Monday, December 31, 2012

30 Paintings In 30 Days Challenge

That's right. Beginning January 2nd, I will be posting one painting a day for 30 days. This will be a deviation form my typical posts. The content will be a mix of nature, objects, scriptures, hymn texts and more. I'm really letting myself be blown by spiritual winds for inspiration for this journey. And just like any of my postings, I welcome your comments and reactions. Stay tuned to see what happens next.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Nativity: Emmanuel

5"x5" Oil on Canvas

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." - John 1:14

Today we celebrate the incarnation of the Word of God. In a rank stable, lying in a food trough, wrapped in whatever was available to keep him warm, our Lord was born into our lives. The mystery of mysteries rests in a manger, dependent on human faith and love for survival. What a paradox. What wondrous love. 

One of the finest Christmas sermons I have ever heard came from the Rev. Jay Earheart-Brown. At the time of his message, he was a new father. He shared his feelings as a father to help us grasp the mystery of the incarnation. The most memorable moment was when he said, "Now I understand how love can become flesh." It was the love of Jay and his wife that brought their child into the world. 

And so... love, joy, hope, peace, righteousness, faithfulness, sacrifice and fulfilled promise all became flesh in Mary and Joseph's little baby boy. Jesus—Emmanuel—God with us—was delivered into our hands. And our lives have been forever changed.

Happy Birthday, Jesus.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


The Nativity

Click on the image to see an enlargement.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nativity: Gabriel

5"x7" Oil on Canvas

"Do not be afraid."

Those are the words from the angel, Gabriel, every time he appears to people in the Nativity stories. Being visited by one of God's messengers can be a frightening event indeed. When we realize we are in the middle of a God-moment, our shortcomings become abundantly clear. We are faced with the reality that God is God and we are not. This reality stirs us at our core and brings us to our knees in humility.

"God is coming!" That is the essence of Gabriel's message. That message swells up in us both great excitement and great fear. God is coming to interrupt our plans—to stir us from our comfort zones—to call us to a life of faith. We are afraid. Afraid of change. Afraid of what people will think. Afraid of our inadequacies. Afraid of failure. 

But Gabriel says, "Do not be afraid." Those words can embolden our faith today, much like it did for Joseph and Mary. Gabriel's words comfort us by reminding us that this is Good News. The God that calls us is Emmanuel—"God with us." The God who is coming into our lives is GRACE and LOVE.  In his song "Emmanuel," Michael Card blends two very different scriptures into a common truth:

"Emmanuel—our God is with us. And if God is with us, who can stand against us?"

This painting of Gabriel is the most abstract of the pieces in this Nativity project. Gabriel bears the star of bethlehem like a torch of enlightenment. His wings are transparent—for angels (human or not) live among us unseen unless we are looking with eyes of faith. He kneels in the presence of "God with us." In this series, Mary and Joseph are a mix of bewilderment and wonder. Gabriel knows the reality of this God-moment all too well. It is a reality that brings even angels humbly to their knees.

If you look and listen with your heart, 
you might just discover the angel's message speaking to you today:

"Ready or not, God is here—calling you to be a person of faith. Don't be afraid."


Here is a link to a video featuring "Emmanuel" by Michael Card. The song is performed by the Choirs of school children from Cheshire and the Wirral. It is a wonderful reminder that we are not alone in our calling. Rather, we are a community living out our response to God's calling.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nativity: Mary

5"x7" Oil on Canvas

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." 
—Luke 2:19

This week's reflection on the Nativity is focused on Mary. Like Joseph, how unfathomable must have been her thoughts, joys and concerns about mothering the Christ child. We know a bit more about Mary from the Gospels. We know of her beautiful song in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke (See my previous posting on the Magnificat). We know that she followed Jesus' ministry to the cross—and the resurrection. Of all of the passages about Mary in the scriptures, Luke 2:19 is my favorite. 

How we parents love to brag about our children. My facebook page is full of proud parent moments. How tempting it must have been for Mary to share the wonders her miraculous child. Even as the shepherds confirm the miracle of Emmanuel, Mary kept it all as treasures in her heart. 

The Iona community has a wonderful poem about the thoughts Mary could have been pondering in her heart:

What is this seed that God has planted,
unasked, uncompromised, unseen?
Unknown to everyone but angels
this gift has been.
And who am I to be the mother,
to give my womb at heaven’s behest,
to let my body be the hospice
and God the guest?

Oh, what a risk in such a nation,
in such a place, at such a time,
to come to people in transition
and yet in prime.

What if the baby I embody
should enter life deformed or strange,
unable to be known as normal,
to thrive or change?

What if the world, for spite, ignores him,
and friends keep back and parents scorn,
and every fear of every woman
in me is born?

Still, I will want to love and hold him,
his cry attend, his smile applaud.
I’ll mother him as any mortal,
and just like God.

Iona Community. Cloth for the Cradle: Worship Resources and Readings for Advent. Christmas and Epiphany. Wild Goose Resources Group. 1997.

May we treasure up the Word of God and ponder the mystery of Emmanuel in our hearts.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

We Light A Candle

5"x7" Oil on Canvas

In response to the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, this painting and the poem below is dedicated to anyone who's heart is hurting this holiday season.

We Light A Candle

Every season we come together to light a candle.
We light a candle of HOPE that God hears our prayers.
We light a candle of PEACE to calm the storms in our lives.
We light a candle of JOY—for one day all will be made whole in God.
We light a candle of LOVE for our families, our neighbors—and our enemies.
We light the candle of CHRIST—who’s suffering love heals our wounded souls.
Every season we come together to light a candle.
We light a candle to overcome the darkest night.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Nativity: Joseph

5"x7" Oil on Canvas

I can still vividly remember the night my first child was born. It was a night filled with excitement and anxiety. Most of all, I remember the feeling of helplessness. We began with a plan to deliver naturally. Many hours later, our son was born through surgery. I remember struggling  for those long hours to bring comfort to my wife. After our son was finally born,  I remember being overwhelmed with feelings of complete and utter inadequacy as a new parent. But I got through that time with the love of my wife, the support of my friends and family, and the love I had for my newborn son. As I reflect this Advent on the story of the Nativity, I think I can identify most with Joseph. But I suspect my story doesn't even scratch the surface of what Joseph must have felt.

Michael Card penned it best when he wrote a song from Joseph's perspective. "How can a man be Father to the Son of God?" was one of the most powerful lines in that song. Whatever feelings he had as a first-time parent must have been compounded ten-fold with the feelings of inadequacy of  being a parent to the Messiah. But I think Joseph's love for his new family and trust in God helped to give him confidence.

This is the first of four paintings on the Nativity. In this painting, Joseph is kneeling in the presence of the new born Messiah. He is also resting with a staff. A tool for traveling and protection, this staff serves as a symbol to remind us of his need for support. As future pieces to this Nativity story are revealed, you will soon see that his gaze is different from Mary's. Joseph is posed to appear to be looking at either Jesus or gazing outward. Joseph could be lovingly looking upon Jesus. But he also could be looking at the world around him—wondering what will be coming next in their wild adventure. He could be wondering how he is going to provide food and shelter for this new family. He could be just trying to understand where he fits into this incredible God moment.

Ultimately, like all new parents, I believe Joseph did his best with what he had—one day at a time. With the support of his wife, his family and friends, Joseph took on the challenge of parenthood. He worked hard. He made mistakes. He trusted in God. He loved Jesus. And in doing all of these things, Joseph helped to raise a baby boy to become the Son of God.


Here is a link to video featuring "Joseph's Song" by Michael Card. The video shows other wonderful Nativity images. May the gifts of music and visual art bring your soul into a deeper relationship with God—our loving father.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Days are Surely Coming

12"x12" Oil on Panel

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. 

This is the mystery of our faith, and the core of our hope. Since Christ’s ascension, centuries ago, we’ve been living in a season of Advent. Look at the world today and you can see that we are a people who have witnessed a Great Light, but continue to live in darkness. Thankfully, it is only a season. In the end, Grace will dawn again. God’s Messiah will return. Crowned with the mysteries of the universe, our King will once again bring the light of truth to our world. A robe of justice will flow from his shoulders, like a waterfall of grace, to purify us. And all that’s wrong with our world will be set right. That’s my vision of our Advent hope. It’s easy to loose sight of that hope while waiting in the dark. But, rest assured. The day will surely come.

Advent, Christmas & and Epiphany Art, 2012
for First Presbyterian Church, Franklin, TN