“I wonder as I wander out under the sky, How Jesus the Savior did come for to die. For poor on'ry people like you and like I... I wonder as I wander out under the sky. When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall, With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all. But high from God's heaven a star's light did fall, And the promise of ages it then did recall. If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing, A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing, Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing, He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King.”
Have you ever looked out at a starry winter sky and let your mind wonder? Wonder about the mysteries of the universe? Wonder about the God who made it all? Wonder about how that same God would love us so much as to come to us, meek and humble, and save us? That’s what memories and emotions this appalachian carol conjures in me.
Advent is a time of waiting, hope and wonder. It’s a preparation time before Christmas, like Lent is to Easter. A couple of years ago our church had an Advent series based on “I Wonder As I Wander.” This painting was the illustration for it. It shows a traveler gazing at the night sky in wonder at the “Christ Star.” The sky is also filled with other wonders. There are also 4 purple satellites orbiting the star. They represent the candles of Advent, making the sky a kind of cosmic Advent wreath.
A thought from Frederick Buechner has stuck with me this season. He talks about the manger, where The Word became flesh, is really the world. To God, coming to this world is just as much a sacrifice as being born in a manger of straw. I wonder if our creator and savior in some way becomes incarnate in our world still. For “God is with us” when we love each other in humility and comfort each other, wrestling and struggling with the dark and ugly parts of our lives. Like the traveler in the song, such mysteries makes my mind wonder.
In these days leading up to Christmas, I hope you take some time to pause from all of your wandering, gaze at the night sky and let your mind and wonder. There is so much to this existence we don't understand. There are still miracles out there be experienced. There are still marvels of God’s grace to bee witnessed. We but need to look and wonder.
You can listen to a performance of “I Wonder As I Wander” at this link. It is played on a hammer dulcimer. I think it is the best way to hear it. It reminds me of the song’s appalachian roots. It also has a haunting quality that I think best captures the mystique of the song. Again, you may want to close your eyes and let your mind wonder as you listen. That is how the image of this painting came to me.
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
– Luke 1:46-55
When the expecting Mary visits her older cousin, Elizabeth, she realizes the validation of God’s promise to bring the Messiah to the world. She sings a song full of praise, prophecy and hope. It is known today as “The Magnificat.” One of my favorite musical interpretations of this song is “Holy is His Name,” by John Michael Talbot. This portrait expresses the emotions I feel when I hear that song. Many Christians sing or recite these words for morning or evening prayers. We would all benefit if we remind ourselves that God keeps His promises. We should live our days and nights in humility, service, adoration and expectation.
If you would like to hear the song that I referenced, click the linked text in this post. You may want to listen with you eyes closed as the images can be a bit distracting. Enjoy.
The liturgical season of Advent us again upon us. It is a time of waiting and anticipation for Christmas. During this time, we remember the promises of old and stories about our Messiah, and in so doing, we wait for Christ’s return. Our pastor has a tradition of focusing all of the weeks of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany into a certain theme. For the past four years, I have had the honor of designing art for each theme. This year’s theme is “Songs of Peace.” As our congregation journeys through Advent this year, we will be also be celebrating with psalms. It will be interesting to combine the traditional songs of this season with the ancient cries of hope and longing from the psalms.
This year’s art brings the wonder of Advent in communion with the wisdom of the psalms in the image of a shepherd. The pastoral scene is of a young shepherd with his or her flock. The shepherd sings songs of God and dances to the dawn of a new day. It is a scene full of HOPE, JOY, PEACE and LOVE. The spring colors of this painting contrast what we are used to seeing this time of year. They reflect the contrast of the Advent season. Although our days darken towards winter, the Church grows brighter towards the Advent of the Light of the World. In this painting, you may see mountains echoing joyous strains of “Gloria.” You may see green pastures to restore the soul. The Songs of Peace span the testaments of scripture. They have been sung centuries. They remind us that our hope in God’s promise should not lose its resolve.
This Advent season, may you sing the ancient Songs of Peace, and dance in the dawn of Emmanuel.
And now we come to the climax of Jesus’ parabolic trilogy on grace. After the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, Jesus tells us the parable of a Prodigal Son who runs off and squanders his early inheritance on his own pleasures only to come back home begging for food and shelter. Rather than being angry with the son, the father runs out to meet him and welcomes him home with a great feast. The gem in the story is more about the father than the son. He is just as wasteful, or “prodigal,” with his grace and love as the son is with money. How much more has our Heavenly Father continued to pour grace upon our lives, time and time again?
This painting depicts the father rushing to embrace his returning son. It shows a clash of two realities. The left side of the painting, the side of the son, is dusty and dead. The right side, from where the father comes, is full of light and life. The father’s love overwhelms the brokenness of the son. The pitiful, weeping, son collapses into the embrace of his father who is wrapping him up to protect, comfort, and sustain. The sweeping robe does more than illustrate movement. They are also abstract symbols of fire and water. For it is in the baptism of water and spirit that we know we belong to God. We are loved, forgiven and renewed by God’s Grace. This painting especially depicts the emotions of the father. He is painted older, to accentuate wisdom. While his left hand sweeps strongly, his right hand gently comforts. In his face, you can see the parental mix of emotions. A smile of happiness tempered with a bitter-sweet empathy for what his child has been though.
May this painting serve as a reminder to us all that we belong to a prodigally loving God who continues to allow us to make our own decisions, painfully knows how we squander our blessings, and patiently waits, looking for our return. And when we DO return, our God comes running to us full of joy and forgiveness to overwhelm our broken lives and restore us with a smothering embrace of love and grace.
What on earth is this person doing? What is she looking for? Why is she searching?
These are the questions I hope you will wonder when you first engage this painting. And when you discover the answer, I hope you wonder even more.
After stunning his critics with the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus hits them again with a sequel, “The Search for the Lost Coin”. This second parable tells the story of a woman who stays up all night searching for a single lost coin. When she finds the coin, she invites all of her friends and neighbors to come and celebrate with a big party. Only a compulsive disorder would drive a person stay up all night searching for the coin. And only a foolish person would waste the money to burn a lantern all night and throw a huge party worth many times more than the value of the coin. But it is with this kind of seemingly foolish grace that our God seeks after us.
Unlike the painting of the shepherd, who had found his sheep, I wanted to explore in this painting, the concept of searching. The woman in this piece is turning her home upside down in search of the lost treasure (a coin, a ring, a remote control... it doesn’t matter). The coin is never revealed in order to engage you and get you to wonder what might be worth ransacking a home in the middle of the night. Borrowing from chiaroscuro masters like Rembrant and Caravaggio, the subject is brought to light out of night’s darkness. You can faintly see the overturned chair and basket in the background. The woman’s hair is unkept. You can see that this is a long and ongoing search, and it is consuming all of the her time and energy. Is she looking under a bed, or under something strewn on the floor? Is she looking under there for the first time? Or second? Or Third? The whole point to this mystery is to meditate on the seeker and wonder about that which is lost.
Each and every one of us is God’s most treasured possession. That includes you, me, and the countless invisible, untouchable and unlovable people out there in the world. And when even one of us is lost, God will stop at nothing to get us back. There is no limit to how long God will try. There is no resource God will not employ. Eternally seeking. Even in the darkest places, in the dead of night, God still seeks to find us. We might think its crazy that God would care so much for so many and go through so much fuss over even the worst of us. But to God, we are all worth it.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus shares three parables to teach a lesson to his critics. The first is a story of a shepherd who abandons his flock to search for a single lost sheep. Once you get over the shock of the thought of a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to search for the one lost sheep, you discover the story really is about a more individualistic relationship with God. We are so prone to wander off like a lost lamb. God relentlessly pursues after us to find us and bring us home.
This painting explores the relationship of the shepherd and the sheep during their time spent together on the long journey home. There are many clues to their experience in the layers of paint. The shepherd has rescued the lamb from a forboding place far away from the pasture. He has been searching for a long time and distance. His face is blistered by wind and sun. The elements are harsh. There are rocks, thorny bushes, and strong winds. The shepherd is relieved that he as found his sheep. He holds the sheep securely on his shoulders, determined to not let the sheep get away. His weathered face reveals smiling eyes of joy and relief as he casts a loving look to the sheep, as if to say, “You little stinker”. The sheep rests peacefully on the shoulders and still kind of looks away, as if to still be tempted to want to go another direction. Warmed by the sunlight breaking through the stormy sky, and being rocked gently by the rhythm of the shepherd’s march, the sheep’s eyes begin to close on the brink of a much needed sleep. Both the sheep and the shepherd keep each other warm from the harsh winds by huddling close together. They are no longer alone. They are now in this mess together.
In today’s culture, its hard to paint the concept of a savior. So many images of Christ on a cross make us desensitized to the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice. And the whole concept of a sacrifice seems foreign to us. But here in the story of a shepherd and a sheep, we can get a glimpse of our Living Savior. A savior who relentlessly pursues after us to the ends of the earth. A savior who never gives up. A savior who rescues us, delivers us on his shoulders, and suffers with us as we journey together on the long trek home.
“Not now, I’m Busy.” How many times have we adults and parents brushed away a child asking us for something or inviting us into their world with words like these? We can get so caught up in our busy lives that we all too often think we have too little time or patience for children. Our tasks can seem so important compared to a child’s seemingly trivial concerns. If there was any adult who had so much “important” work as to not have time for children, it would have been Jesus. But, in the midst of his journey towards Jerusalem, when the pressure to get his message out was great, Jesus made time for children. When his disciples scolded their parents for bothering the Master with someone so trivial as children, Jesus rebukes them by saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Children are like lights. They sparkle with wonder, imagination, love and faith. The second we take the time to stop what we’re doing and welcome a child into our heart, we become illuminated by their light. And for a moment, our worries go away and our burdens are lightened. It is this magic that I tried to capture in paint.
Although the scene here is not literal to the context of the story, I believe the message still speaks. Jesus often went off by himself to pray. I imagined him taking such a rest under a tree in the heat of the day. Some children, who may have been playing near by, happen across Jesus. More children of different ages approach Jesus. Some are reserved. Some frolic and prance, some tug and play with his cloak. Jesus welcomes them all. The scene is speckled with light dancing through the trees. And the Kingdom of God is displayed.
So the next time a child comes to you to show you their drawing, tell you what they’ve discovered, asks you for help, or invites you to play tag, take a moment and welcome them into your so busy and complicated life. You just might be enlightened by a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
Most every summer we go to the beach. It’s a wonderful time for family fun and relaxation. Our favorite patch of sand is on Seagrove Beach, just off of 30-A in Florida. I have always wanted to paint on the beach. This year, we had the room in our van for my french easel and I seized the moment. Painting the ocean tides was harder than I thought. For one, I chose to paint at dusk, when things are the most colorful. But I discovered that the sun sets rather quickly, and the colors change a bit too fast for my speed. I also realized how hard it was to capture the constant motion of the waves. I think what turned out was more impression than fact. That’s just fine with me because what I was really after was an impression. An impression of God’s Grace. I am amazed how the sea is so varied from day to day, and yet remains so constant. Today’s tide could be calm and gentle. Tomorrow’s tide could be strong enough to change the shape of the shore. Yet, you can always trust that there will be waves. One after another. Endless. Never stopping like a beating heart. God’s Grace is very much like that. Sometimes gentle and peaceful. Other times strong and formative. But no matter what, God’s gift of love comes to us every minute of every hour of every day. It never stops coming to our shores. Like a constant breath, God loves us, forgives us, reforms us and sustains us with every crashing wave. It may too complicated to capture in paint, but the impression it leaves for me is simply beautiful.
A late summer afternoon on a dock at Tim’s Ford Lake. That’s the setting for this plein air painting. This is our family spot on the lake. We visit here every summer. At this place, our family retreats to fellowship, splash around and unwind from life’s hectic pace. In the late after noon, after the boats have returned to their docks, the lake quickly settles down to a calm that is guaranteed to bring peace and serenity to one’s soul. The orange, setting sun makes the colors dance on the water. This is my favorite time on the lake. This is the time I like to sneak away from the family, head down to the dock, for a retreat of my own. My moment of solitude. Our Lord is wise to have us take a sabbath. We all need to take time for God’s peace to calm our lives. To ditch the cell phones, emails and facebook posts. But I also believe God calls us to deeper sabbaths of solitude. Where the body, soul, and spirit are all still. A moment in time where there is no one else but yourself and God. It helps us to refresh our core self and live life more in keeping to the way of love. Unfortunately, I don’t get to spend too much time at my place of solitue on the lake. There are too many kids to get dry and meals to be prepared. But I always look forward to this time and place, even if just for a brief moment.
Every spring, our church has a congregational retreat at the NaCoMe conference center in Pleasantville, TN. While we were there last year, we experienced a flood that took out power to the complex and rapid water which covered the only bridge out. It was a bit of an inconvenience, but we made the best of it. We were told that it was the worst flooding the area has experienced in over 100 years. THIS year, exactly one year later, our retreat was yet again flooded. Some thought it best to leave early. Those who stayed ended up being stranded for three extra days. THIS time, the whole of Middle TN suffered a 500 year deluge of 15 inches of rain. My family and I left early to avoid being stranded by floodwaters. Little did we know that we were heading from the frying pan into the fire. We ended up being stranded in our own home as our road was covered in floodwaters on either side of our home. Thankfully, our home was spared. But thousands of Middle Tennesseans lost much, if not all, of their homes and possessions. We have been in shock and amazement ever since.
This was a plein-air painting of the creek flowing through NaCoMe. It was painted two years ago after the first great flood. It records how that gentle creek, where children love to wade and splash, became a swelling rapid, strong enough to take out bridges. Our retreat theme that year was on Wisdom in the book of Proverbs. I titled the painting “Wisdom”, though I did not fully know why. It just felt right. Now I know. It is the wisdom that comes from a shared experience with a group of people. Wisdom of how frail humanity is against the power of nature. Wisdom of respect in how rapidly nature can cause tragedy. Wisdom in witnessing God at work to heal brokenness. Wisdom in knowing God’s peace that calms all storms. Wisdom in seeing how loving and tough humans can be in the face of tragedy. All of this wisdom I now see flowing in the current of this painting.
After the devastating flood of water, came a beautiful flood of Grace. Neighbors and strangers poured into the area to help the afflicted. It is a wonderful thing to see. No one ever imagined this kind of flooding was possible here. And many never imagined the outpouring of love in response. Now, we are all a little wiser.
If you would like to help the victims of Middle Tennessee, you can go to this link.
This is an oil painting of the post-resurrection story found in the Gospel of Luke. It depicts the disciples and Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The piece was intended to convey the feeling of new life, grace and worship. The fragmented colors and light in the tree tops are abstracted to resemble stained glass. The trees cross each other to resemble archways. I wanted to make the point that this is the new day of the Church. A new world where Christ reveals himself to us, journeys with us, comforts us and ministers to us. A Church where we glorify God and minister to each other daily in the most beautiful cathedral ever built, this Good Earth. More than just a painting of a story, this piece is a vision of today’s reality, when seen through eyes of faith.
Last Sunday, the children in our church sang a processional “Hosanna in the Highest” and “King of Kings” waving palm branches. After their special time with the pastor, they returned to their seats. My 5 year old daughter decided to skip all the way dow the isle to where we were. It made my heart smile to see her skipping about in the house of The LORD. In thinking for this Easter blog, I thought about how inappropriate it would be for any adult to skip about for joy in the sanctuary of our church. It just wouldn’t be proper respect in worship. But would it be all that disrespectful?
David was bringing the Ark of God back into the city. The Ark was the very literal “Presence of God.” On it’s way, the Ark bobbled. Uzzah, placed his hand on the Ark to steady it, and was struck dead by the LORD for disrespect. Because of this, David became fearful of bringing the Ark into the city. He later regained confidence and continued the procession. As the Ark entered the city gates, aware of the tragic events, David dared to dance with all of his might before it. Some considered it scandalous. But the LORD found favor with it.
This is an oil painting of David dancing before the Ark. It is unfinished, but I kind of like it that way. I love the movement in it. It makes me feel like giving my all to God. No matter what others may think.
Lent is finally over. Easter is here! Away with the charcoal and bring back the colors!
Easter is a time to celebrate Jesus’ conquering death and bringing salvation to the world. I think that’s worth dancing about. I hope you have enjoyed this series. May you be blessed by God’s gift of grace. May you respond to God with your all. Come what may in life. In good times and in bad, I pray you find the courage to dance in gratitude of God’s amazing grace. Alleluia!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
And the day of victory turned into mourning. At first, there was much rejoicing. The rebellion had been defeated. But tragically, the one who lead the revolt against David was his own son, Absalom. Despite the terrible things Absalom did against his father, David still loved him as most any father would. After hearing of Absalom’s death, David covered his face and wept. And so the celebration turned into a time of sorrow.
This was the Palm Sunday scene for the series. It was very fitting because Palm Sunday is a day many celebrate with much rejoicing only to turn somberly, ushering the way into the Holy Week of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It celebrates the story of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Days later, He would be arrested and crucified. In the background of this scene, you can see celebration and the waving of palms. But in the foreground, the passion of a king losing his son is displayed.
We become weary of the somber tones of Lent. We are ready for the joys of Easter. We are ready for some celebration. And for a brief moment, we do celebrate with the followers of the King. But we can’t “Dwell in the house of the LORD” unless we first “Walk thru the valley of the shadow of death.” we must turn our eyes to the cross. And so, our day of victory turns into a week of mourning. A bittersweet mystery of Lent.
This week. I hope you take time to reflect on God’s gift through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. May you all find peace and blessing in that Grace.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’
Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shrivelled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live for ever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
These are but some of the commandments David transgressed when he sent Uriah to die in battle and took Bathsheba to be his own wife. Not one of David’s finer moments. The gravity of this was brought to his attention by the prophet Nathan. He told David a clever story about a rich man stealing the only sheep from a poor man. David became enraged with the “Rich Man” only then to find out the story was a metaphor of his own actions. David is confessed his sin.
David then endured the tragedy of helplessly watching his (and Bathsheba’s) son die of illness. He fasted and prayed to God that God might heal the child. Then, after hearing of the child’s death, David cleaned up, worshiped God, ended his fast, and comforted Bathsheba.
David messed up big. No Doubt there. And like many of life’s heroes, we are disappointed when our idols fail in character. But I am intrigued by the character that David shows next. Was the child’s death a punishment from God as Nathan claimed? God only knows. But I’m sure David had plenty guilt and self-blame in his heart as he prayed for mercy on his child. He didn’t give up. He hoped for God’s help. And when all hope was lost, he still managed to worship God.
Later, David and Bathsheba had another son. His name was Solomon.
In the drawing of David and Bathsheba, I wanted to illustrate the concept of what it’s like to covet someone or something. David wraps Bathsheba in his robe with a look that says, “She’s mine.” Bathsheba, however has a look of helplessness. Her head is covered in a cloak of scandalous secrecy. This was originally an Ash Wednesday illustration. Here we see humanity’s pride, and delusion of self-power.
For this week in Lent, the story is contrasted with the account of David and Nathan. In this illustration, David is humbled before God. This time we see humanity as helpless and in need of grace.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.