Looking for Hope in the Heavens

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Dreadful news has been the theme this autumn 2017. We are saturated each week with accounts of some new disaster. It is depressing to even list them. One of my twelve year old students told me that the world must be coming to an end. What a horrible thing for a child to try and grasp. And even for us adults, we wonder, how could these events ever be about something good, something transformative, something that engenders hope.

 So, as I look optimistically in all of this darkness, I am recalling my thoughts on the amazing solar eclipse that we experienced just weeks ago. With our eyes to the sky, millions watched as the magic took us--as a nation, into its mystery--- looking for far more than a solar eclipse. I wonder if we are desperate to have an encounter with the divine, the author of hope, to find the place where science and spirituality meet. And that is the challenge today to live with hope, rather than despair.

It was a ninety degree day here in Cincinnati as we experienced our 2017 solar eclipse. Some schools closed so that children throughout the United States could view it safely with their parents. Others traveled hundreds of miles to witness the “total” eclipse, waited in long lines of traffic, purchased safety glasses and even wore welder’s masks. I witnessed the event at a public library where I could borrow cardboard glasses with safety lenses. A quick glimpse of a black dot was enough for me. We did not experience a dramatic black out at the library. But I loved the sharing of glasses, the friendly banter, the sense of community, the diversity of neighbors who never met one another before gathering for this unusual event.

What was happening outside in my garden, I wondered as I drove home. From the white rocking chair on the north side of the house, I could view what was truly fascinating to me, a mystical quality to the light.

The vibrant crescent of sun, mostly hidden by the moon, spilled out like the gold in Gustav Klimt’s paintings. It glimmered as if it were light on water. The garden, lit up from within while a cool protective veil sat over the top of it, became stained glass. The scene beckoned inner reflection and awe, as if someone was stepping from the outdoors into the coolness of an ancient church. The birds were still singing, the crickets still chirping, the butterflies were flitting from from flower to flower, seemingly unaffected. Excited neighbors were outdoors with their dark glasses. “Do you want to see this?” I could hear someone say. An airplane flew over ahead. But the magical quality of air and light were simply stunning. The garden had become art. The shade was darker. The light was brighter, and I discovered this phenomenon called “shadow bands”. It was also strangely dark in my own house, while oddly lit outside.

As light and dark melded, this metaphor seemed so lovely. The masculine sun energy was softened by the moon’s maternal silky shadows. She has no light of her own, but is reliant upon the sun's light to reflect or mirror her image. Where the sun boldly shines, the moon’s light is subtle, offers clarity and reflection. This lovely feminine moon, draped in a veil was meeting her husband, the sun, as folklore and ancient tradition implies. Perhaps the new way to live in 2017: the marriage of light and darkness, the feminine and masculine, the questions that seem to have no easy answers. The falling temperatures almost made the air smell sweet and light, as if it has been newly bathed. It is somehow sensual, even sexual. A long kiss, an embrace, a magical moment that won’t come again for another 350 years. It seemed to beg these questions. Can darkness live in peace with light?  Can our own inner shadows meld with the Light within each of us? Does this wondrous event carry a message of hope?

Keep your eyes on the sky, and your inward eyes open too, as our symbolically feminine moon offers a rare October Harvest Moon (they usually occur in September). This moon only has appeared and will appear 18 times between 1970 and 2050, and it happens this evening! In North America, a Harvest Moon (a yearly event) refers to the first full moon nearest the autumnal equinox which was September 22. The moon rises a little earlier than usual-- more light for farmers to harvest. And the moon will rise nearer to sunset and appear full for several days in a row -- making it seem as if there is more than one full moon. Perhaps that is exactly what we need right now.

"The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished."
~Ming-Dao Deng

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A Fresh Start

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After a bit of a break, I am back to writing and encouraging creative projects to grow. I have been on an interior journey of my own personal garden these last few years. Illness and age draw you along deeper paths that demand exploration and attention. They also help you see how valuable the precious moment is and which dreams require energy and devotion.

A college memory helps to rekindle my present and future work. In my early twenties, I was taking a painting class at Wittenberg University, and even considering becoming an art teacher. A group of us were asked to describe our favorite artist and why we were drawn to them.  Artists such as Rembrandt, Manet, Monet, Picasso were mentioned. When it was my turn, I proudly announced “Grandma Moses”, Anna Mary Robertson Moses (1860-1961). The class and the professor burst out laughing. I recall, while smirking, the professor asking why in the world would I say something like that? I stated a simplified version of the following.

Grandma Moses raised her family in the beauty of the natural world in Virginia and New York, near the Vermont border.  When she finished that most important work, she went on to teach us about her life by remembering all of those years through her paintings. She did not need the approval of anyone, nor did she require a formal art education. She felt led to memorialize her times, her days with a paintbrush. She captured stories, not just of the landscape, but all of the people she knew at work on the farm. Everyday folks found them charming and beautiful.

Anna was encouraged to be creative as a child, drawing on large sheets of paper her father provided. She made paints from natural items, and when she ran out of wallpaper in a room--- finished it with her own mural. She turned to painting when it became too painful to do embroidery work with her hands. Anna tried unsuccessfully to sell her paintings in a nearby drugstore. They seemed to just collect dust. She was later discovered by an art dealer when she was 78 years old and continued to paint after she turned 100 years old--- more than 1,500 canvasses.

Years later, I would visit the Bennington Museum in Vermont that houses the largest public collection of Grandma Moses’ works. I could feel her love of landscape, of seasons, of weather and light. She understood how creativity and community were essential to a good life. She knew hard work as the wife of a farmer, of the loss of five out of ten of her children either stillborn or in infancy. Yet, a real optimism shone forth from her paintings, as if she understood how to take the bitter with sweet and make something good from it.

Without knowing these details, I had loved her work as a college student. She was an ordinary hard working woman who told stories through the artistic endeavors that were available to her. That seemed so laudable, so worth celebrating, so important to honor in all of us.

Illness can cause depression and hopelessness, and yet somehow engender new life. We look to others to stir life within us. I recalled a conversation with a sort of psychic healer I had when I was in my thirties. A single Mother, I was feeling lost, adrift and unclear about the next step. The elderly woman I came to vist lived in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She attended mass every morning and took communion. “When you go the rail to take the bread and wine, stay there and take a few deep breaths”, she began. “The energy there is healing, and will benefit you.”  She read my palm, among other sorts of tasks that gave her clues into my life. “You will live a long life, working into old age, doing what you love to do.” She smiled warmly at me.

I’d never visited such a woman before, and might be the first to negate the advice of such a person. However, her words have stayed with me even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on any longer. I go to the communion rail, and take my three deep breaths just as she advised, and now I find hope in what she “read’ on my own hand.

I think of my 22 year old self choosing Grandma Moses as a sort of hero, a kind of person to emulate. She loved her farm, I love my garden. She used a paintbrush, I use words. So I hope you will join me once again as I hope to bring new life to my own creative endeavors: a book to be published, and a CD to be recorded. Here is a taste of those two projects. Our own Cincinnati Art Museum is highlighting an exhibition of folk art through September 2, 2017. For more information: http://www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org/art/exhibitions/a-shared-legacy/