Category Archives: daily drawings

A little bit of grace…

Today I Danced…

I don’t dance… at least I try to avoid it.

I love to listen to music but my creative gifts don’t lie in really hearing the notes of the music or making my own. My rhythm is, to say the least… lacking and I am self conscious in my moving body… never sure what my feet are doing or how to move gracefully from one place to another. And I don’t even know where to begin to put my hands, my arms… my hips.

But today I was working with my Alzheimer’s group. This a group of people who have young-onset Alzheimer’s and they are progressing to the point where many of them can’t speak to their experiences. Their verbal ability is waning as the disease progresses but they enjoy music, hitting a drum, and working with art materials that don’t require finite motor skills.

An amazing music therapist and I work together to provide them with opportunities to communicate through sound and images. This often evokes memories and deep joy as well as sadness. Today as we worked with drums the music therapist said that often when people are drumming they are able to be fully present in the moment, losing themselves in the beat and rhythms of these simple sounds.

As we were drumming one woman conveyed in a few words and by showing us on her drum the way she learned to drum in Mexico. And then our music therapist began playing the song La Bamba on her guitar. As the song unfolded and the members of the group began to pick up the beat on their drums this woman came alive and began dancing in her chair. Our therapist asked her if she wanted to dance and she nodded yes and so I got up to help her up out of her chair. But once she was up she didn’t let go of me and she began to dance…

In those moments, lost in her joy I joined her in the dance and we clumsily danced in a small circle while the others drummed and the music therapist sang and played. It was simple and beautiful and awkward, we communicated through the movement and I followed her lead moving in a circle, twirling and swinging close and moving away forgetting to be anxious.

There was a time this woman would have danced circles around me and later her husband told me that they used to go out and dance techno, that she loved it.

On the days I work with these folks I am filled with such a mix of emotions. I am so sad for what they are losing, their memories, their independence, even their identities. The glimpses we receive, into their lives and stories are like small gifts of light, like stars that glimmer for moments in a dark sky and then disappear behind clouds.

But as they live with their disease they invite us to be singularly present with them in the moment. Whatever happened moments ago is forgotten and what is about to unfold is beyond their control. There is only right now. This beat, this note, this song. I am so deeply thankful to receive their wisdom and to live in this space with them and be invited to dance.

I don’t speak Spanish and when I got home today I looked up the lyrics to La Bamba. I discovered the first few lines of song translated into English are,

In order to dance the Bamba

In order to dance the Bamba

You need a little bit of grace

a little bit of grace

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Lent 4.5.11

 

Anointing

Rejection.

Of all the anxiety and emotions that I can get hung up on and sucked into I think the fear of rejection may be the most powerful. I struggled with the fear as a teenager and in my Junior High career vacillated between invisibility and wreaking a fair amount of chaos. Both were attempts to circumvent rejection. In my adult life I have preempted rejection in relationships by shutting down or keeping others at arms length so as not to be hurt, rejected or abandoned.

Along the way I’ve learned that relationships can only be deep and fulfilling if I take risks. If I reveal myself and love my way into the center of them, pushing past my fears and attending to another’s. This has left me open and vulnerable and I’ve committed to the risks involved and to the tending of the occasional wound. I’ve also healed a lot of old wounds and work to live into the belovedness that I believes marks each one of us.

But this winter  a small bit of that old fear has been bubbling up inside me. I have been looking for a job over the last year, as many folks have, and I have been holding a bit too tightly to the letters of rejection; to the word NO… no, not you. No, you’re not quite the right fit. No, you were very interesting, thank you, but no. The word no, stings a little and lots of little stings have been adding up to a big welt that I’ve been wearing under the surface of my being. Or if you’re a good friend of mine you probably know it really isn’t too far under the surface. You’ve had to contend with it on days that I complain and lose perspective and bemoan my hard life of vocational aimlessness (read sarcasm here).

All my childhood and adolescent fears of rejection, of not having an identity, or something worthy that marks me as unique, particular or loved have gotten stirred up this winter. And that’s where I found myself this past Sunday. Calm and collected on the surface but a bit murky and stirred up underneath. I was teaching a class for First United’s Adult Ed. Sunday School in Oak Park about Art and Spirituality. We were working through the imagery of the 23rd Psalm and I asked the members of the class to use the symbols and imagery found in the Psalm to create a prayer card that reflects their own experience of God. As we were finishing up someone asked if I would be coming to worship which follows their Sunday School hour. Knowing they were using the Psalm in the service and would be doing an anointing I quipped, “who doesn’t need an anointing?”

I wasn’t really thinking about it too much, I wanted to worship with the community I was teaching this class for. I was in teacher/pastor mode and I wasn’t really thinking about the service itself. When the time came for communion the Pastor gave instructions to come forward for communion by intinction and if one wished to stay and be anointed by a deacon they would also be offered a prayer for healing. I stood up when it was my section’s turn for communion and followed the line of people towards the bread and cup. I love when the crowd moves forward for communion, all those bodies moving together. The sounds of feet shuffling and parents whispering instructions to children and elders murmuring words such as bread of life over and over again to each person. I took my bread and dipped it in the juice and made eye contact with the person holding the cup and smiled.

Without a lot of thought, I moved on over to the anointing line and after the person in front of me moved away from the small woman standing in front of me with oil in her hand I took my hat off and moved forward. She looked up at me (she was very small) and asked, “What prayer can I ask for you? What do you need healed?” I was so caught off guard, I hadn’t prepared anything, I hadn’t thought to bring an idea or a prayer with me, I’d just jumped into line with out really thinking at all and now I stared at her kind of awkwardly and blurted the word, “rejection”. It sort of just fell out of my mouth, I couldn’t even make it into a sentence I stuttered and just said it again, “rejection“.

She said okay, and marked my head with oil and said to me, “May you feel God’s healing love.” And my turn was over.

I guess I did need anointed. I needed anointed and reminded that God says yes. That a professional rejection is not a God rejection. This time I didn’t get it even as I was teaching it or drawing it… “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” I needed the embodied ritual, the experience of being anointed and to be asked out loud, “what needs attending?” so I could name it and begin the process of healing. Not being the “right fit” is a shitty thing to hear, especially when I am pretty sure I am the right fit but rather than allowing this wound to fester I will get some oil on it and ask for God to heal my hurt feelings so that I can pay attention and give thanks to where my cup is running over.

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Lent 3.31.11

Collective Memory

 

For almost two years I’ve been working with a group of folks who are dealing with Young Onset Alzheimer’s. Once a month the Rush University Medical Center’s Memory Clinic sponsors a group called Without Warning. The group came about because there was a growing number of people experiencing memory issues and receiving Alzheimer’s diagnosis in their late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Memory loss sucks at any point but for these folks the challenges are unique. They find themselves unable to focus, plagued by confusion and sometimes unaware that it’s even happening… in the midst of family, careers and relationships. They expected to continue making memories for many more years rather than beginning to forget.

I hang out for a couple of hours with a group that is willing to put up with my art-making and materials as a way to facilitate group conversations and record our stories. Mostly I listen and I marvel at these people who’s lives are in constant transition, who may not remember how to get to where they’re going every time they leave their homes, they forget where the dishes go and how to cook and how to related to their partners and children. They are funny and brave and they have amazing, heart-breaking and hilarious stories.

Last week when I was with them I became aware of how one man in particular who has lost his memory’s grip on his personal history has begun to adopt the larger story of his generation as his own. He will talk and relive memories from the sixties that he did not experience first hand but that were the marks of his generation. He can’t remember anymore whether he fought in Vietnam or where he lived or grew up but he’s adopted the broad strokes of that time as a way of describing his experience. My time with them has turned my concept of memory and identity on it’s head.

As these individuals lose their memories they also begin to live into each day, hour by hour, many of them move forward into the unknown with a sense of hope that isn’t simple or easy. This drawing is for these amazing folks that agree to make art with me and let me make drawings to tell their stories and hold their memories. As time passes they  will rely on the collective memory of their generations, their families and their friends to keep them grounded and to tether them to their lives. I love them.

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Lent 3.23.11

‘Whelmed’

When my oldest (teenage) son pours himself a glass of juice he chooses the largest glass he can find and fills it to the brim… not just below the rim but by some miracle of physics the juice rides the lip of the glass and makes a dome shape that rises just above the top of glass. If he added even one more drop it would flow over the sides; he can’t pick it up or move it, he has to lean down and slurp a few mouthfuls first.

I love being whelmed… that sense of fullness of being, of being filled to the tip top. I love being engaged in work, conversations and projects that draw on my passion and creativity. I love hearing stories and reflecting, recording and carrying them with me. The thing is, whelmed is not far off from being overwhelmed. There are days I go here and there gathering stories, ideas and emotions (some that are mine and some that are borrowed) and I get to the end of the day and my head and heart brims over.

When my youngest son was watching today’s drawing evolve he asked why I was making a picture of someone drowning. I might have gotten slightly defensive when I answered, “I’m not, her head is above the water!”

I’m not drowning, but today I am nearing the tipping point. I had a great conversation to made plans with some cool storytellers for a collaborative art project and I had a lively discussion with a pastor friend about growing our Church into being a thriving, vital and ever-developing community. Then I came home, and had a lengthy and heart-wrenching talk, in which, I gave too much advice and lots of hugs, about how to ‘fit in’ in the seventh grade. This conversation ended with my almost 13 year-old middle son wisely declaring, “growing up sucks!” (he was definitely overwhelmed).

All of this filled up my day and filled my brain and my heart to capacity. So now I will draw it, I will tell these stories back to myself in an image that preserves them and lets them go. And in doing so, I open up some fresh space for tomorrow to fill.

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Lent 3.21.11

Prayer of Thanksgiving

O God,

Abundance

Thanks for:

1 lb. bacon

1/2 Yellow Onion

1 C. Mushrooms

2 Roma Tomatoes

2 C. chopped Spinach

4 Eggs

2 C. Cream

basil, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste

2 C. Flour

1/2 C. butter

Fresh Mozerella

Fresh Goat Cheese

For your abundance I give thanks.

Amen

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Lent 3.18.11

Today’s drawing is for a friend of mine who is attending a conference this week. Today she attempted to share with a worship leader how she was feeling about the exclusive male language being used for God throughout the worship services. His reply to her went something like, “the smart women I know don’t mind using masculine language for God because they know God isn’t male…”

 

Expansive God

My friend is a smart woman who knows that God is neither male or female, that God is not a particular color, orientation or person. She like many smart women I know experience God in many varied ways. My initial response came from a place of shock and anger and was at best humorous, and at worse catty (I said, omg, as in: O my goddess). Then, I was reminded of the time my youngest son, black sharpie in hand, wrestled with the identity of God.

He was six at the time and he came into the kitchen while I was cooking dinner. Keep in mind, that at this point he had spent the better part of his life immersed in seminary community and he could see a theological lecture coming a mile away. He attempted to circumvent this by saying to me, “I just want an answer… is God a boy or girl?” Of course I couldn’t help myself and answered him with a long(ish) commentary on how God isn’t really either of these things but we use different images to describe God as a way of explaining our relationship to God. After several minutes he sighed in frustration and interrupted me saying, “okay, okay I’ll just put one breast on it and that will be good.” And off he went into the other room to complete the best image I’ve seen of God. In his picture God is floating around with a tree in one hand and swirling planets and stars all around and one breast right in the middle of God’s chest.

He is so smart and I love his six-year-old solution. God is so much more than I or he, or the man planning worship could imagine. God is expansive, and this is my image of God for today.

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Lent 3.17.11

I used to be an art teacher and I one of things I loved about teaching younger kids is the sense of awe they often brought with them to the art room. For them, everything from mixing colors to learning the trick of simple perspective was like learning to do magic. When I would teach landscape to small kids in first or second grade they would draw the ground and houses and then they would put that bit of sky across the top of the page. When I would encourage them to make the sky come down and touch the earth they would look at me like I was crazy… so I would take them over to the windows and say, “take a look, the sky doesn’t stop way up there. What do you see?” And they would gasp, like they had never seen the sky before. Like they were looking at it for the first time. And they would go back to their table and tell their classmates. “Guess what! The sky comes all the way down to the ground!”

 

Water & Spirit

This coming Sunday the lectionary text is the one where Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and tells him that he realizes that Jesus comes from God, and I get the impression that Nicodemus is a bit like my kids, I imagine his eyes really big and his voice filled with awe, I imagine him asking Jesus, “how do you do that?”

How do I come from God?

I feel like Jesus turns into a buddhist monk at this point because then he tells Nicodemus all kinds of strange things about being born from above and the wind blows where ever it chooses and that we can hear the sound of it but we don’t know here it comes from or where it’s going… but coming from God is like that.

It seems like there’s a secret in here somewhere and it’s not as easy to discover as looking out the window. When I started working on my drawing I realized that the horizon line between the ground and the sky was permeable. Instead of being defined it kinda blurred into the sky and I started thinking about these images of the Spirit that Jesus offered as permeable; the wind that becomes our breath that we pass on to one another, and water that moves through our bodies nurturing and sustaining us but constantly in motion. I’m thinking the sky doesn’t just come down and touch the earth but it fills is up much like Jesus’ story of the Spirit of God fills us up. Maybe it moves in and out and through us and gives birth to who we are… where ever we go.

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