There are moments in life when you find yourself sitting at the edge of a metaphorical precipice.  Sitting, you feel the vastness of nature and space.  Thankfully, there is no sense of falling but there is an expectancy that looms in your heart; it is the expectancy of a Divine encounter.

It is graceful to say guests are never late, instead of shouting obscenities and ridiculing tardiness.  Grace extends well beyond any one person’s imagination or understanding.  You need to understand that grace is like the air we breath: all around us, always there, plentiful and full of life.  However, you tarnish grace by your determined and self righteous attitude and find that the air, once so fresh, is polluted and hazardous.  That is not grace.  That is the leftover expression of human will.

Return once again to the precipice.  As you sit there accepting that you had a sensation to sit and wait awhile, the question persists: why should I wait? Could it really be for God?  Your mind races around the thought and causes you to question whether this was really important. Yet, in your heart there is a yearning to encounter and know; a desire to transcend the gap between here and the other.

The precipice offers a unique attribute to the sitting pilgrim; it is the desire to fly free and to know.  To know, is to be incorporated into something, to have a deep, even mystical understanding of an idea, concept, thought, or reality.  It is transformational and opens the mind to new dimensions of growth and new understandings of grace.  It may be a heavy burden to know but that heaviness gives us roots to a new way of living.

Rumination of thought can only last so long before one becomes tired sitting on the edge.  You are still waiting for that Divine encounter and it has yet to occur.

Take a deep breath in, hold it, exhale and repeat.

When you feel you are at the edge you need to realize that if you let go of somethings in your life they will simple fall away.  There is something about letting go that gives one the opportunity to see the world with new eyes.  You clog your vision; you despoil it with falsehoods; you deny what you see for what you want to see.  But here, all of that can be released into the universe to be recycled and made new.  In turn you find yourselves being made new by what else, but by grace in experiencing the Divine.  Yes, the Divine was there collecting, caring, protecting and guiding.

As mentioned earlier it is graceful to never scold a guest for being late.  The reason why this is true, is because you did not realize you were the one late to the party, the appointment, the encounter with the Divine.

The Precipice

The Voice

The sun was just setting over the stores on the opposite side of the street when the old fashion bell rung announcing the arrival of a patron to the tiny shop. The owner, who was meticulously keeping watch of the time till closing, sat at his desk and could not clearly identify the shopper. The late afternoon sun was shining brightly into his eyes. Before he could even make out who it was, a sharp voice echoed throughout the store.

“Yes, I am here to inquirer about God,” the voice said. It was a woman’s voice but not like one he had ever heard. It was high pitched and had undertones of a snobbish personality mixed with an essence of cheap perfume. It was certainly not a person one would desire to engage in the street, restaurant, or store; yet, the shopkeeper was going to have to welcome his guest.

Taken aback by the woman’s question, the meticulous shopkeeper stammered for a moment wondering why anyone would enter his shop inquiring about God. His was not an establishment that would have anything to do with theological endeavors into the omnipotent mind that is God. There were no indications that he offered religious supplies, trinkets, or anything that had the remote possibility of being godly. He sold plain and simple goods. Just goods.

“Welcome Madame,” he said. “I am sorry but I do not understand what exactly it is you are pursuing. We do not have anything here that would be clear and helpful to someone seeking to know more about the Almighty.”

By this point the woman was clearly visible and he understood the peculiar voice for it came from a rather peculiar looking woman.

Dressed mostly in thick furs of differing previous creatures, the woman stood easily six feet tall and topped her height with a mighty hat. He could have sworn he saw something moving in her hat, perhaps one of the many creatures she was wearing was not yet dead, but he kept that to himself. The woman, in turn, who extended her nose towards the troposphere, looked down on him from the very rim of her glasses. She was not expecting anything spectacular, but she never did expect anything spectacular, and her conclusion was right. Staring back was a short man, plumb all around to the point he could be dressed up like a Christmas pudding and someone might dig a spoon into him! He had a quite disposition, quite the opposite of his patron in every way.

“Well,” said the woman, “I was explicitly told to come to this store, on this day, at this hour to inquirer about God.”

“I am sorry Madame,” he said with a hint of disbelief “but I do not know why someone would think of sending you here. This shop only has basic home goods but might I ask you who sent you?”

The woman was not pleased about the man’s tone of voice. She was not used to being questioned or needing to explain herself to anyone.

“That is none of your concern,” her haughtiness almost knocked over the man.

It became suddenly still in the room. Neither said anything to the other. The woman stared off in the distance and the shopkeeper kept his position unsure how to help. The quietness was eerie and they both felt it.

“Well, certainly there is something in here about God?” she said and began to rummage through the card stand next to the register.

She made a loud humph and snort while picking through the old card set.

“Madame,” he said again “apparently this means a great deal to and I would really like to help. It meant enough for you to come in here seek an answer and the only way I can help you is if you let me. Please, who told you to come here?”

The woman looked the little man over once more and with a dismissive tone said, “Well, I do not know who exactly who told me to come here.”

“You mean you did not know the person.”

“No, I mean it was not a person,” she snapped back. “It was more of a voice saying to come to this store today and inquire about God.”

The man gave a startled look that began to morph into look of disbelief. The woman noticed immediately and promptly retorted, “I am not crazy. I heard a voice explicitly say I was to come to this place. So, I am here and you should have the answer.”

“Madame, I believe you,” he said with an assuring smile. “Perhaps, we both need to listen and see if we hear the voice saying something else, like you have the wrong store, or wrong day.”

“Sir, never in my life have I heard a mysterious voices proclaiming commands. Nor, do I know anyone else who ever experienced such a phenomenon. I highly doubt we will hear the voice proclaim anything to us. We best get under way and discover why it is I was sent.”

Despite the woman’s thinking the man still had reserved feelings concerning this woman’s lucidity. However, as proprietor he decided the old adage is best, the customer is always right. “Certainly, Madame. Let us begin.”

An hour or two had passed. The sun had set behind the buildings and darkness was descending outside. The two had rummaged through every shelf, bin, basket, cabinet, and even noised around the shopkeeper’s back room. Not a single item in the entire store spoke to or about God.

“Well, I am boggled,” the shopkeeper said.

“How very peculiar, the voice was clear about coming here and inquirer about God.”

“Madame,” said the man “I know a little about God. I work hard. I pay my bills. I try to help people when I can but other than that I cannot help nor do I think anything in my store can help you.”

It was at that moment that the shop bell sprang to life once again. The shopkeeper knew by a quick glance who it was that entered the store and headed off to the back room. The woman turned her head to look down for her lofty heights and at first saw nothing. Shocked that she did not see someone she looked further down, removing her nose from the clouds. She was surprised to see staring right below her, handling and petting her mink, a child. Disgust forced her to brush the child away and abruptly scold the child.

“You should not touch other people’s belongings.” The child looked stricken. Never before had she encountered anyone so harsh in the shop. She backed away and apologized for her mistake.

Seconds later the shopkeeper returned with a box. “Here you go Miss Maddie. I hope it helps.”

“Thank you,” the young girl replied and left the store.

“Well Madame, did you find God while I was away?”

“I am afraid not. Certainly this was a fool’s errand. I should be on my way.”

“I am sorry I could not be of more assistance. Perhaps you will find what you are looking for elsewhere?”

The woman snuffed at the shopkeeper’s comment and turned towards the door. “By the way, why was that child in here?”

“Oh, Miss Maddie, now that is a sad story. Her little brother died two years ago during the great winter storm. Her little heart was broken along with her parents. You see they did not have a lot, actually they had nothing, and they could not pay the bills. Well, long story short they lost their home and had to sleep in the car. You remember how cold it got, that was the same time they were living in their car. That night the cold got the little babe and he passed away. Such a shame. Nobody knew they were homeless but at the same time nobody cared to ask how they were.

After the boy died the neighborhood stepped up to help. They now have a place to live and are back on their feet. Well, as much as they can be.

“The mother was in such bad shape they thought they were going to lose her to grief but then Miss Maddie had an idea. She started collecting food items for people in need. She took it on herself to create a food pantry. She went around, house to house asking for canned food items for her pantry. She said she was collecting for Stephen’s Basket, that was her brother name, Stephen. At first people thought they were being nice and wanted to help make the child feel better but before you knew it she filled her home with canned food.

“The mother was shocked to see the outpouring of compassion and realized she had a purpose in what her little girl discovered. She was called to help the least, even though she too was one of them.

“Today, Miss Maddie is still collecting and everybody is helping out. Miss Maddie, her mom and dad, and her brother mean a great deal to this neighborhood.” The shopkeeper concluded his story and wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.

The woman looked down on him and said, “Well, good for her but it did not answer my inquiry. Have a pleasant evening.” And with that she turned with her nose towards the sky and left.

The shopkeeper stared after her for a moment and then heard a familiar voice say, “Don’t worry, she will be back.”

Justice I, II, III

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream.”

~Amos 5:24

I recently painted a picture entitled “Justice I, II, III.” It is a triptych done in primary tones of orange and blue with pigments of red, white, yellow, and green. The colors flow across the three canvases. The blues, flowing from both the left and right, make up circling cataracts of swirling colors. As you come to the center canvas they blues collide in a splash and create a great spray of water into the air. Above the waters the skies with an orange backdrop streaked with whites, yellows, reds and even hints of greens and blues. The sky is pulled together where the great wave shoots into the air and the sky is woven and spun underneath the mighty crash. It is simple. It is alive. It is cool and warm; fresh and new. It is the type of painting that deserves a museum bench to sit on and examine the multiple aspects and symbolism.

The merging and swirling colors are magnificent but for me there is more to the painting that causes me to look deeper within the painting pointing to world well outside the colorful confines. Inspiration for any piece of art comes from something deep within. Perhaps it is a passion for a place, an animal, a bowl of fruit that offers practice to the new artist. The passion for justice started with a simple, understated article I read in the January 2012 magazine Sojourners. Focusing on 21st Century slavery, I was in shock to learn that today there are more slaves in the world than any time in the course of human history. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services it is estimated that 600,000-800,000 individuals are trafficked around the world. This number includes all people regardless of age or sex. The work that these individuals are forced into includes domestic service, sweatshop work, and agricultural work and worse yet sexual slavery.

I was furious to learn about these acts and to read that a child in India can be bought for $5-$10.

The orange in the paint symbolizes the effort to end slavery.

There is a streak of red that comes between the orange and the blue it is not predominate but it slices the paintings in half. This red symbolizes the horrific fact that most of those who are forced into slavery, predominately women (up to 80%), are eventually infected with the HIV and AIDS virus.

As mentioned in Amos 5:24, the call is to have waters “roll down” cleansing and sweeping the world of injustice. The water is the predominate force in the painting as a cleansing and powerful force. One studying the painting should consider that the water is blue, with highlighting colors of white, green, turquoise, green and purple. I deliberately chose not to add the colors brown or black to the water, even though it would make sense to add to flowing waters. Floods and heavy streams are never shades of clean, crisp blues, but are dark and soiled. The waters of justice, even though they waters that cleanse, cannot be soiled by foul and putrid aspects of life. For the waters of justice flow on to continually refresh the world condition. Within the spray of water, there are multiple colors that are evident. As the streams collide they shoot colors of white, purple, blue but also orange, green, yellow, and mauve within the multiple colors of blue. The symbolism here is to represent that the waters of justice claim injustice and do not release, but rather incorporate and them into the flow where they will be later seen as the waters continue onward.

One rather unusual aspect of the flow of water is that on the left canvas there is a small counter wave that is seemingly the result of the colliding wave in the center canvas. This wave is literally going against the flow. However, it is not going against the wave of justice. It is returning, ensuring that justice has gone over and is doing the hopeful work we expect of it.

Another interesting part of the painting is that the sides are unkempt and sloppy. Paint dribbled over the edge or the brush went beyond and marked the sides leaving it not only looking raw but unfinished. The reasoning why it was left this way is to indicate that justice is never done. Justice needs to and shall continue to flow onward.

We equate the need for justice to all those who suffer, who know pain, who struggle, who are silenced by threats and bullies consumed with hatred and prejudice. Everyone in the world has experienced injustice in some form or another. Today, we can turn on the news and see how the Syrian government is killing their own people because of the difference of opinion and belief. This is certainly an injustice that cannot be tolerated; however, it is made worse by countries like China and Russia who have blocked attempts by the United Nations seeking to help the Syrian people.

As a society we cannot stand by and allow such actions to occur; slavery, genocide, racism, sexism, unfair labor practices, segregation, or any occurrence where people seek to damage and hurt one another by lies, gossip, and rumor. We must be prepared to take a stand, to proclaim what is right, to remove the dams that prevent us from being the waters of justice in this world. It is scary and requires courage as well as conviction but yet we who are called to proclaim love, grace and mercy cannot shield our eyes from the black, muddy, rank, waters that so often flood our lives and the world.

The means of Love

To quantify love is to loose the point.

For when love is measured,

The mind easily strays.

It looks for answers and asks questions,

It seeks resolutions and even demands.

For love is not to be measured.

For what could it be measured against?

To understand love is to distract.

Love offered and love gained

Does not need the mind to explain.

Love is free and comes without expectation.

It is true and honest; it is present and sustaining.

Do not spend time on understanding.

For how can we truly understand eternity?

To reserve love is the worst of all.

To hold back and keep from sharing,

Tears the soul; leaves relationships in rumble.

A sin, yes, if love is denied, if love is not shared,

If love is kept for a better day.

Love should not be kept in bank accounts.

For why should we keep something freely given?

Freely given. That is true.

Love has been offered to us from eternity.

It has rained and poured. It has blossomed and sung.

Love came to us as a gift and called us by name.

We cannot measure the One source of love.

We cannot understand the Divine mind.

We cannot keep Love to ourselves.

We can only be humble and offer to all.