Screwtape, Wormwood, and Me

How many of you have ever read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis? I admit, I read it many years ago and remembered very little. I’ve had the privilege recently of being a substitute teacher at the school my children attend. Lately, I’ve spent a good amount of time in the 11th grade Rhetoric and Christian Thought class, and they’ve been reading The Screwtape Letters. We finished up the book recently, and I have been mulling it over ever since. 

If you’re not familiar with the book, Lewis has created a fictitious correspondence between a lead demon, Wormwood, and his nephew and junior tempter, Screwtape. The letters follow Wormwood’s advice to Screwtape on how to win the Patient away from the Enemy (God). Though the book was first published in 1942, it still speaks to the culture in which we currently live. 

screwtape letters blog
C.S. Lewis at his writing desk

I have no intention of reviewing the whole book for you here, though I would highly recommend that you read it! I want to focus in on the final letter (spoiler alert….) in which Wormwood berates Screwtape because the Patient has died while belonging to the Enemy. The demons have lost. Wormwood laments that now Screwtape has no more power over the Patient. 

The students and I discussed why the demon’s power is no longer effective. Many of them mentioned that Wormood details how the Patient has now seen who and what Screwtape is and how he operates. So, they surmised, the Patient is now wise to the tempter and the temptations and thus their power is removed. As we pushed further into the text, I think we found a much more significant reason.

screwtape letters blog

Wormwood writes, “All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you [Screwtape] could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door.” Wormwood acknowledges that this fact is inexplicable. Let that sink in for a moment. 

Who the Patient now sees, in whose Presence he now resides, is so monumentally greater than anything that the demons could conjure up to tempt him. It is not his knowledge of Screwtape’s plans that renders them ineffective. It is because the Patient now has seen the “Enemy” face to face. Christ is so infinitely superior to anything and everyone else, that there is nothing that can tempt the Christian.

Screwtape Letters blog
“Christus Rex”, Chapel of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana.

I was cut to the heart upon unpacking that metaphor. The students were a taken aback as well. The unspoken question then to us was “do I view Christ in that way?” Is He that much more glorious, lovely, valuable, worthy than anything this world has to offer? The “right” answer is a resounding “YES”! But does my life evidence that I really believe that? Am I more interested in the “raddled harlot” than the long lost love of my life?

This world has much to offer in the way of beauty and delights. This is an art blog after all, beauty makes it go 🙂 But we must remember that all the beauty this world affords is nothing compared to the One who makes that beauty. What are the things in your life (they are often good and valuable things) that compete with the beauty of the One who made you? Where are you tempted to seek comfort apart from Christ? 

Screwtape letters blog
Unfinished Landscape (The Cross at Sunset). c.1847. Oil on canvas. 32 x 48 1/2″. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid, Spain.

The Pslamist tells us that in His presence there is fullness of joy, and in His hand are pleasures forevermore. Let that promise encourage you as you face  your own temptations. There is a day coming when we will see Him face to face.

 

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Who will you serve?

Last week, I had the pleasure to serve as a chaperone for my 5th grade daughter’s class field trip. At our school, 5th graders study early American history. As a capstone experience, they take a weeklong trip to Virginia where they visit Jamestown, Williamsburg, Monticello, and Yorktown. It is an incredible opportunity for the students to see history and walk in the shoes of the people they’ve been studying.

red bud and mountains - serve blog

Now, a week with ten and eleven year olds may not sound like much fun, and there were times when it was challenging. But, overall, the trip was incredible and our students had an amazing experience. I was along on the trip to serve as the official blogger/photographer, so it was my task each evening to spend some time recapping the day’s events so that parents who were back home could participate along with their 5th grader.

view away from mountains - serve blog

I think one of the most meaningful days for me was our trip to Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville. Monticello is a place of great beauty, creativity, ingenuity, and contradiction. The students discussed how a man who penned the words “all men are created equal” could own over one hundred slaves. A man who believed that educated men were capable of self government, yet prevented his own enslaved persons from that same self government. We stood in a slave cabin and gazed at the mansion Jefferson built for himself. The disparity was immense.

slave cabin - serve blog

Our students saw firsthand that while great men can create beautiful places and craft life changing documents and found incredible systems of government, they are also capable of great blindness, wickedness, and sin. Our guide asked us to ponder the question of whether the issue of slavery negates the goodness of Jefferson’s many other contributions. That is not a question with easy answers.

monticello - serve blog

The students were fascinated with all of Jefferson’s many scientific experiments and our science teacher was certainly grateful to hear our guides remark that science is everywhere. The gardens around Monticello are still being cultivated with descendants of the seeds Jefferson planted or Lewis and Clark brought back from their expedition. The clocks Jefferson designed still toll the correct hour, season, and even day of the week. History is living and our students marveled at the plantation life they experienced today. We saw both the greatness and the baseness of mankind.

cabin and gardens - serve blog

I realize that slavery is still an exceedingly controversial topic, but if my 5th grader can wrestle with it, so can we. How we treat our fellow human beings says a lot about who we serve. If I am primarily interested in serving myself, then others are a means to an end. If my needs come first, then others have value only in so far as they can meet my needs or assist in accomplishing my agenda. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he was opposed to slavery, yet he failed to free his own slaves. He realized that he could not maintain his lifestyle without his slaves, and that mattered more to him than his stated ideals. How many times are we just as guilty of saying one thing, but evidencing another by the way we live?

cupola and gardens - serve blog

After our trip to Monticello, we were reminded in our evening devotion that there is One who Himself experienced greater heights than Monticello and took on greater baseness than slavery. And we are called to have the same mind as Christ Jesus.  We are called to consider others better than ourselves, to be humble, to serve others. Jefferson served his country well.  We want to call our students to serve each other well, and in so doing, they, too can change the world. What about you? Who are you serving?

 

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Fragile, fierce, and faithful – my friend, Cathy

“Courage isn’t the towering oak, but the fragile flower that blooms in the snow.” (Anais Nin) Cathy has this quote listed as her favorite quote on her facebook profile. Having known her for over twenty years, it’s not hard for me to understand why that might be her favorite. 

Cathy is was one of the most courageous people I know. But she was also more fragile than she let on. Her story has been both a challenge and an encouragement to me, and I hope it will be to you as well. 

fragile blog (cassatt painting)
Mary Cassatt, The Child’s Bath. Oil on canvas, 39.48in x 262 in. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Catherine (Harper) Miller passed away last week. She wasn’t even fifty years old. But Cathy packed more into those four plus decades than most of us do in twice the time. She understood that life is fragile, but a life lived with courage chooses to bloom anyway.

I first met Cathy when I was young and single and living in Chicago. We would end up being roommates for three years. At the time, she was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), as part of their “Here’s Life Inner City” component. Cathy had a heart for inner city Chicago. She lived, worked, and played in the midst of very fragile communities, laboring to bring the hope of the Gospel to some of the darkest corners of our city. 

fragile blog (Alice Neel painting)
Alice Neel, Mother and Child, 1926 Oil on canvas 26 x 28 inches 66 x 71.1 cm © The Estate of Alice Neel Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

Cathy loved people. She had a smile that would light up a room and immediately make you feel welcomed. Our home was constantly filled with people – people over for dinner, just to chat, studying the Scriptures, playing games. We practiced hospitality with a fierceness that I want to recapture. 

fragile blog (Elizabeth Catlett sculpture)
Elizabeth Catlett, Mother and Child, Terra cotta, 11 1/4 x 7 x 7″ (28.6 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm). Gift of The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art, The Modern Women’s Fund, and Dr. Alfred Gold (by exchange)

Lest you think that Cathy was some kind of super human, I can assure you that she was just as fragile as anyone else. She knew that she was a sinner in need of God’s grace. Cathy certainly had her struggles, there were battles she fought internally for years. We had hard conversations over the years we lived together; we shared our victories and mourned our failures together. 

What kept Cathy centered in the midst of everything was her complete and total devotion to Christ. She knew that His mercies are new every morning; that in her weakness, He was strong; that He would complete the work He began in her. And it was out of that faithfulness that she was able to serve. 

fragile blog (Renoir painting)
Renoir, Auguste, Child with Toys – Gabrielle and the Artist’s Son, Jean. 1895-1896, oil on canvas, overall: 54.3 x 65.4 cm (21 3/8 x 25 3/4 in.), framed: 65.7 x 76.7 x 3.5 cm (25 7/8 x 30 3/16 x 1 3/8 in.). Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Life took us along different paths, and she ended up in Wisconsin while I am in Florida. Over the last two decades, Cathy went on to foster over 70 children, and to adopt six. She didn’t pick the best and the brightest; she signed up for the most difficult cases. She loved on and cared for the fragile ones – medically complex, babies, older children, anyone who needed a home. She even reached out to birth parents to help them as well. Cathy’s facebook name was “Cathy momofmany”, and indeed, she was.

Six years ago, she married her soulmate. God was so gracious to grant Cathy a partner in life who shared her love for the outcast and forgotten. Together, they were raising other fragile flowers to bloom in the snow. 

fragile blog (Gaugin painting)
Paul Gaugin, Polynesian Woman with Children, 1901, Oil on linen canvas, 97 x 74 cm (38 3/16 x 29 1/8 in.). Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.

One month after her marriage, Cathy was diagnosed with cancer. She fought bravely. In her last week, as she was in hospice, I was overwhelmed at the stories people were sharing of how she had loved them well. Her oldest daughter was a testimony to Cathy’s influence as she bravely managed phone calls and visitors to her mom’s bedside. I met Nidra when she was only a toddler, and was so encouraged to see the woman that she has become. And I know that Cathy wouldn’t take any credit for that – she would, rightly, attribute all to the grace of God. 

fragile blog - roommate picture
The Three Amigas – Michelle, Cathy, Shelley

Last week, my friend walked through the gates of glory. She stood in the presence of her true Love and heard, “well done, good and faithful servant.” From that moment, she entered into the joy of her Master and is truly at home. Those of us who remain will mourn, but not as those without hope. For all of us who trust in Christ, we will be reunited one day. And while we still labor here, we can take courage from Cathy’s example.

Will you love the least of these? Who needs your smile and care today? To whom can you show hospitality? Who are the forgotten ones in your neighborhood?

 

If Cathy’s story has touched you, would you consider donating to help out her family? Hospice care is expensive, and I know they would appreciate any help: Donate here.

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Magnificence and a moment at the Morse

I wrote recently of my family visit to the Morse Museum, and I’d like to return to that fascinating museum in today’s post. This week is Holy Week, a celebration of last week of the life of Christ, culminating in the glorious celebration of His resurrection on Easter Sunday. At first glance, the Morse Museum may appear to have very little to do with Holy Week, but keep reading, and I think you’ll be surprised.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 1
Tiffany Chapel Reredos, c. 1893
 Laurelton Hall, Long Island, New York, 1902–57
 Exhibited: World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893
 Glass mosaic
 Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York City, 1892–1900
 90 x 72 in.

Tucked away in the exhibit halls of the Morse museum in a magnificent work called simply “The Chapel”. But there is nothing simple about this chapel. Originally crafted by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the chapel re-opened at its current home in Winter Park in 1999.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 2
View of the chapel interior designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Though originally displayed as a work of art, the chapel was so exquisite, that male patrons would remove their hats, and all who entered would sit in reverent silence, as if entering a functioning church. In fact, after the 1893 exhibition, the chapel would be moved to St. John the Divine in New York City, where it did actually function as a chapel.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 3
Altar from the Tiffany chapel interior at the Morse Museum.

There is a deep connection between art and worship. Anthony Esolen in his book ten ways to destroy the imagination of your child states that “In both art and worship, the heart seeks out something beyond itself – a beauty or a power that is not its own.” (pg. 225) Tiffany’s chapel does exactly that – it shows us a beauty and a power that is so clearly not our own.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 4
Baptistery and Field of Lilies leaded-glass window from the Tiffany chapel interior at the Morse Museum. Photo by Raymond Martinot.

Even as we entered the chapel at the Morse Museum, there was a little placard urging silence, and we coached our children to be respectful and quiet. The day we visited, there was a small crowd of other folks in the chapel as well – some were sitting quietly, admiring the art, some were taking photos and pointing out details in the mosaics, some appeared to be praying.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 5
Lectern from the Tiffany chapel interior at the Morse Museum.

When we encounter great works of art, silence is often our best response. We are confronted with the transcendent, and words somehow seem inadequate.

Morse Museum, Tiffany Chapel 6
View of Tiffany chapel leaded-glass windows and electrolier. Left to right: The Story of the Cross, c. 1892; Adoration, c. 1900–1916; Christ Blessing the Evangelists, c. 1892. Photo by Jimmy Cohrssen.

For Christians, the events of Holy Week are the pinnacle of our faith. Good Friday services are often marked by silence and a contemplative sadness as we reflect on the death of Christ for our sins. Easter services in contrast resound with joy and delight as we celebrate His resurrection.

Morse Museum, Tiffany Chapel 7
The Story of the Cross, c. 1892
 Leaded glass
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York City, 1892–1900
D. 104 1/2 in.

A trip to the Morse Museum and a time for reflection in the beauty of the chapel can be the perfect venue for me to reflect on these Holy Week events. And I am not alone in those thoughts. In fact, the Morse Museum is free on Easter weekend. A tradition begun in 1986, the museum offers a free open house on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you are in the area, I suggest you work in a visit to the Morse and a visit to your local church to celebrate this Holy Week. He is Risen!

 

All photos graciously provided by and used with permission of the Morse Museum.

 

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How Can All Things Be Made Beautiful?

He has made everything beautiful in its time,” the writer of Ecclesiastes confidently asserts. But sometimes, our lives don’t feel so beautiful and we find ourselves waiting for that day in which all things will be indeed beautiful. Perhaps you find yourself wondering how, when, or even if those things in your life can ever be made beautiful.

Christine Hoover has written a new book entitled, Searching for Spring: How God Makes All Things Beautiful in Time. In her book, she utilizes the framework on Ecclesiastes 3 to frame both our seasons of waiting and our joyful hope of what is to come.

The Beautiful Story

I particularly appreciated the underlying structure of the book where Christine takes us through the whole story of redemptive history. She looks first at God’s creation (the definition of beautiful), the marring of that beauty in the fall, the beginning on the restoration of beauty through the redemption found in Christ, and finally, the largest part of the book is devoted to our anticipation of the time of restoration and consummation, when all things will again be made beautiful. Oftentimes, in books that talk about waiting, we can lose the forest for the trees when all we focus on is our waiting. By placing our waiting within the context of the larger biblical narrative, Christine helps us to have a Godward perspective instead of an inward, selfish approach. Her book is not a simple “hang in there, life is hard, it will get better” approach. Rather, she grounds all that she writes in the whole counsel of God.

New Life seasons and beautiful
© Laura Gabel, “New LIfe Ps. 92:14”. Acrylic on canvas, 29.25 x 23. $850.

When we think of all things being made beautiful, we each bring our own presuppositions and ideas to the table. And it is often the disconnect between our ideas and our reality that cause us to chafe in the seasons of waiting. Here again, Christine offers a helpful and gentle rebuke. “In our definition, beauty means no negativity, no suffering, no longing, and no waiting. Beauty is…instant and consumable. We must be careful what we call beautiful.” (p. 58, emphasis added). Because God is the creator of all that is, He is the One who gets to define what true beauty is, and His idea is often very different from ours.

The Not-So-Beautiful Waiting

But waiting is hard, and we don’t like it. We want quick resolution, easy answers that still take our pain seriously. We search anywhere and everywhere, but often not where we need to. “Displacing the whole counsel of God, we instead search for Instagram mantras that make us feel better for the moment.” (p.81). Christine is careful not to offer such thin hope. Rather, she takes us time and time again back to the Scriptures to see how God works in all things to craft a beauty unimaginable out of those “inconsolable things” that mar the beauty of our lives. Hard things will come, some will stay a long time. But there is a greater hope and a greater beauty that awaits those who trust in Christ.

Winter with My Lover beautiful
© Laura Gabel, “Winter with My Lover”. Charcoal, 10 x 12. Private collection.

The Gospel is the ultimate story of beauty coming after waiting, pain, hurt, and death, for in it, Christ accomplished redemption for His people. Christine urges us to sink our anchor deep in that truth. “The Holy Spirit draws me back to the Word for sustenance, because in its pages are the words of life. I need the gospel of Jesus every day because I forget, because the world is noisy and distracting and, by it, my flesh is easily drawn away from joy.” (p. 166)

On the whole, I found the book to be a great reminder of how God is most often at work in the difficult places in my life, and in the lives of those around me. Yes, the waiting is hard. But it is but one piece of the greater story that God is writing. I need to be reminded of the bigger picture. Christine’s writing is honest, engaging, unpretentious and rooted in the Scriptures. I did, on occasion, find the chapter title and divisions to be a little bit unclear (in terms of matching with the content of the chapter), but what was written in the chapters was clear even if the connections were not always so obvious. I’ve known Christine for years, though we’ve never met in person. It felt as though we were having coffee together in her Virginia home while we waited very literally for Spring to begin creeping over the Blue Ridge. I appreciate her honesty, and her dogged commitment to bringing all things back to the sovereignty of God.

Beautiful Sovereignty

“God is sovereign over and active in the the unseen places—in your soul, in your relationships, in your future. God is able to make all things new and, with the broken pieces of your life, he can make something beautiful too. In face, that has been his plan all along.” (p. 41)

Catherine's Springtime beautiful

Perhaps you find yourself awash in a season of spiritual or emotional winter. You are waiting, but beauty seems out of reach. Pick up a copy of Christine’s book, read it alongside your Bible. Be encouraged to know that God is a work in your waiting. And He will, in His time, make all things beautiful.

 

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A Quest for Beauty

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. Beauty is all around us, but we often fail to appreciate it; we relegate it to special occasions, or museum pieces. But if it is indeed God’s handwriting, then beauty is everywhere.

Louis Comfort Tiffany summed up his life as a “quest for beauty”. He was constantly looking for new ways to further that quest through his art – whether a piece of jewelry, a lamp, a photograph, a fountain. His methods were as varied as the world from which he drew his inspiration.

Tiffany beauty 1
Window, 1906
, Laurelton Hall, Long Island, New York, 1902–57
, General exhibition window, rose, 
Leaded glass, 
Tiffany Studios, New York City, 1902–32
.

Recently, my family and I had the opportunity to see the most comprehensive collection of Tiffany works in the world – right here in Winter Park, Florida at the  Morse Museum.

Tiffany beauty 2
View of The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art from the corner of Canton and Park Avenues, Winter Park. Photo by Raymond Martinot.

As first time visitors to the Morse, we were invited to watch a brief introductory film about the museum and it’s founders Hugh and Jeannette McKean.

Tiffany beauty 3
Hugh F. and Jeannette G. McKean, Tiffany exhibition at Rollins College, 1955.

I was immediately struck by how often the McKean’s stressed the importance of beauty. Like Tiffany, they believed that beauty was abundant. But it was not just the existence of beauty that was captivating; it was the necessity of beauty. We need beauty in our lives. If beauty is God’s handwriting, and God is our Creator, then beauty is an essential component to who we are as human beings. We need beauty in our lives. Where do you find it?

Tiffany was so captured by the beautiful world around him, that when he built his final home, Laurelton Hall, he incorporated his art into every bit of the home. The Morse Museum has reconstructed several rooms of Laurelton Hall with actual artifacts from Tiffany.

tiffany beauty 4
Laurelton Hall, Reception Hall, Morse Museum

Art was not just confined to pictures hanging on the walls

tiffany beauty 5
Laurelton Hall, Dining Room, Morse Museum

but was incorporated into the very architecture of the rooms, inside and out.

tiffany beauty 6
Laurelton Hall, Daffodil Terrace, Morse Museum

I could have wandered for hours through just this one gallery with items from Tiffany’s home. The beauty of it – both in the objects and in the arrangements was astounding. I may not have any Tiffany works in my home, but my home can also be a place of beauty. In fact, it should be a place of beauty. We need beauty in our lives.

tiffany beauty 7
Laurelton Hall, Living Room, Morse Museum

The McKeans had a vision to make beauty accessible to everyone, and that was what inspired them to start the Morse Museum. The museum keeps its admission prices low, and offers several free opportunities throughout the year. In fact, if you’re local to the Orlando area, Friday nights between November and April the museum stays open late so visitors can enjoy a free Friday evening complete with music – beauty for the eye and ear to behold.

Do you think beauty is essential to life? Where have you read God’s handwriting in your life? Sometimes, our lives may not seem to contain much beauty. Maybe you find yourself in a season of darkness, grief, loss, confusion. Your eyes are darkened with tears, pain, and sorrow and you find it hard to see any beauty at all. The Scripture (also God’s handwriting) reminds us that “He has made everything beautiful in its time”. (Ecc 3:11) Do not despair, the beauty is there, and you will see it.

note: all the photos were graciously provided by the Morse Museum. I am so grateful for their support. All views expressed in this post are my own and I was in no way obligated or compensated by the museum. The Morse Museum is a true treasure and well worth your time to come and explore!

 

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To Everything There is a Season

What’s your favorite season? I recently moved to Florida, and, honestly, Florida does not have seasons. Oh long-time-Floridians will tell you that there are indeed seasons in Florida. But in reality, if you’ve ever lived pretty much anywhere else, you know that there are not really seasons in Florida. My daughter likes to say that Florida has three seasons – hot, not quite so hot, and hurricane. That seems about right.

However, this is not a post making fun of Florida “seasons”. Spring is my favorite season. I love how the whole of creation comes to life again. Of course, if there were no winter, spring would not be as amazing. It is precisely the awakening of nature that makes spring so spectacular for me. When we were living in Texas (admittedly, a state where seasons are a bit wonky compared to some other places), spring was glorious. In winter, the landscape became devoid of color – the “beigeness” of Texas we would say. But in spring….oh the color! It seemed as though every week there was a new variety of wildflower blooming as far as the eye could see.

season blog
Texas, Wilson County, FM 427, oil well, wildflowers: Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), phlox (Phlox drummondii), coreopsis (Coreopsis sp.)

The beauty of spring has been the inspiration for many artists throughout the centuries. Japanese ink art from the early 1700s captures the vibrant colors of irises blooming in the springtime.

season blog
Working Title/Artist: Yatsuhashi, Ogata Korin
Department: Asian Art
Culture/Period/Location:
HB/TOA Date Code: 09
Working Date:
Japanese. Paintings-screens.
53.7.2 (flat)
Edo Period, 18th Century
Screen, six-panel, one of a pair: Iris and Bridge
(Yatsuhashi)
Ink, Color and gold leaf on paper
H. 70-1/2 in. W. 146-1/4 in.
transparency 5, photographed in 1993
scannned for burke cd-rom in 1999 (phc)

Monet has long been one of my favorite artists, and he, too, was captivated by the beauty of flowers. His garden paintings are instantly recognizable.

The Artist’s Garden at Giverny, 1900 by Claude Monet

I can’t see that painting without thinking of Laura’s most popular work:

© Laura Gabel, "Lovelock's Lavender". Pastel on UArt, framed with a black mat and frame, 15 1/4 x 15 1/4. Private collection.
© Laura Gabel, “Lovelock’s Lavender”. Pastel on UArt, framed with a black mat and frame, 15 1/4 x 15 1/4. Private collection.

I think Laura has captured the essence of why spring draws so many artists in her work entitled “New Life: Psalm 92:14”. This psalm speaks of the righteous flourishing, bearing fruit, being green and full of life even into old age.

season blog
© Laura Gabel, “New LIfe Ps. 92:14”. Acrylic on canvas, 29.25 x 23. $850.

And I think that’s why spring is my favorite season – it is life. The world comes to life after the long sleep of winter.  And I am reminded again of the new, fresh start that comes with the turning of the season.

Just like the earth, our lives have seasons too. When you are in a season of spring, you are awash in the newness of life, of beauty, of vibrancy. But sometimes, we find ourselves stuck in the dull, gray, cold, death of winter. We are waiting for the buds to break forth, but all is still. Christine Hoover has written a new book entitled “Searching for Spring” where she explores what the Bible has to say about this season of winter and of waiting.

season blog

In the coming weeks, I will be reading and sharing my thoughts on the book. For those of you who find yourselves in winter, waiting for spring, I pray your hearts may be encouraged. And for those who are not currently mired in winter, may you store up the riches for the future and to encourage those around you.

10  My beloved speaks and says to me:

“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,

and come away,

11  for behold, the winter is past;

the rain is over and gone.

12  The flowers appear on the earth,

the time of singing has come,”

Song of Solomon 2:10-12

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What if your local art museum closed tomorrow?

If the museum closed, would you notice? When was the last time you visited an art museum? A recent article in the Baltimore Sun notes that, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, only 18.7% (45 million) of Americans reported visiting an art museum in 2015. Statistics from other sources suggest that those numbers may even be too high.

museum closing blog 3

The article suggests several reasons why fewer Americans may be visiting art museums, and I would encourage you to read the article. But I want to ask you, why don’t you visit? For many of us, I would guess that our responses tend to fall into three categories – lack of time, lack of money, and lack of interest. We’re busy, we don’t want to spend the money, and we don’t really enjoy or think we understand art. We like to be entertained. Our digital world has convinced us that images need to be ever changing, constantly in motion, and full of astounding special effects in order to catch and maintain our attention. In comparison to the latest video game or blockbuster movie, a painting or sculpture seems dead and uninteresting.closing blog 2

Studies have shown that too much technology is changing the way our brains work, and not for the better. Other studies have shown the positive effects of both viewing and creating art. Yet, too many times, too many of us are choosing technology over art.

Can I challenge you with something? Spend this next week logging how many hours you spend with technology – not for work, but for leisure. Make a quick note of the time you spend checking personal emails, scrolling through facebook, posting and liking on Instagram. Include the time you spend watching television, movies, or playing video games. I’m guessing many of us would find that we are spending a incredible portion of our leisure time with technology.

Now imagine how long a visit to an art museum might take? We just visited our local museum on Saturday. it took us twenty minutes to get there, and we spent just shy of two hours there, plus twenty minutes on a return trip. So all told, less than three hours. I spend that much time on technology in pretty much any given day. I’m guessing you do too.

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We happened to visit on a day the museum encourages patrons to spend a little time sketching. So they had paper, pencils, boards, and portable stools available. The galleries were filled with happy sketchers. We spent quality family time together, looked at beautiful art, had interesting conversations about what we saw, and even created some art of our own. How much more enriching was that experience than the hour I spent on Facebook over the weekend?

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Now imagine that art museum is closed. Imagine the one across the street is closed. Let’s include the museum in your town too. In fact, let’s include all the art museums in all the towns of all our subscribers and the fine readers of this blog. Consider what now is the cost? How much have we lost? What banal substitutions will we find to fill the void where once beauty was available?

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Understand that I am not saying there is nothing of value in technology. I write for an art blog on the internet for goodness sake! But museums bring a wealth of art, beauty, and education that simply cannot be replaced by technology.

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So get out there! Find a museum in your town and go visit. Make time. Many museums have days throughout the year when they are free, check that out! Every Friday, we post an event on our Fun Friday feature on Facebook. When the event is in a town near you, come and check it out.

Let’s drive that 18.7% up in 2018!  Leave me a comment and tell me where you visited and what you like about that particular museum!

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What if your Christmas isn’t Merry and Bright?

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Feliz Navidad! Joyeaux Noel! Frohe Weinachten! It’s a festive time of year with holiday greetings everywhere you turn. Local radio stations are proclaiming that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” and Hallmark Christmas movies are trending high in the news.

But what if you find yourself a little distant from all the holiday cheer? Maybe this is your first Christmas with an empty chair at the table. Perhaps you find yourself away from family and friends, and not feeling much like celebrating this year. Maybe your home has been fractured by loss, illness, divorce. For any number of reasons, many folks find themselves on the outside looking in this Christmas season.

The Census at Bethlehem (The Numbering at Bethlehem), 1566
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Oil paint on wood panel
115.5 x 164.5 cm
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Brussels, Belgium

I know it can be hard to “get in the Christmas spirit” when your heart is broken. Can I suggest a helpful resource? I enjoy doing special devotions during the advent season and have happened upon a fabulous resource from Biola University . The Advent Project is a series of meditations on Scripture, accentuated with music, art, and poetry. I found have the daily emails to be a tremendous help in refocusing my attitude – both turning me towards gratitude for Christ’s first coming, and in creating a real longing for His second advent when He will put all that is wrong right. You can access all the devotions for the month here.

© Laura Gabel, “You Are His Masterpiece”. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10. Private collection.
© Laura Gabel, “You Are His Masterpiece”. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10. Private collection.

Two of my favorite websites also have helpful articles for those facing a deep sadness this Christmas. Celebrating Christmas with a Broken Heart suggests three strategies for walking through this season. What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas provides some useful insight and tips for those of us walking with you in this time.  Both those articles are well worth your time to read.

Nativity (2 views), 2006
Brian T. Kershisnik
Oil on canvas
17 x 7‘
Utah Museum of Fine Art

Laura and I will be taking some time off over the holidays, and we hope you will too. In the midst of all the busyness of the time, take time to stop, breathe, rest, and remember. He has come, and He will come again!

 

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How to find your Christmas in the park

“Have you been to Christmas in the Park?” That may be the question I heard the most when people found out it was our first Christmas here in the Orlando area. In fact, as far back as September, I was already hearing that question and in fact had locked in plans to attend Christmas in the Park – before I even knew what (or when) it was!

While I may live in Orlando, my children attend school in Winter Park, where my husband teaches. And Winter Park is well known in the greater Orlando area for it’s fabulous downtown and active cultural scene.

For almost 40 years, the park in the center of Winter Park has hosted Christmas in the Park – a joint effort put on by the city, the Morse Museum and the Bach Festival Society.

One of the benefits to being in Florida is that we can happily enjoy outdoor activities at Christmas. Folks come early and stake out a place – chairs, tables, picnic baskets. I saw elaborate place settings, complete with tablecloths, napkins, candles and centerpieces. I also saw more modest preparations of picnic blankets and pizza boxes. While the event doesn’t officially kick off until 6:15 pm, most folks were there well in advance. We met our friends, set up our chairs and our food and settled in for an evening of unexpected delight.

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Ringing the park are nearly a dozen enormous Tiffany stained glass windows. Each window is accompanied by at least one docent/security guard (complete with communication earpiece).

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The windows are not on display at any other time. Just before 6:15, an introduction is made by the head of the Bach Society, and the music begins. Then just as darkness is settling in, the switch is flipped and the windows are aglow for all too see their radiant beauty.

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We spent the next two hours listening to Christmas music, singing along, enjoying time with friends, and getting in the Christmas spirit. Our children began to grow tired, so we went for a walk through the park to see the windows up close.

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The detail and intricacies of the designs were astonishing. The colors were so vibrant, it strains the bounds of credulity to think that no paint was used, it is all in how colors of glass are blended together.

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Taking pictures of briliiantly lit stained glass windows in a park at night is no easy task. So as incredible as these images are, in order to truly appreciate them, you’ll just have to make the trip to Winter Park next year and see them for yourself!

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Christmas in the Park was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season for me. After being introduced to the Morse Museum and the Back Society, I look forward to exploring the offerings of both those organizations in the future. And I’ll be ready on the first Thursday in December next year for another Christmas in the Park!

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What unique holiday event does your town (or neighboring town) host during the Christmas season? Get out there and explore – then share it with us here!

 

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