Saturday, May 19, 2007

Come along my friends...

Well, I'm moving.

After much convincing from various opinionated people, I am taking myself and my joy over to Wordpress. Everything remains the same, in fact, all the old posts moved with me. You'll just have more site now to see. So come and see my new home. I think it is quite a step up in the world!

Christ Plays

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves - goes itself; myself it speak and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is -
Chríst - for Christ play in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Where The Trees Stand Still

I always liked that Bebo Norman song (see title) and it fits my present set of mind. I'm home! And staring quite contentedly out my window at a decidedly unmoving forest of wet pines. The act of travel is a strange dance that can leave the mind dizzy and I am heartily glad to be back in CO just in time for the brooding, stormy days of spring and the new burst of green all over the mountainsides.

I have flowers in my window today; a gladsome riot of pink carnations sitting on my sill and they embody my resolve as I enter this month and a half at home. I am determined to enter life at the level of the present moment. More than a resolve, it is a conviction, especially after the crazy days of my trip. Finally, I am here, fully present in my home, alive to the mercy of another day. No longer needing to look just ahead, or jump on the next plane, but here, with God and the tangible goodness of his growing earth. The whirlwind craze of my journey brought me a quick delight, but also a good sobering-up and I am here now thinking thoughts quite different from what I expected on my return.

The eternal gypsy in me thought that this trip would bring some sort of fulfillment to my yearning after ideals. I thought perhaps that seeing cities of beauty, encountering people living radically different lives, even glimpsing the green of different hills and strange forests would satisfy the hunger I so constantly carry for that something more. And I did see many things, I saw a myriad of lives being lived in startling diversity, saw pain, saw laughter, saw people being taught and lovely homes being scratched out of struggle and children being raised in a dozen different varieties of goodness. Yet I still hunger.
There is an itenerant idealist in me that cannot shake the conviction that one extra mile might bring me the ideal for which I yearn. Since childhood I have had a hunger to seek; to find that one perfect place, or situation, or friend, wherein I could live the fullness of my imagination, embody the pervasive beauty that comes so readily to my thought. My picture of what reality should look like is vivid, my desire to find it intense, and in many ways it has driven my decisions even as I have entered adulthood. Travel has always represented that search to me and so I have often sought it out, inarticulately hoping that my journeys might thrust me upon the incarnation of my ideal.

But something about the whirlwind of my travels this time began to teach me that it is not a thing to be found. In all their beauty, the great cities of Europe still don't have the mystery for which I long at each dawn and dusk. There is no cathedral whose very walls can answer my hunger for transcendence. No single home or way of life to satisfy my thirst for rhythm, for beauty, for love. The earth, with all it's splendor, is still just that, our own fallen world. It echoes with a goodness lost just as my heart echoes with an advancing redemption. But there is no part of it to fulfill my hunger.

So what is a crestfallen gypsy to do?

Build, I think. If the ideal doesn't exist in the tangible realm, then it must have its being in the spiritual. When it comes right down to it, everything I believe lies just beyond my touch, why shouldn't my ideals as well? But my convictions as a believer in Christ drive me to live in a certain way, compel me to picture my hope in my words, my actions, the set of my face as I encounter the daily world. I may not grasp the kingdom of God on earth, but I picture its reality. So I must with these ideals of beauty, of quiet, of life lived in a lovely way. I know that God created his earth with its startling beauty to reflect the richness of existence he intended for us. And though the world is fallen, the picture of goodness is still there, and the promise of it being restored is the centerpoint of my hope. I must not search any longer for a perfection that doesn't exist in the earth bound realm. Instead, I must craft a picture of that for which I hope; give life to my thought by enfleshing it as much as possible. Picture hope through what I create. I can't drift anymore; my only hope for finding an ideal is in planting my flag, and beginning the well-living of my life. Right here, in the chronos reality of my springtime day.

So I guess I've come home, because the trees really are standing still.
Even in my soul.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

William Holman Hunt

I didn't expect to be able to do any serious blogging on this whirlwind journey beyond an erratic bit of travelogue. But the unexpected boon of constant internet access has enabled me to putter around a bit on the web, and I have discovered an article that I am eager to share.

In keeping with my hope to profile some of my beloved artists, I want the world to know more about William Holman Hunt, both for himself as a superb artist, and for the part he played in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of artists who bucked the artistic trends of their time, desiring instead to return to an artistic way of thought before the Renaissance that saw art as full of symbol and meaning, marked by an almost fanatical attention to detail. Their driving ideas included the conviction that art ought to be objectively meaningful, well-executed, deeply beautiful. Even in the beginning years of modern and postmodern thought, they were already beginning the call back to an objective beauty, an attention to the loveliness of nature and the need for meaning in all forms of creation. I think they are a pretty powerful inspiration to all artists today. Their epic, richly beautiful pictures adorn several of my walls and are such constant companions of beauty that I feel the richer for their presence in my life. I find that their pictures have a staying power in my mind that much modern art lacks entirely.

William Holman Hunt was a well-known member of the Brotherhood, but is of particular interest because of his faith. A faith powerfully expressed in his painting Light of the World. A painting of Christ, lantern in hand, knocking at the door of the human heart, it was a painting that drew the admiration and love of Hunt's own time, and has retained its meaningful beauty for the present. Christianity Today has a recent article having to do with that particular work and several books recently published on Hunt's life and art. You can go here to read it. You can also go here for a short history of the Brotherhood, and here for a list of the museums and websites housing his works and offering prints of his paintings.

Even in the midst of my crazy travel days, I have been strengthened in heart by stumbling across this study on the life of a man who so valued beauty and was so committed to bringing the rich mystery of the Biblical story to life in his art. It's what I want to do in my writing. It's what I want to do in my life. So enjoy this artist. May he enrich your days as well.

Monday, April 16, 2007

And Ever On...

Iwas greeted by the mountains; heaped hills of verdant green and smoky blue, etched by the white-walled, red-roofed ropes of small villages. It is unexpectedly beautiful here in the Balkans and it seemed a perfect fairyland to my travel-weary eyes when I stumbled off the plane yesterday afternoon. My exhausted friends and I were greeted by the sparkle of spring sun and the hugs of new and old friends. After almost forty-eight hours of nonstop travel (with a paltry four hours of sleep) we had finally reached a place of rest. It is night now, and I have just arrived home from a day spent wandering the delightfully old and very cobbled streets of this city. Our friends have been generous with their time and car, ferrying us all over the city for an unforgettable tour. We've feasted on cheese pastry with sour yogurt, bought tiny hand woven shoes at a bazaar and wandered up to a crumbling fortress to watch a storm amble in over the mountains. It's been a welcome respite after five very crazy days.

Our time in the middle east was an experience that eludes description at points; it was hot and bright and barren, rich in wonderful people even while confirming every imagination I've ever had of the wild desert. In spite of the occassional oasis with its sudden shock of fuchsia flowers and palm trees, it was the people, in my mind, who brought such richness to the place. First of all, the families we visited; faithful and dear, full of great ideas and persistent hope. It was a privelege to speak to them, encourage them in their ideas and work. We were a small, cozy group who enjoyed great discussions over hummus and pita (it is indescribably delicious) during the three days we spent together. They will be in our thoughts so often in the coming days.

Secondly, the native people themselves were generous with friendship and laughter and we made some crazy friends on our long taxi drives to and from the city. In between maneuvering the outrageous roads (or rather, the outrageous drivers) we had some fascinating discussions with our drivers about their customs, beliefs and general outlook on life. Hidayat in particular had us in stitches as he braved traffic to get us in some shopping at the "Blue Souk" in our last available hour. I wish we had hours and some Turkish coffee to continue in talking with Hidayat, even in our few minutes he widened our perspectives and gave us a glimpse into his thought that changes the way I will think about many things in the future.

As for the camels, while not exactly friendly, they obliged us with a rollicking good ride. We slipped into the pink dawn on our second day to clamber onto the humps of some very obliging camels. Roped together (so that none of us would end up on a wild gallop across the sand dunes), they had elaborate get ups of saddles that sat us just high enough for them to nibble at our toes as we swung along. Our guide didn't speak a word of English, but our garrulous driver had fully informed us to watch out for lizards, other wild camels and the "very poisonous" snakes who left lace-like ribbons of tracks in the red sand. It was a ride to remember. I felt like Miss Rumphius, right down to the nearly plunging headfirst over the camel's ears when he knelt to let me off. Exciting.

Tomorrow we will begin a new round of talks with the dear people here. This is a place of contrasts; colorful markets and laughing people set in a scene of communist era blockies and precarious old buildings. There is tradition and poverty, richness of history and bitterness of old grudges. I feel like I am walking through dream scapes at times, unable to fully process everything I am seeing. I am storing it away to be considered; the beauty, the cultures, the souls of friends and native peoples. For now, I will bid you goodnight from this sort of travel journal. For now, the cold has come and I will take my own advice, curling up to take a bit of joy before the morning with its new adventures.

Goodnight to you, my friends!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A New Place...

It was two am in the small hours of this morning when we stepped into the heavy heat of the Middle East. We were sleepy, yet bright eyed with travel and fascination at the multitude of colors and sights that met us as we stumbled out to our waiting taxi. We walked carefully round groups of people from a myriad of different countries, fascinated by the turbans and veils that brushed against us. As we stepped out to our car, we glimpsed the strange and lovely lettering of this country, in calligraphic curls and and dashes. Our driver dashed us to our hotel, where we peered out over a sprawling cityscape of jeweled lights. And then fell senseless into bed. Exhaustion doesn't quite describe the feeling.

Six hours of sleep, two hours of driving and one rescheduled camel ride later, we are here in the town where we will stay for the next few days. Our hosts met us with delightful welcomes and a traditional middle eastern dinner. We laughed as we sat around our table at an old restaurant lodged in the fort near the old oasis. We were feasted on hummus and pita bread, grilled lamb and chicken and delightful salads of fresh vegetables and spicy dressings. The favorite treat though was the fresh juices; pineapple and mango, guava and lemon, mixed fresh and served in chilled glasses. Our friends are so lovely and so generous and the next days promise much grace. I hope we can bring as much as they have given us already.

This is the farthest I have ever been from home both in miles and culture. And it is fascinating. As we were waiting for our food tonight, we heard a strange cry echoing through the darkling sky and several of us leapt up the old stairs to stand on the lookout and listen. It was the call to prayer. Haunting and eerie as an old tale, the strange voice echoed through the pink haze of the hot dusk sky in a tone almost otherwordly. It was compelling and present. We listened until the last horn died away and then turned wide eyed to eachother. It is not to be forgotten.

Tomorrow begins the bulk of our time here and we must be up at five thirty sharp to redeem our canceled camel ride before the sun comes out in full, so I will bid you goodnight from this hot and strange, yet fascinating place. More will come soon. And tomorrow, perhaps you will get a glimpse of an obliging camel with one of us perched precariously on its back...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Auf Wiedersehen

We leave Vienna today, lugging our suitcases down to the Ubahn and then off to the next country.

It's been a blessed time. We had Sacher Torte yesterday, sipping our melanges (cappuccinos) in the red velvet lounge and enjoying every bit of our famous cake. There is so much tangible beauty here in the paintings and streets, the old buildings with their statues and ironwork, the flower shops and cobblestones and music being played at every street corner.

I want to take time to consider what beauty does for the soul, because this place is richer in touchable loveliness than almost any place I have been, and I think that somehow, it makes God's grace tangible to human eyes.

I'll have to mull that one as I'm flying.

For now, Guten Tag von Vienna (good day from Vienna), I'm on the road again!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Gruss Gott!

Or, as the German has it, "Greet God" which basically means "hello"!

I greet you from the springtime streets of Easter Vienna. We arrived here a night and a half ago after a train ride from Munich through the Austrian Alps. We are cozily situated right on the Ring in downtown Vienna, ten minutes walk from Kaertner Strasse and the Graeben, the two pedestrian streets that make up the heart of Vienna. It has been a wondrous time thus far; miles of walking down cobbletone streets, coffee at Mom's old favorite haunt of Heiner's, a long stroll through the Ostermarkt (Easter Market) to buy fragile, handpainted eggs in every hue of the rainbow.

These are our days of rest; our respite before we head out on Tuesday. Easter especially will be a gift as we are spending the day with old friends and ending with a midnight performance of the Messiah in St. Stephens. It will be wondrous.

So, from streets flower-bedecked and cobblestoned, from the city of music and old beauty, I wish you a lasting grace from the Lord. May you have peace on this joyous day. May the beauty of God be heartbeat close as His joy suffuses our souls once again.

Happy Easter from Vienna!