Bread, art and a kindergarten heart

 

“NO! I HATE this part of the bread! I won’t eat it!”

My daughter had just realized that her peanut butter and honey toast was made with an “all-crust” heel piece. To a five-year-old who has never known true crisis, this realization is nothing short of devastating—on par with candy-less valentines and cake batter-scented (but NOT flavored) ChapStick.

I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the parenting struggle that, moments ago, I had decided was indeed worth my time and energy.

As soon as I’d opened our bread bag and discovered only end pieces, I’d known that making toast with it might awaken the melodramatic beast dwelling within my kindergartener. All parents are familiar with the rapid cost-benefit analysis of “choosing our battles” in daily life. The fact that there were four, as opposed to two, end pieces in this bread bag indicated that I had forfeited this particular battle with our last loaf of bread.

But this time I felt prepared to hold my ground: my daughter would eat this food or no food.

Having just read a parenting article about instilling empathy and pro-social behavior in children, I decided to make an effort to turn this little clash of wills into “a teachable moment” (mom-talk for trying to channel one’s maternal frustration into wisdom rather than a large glass of wine).

As my daughter geared up for another outraged protest, I looked her in the eye and said, “Honey, I love you so much. And one of the ways I try to show you I love you is by making your favorite snacks for you, like peanut butter and honey toast. How do you think it makes me feel when you start crying and yelling just because it isn’t exactly what you want?”

She furrowed her brow and pouted, mumbling something unintelligible. Then she got up and walked away from the table.

I sighed, disappointed.

“You can walk away, but you need to know that I’m not going to make you anything else until you’ve eaten what’s on your plate.”

She grabbed something from her art corner and disappeared behind the couch.

“Did you hear me? I said I’m not making you anything else until you’ve eaten your peanut butter and honey toast.”

“Hold ON,” she said impatiently. I rolled my eyes at her (because apparently, trying to create a teachable moment had maxed out my maturity quotient for the day).

paper--plate-hearts
Photo courtesy of Nicole Steele Wooldridge

And then she brought me the “art” she had abandoned the table to create: an addition to the paper plate valentine she’d made in church earlier in the week. Around the edge, she had penciled in the words I love you because you feed me.

And, for the millionth time since becoming a mom, I realized how much I have to learn from my daughter.

How often do I spurn the blessings God has set in front of me, simply because they look a little crustier than I was expecting? How often do I pick apart that which nourishes me, only to find myself feeling empty? How often do I take for granted (or refuse to take at all) the bread of life that God pours out for me?

Perhaps, most convicting: How often do I recognize the error of my ways and humble myself, turning to God with such a simple yet profound prayer?

I love you because you feed me.

communion-chalice-bread
Image courtesy of freeimages.com

About the Rabble Rouser:

Nicole-Steele-Woodridge-with-daughtersNicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s who writes from the Seattle, Washington, area. Her articles for Messy Jesus Business tend to focus on the intersection of faith and parenting. Ironically, the daughter mentioned in this article is not her picky eater.

On Being Everywhere I Go

Credit: http://offthepage.com/2016/11/07/on-being-everywhere-i-go/
Credit: http://offthepage.com/2016/11/07/on-being-everywhere-i-go/

“No matter where you go…there you are,” stated the character Buckaroo Banzai in the 1984 cult film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. This troubling truism has become a bit of a mantra for me as I stumble through life.

I frequently have too much going on. In the flurry of activity, a nagging voice hums in the background, I can do this better, I could be more efficient, I should do this, I ought to do that.

One of my greatest sins is to put more faith in my ideas than I do in God. Recently, I did this when I believed if I changed a few parts of my life—the setting, my workload, my stress level—then….

[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for Off the PageContinue reading here.]

Hearts wide open: in the sky, on earth

Happy Feast of St. Clare! The following prose-poetry is dedicated to her.

This past Monday I drove north, from Kansas City to La Crosse, through lush fields of green growing up towards the sky. As I moved, my eyes focused on the constant road. It was an all-day drive after a two-month pilgrimage of study, retreat, service, connecting and contemplation in states called Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. (At one point this summer I also saw South Dakota from the other side of the Missouri River in Sioux City, Iowa.)

Now I am back in Wisconsin resisting (partly) a necessary reset of my mind after an experience among a community of creative Christians at The Glen Workshop: I am trying to write an academic paper while poetry in my memory and future propel me backward and forward–as the language of academia conflicts with what my soul desires. This tension is a bit like the thunderstorms that clouds can create; the electricity of the different parts of my mind can also create downpours.

Driving north over concrete and asphalt my gaze floated upward toward the expansive sky, bright blue and full of the puffs of evolving white clouds–clouds slow dancing with cheer and optimism. The clouds moved, merged, formed shapes of glory, as The Great Artist presented signs and affirmations by way of the best piece of interactive installation art ever made: this infinite, expanding universe. With each opening created in the clouds, I pondered my constant sense that The Great Artist was providing encouraging nods of “Keep moving in the right direction” and “Yes, you are part of my wonders, too.”

In the silver machine of mystery (the car, so it is to me) I listened to phenomenal podcasts as I made my way over horizons and toward my home. The words of poets, scientists and journalists multiplied my awe for the beauty and complexity of God’s creation, of this world made so multidimensional by the way we humans interact with God’s doings and pretty much make messes all over the place. I was completely blown away when I heard Paulo Coelho speak about his journey into becoming a writer. I was inspired by how Naomi Shihab Nye overturns the poetry found in ordinary life. I was flabbergasted by the scientific discoveries being made about the intelligence of the forest. And, I was horrified by the reality of what life is like for refugees in Greece nowadays. In each story told, the true wildness of who God made us to be and who we are was exposed: we are one, the body of Christ revealed by way of loving, enfleshed in service and creativity.

Across the expansive sky I saw diamonds and other mysterious shapes made from clouds.  I saw hearts form, widen, evolve. Over rolling plains of farmland, human stories sort-of hugged me in the car container from all sides; tales of tough Truth and invitations to participate in God’s goodness came at me in surround sound. I gasped and grinned for the beauty of the images combined with Truth made into sounds, for the swirling mess of life and beauty enfleshed everywhere.

Hands on steering wheel, mind awake, foot on pedal, eyes wide open, heart expanding. Through God, in God, and by God the clouds moved. And so did I. So did all of us, as one.

"heart in the sky" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“heart in the sky” by Julia Walsh FSPA

Like loon encounters

“rowing on Trout Lake” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Like loon encounters 

Communion with the Creator
can come like loon encounters,
when you are simply rowing
through life and enjoying
the ride, then-ah-behold:
the sight of loon dancing, diving,
singing, playing. The surprise of beauty,
of scenery, of simplicity. Many ecstasies
come in these off-shore liminalities
but I must keep rowing, allowing
the beyond-me to be
bigger. Hold me Waves.
Hold me Harmony!

loon community
“loon community” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“loon dance” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Trout lake” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Surrender to the way

As this water flows
within the container
of Love-lake true-
my self shall surrender
to the way of these loons.
They give into the breezes
of belonging, the diving
of self, of yes.
Their freedom is found
in being who they
were designed to be best.

“looking loon” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“loon school” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Volumes of vibrancy

 

 

 Even with the season’s change and fading colors,

I will remember the brightness and beauty of where I have been and what I have seen.

The folds of these flowers frozen now in photos reminds me of yes:

God’s beauty holds mystery.

Yes, all of creation contains volumes of vibrancy!

Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Italy ~ July 2014: photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Denmark ~ July 2014: photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Minnesota ~ September 2014: photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

This Physical Faith

I am on pilgrimage now, in Italy. I arrived Monday evening and started having physical reactions right away. As I was leaving the Rome airport and looking around at the vegetation, it crossed my mind that the landscape I was seeing probably would have been familiar to St. Francis of Assisi, plus many other holy people I have studied and prayed with for years. My mind was full of wonder and my heart was vibrated with joy and excitement. At the thought of it all, tears filed my eyes. Before arriving at the hotel where I am staying, I was surprised to suddenly have this site fill the sky:

"St Peter's Dome at Night" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“St Peter’s Dome at Night” Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is something I have seen countless pictures of throughout my life. When I saw it all lit up and making such a statement about the power of faith, I gasped. Really loud. It didn’t matter that I was in a shuttle-taxi van with a bunch of strangers, it was like the sound came from the depths of me and surprised all of us. Physical reactions can be like that. Since then, I actually got to go inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s enormous and filled with great art and devotion. It’s amazing to me what people create and do because they know and love God. Thousands and thousands of people from all over the world were inside praying, taking photos, and listening to guides share facts. Some were crowding around the sculptures by Bernini and Michelangelo to try to see the masterpiece with their own eyes, and maybe get a good photo. Some were in line to touch the feet of the statue of St. Peter, which were worn down flat. Some were in the adoration chapels off to the side. Others were praying with the non-corrupt body of Pope John XXIII. At one point, overwhelmed and trying to take it all in, I realized I was crying–another physical reaction to a spiritual reality. Most recently, I was able to visit the Vatican museums, which includes the Sistine Chapel and its masterpiece paintings by Michelangelo. I got to spend over thirty minutes in there, crowded among hundreds, in dim light, bending my neck back and staring up at the phenomenal art. For part of the time I sat, prayed, and people watched. I started thinking about all the prayer and pope elections that have happened in that place over hundreds of years, and all the holy people who have also been in that place. Then, I became aware that my shoulders were shaking and tears were streaming down my face. Another physical reaction. I’ve only been here three days now yet I am clearly being moved intensely by the experience already. The actual pilgrimage program began this afternoon and at our opening mass one of the guides, Father Rick Martignetti, reminded us that we are all called to be pilgrims and strangers on our journey through life. We pray with the physical world in a very sacred way. Places are “sources” that can speak to us, that can change us and that we can change–by our being and through our prayers. Many of the places that we are to encounter are places where heaven has met Earth, for this Christian faith of ours is a very physical faith. As I move on this holy ground I learning more every day about how the spiritual and the physical intermingle. I am amazed and blessed to be part of it all. For all this, I give thanks and praise. Amen!

A great big exciting God question

A vivid memory has been speaking to me all summer: a sunny spring day, as the fourth period of the school day began, a few excited ninth-grade boys came to class eager to ask a question. Their energy was animated and slightly nervous (“You ask her.” “No you ask her!”) for I believe they knew, at a great depth, they were considering something powerful. Then the question came forth–maybe the greatest question I have ever been asked:

“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”

I was stunned. I said “WOW!”  What else could I say?

I loved the idea of God needing us so much that he is practically dependent on us to help create the universe of his dreams; it is empowering to consider that God’s love can only be fully manifested if we say “yes.”

Participation and relationship is natural activity and genuine Gospel living, of course. Certainly, building the kingdom of God is work of service, prayer, community, activism, and solidarity. Good Christian activism, in particular, is a loving labor of creative problem solving so yes, I knew that God needed us and has hope for our lifelong to-do lists. Even so, this is what happened in my journal a few days later:

“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”

Yes, “What if!” What if God needs us so much to dream up new realities in order for them to exist?

It’s expansive stuff, really: the new realities we must imagine might be in an evolutionary metaphysical dimension, or they could be about coming up with new ways of being Church, sharing our abundance, and showing forth the Gospel goodness–ultimately revealing the solid strength of peace and justice. Christ totally has a way “of making all things new,” maybe even those things that we think are going just great.

It takes more than dreaming though. Gospel living is really about letting go and allowing God to work through us. When we let go we could end up in a place of awe, of just being free to step back and see how God wants to show up and be seen.

photo by Jane Comeau
God shows up in the art of free-writing

Amazing artists certainly seem to experience this.

Throughout the summer, I have been on a bit of a creative journey and have been learning a lot. Presently, I am very blessed to be here on a scholarship and have my first-ever experience of a writer’s workshop.  I’m amazed as I listen in to other faith-filled artists disclose their process and experience. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and awe that I get to learn and be encouraged by some of the most brilliant creators I have ever met.

As I listen, I notice that each artist seems repeat a truth: it is necessary to submit to an energy outside of ourselves (God!). It may be called “letting the poem say what it wants” or “seeing what’s behind what you’re saying,” whatever it is, it’s an act of trust and trial. Basically, as we create, we must let go of judgement, be vulnerable, take wild risks and let God take us where we’d rather not go. It’s discipleship– following Jesus’ way of humility and self-emptying. Otherwise, we become journalists and not artists and end up recording what we see and not what God is trying to say.

God has a lot of truth to tell, has a lot of love to show off. Is this why God calls us and creativity compels us? What if God needs us, desperately, just as we need God for our basic existence?

“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”

Back in my classroom, after I said “WOW!” to the great question my students, in their 9th grade boy sort of way, then said, “I know, right Sister?! Like, what if since we can imagine a planet ruled by aliens and robots, then now God will make it?”

Ha! OK, well, that’s not really where I went with the question. Still, I just said “Wow!” with a wide smile. I felt relief that my response of wonder seemed to satisfy their young seeking souls.

How wonderful it is that youth are so great at speaking the truth without knowing it!

How wonderful God is for loving, trusting, and needing each of us, even if we don’t know it!

Wow! Amen!

crossing shadows

No matter where I am in the world- where I am in my life- I continue to be fascinated with how light and dark dance together.  As I journey with Jesus through transitions and changes, I continue to be in wonder and awe of how I experience Christ’s presence in the shadows, the cracks, the hidden, silent places.  As my faith deepens, it seems that God is not a God of only what is black and white and crystal clear; rather, God is fully alive in the places made of the energy of grey.

Here’s a collection of some of my photography from the times when I have been mesmerized with the glory of God in the silent spaces as I follow Jesus; the beauty of crossing shadows.

“hush” KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation Synagogue, Chicago, Illinois, USA; photography by Julia Walsh
“wild wonder” Wisconsin, USA; photography by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“in adoration” St. Rose Convent, La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA
“upon effigies” Effigy Mound National Monument, Marquette, Iowa, USA; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“holy ground” Avila, Spain; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“ways to go” Chicago, Illinois, USA; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Christ of colors” Reading, Pennsylvania, USA; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“blooms” Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, Illinois, USA; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“in the shallows” Sparrow Lake, Ontario, Canada; photography by Julia Walsh

Sometimes, when such silent shadows stun me I remember this song, by Jars of Clay called “Fade to Grey.”

alive in the studio

Trying to be a faithful Christian sometimes feels like living in God’s limitless art studio.

God is the Great Artist who is always at work creating us anew.  We get to co-create and this communion brings us closer to God.

Since ending my ministry at the high school my creativity has been slightly out of control. I have felt like I can’t keep up with the energy that has been trying to express itself.  My room has become more of an art studio than a bedroom. It is littered with paper scraps and my fingernails continue to be caked with glue, clay and paint.  God is at work and I am working to cooperate.

Apparently, being released from a stressful and demanding ministry has had an interesting impact on me.  Although little of the creativity has manifested on this blog, a lot of the holy integrations of my the past few years have been breaking loose and causing some good contemplation.

As I’ve been constructing, I’ve been thinking: Art can flower and force new consciousness.  And, creativity is a spiritual path: co-creating with God implies union with God. Truly, I can testify that when I create new things with God I experience God’s presence and energy in ways that truly astound me.  How does one describe feeling God’s energy?

For the union to exist with God while I create, I have to be open and trust. When I am writing, sculpting and painting I have to let go and let God, as cliche as it may be.  The final product is not up to me.  If I want the creations to truly glorify God, I must be empty and allow God’s creative power to be in control.  Really, I’ve found that at times a meditative trance can take over and the blessed buzz of blending words, images and textures can manifest meanings that are beyond me.  It’s really awesome.

Plus, good creativity is very messy.  Like in a healthy ecosystem, new life breaks forth out of rotting death.  The holy paschal mystery is alive and well in the chaos.  Seemingly bizarre artifacts can be combined to create something completely unusual, yet totally beautiful.  When I stand up and look at the big picture, the creative space can appear as if a storm has swept through.  Really though, there’s an order and a clarity in the mixtures. I am often surprised.  I learn a lot about God’s ways when I see the chaos of creating.

The main art project that has consumed my time and energy was building mini-grottos to pray for issues of peace and justice.  These diorama-type shrines will be prayed with by my community during our Education Week gathering this week.  The justice and peace committee that I am a part of hopes to increase consciousness, conversation and prayer around the issues of immigration, food, economics, education, church and health care.   Here’s a preview of the art for all the sisters and affiliates who read this blog:

“mighty money: a grotto to pray for economic justice”    by Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

In the building of the God’s reign, God is the Great Artist.  God is in control and we get to cooperate, often times completely clueless about the finished product.  Let’s trust God in our personal development and in the complicated messes of systemic injustices.  Let’s also do our part to help create new works of art.  When it’s up to God, new life can create new consciousness.  We never really know how other creatures shall absorb a new meaning from something we had a part in.

Alive in each of us, God is constantly clipping and creating art anew.  Wow, I love living in this art studio.

Coloring outside the lines

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Diedrich

Scripture reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Scripture Readings: 1 Samual 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-6; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

“This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus maintains a continual conversation with the religious leaders of his day. In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees question him for his actions.

I think it is important to remember that Jesus was a Jew. He grew up in the traditions and customs of the Jewish people. He called the temple His Father’s house. He worshiped in the synagogue on the Sabbath and celebrated Passover.

The Pharisees had painted a picture in their mind of what it meant to be Jewish. Anything that deviated from this picture was neither faithful to Judaism nor to God. Thinking inside the box is safe. The status quo is comfortable. Coloring inside the lines is easy.

Yet, Jesus never let his life be defined by the Pharisees. He constantly challenged the Pharisees to expand their ideas of what it meant to be a faith-filled servant. Jesus did not fit in the Pharisees’ picture. Jesus colored outside the lines. He loved his enemy, overturned the money tables, and healed on the Sabbath.

Some lines are good. They act as a guide, show us wisdom, and can help lead us into community with others. Yet, when lines become too rigid, they separate us from each. Rigid lines cause us to not be able to think of the world in a different way and can lead us to become unconscious of the decisions and actions we make each day.

Our faith is not a color-by-numbers assignment. Rather, God gives us a gigantic box of crayons. We have the options of different colors, different combinations, and different patterns. We are called to color outside the lines of class, gender, race, religion, age, peer groups, politics, and social and economic classes. As Jesus said, “we are to become like children” and our lives are to be a canvas full of color, light, imagery, and the love of God and neighbor drawn out through radical action and love.

This week I invite you to reflect what lines you have drawn that you need to cross over. Where have unbending lines been drawn that inhibit faith? What areas of your life need color? Where in your life has Christ’s light not shined? Today is the day to break out your box of crayons and color your life to reflect the radical Gospel message of Christ.

Originally from Madison, WI, this week’s guest blogger, Elizabeth Diedrich, is currently a Catholic Worker at Andre House of Hospitality in Phoenix, AZ. She spends her free time hiking, playing Euchre, and making pottery. Elizabeth and Sister Julia enjoy sharing tea, chocolate, cheese and long conversations on peace and justice. Read Liz’s other Messy Jesus Business guest blog entry, in your own soul.

Photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/592496