishment. I can do it and it gives me pleasure rather than pain. When I hear that someone’s experience of the sacred has been enhanced by a bit of beauty I’ve had a hand in providing, I am blessed, because I’m acting in accordance with having been Called by Name back in those gloomy days of cancer treatment and recovery. Clearer vision, that’s the reason.

Art created for one’s own pleasure is personal and edifying, but in a broader, societal sense, it is one hand clapping. Art created out of one’s own spirit and shared freely with others is two hands clapping—communication, pleasure and edification all around. As many of my friends and acquaintances know, I’m big on movement, hands, feet, whatever. Clapping counts.

Now I go to my weekly dance class where I can be art as well as make it…where I can be beauty as well as behold it.

This is the street where I live now…

27
Feb
12

Mondays not Sundays

In the 1970s I was a member of an intentional Christian community north of Chicago. It was a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences in those days. Living in Community was a total immersion experience with shared purse and decision-making. The positives could reach beyond imagining and the negatives could inflict deep wounds that only confession and forgiveness and the passage of time could heal.

I met my life partner there. We left together at the end of a very dark time, re-entering a world that had changed in a myriad of ways. Time passed…30 years to be precise…with the best aspects of community living ingrained within us. Although we prospered in many ways, we could not even remotely re-assemble the best of those times. These were years of growing and learning the ways of the world. We did well.

In 2006 our world fell to pieces when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgekin lymphoma. I survived the attack of the cancer beast, fell in love with God again, and a year later found myself  returning to the church, which was and still is, in change-process. Change within the church, or any large organization for that matter, is slow and tedious with its own litany of hits, runs and errors. It has been both a painful and an enlightening experience, as many of my previous postings can clearly show. Writing this, remembering the events of the past half decade, I feel battle-scarred and tired. I am an artist, a seeker and a visionary. Moving forward within the church structure is a slow and burdensome process. I do not naturally travel slowly. Sometimes I wonder why I am still here…in church…any church at all for that matter? Good question.

Yesterday was another Sunday survived. Today is Monday, the day of healing—the day I get to dance in a spaciously beautiful room—with beautiful Jane, who is my teacher and friend. We come together in this place, with its strips of colored sunlight streaking across the old wood floor,  and a ceiling that dwarfs us by its height. We come with our body spirits as is—a come as you are party of two. Through the various InterPlay forms, and her years of expertise and training, we shake it out, sing it out, shout it out and dance it out. We dance for ourselves, for each other, and with each other in familiar forms. We even create new ones. We are clay on the potter’s wheel, laundry on the line, birds unfolding, flags unfurling. We are movement in time and place—each of us doing our best, reaching for our personal sense of wholeness within and without. And when we achieve it…when it happens…we are altogether amazed and elated. We are uplifted—a Lazarus moment in time that requires a bit of exclamation and a roll or two on the floor!

And that is why I find myself so looking forward to Mondays with Jane, when my body-spirit regains its equilibrium and I am One with all of Creation.

30
Aug
11

streams in the desert

On August 21, 2011…33 years, 10 months and 47 days from when we first met…Judy and I were legally wed in the presence of our congregation, friends and family…in the little church at the edge of the city. We are pretty sure this marriage will last…

Last spring, knowing that civil unions would become law in our state on June 1, our little church voted unanimously to support and officiate at same gender weddings and unions. Despite denominational hedging, this decision was a natural progression for us—a long-standing, open and affirming church body. Nevertheless, Judy and I, along with several others, were catapulted into a level of happiness we hadn’t known was missing. Initially we were only planning on applying for legal status, but upon learning that the license required a ceremony for completion, we knew a church setting was what we wanted. (See previous posting, getting from here to there for an account of this.) We began talking with our pastor. Slowly, ideas dreamed themselves into plans and the plans shaped themselves into a celebration of life, bigger than anything we’d known previously.  We walked, talked, skipped, ran, stumbled and sometimes flew through the weeks leading up to the ceremony and day of celebration.

The ceremony, lovingly performed by our pastor, Graceful Spirit, was woven seamlessly into the morning worship hour. It was an incredible time…a very thin space indeed…full of music, dance, *spoken word, prayer, Communion and friends…lots of friends from near and far. It was a celebration for everyone, but especially for our congregation, without whose vision and courage, it could not have happened. We welcomed them into our lives in a way that is different and distinct from baptism or church membership. We are asked if we feel different now. Yes, we do! We are accepted and acceptable, no longer just individually, but together, as the journeying twosome we have always been. Affirmation, Acceptance, Appreciation. These are the A’s that all of us need to live healthy and productive lives as members of the human family.

The promises God made to us way back at the beginning have been kept…streams did indeed flow in the desert…we are thankful. With the blessing of visionary and courageous leadership, we are moving forward. Praise God!

*You can read the pastor, Megan Ramer’s Homily and the antiphonal Reading from the ceremony on the church website – Chicago Community Mennonite Church • Recent Sermons: Homily (21 August 2011).

  Naomi is smiling. Judy was in shock, but she got over it. And now we are living happily ever after.  🙂

05
Jul
11

getting from here to there

Late Thursday evening, June 30th, I took a closer look at the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Illinois Civil Union law. Yes, yes, yes, I thought as I read quickly through, I know all this. Then saw what I should have seen before: …the civil union license and civil union ceremony must take place within the same county. Whoa! That makes a big difference. Judy and I were all set to head out to our county seat first thing the next morning. We would have procured the license and then found that it would not have been valid at our little church at the edge of the city.  Woe would have been us, to be sure. Thanksgiving to God for saving our behinds once again, then a quick online check for the nearest appropriate county office, along with Mapquest directions.

Early the next morning, my sister agrees to come along for the fun of it and we all set off for an auspicious day—one we think will mark the beginning of the end of marginalization and ignominy. It was all sort of romantic in a way, despite our 34 years together. We were ready. Excitedly, we parked the car and entered what we found to be a queue inching its way toward the approving/disapproving swash of the detection wand, judiciously held by a uniformed man.

Once through, we searched, found what we thought was the proper office and presented ourselves. Two attendants look at us quizzically and ask us if we were looking for a divorce. “No, we’re looking to apply for a civil union license,” we blurt out.

“Oh. We do divorces here. You have to go across the way to that other building. Call this number. They will tell you.”

We called the number, got directions, trudged over to the proper building, walked through the door, and found ourselves staring at a darkened office with a sign on the door informing us that the office was closed for the day due to mandated furlough policies.

This was disappointing to say the least. First thought of the marginalized—bad omens—was quickly buried in a unanimous decision to go forward for the fun parts of the day that had been planned as celebration. So we did and my world did not come to an end.

Bright and early today, July 5th, we made our second trip to the county building. Success. I was nervous with accustomed expectation of veiled judgment from the people behind the counter, which I would have to stuff somewhere, as I have for so many years. There was no judgment—veiled or otherwise. Relief was palpable for me and my witty, comedic twin came pouring out with abandon. (She doesn’t get much of an opportunity, so I couldn’t get her back inside very easily. She thanks me for the opportunity to have made this rare appearance and wishes you were there to appreciate her.)

Judy and I have signed our names to a document that will make us part of an historic movement. That, in itself, is exciting. After surviving cancer and the loss of many loved ones, I wanted my life to be meaningful. I wanted to make a difference…and so I am. Thank you all for walking this journey with me for the past several years. I am excited to see what lies ahead, especially our ceremony happening right in our church…in the presence and loving acceptance of our congregation. This is enormously important and supersedes the private commitment ceremony we had in 1995. This time it’s public and legal…and believe me…it makes a difference. I had no idea what a difference it would make. Something like coming in from the cold…into the warm of acceptable and included…being part of the human face of life.

18
Jun
11

bridging boundaries

The weeks following my last entry, The Color of Hope, have left me wondering what on earth I had left to say. This blog began in the fall of 2009, as a forum for sharing my experiences since returning to the church after a serious bout of lymphoma, the joys and sorrows that return yielded, and the learning curve that has been the composite result.

I gave this blog the title, Called by Name, because that was the passage given to me toward the end of my cancer regimen. Since I changed my first name to Naomi at my Mennonite baptism in 1975, the notion of having been called by name—through cancer and to life beyond—has often been an affirming and sustaining force. Nevertheless, my partner, Judy and I, were unprepared for the painful ordeal the ultimate denial of church membership would be. We had answered the congregation’s and the pastor’s invitation to come follow Jesus with them. That decision proved to be a considerable leap of faith on our part which was not met by the congregation. During the time we were there, I lost my sister to cancer; was receiving periodic maintenance treatment for my own cancer; and my adopted daughter, Bettina, entered her third round of chemo therapy. It was an excruciatingly  difficult and painful period, wherein I became more familiar with the Job story than I’d ever thought possible. We had returned as prodigals, but it was Job and the scapegoat (Leviticus 16) we experienced in that congregation. In a wildly out of control, congregational meeting on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009, we were categorically denied membership and walked out of the meeting with hearts torn to shreds and legs turned to stilts. One family left with us, easing the humiliation that filled us like flames dancing in a campfire.

Two weeks later, we arrived at the Little Church at the Edge of the City, bruised and battered. We were welcomed into the new congregation, but the situation was challenging to them as well as to us…particularly with the death of Bettina just 9 months later. Many personal difficulties ensued, but we all pressed on as best we could. Fits and starts would be one way of describing those two years—June, 2009 to June, 2011—a roller-coaster of deep despair, longing, grief, and loneliness would be another. Despite having been easily accepted into membership, and the efforts of the Little Church to help us, the experience of exclusion and loss had become embedded like a seed planted in my heart. Little by little, anguish nourished the seed into action, and I became an advocate for the peace and justice inclusion of all persons into the Mennonite Church—one of the world’s oldest peace churches! I spoke out declaratively…but without Bettina’s support and enthusiasm, the road often felt lonely and sometimes a bit scary. Except for a few friends, I just did not feel woven into the warp and woof of congregational life.

Then, just a month short of the two-year anniversary of that miasmic denial of membership, this congregation surprised us by voting unanimously to celebrate and officiate at lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) weddings and civil unions! My personal world took a decidedly positive turn and healing seemed miraculously instantaneous. Suddenly I was not a single voice speaking for inclusion and civil justice. There was a chorus behind me and with me. That was the color of hope…a rainbow of hope.

Marbling throughout the agonizing times, have also been blessings. I do not deny this at all, but the way has been hard…faith-building some will say, and in hind-sight I can agree, but the process itself left me feeling alone and lonely in a crowd much of the time.

In a few weeks Judy and I will apply for a civil union license and on August 21, we, and this brave little church on the edge of the city will come together in a civil union ceremony. Hard to believe, but true! After nearly 34 years together, Judy and I will be entitled many of the legal rights and privileges heretofore denied us. What I will enjoy the most is Judy’s relationship to me changing on the medical documents I sign each time I visit oncology: from neighbor/friend to Civil Union Partner.

Yeah, for the Little Church and yeah for the lovely pastor who feareth not what might befall.




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