Thursday

God and Art - Artist wants work to touch others



Artist Jocelyn Friss, owner of NewcreatioNZ on Etsy, is inspired by God and by her vivid surroundings in New Zealand, where she has lived for the last 16 years.

A South African by birth, Jocelyn expresses herself through painting and photography. She is highly creative in her photography presentation. Those who visit her shop are treated not only prints, but they can also purchase magnets, stickers, jewelry, cards, paintings and bookmarks.

Here is some of her work:





"In my Etsy shop I am always dreaming up new ways to use my art. One thing I haven't tried yet is printing on fabric so that may be my next experiment!" Jocelyn says. "I am also in the process of setting up a website where my art (and hopefully others' too) will be sold and all profits will go to a good cause. Attached to that will be community projects where the underprivileged will get the opportunity to experience the joys of creating."

Jocelyn also works part time at a school for special needs kids.

Jocelyn has always dabbled in art "and other crafty things", but it was not until her husband and three children moved to New Zealand that she began to take her art and photography more seriously, she says. "Moving to New Zealand and being surrounded by encouraging and positive people was a big factor in extending my creative efforts. Also, marrying my husband! He encourages me to keep doing what I love, even though I don't make much profit!" Jocelyn says.

Here are more of her items:




The artist gives credit to God for her inspiration as well. "Almost 20 years ago, I made the life-changing decision to live my life for God's purposes and to follow him," Jocelyn says. "It was the best decision I ever made. He is the one who inspires me to paint and leads me through each piece. My prayer is that people would be touched through my art."

This is expressed in her logo:

Jocelyn says that she mainly works with acrylic when she paints. "I enjoy the flexibility it gives me and the ability to incorporate mixed media," she says. "Painting is a long process for me. First and foremost, I need to be inspired. Once I have received my inspiration, I mull over it for at least a couple of weeks, until I am ready to put paint to canvas. My photography is a slightly different process, in that I am motivated by the natural beauty I am surrounded by. I take mainly nature shots, with other bits and pieces in between. Looking through the lens I am conscious of the detail and beauty of God's creation. I am encouraged to slow down and take time to appreciate my surroundings. It gives me such joy to be able to share my findings with others.

"I am self-trained, have shown my work in several exhibitions and received a highly commended award for one of my paintings. I have an online shop on Etsy, as well as some paintings displayed at ArtistsPortfolio.net and photographs on Flikr's NewCreatioNZ's Photostream. If anyone would like to keep in touch through my blog Jocelyn Friss' Art or on Facebook at NewCreatioNZ, I would love that."

To other artists, Jocelyn says that the most important thing she has learned is to be herself. "Whatever you do, choose a style that suits you, that you get a buzz out of doing," she says. "Your love of your craft will show through in the finished product, whether you are selling your work or not."

Wednesday

Last words speak of feeling forsaken

One of the last phrases that Jesus spoke in this life was the heart-wrenching cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Both Matthew and Mark emphasized this in their accounts of the crucifixion. In fact, according to Matthew and Mark, this is the only thing that Jesus says while hanging on the cross.

It is enough. From this we get some sense of the agony that Jesus suffered.

Matthew and Mark also emphasize the jeering crowd more than do Luke and John in their gospels. I'm not sure why this is the case, but there is a lesson for me in that.

As I read, it seemed to me that Jesus did not seem very distraught over the jeering. The nastiness of the religious leaders baiting him to come down off the cross didn't seem to faze him. What really bothered Jesus was his seeming abandonment by his Father.

Many have speculated about why God, the Father, would forsake God the Son at this critical moment. I am going to do the same, though the truth is we don't know. Some say that at that moment all of humanity's sin was heaped on Christ and God turned away because he couldn't look at sin. That seems a pretty good guess because Christ is our sacrifice for sin. He was like the scapegoat that the Hebrews used to symbolically heap their sins upon and then sent it into the wilderness.

Could it also be at that moment as Christ's body began caving in to death that his pain was so great that it felt like the ultimate separation? I don't know because I've never been that close to death but this is my guess because I can't imagine God forsaking his son. The gospel writers give no indication why Jesus cried out those words. All we know is that the Son of God suffered so immensely that the feeling that God had forsaken him was very real. Haven't you ever felt that way? I have, but I soon found out that it wasn't true. Maybe Jesus did too? After all, he was fully human as well as fully God while in the body.

My lesson in this was in Jesus' lack of reaction to the jeering of the crowd. How many times do I lose my focus in following God's will when someone says something negative or when I am asked to do something that is equally as good, though not what I wanted to do? Following God's will takes great inner strength that only the Holy Spirit can provide. It also involves death to self - our selfishness and pride.

Jesus emulates this truth in his physical death. He did not listen to the jeers around him because of his utter resolve to follow God's will and because of his dependence on God, the Father. Do I follow Christ in this way? If not, what parts of my will need to die to allow me to fully accept God's will? If I am doing well, how will I keep following God with this same resolve?

The next post should be about forgiveness. If I don't get that written by tomorrow I'll see you for the continuance of Friday's God and Art series.

Tuesday

The last words of Jesus

As Easter approaches, my mind turns toward the passion of Christ - his death and all that led up to his ressurrection. And, as I read the Scripture I can almost feel the tension of the moment. Imagine what it would be like to be hanging from your wrists, supported by your feet; stark naked in writhing agony, unable to breathe. On top of that people are hurling insults at you, tempting you to exercise the power that you alone have - to come down off that cross and call the 10,000 angels at your disposal.

Above the curses and noise, I can almost hear Jesus' cries from the cross. Jesus' cries, like everything else he said during his time on earth, were words full of purpose. None of them were wasted. He said things like:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

“Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”

“I am thirsty.”

“It is finished.”

I want to explore each of these sayings over the next few days as Holy Week approaches starting with the first, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Be back soon.

Thursday

God and Art Series - Artist paints icons as creative outlet


Art is an expression of the soul. It is an expression of what is important to the artist.

Archeologists have discovered that since the earliest times of the Christianity, artwork has been used to honor great people of the faith. Much of this art is depicted in icons, which are, according to the Bing dictionary, "a holy picture, carving, or statue of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, especially an oil painting on a wooden panel ..."

Agnessa is an artist from Sofia, Bulgaria, who loves painting icons. It has been her "most prominent creative outlet throughout the years. And has been for more than 20 years now," she says.

Agnessa's Etsy shop, Icons Art, is full of vividly painted depictions of Christ, the Virgin Mary, Michael the Archangel and other major figures of the Christian faith. Here is some of her work:





As a young child, Agnessa was drawn to fine arts and crafts. "I have always been drawn to fine arts and crafts in general," she says. "My mother was a very talented seamstress and she also used to make all sorts of home decoration items, such as lamp shades, flowers or [she] upcycled furniture in a beautiful way. So I probably got this from her. I started painting at a very young age and even wanted to go to art school but ended up in the 'practical' profession of veterinary medicine instead as my family didn't think relying on arts will be good in the long run. Anyhow, I never stopped [pursuing] my creative endeavors."

"I've worked in various mediums, oil paints, watercolor, acrylic. But I always come back to icon writing and tempera paints," she continues. "Icons have a specific technique that needs to followed if one wants to remain true to the genre. What is interesting about it is that even it might seem a little too dogmatic to some it still gives a lot freedom and no two icons will come out the same. I like working with icons because the process is very calming, it transcends the belief in something good that is out there, even if it's not tangible."

Agnessa is committed to the intangible. She believes that her art is a gift from God and seeks to improve her work. "I am not sure [that my relationship with God] started at some definite point; I guess it has always been there. But according the Christian tradition that point must have been when I was baptized. My art was probably affected in a way that I believe it was a gift that I need to share and it is my duty to try and perfect it every time I start a new painting.

"My goals are simply to try and be better in what I do. I would encourage anyone to try something they are infatuated by and see if it brings them satisfaction. Even if the results are not that great at first, they surely will better with time. Ask questions. Be curious. Through trial and error you will learn so much! I am still learning from other artists and get great inspiration from them. When I was just starting I learned so much from a friend who is also painting icons; it made me want to better my own technique and it was really great that he was able to answer a lot of my questions. So now when someone asks about a certain thing in the process of icon painting I am more than happy to share my knowledge," she says.

Agnessa's hard work has paid off. Not only does she own Icons Art on Etsy, she has also gained international attention. "I have exhibited my icons locally and internationally and have my works collected in many countries. A few galleries in Sofia have some of my icons as well. [The] latest exhibition I had was last year in Rome, Italy. Often people come ask for a custom icon after they have seen it in someone's home and then I would invite them in my home studio so they can pick something they want. I gladly accept custom orders as well! If you want to commission an icon you don't see in my shop or if you prefer smaller or larger size than the ones available, please feel free to contact me!"

You can also find Icons Art on Facebook.

For some history on icons, check out:

Orthodox Icons


Images in the Old Testament

Next week Jocelyn from New CreatioNZ.

Wednesday

No compunction

It's hard to believe that Lent is almost over. This year is just flying by.

So far, Mike and I have not had sweets, chocolate, soda pop and chips. We gone 29 days without junk food. We both feel pretty good too. I have not missed the pop. I have missed chocolate and find it difficult when I see Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs, my favorite Easter candy of all time.

Not eating sweets does not mean that we have not squirreled away in the freezer some Girl Scout cookies and the homemade cookies my mom sent for after Lent . The other day I found that my box of Girl Scout mint cookies had been opened. When I asked who did it, Andrew, who was home from college, gave up his younger brother, Jon, with no compunction. In fact, he snickered at the way Jon reached in the freezer, grabbed the box and unwrapped half of the cookies, saying "Mom and Mike are not having sweets, so I can have these."

Chagrined, I hid our stash somewhere else.

I just thought I'd share a bit about how we were doing in our Lent exercise. I encourage anyone to try it next time. Either give something up or add something to focus on spiritual growth, prayer and other people. I have no regrets.

Lent: Day 29: Thoughts on Humility

As we observe Lent, Mike and I are reading "Lent and Easter: Wisdom by Saint Benedict" by Judith Sutera, OSB. I've said that before, but I wanted to give proper credit. On Day 27 from the Rule of St. Benedict we read:

The first degree of humility, then, is that one always have the fear of God before his/her eyes, shunning all forgetfulness, and be ever mindful of all that God has commanded, that one always consider in the mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God.

At the end of the devotion, the author asked how her readers viewed humility so I asked Mike what he thought. He answered that humble people know who they are and are comfortable with who and what they are.

I thought that was pretty interesting. What does knowing myself and being comfortable with myself have to do with humility? The key is in knowing who I am and what my place is in the world. As the author of the book noted, "The first realization (about humility) is that God is God and we are not."

Realizing this means that I do not try to take on God's role in my dealings with other people. I don't judge them, punish or take vengeance on them, or put myself above them by thinking that I'm better. At least, I try not to. I'm only human, after all. One of my favorite quotes is from John Wesley who, when he saw a drunk in the gutter, said, "If not for the grace of God, there go I." Benedict touches on this when he reminds us that "those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins." We are supposed to remind ourselves of that so that we don't fall into trouble or condemn those who are destined for hell. Unfortunately, I've heard many Christians gloat over the fact that someone with whom they disagree is going to hell. Well, with that attitude what makes them think that they are headed to heaven?

I say that not to judge but to remind us that "If not for the grace of God, there go I."

So, what is my place in the world? I am, as the Westminster Catechism says, to love God and to enjoy him forever. I am to dedicate myself to furthering God's kingdom and bringing as many along as I possibly can. I am to know myself and be comfortable with the person God has made, without accepting sinful behavior or thoughts. I am to ask God and others for help in my weaknesses.

That is humility. What do you think?

Tuesday

The wind blows wherever

On Sunday when my family left for church, my husband rather cheerfully commented on the beauty of the day. And it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing; spring had come. My response, however, was, "I hate the wind."

Along with the advent of spring in the Arkansas Valley, where I live, comes horrific wind. Sunday was one of those days. Sometimes we can get gusts up to 60 miles per hour and more. Since we don't receive much rain, dust fills the air, to the point that it can seriously reduce visibility. You can just imagine what our house looks like after a windstorm if the wind turns in the wrong direction and someone opens a door or window. We could grow potatoes in the dust that gathers on the furniture.

I don't mind wind when it's a gentle breeze. I'm also glad if the wind blows in moisture and transfers seeds, so the wind is useful in some cases. It would be a drag to be out in a sailboat if the wind weren't blowing.

Recently, a former professor of mine from Northwest Nazarene University posted some interesting commentary on his blog, For the Love of Wisdom and the Wisdom of Love , that triggered these thoughts about the wind. In his post, Dr. Oord was describing God as an efficient cause, or expressing the view that God has a certain type of cause and effect on the world. One of the problems, however, is that it is difficult to discern if God is actually causing something. Dr. Oord supported this with scripture from Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3: 8:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

In this passage the word used for wind and Spirit are the same.

With all the wind we've had lately, the analogy became real. When the wind blows where I live we can tell from which direction it is coming, but we do not know its origins. We also do not know when it will end or when or when it will start. It is unpredictable, despite the best efforts of science. Was Jesus saying this about God? I believe he was.

We never know where God's spirit will lead us. I can look back on my life and compare the dreams I had when I was young to what has actually taken place and it is very different. Although some bad things have happened, the scripture from Romans 8:28 rings true: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Looking back on my life I can see where the wind of the Spirit changed my course for my good. God has never let me down, nor have I wanted for anything when I was in communion with him.

When the wind of the Spirit blows upon your life, changing its course, are you more likely to growl and say "I hate the wind," like I did on Sunday morning? Do you resist it? Or, do you welcome the wind for the good it does - bringing moisture, transferring seeds, bringing renewal - or do you rail against it thinking of the mess you will have to clean up once God finishes whatever it is he's doing? Do you resist or welcome change?

It's a good question. Give it some thought.

Thursday

God and Art Series: Artist's work puts her in touch with Creator


Anyone who has spoken to Daphne Seaman long enough soon realizes that she is as vivacious and energetic as her artwork.

Daphne, an artist who works mainly with polymer clay, owns Laurel Tree Studios on Etsy and fashions crosses, jewelry, wall art - even Rock and Roll Record art. While creating her work she feels a connection with her Creator.

"For me," Daphne says in her profile on Etsy, "the act of creating puts me in touch with my Creator God. The use of polymer clay in my art is the most recent means of expression that began with ceramics and fiber arts. I am passionate about 'junk,' scraps, and found objects, too. I love to recycle these into my art. The range of color possibilities in polymer clay and the intricate patterns made with millefiori techniques constantly amaze me. Polymer clay gives a voice to a playfulness in my spirit and captures my delight in life - in color, texture and form."

Here are some of her favorites:






Beauty from Pain

Daphne started her business on Etsy amidst a painful separation from her husband of 33 years.

"I opened my Etsy shop in January 2009, and although this was an exciting adventure, almost immediately I found myself in a very distressing situation: separation after 33 years of marriage!" she says. "My Etsy shop was the last thing on my mind, and I never worked at it. It sat empty for many months. I concentrated on getting my art into galleries and cute boutiques. In January 2012, my son Michael encouraged me to change my focus to work on my Etsy shop. I'm trying! I have a huge following of local fans who love to style my wearable art, and I am hoping that Etsy will become a world-wide stage for Laurel Tree Studio!"

Daphne has three sons, Christopher, 29, Stephen, 26, and Michael, 24. According to her shop banner, all three sons have Etsy shops as well. Here they are:


Early influences

Daphne's fascination with color began at an early age and continued into adulthood. "I think I was always more interested in color and art than playing with dolls or toys. My mom said that as a toddler, she could sit me in the driveway with a box of crayons, and I would color for hours! No cars came to this part of the driveway!" she says. "I was an art major in college. I did pottery for many years, and tried to keep at it while doing my mommy/wifey duties. Three very active boys who loved to be creative kept me busy. I had just discovered polymer clay when my husband and I moved to Belgium, and it was a Godsend because I could not take my potter's wheel or kiln. When I started working with polymer clay and realized how fun it was, I gave up pottery altogether. Like I said, I feel very in touch with my Creator when I am creating. I think creativity is a gift from God and I feel blessed every time new ideas come to me."

She was also influenced as a child by "godly parents" and a "faithful grandmother." Relationships held during childhood still influence her activities today, such as becoming Teaching Director for Community Bible Study, an offshoot of Bible Study Fellowship.

"I grew up in a tiny town--Cowan, Tennessee and was part of an original "gang!" (just kidding) There were a group of girls --seven of us--and the whole town called us the 'seven sisters.' There was hardly anything to do in rural Tennessee except lots of hiking, biking and playing. Out of the seven sisters, there were six different churches represented! Whoever you spent the night with on Saturday night, that's whose church you went to. Looking back on this, I think God knew all along, he would have me teaching a non-denominational Bible study group because I loved all the churches. I felt comfortable and loved in all of them," Daphne says.

Not only does she share about God in the regular Bible studies, Daphne uses her art as a witness as well. "God has always used my creativity and crafts as a witnessing tool, because when people want to talk about clay, I just naturally speak of the source of my creativity, too! You cannot be around me for long without hearing about what God is doing in my life. He is a friend. I give Him lots of credit for inspiration and guidance. I often have lots of scripture in my work. I make a lot of crosses-wearable art, and wall art crosses. I name my art with scripture references. Talking about God is as natural as breathing, and he just leads the conversation. I think I'm a good 'listener' and try to follow his lead!"

Here are some of her crosses:









Laurel Tree Studio also offers flowers, beads, scarf pins and hair pins. Be sure to check it out. Right now, Daphne is offering a 15 percent discount. At checkout just enter GROOVY15%.

Next Friday, I'll feature Agnessa from Icons Art in the God and Art series.

Wednesday

New jewelry at Two of Hue

Guess what, friends. Mary of Two of Hue informed me that her shop is open again. I wrote a post about her Symbol of Life necklace the other day.


Here's some of her new eco jewelry:









Pretty, huh?

To make her jewelry, Mary said that she bought "some miscellaneous lots of pieces and broken jewelry combined with newer findings (jump rings)." From that point she looks at the pieces until she comes up with some ideas. Here's what Mary had to say about the Ben Franklin necklace: "The Ben Franklin coin I bought as well as the chain and coin holder, replaced the older style clasp with a new one. This necklace feels good on, very substantial."

As I said before, Mary also specializes in upcycling everyday objects, like plastic bags and denim, to turn them into something useful and special. Hop on over to Two of Hue and take a look!

Tuesday

Glorious spring ...

It's spring!

Well, not officially, but the daffodils are blooming, the birds are singing and shades of green are beginning to appear on the prairie.

We rode our bikes last night in the first warm weather we've had and it was glorious. You can see some of the places we ride here: http://writingplaces.com/cycling/cycling.html

In honor of spring and the joy it brings, I just wanted to share Psalm 148 with you:

Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,

for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever—
he issued a decree that will never pass away.
Praise the LORD from the earth,

you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and women,
old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,

for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
And he has raised up for his people a horn,
the praise of all his faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to his heart.
Praise the LORD.


Have a happy day!

Monday

Identifying with heritage

When I have a spare moment, I like to troll around Etsy to see what's for sale and to see if anyone likes what I'm doing at Writing Places. I have a lot of fun with it. There are so many talented people and it's neat to see what they're doing.

I especially enjoy looking at items that artists and crafters have fashioned from everday things that we have laying around the house. So naturally when I saw a huge laundry tote crocheted from plastic shopping bags, I had to take a look at the shop. That's when I found Mary at Two of Hue. Mary's shop is on vacation right now, but she says that she is in the process of making some eco-chic jewelry.

This is what I got from her:



Isn't it neat? When I suggested that Mary put another one up on her site, she said she couldn't because this necklace was one of a kind. Mary designs and constructs her jewelry from parts of other upcycled jewelry, so each piece tends to be unique.

Mary calls this necklace Sign of Life. It caught my eye because the fish is the ultimate symbol of life in Christianity. This symbol, called the ichthys, the Greek word for fish, was used by early Christians to identify themselves to other Christians. The letters in Ichthys also form an acronym that means Jesus, Son of God, Savior. Do you see why I call it the ultimate symbol of life?

There is some speculation as to why Christians chose to use a fish as their symbol.

The New World Encyclopedia says that it was in protest of the emperor Domitian, who, like other Roman emperors, called himself a son of god. This would have put Christians in direct conflict with Rome; indeed, many Christians died because they refused to acknowledge the emperor as the son of god.

The encyclopedia also says that the fish could refer to "fishers of men" - what Jesus said his disciples would eventually be. It could also refer to Jesus feeding the thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread.

Early Christians may have borrowed the symbol of the fish from the pagan culture that surrounded them, much like they did with symbols of Christmas and Easter. In other cultures as well as in Christiandom, the fish is a symbol of life.

Whatever the reason, I felt while wearing this necklace, that I was identifying with hundreds of years of tradition. I was pleased to be identified with such brave people in my faith's history. I hope that I can live up to their example.

Wednesday

The thing about enemies

Lately, I've developed an affinity for the Military Channel. It's not that I enjoy war that I like the Military Channel so much. It's because I enjoy history. The channel is rich with historical shows on World War II and other eras, but WWII is my favorite time period to study.

It's my favorite because the time was so complex and difficult, and I am continually amazed by the spirit it took people fighting against what must have seemed almost insurmountable evil to survive.

There were many victims in the war. Last night I watched what I could of the slaughter of Jewish people in Latvia - a country we don't hear much about. By the time the show was halfway through I was quite sad and turned it off. What a senseless waste of lives - lives that God held dear.

In modern times we have this news summary from Crosswalk:

Boko Haram Calls for War to Annihilate Nigerian Christians

The African Islamist terror group Boko Haram announced Sunday a "war" on Nigerian Christians and said it would launch a series of coordinated attacks to annihilate all Christians living in the northern parts of the country, the International Business Times reports. An unnamed Boko Haram spokesman reportedly said, "We will create so much effort to end the Christian presence in our push to have a proper Islamic state that the Christians won't be able to stay." Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a series of increasingly frequent and increasingly violent attacks against churches and individual Christians in Nigeria. The Nigerian government has pledged to crack down on the terrorists, but it "cannot be prepared for what is to come," the Boko Haram spokesman asserted.

Read the news article here

Will the killing never end? What does it take for people to get along?

Jesus must have recognized the inevitable fact that people will always have enemies here on earth. Fortunately, the majority of us in this country - exceptions such as the westward expansion, slavery, and the aftermath of both notwithstanding - have not had to deal with enemies like our brothers and sisters face in other parts of the world. Most of us can admit that there are people that give us a pain between our ears every day. There is the relative you may not like, or the neighbor who harasses you. There might be a co-worker who is jealous of you, or there might be a co-worker of whom you are jealous. At any rate, there will always be people that do not strive for our best interests. We can reasonably consider these people as enemies.

Yet, Christ says to forgive them. All of them. In fact, we're supposed bless them, and pray for those who persecute us. There's no getting around this. Jesus didn't mean something else which was muddied in translation. He meant what he said and said what he meant.

A quick glance through literature from Christian history proves this. The early church fathers and mothers wrote about forgiveness and praying for enemies. Here is an excerpt from an Orthodox prayer that I came across recently:

Lord Jesus Christ, who commanded us to love our enemies and all those who insult and hurt us, and to pray for them and forgive them; you yourself prayed for your enemies, who crucified you. Give us, we pray, a spirit of Christian reconciliation and meekness, so that we may forgive every injury and be reconciled with our enemies. Grant us Christian meekness and true love of our neighbor. Give to our enemies true peace and forgiveness of sins; and do not allow them to leave this life without true faith and sincere conversion. Help us to repay evil with goodness. -- adapted from the Orthodox "Prayer for Enemies"

I also found an exercise in "Lent and Easter: Wisdom from St. Benedict" that was useful. The author encouraged readers to make a list of those they considered enemies. In this exercise, the author challenged readers to go through the names and ask God to bless each one.

Because I have struggled in this area I decided to try it. I didn't write anything down but I decided to pray for anyone I saw with whom I've had a conflict - it was not difficult because I live in a small town and I once worked as a writer for the newspaper. It's a sad fact that expressing a viewpoint contrary to that of the majority, or contrary to that of the 'ruling class' can lead to that kind of thing. Anyway, when I saw someone in that group I just prayed that God would bless them. I left off biting commentary about the Lord helping them to see the error of their ways. And, do you know what? The exercise helped take the edge off. I'm okay with those people now. I still don't like what they do but I know that I can pray for them and let God handle them in a way that he deems best. Handling them is not my business anyway, it's God's.

I wonder what would happen if we Christians actually did these sorts of things routinely? Would it leave us weak? Would we become doormats? I think not. Instead, I believe we would become stronger and able to bear anything with grace and love. There might actually be people who bless God and turn to him because of our love. What do you think?

As for the Nigerian Christians, please pray for them. They are facing a difficult time. Pray also for the Islamists who seek to murder them and drive them from their homes. Pray for the strength of the Nigerian government as they try to protect their people. While you're at it, thank God that we do not face this type of persecution in America. Ask God to keep America strong so that we can continue to help others.

Have a great day.

Tuesday

Lent Day 13: Christ in everything

I like this prayer by St. Patrick:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ on the deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

-- from the prayer of St. Patrick


You can read about St. Patrick here.

I bring you this prayer not to talk about St. Patrick, although his life was very interesting. I bring it to you to talk about something that is on my heart regarding Christ being the most important thing in our lives, so much so that he rubs off onto everything we do. While fasting for Lent, I have learned about my dependence on physical things like sweets and have tried to replace them with a dependence on Christ. It sounds kind of silly to pray when I crave sweets, but it does help move me through those few moments and it helps someone else while I'm doing it because I try to pray for others.

Mike and I saw a real example of living in Christ when we visited the Benet Hill Monastery. Most of the nuns ... the sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict ... live together in the monastery, though some live in the Colorado Springs area where they conduct their ministries. They are not a cloistered house, and have not worn the traditional habit since Vatican II. They live by the Rule of Benedict, which is centered on the application of Scripture to life, and particularly on life in community with others. The sisters work for the common good, helping each other, and working so that the monastery is self-sustaining. Everything they did was for the common good, such as complying with Benedict's rules on promptness, subordination to the authority of the prioress, making decisions a community process. They craft, do needlework and make breads and jellies and sell them in the bookstore so that the community can support itself. They also run an extended health care community, a library, and provide classes in spiritual direction. They host retreats and provide meeting places for an eclectic representation of most, if not all, of the faiths, Christian and non-Christian, in the area. In the past they have been teachers, but since the closing of the school some years ago, they've had to change what they do in order to keep their ministry vital.

The most meaningful time to me, during our weekend stay, was at Vespers, or evening prayers. During this time, the sisters sang, or chanted, the Psalms and other scriptures responsively. Everything was in English so I could understand and they let Mike and I join along. They also helped us find what pages we needed to turn to and told us how everything worked. As we prayed, it was a beautiful time of praising God with the word and I could feel the Holy Spirit there among us.

We also joined the sisters for lunch and had a very nice time talking with a few of them. I also noticed that the first two sisters who sat at our table sat right next to us on either side rather than across from us as is common for most people.

Even though we visited the monastery about a month ago, I have not written much on it. It has taken a while to digest everything. The sisters "rubbed off on me" in more ways that I imagined; the trip affected me deeply. If you want to see some pictures from our visit look at our photo gallery on WritingPlaces.com. As you can see from the pictures, it snowed and although the snow buried the labyrinth and the Stations of the Cross walk, we were still fed by the Spirit. There was just something about the quietness and solitude of that place that filled my soul with peace.

One of the gifts that St. Benedict encouraged in his rule was hospitality. He said that "all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ." As far as we're concerned, the sisters fulfill this mission. We left Benet Hill Monastery with changed hearts and we would like to return sometime.

Thursday

Lent: Day 9: The Cupcake Wars

Good day, everyone.

Well, Lent has been an interesting time so far. You remember at the beginning my husband and I agreed to give up junk food - chocolate, cake, cookies, soda, chips, etc. This is the first time I've done anything like this so I thought I'd share my journey a bit. Does anyone out there have a Lent story they'd like to share in the comment section?

I think the greatest challenge so far during this season has been the grocery store. We Americans sure have it good, you know? Seems like every time I turn the corner in the store junk food is staring me down. Calling. Yesterday, Mike and I went to Walmart after work to pick up some bread and veggies for spaghetti sauce. I told him that I would get the bread, not thinking that the bread was in the bakery section. Oh my! What treasures met my eyes. I had to keep looking away from the beautifully decorated cupcakes, the chocolate chip cookies and, oh - how cute! - shamrock sugar cookies. It was almost too much, especially when I saw that there were cake samples.

And then an action from the book we're reading, Lent and Easter: Wisdom from Saint Benedict came to mind.

It said: "(Saint Benedict's Rule) recognizes that a healthy human being does not give into every desire for pleasure. Consider denying yourself some little pleasures throughout this season ... Take note of these things that you would like to do or have but can do without and, as you pass them by, say a prayer for the greater awareness of God, and God's suffering children, at that moment."

So, I prayed, as I passed the cupcakes by that God would be with all those kids who didn't have food to eat. Suddenly, my desire for sweets was not that important.

This morning, Mike and I were talking about Lent and he mentioned that we had it pretty easy if we were "suffering" from giving up junk food and I agreed. However, sacrificing for Lent means more than that. It's also a time to bring yourself under God's control and a time to practice a little self-control. We really do this for our spiritual welfare, not to lose pounds or make ourselves miserable. It gives us a chance to concentrate on better things.

Therefore, joy is completely possible without chocolate.

Did I just say that??

Last week Mike joked about giving up coffee during Lent next year. Hmmm ... that's something I'll really have to think about.