Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I wanted to share this painting, given to me by my friend Christyn Hall. She is a Vancouver-based artist who paints with make-up; nailpolish, mascara, eyeshadow, you name it. This piece is entitled (In)Dependent.

Because it's Lent I've been thinking a lot about materiality. All of my attempts at renunciation failed miserably, not so much for lack of intent as for lack of discipline. I've realized what dedication is required not only to acquire things (such as knowledge), but also to shed them as well. It is interesting that this time in the Christian calendar, this time of scarity and leanness, is the time where the natural world begins to swell and overflow with colour and abundance. As if the earth is mirroring the resurrection that is to come, in the Christian year. The cherry blossom-infused spring air gets into my skin. It crawls into my mouth and nostrils, filling my body, turning my blood pink.

The way God (or Spirit or Wholeness or Being or Mystery or whatever we choose to call Him/Her) chose to come to earth, via the body of a regular joe-carpenter, reveals some important things about this God. Ours is not purely a religion of spirit. Jesus was not blinked into existence. He worked wood and had cousins, he had a belly button, ate and drank, cut his feet on broken glass, and felt tears clear the dust from his face. Christ teaches us, among other moral and spiritual things, that our bodies matter. Our desires, our pain, and our ecstasy are the hands and breath and skin of God [him]self. We were made in the Image of an Invisible God. Look around you, God walks in the litter-strewn rocky paths of strangers. When we feed a stranger, we feed God. Maybe today God would've come as a dishwasher or construction worker. Perhaps, perhaps.

I think that Christians often let themselves get too weighed down with "spiritual" matters. "How's your relationship with God?" "Do you pray every day?" "How are you doing spiritually?" This is important of course, as we are so much more than just bodies. However, I tend to think that if we could learn to balance the spiritual with the material a little more, our planet and our time on this earth would be a whole lot more just. When we take the bread and the wine, we are reminded that God is substance, too. Church isn't just about blessings and prayers, it is about touching others, and about giving and receiving the physical nourishment of the substance of God. St. Paul said "In Him we live and move and have our Being." Our relationship with the Divine isn't (entirely) like our earthly relationships. It isn't simply a matter of "spending more time" with God. It is, I tend to think, as Annie Dillard writes, "all a matter of keeping our eyes open." And that can be hard enough.

One of my favourite novels, the Victorian Utopia, News from Nowhere, contains this quote:
"The spirit of our days was to delight in the life of the world; in an intense and overweening love of the very skin and surface of the earth on which man dwells." I want to learn to love the earth like this.

and a poem of mine:

I am etched on a thousand walls.
Memory, like cave-paintings, hieroglyphs,
flicker across oak thresholds and stuccoed ceilings.
Beauty is the soul's materialism;
innocent, honestly
silvering the edges around us.

My palm on the wall beside the bed,
Tunnels imagined, escape
or just plaster and wire
Walls like skin, cracking
from exposure to light,
breathing the constant breath
of heat and cool.
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Ruth said...

Amen, sister! This post screamed at me. All heart filled and beautifully written and I love the art! I'm not sure why this all spoke so well to me today, but thank you.
My world/ work right now is a whirl pool of should think, do, be, shouldn't think, do, be, of God... I love perspective.
If I may, I will post a link from my blog.
Thanks again.

Jen said...

Thanks Ruth! I'm so glad it touched you.