Posts Tagged With: art

The Poet and the Painter on Boundaries

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” declares David in Psalm 16. That line boundaries in pleasant places is an odd one, especially read in a time when boundaries are readily broken and often despised. What on earth can David mean?

Yes, when babies are new, they love to be swaddled, bound up in a blanket. Babies need to be held tight and secure. They demand boundaries and find them quite pleasant.

But David was not a baby. As we grow, we unwrap ourselves, thrust for personal space. We demand freedom. Our boundaries fade or even cease to exist. It’s as if the swaddling gave us permission to push. Every frontier must fall. We need to breathe free air.

Strayy Night (12 of 10)Starry nights symbolize freedom, that boundlessness we yearn after. Yet, I find starry skies as frightening as they are inspiring. The night sky is an open gate that if God and gravity were to let go, I would be flung out into dark nothingness. When staring into the beautiful, boundless stars, wonder rises in me and becomes entangled with a shivering insecurity. The sky above me is a hole, vast and unfathomable. Under those flickering stars, it is all too easy to imagine floating alone for eternity.

What am I compared to the stars? Who am I measured against their beauty?

In Psalm 8 David wrote: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

Starry-Night

Starry Night Vincent van Gogh

Is this the vision that propelled Vincent van Gogh to paint his masterwork Starry Night while restrained in an Asylum at Saint-Remy? His brilliant mind grasped two truths and translated their conflicting magnificence onto his canvas. For van Gogh, there seems to be no starry night without solid ground. Firm mountains frame the spinning wonder of unknowable stars. Is it that truth as well as his fabulous brush strokes that draw us to this painting?

Did van Gogh capture an internal landscape as well as an external one?

This is a paradox. Was he showing us that while we push against our boundaries and rebel against any constriction, we also revel in boundedness? At night, with the endless sky yawning above, we yearn for David’s boundaries in pleasant places, the swaddling of God’s love and care. Stars are frighteningly beautiful because from solid ground they call us to recognize something or someone hidden in that speckled dome. Like the swooping question mark in the sky of van Gogh’s Starry Night, the stars call us to question our self-sufficiency our trajectory. In our saner moments stars let us see God has indeed drawn the boundaries in pleasant places.

Strayy Night (9 of 10)

Pleasant Boundaries PC Eugene Scott

P.S. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, those in the U.S. anyway. Obviously, I am thankful you took your time to read this. Do you have a time when the sky–or nature–spoke to you the way it seemed to with David and van Gogh? Tell us about it.

Categories: Art, belonging, creation, Eugene C. Scott, mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Lent: Blinded to God in Daily Life

A list of 47 words for our photo-a-day during Lent

A list of 47 words for our photo-a-day during Lent

After Jesus performs a miracle by feeding over 4,000 people with what amounts to half a dozen Big Macs, the disciples are no closer to becoming believers. He says, “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” Mark 8:18

I can’t say if that describes you. But it certainly is my story. I simply fail to see all the grand and glorious grace of God in my daily life and world. Sometimes I’m distracted, sometimes angry, sometimes tired, sometimes busy, most times full of myself. I’m blinded to God in my daily life.

That is why I’ve enjoyed and been challenged by my church’s photo-a-day devotional (@the_neighborhood_church #lentgallery) on Instagram. Each day those of us participating have been challenged to take a picture somehow linked, literally or poetically, to that day’s Lenten word.

A collage of images of the word broken

A collage of images of the word broken

The project has opened my eyes! I find myself looking for God and his touch (not that I can get God to stand still long enough to pose for my camera). I am seeing life in new light. I am more aware, more thoughtful. I find myself believing that God is present and may even pull off some minor miracle to help my unbelief.

And for me that’s what Lent is about, not giving up chocolate, or TV, or radio. But rather engaging in a pursuit of the God who wants to be found. The God who loved us so desperately that he placed his Son on a cross for all to see.

It’s not to late to join us. Grab a camera, cell phone, or even simply watch what others are posting. And may God open the eyes of us all.

P.S. I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted on Living Spiritually. I hope not all of you have abandoned this blog. As you may know, I’ve been devoting all my writing time to my novel. I have finished it and now have moved into the stage of finding it a home for publication. I will keep you posted. Also I am going to post some of the #lentgallery photos here. Let me know what you think.

Categories: Art, Christianity, creation, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Putting a Face on God: The Most Important Face You’ll Ever See

In the Academy Award nominated movie “Nebraska” Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is losing what little of himself is left via dementia, or via a life and a brain damaged by alcoholism. He receives a clearing house letter that convinces him he has won one million dollars. All he has to do, he believes, is get from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize. The trouble is he can barely walk much less drive. That and he hasn’t really won anything.

Bruce Dern as Woody Grant

Bruce Dern as Woody Grant

His youngest son, David (Will Forte), however, agrees to take him to Lincoln, if only to shut the old man up, prove to him he is not a millionaire, and—maybe—spend a little time with his mentally disappearing father.

Along the way they stop in Hawthorne, South Dakota where Woody was born and grew up. Also, along the way David learns more about who his dad really is, both a miserable failure and a man with a gigantic heart.

In one scene Woody staggers out of a bar with David following. Woody just told his long-lost friends he is going to be a millionaire.

“Did you see their faces? Did you see their faces?” Woody asks amazed.

Suddenly the almost gone Woody is alive. It’s as if Woody remained a good-for nothing-drunk until the proud looks on the faces of his friends lifted him out his wasted life and proved, finally, that Woody Grant is somebody.

We’ve all had Woody’s experience of being affirmed or destroyed by the looks on the faces of those around us. If looks could kill, as a preacher, I would have died several painful deaths. Once, while preaching, I had an 103 degree temperature and kept saying the same non-sensical thing over and over again. It’s a good thing I was too bleary-eyed to see the looks on the faces of the congregation.

Link Enjoying Summer

Link Enjoying Summer

God seems to have given us an eye, literally, that seeks approval or disapproval in the faces of others. Scientists call this facial processing. New

Addi's Fun Face

Addi’s Fun Face

born infants’ eyes track their parents’ faces in a pattern that seems to give them clues about the world they were just launched into. And within days newborns begin to mimic their parents’ expressions. Parents learn just as quickly to mask any facial response to their child’s many near death encounters, else the child actually die of hyperventilating while crying.

But do these faces we put so much stock in reflect reality?

Sometimes.

But often not. For example, single guys are perpetually and particularly bad at female facial processing. This may be why they remain single.

But we can all remember times when we misread facial clues. Sometimes these misreadings have lifelong ramifications. I remember my dad’s face being blank in response to me. And I interpreted that as lack of interest and worse lack of love. Because he died when I was eleven, it has been hard to go back and correct that misperception. So, I’ve looked for love elsewhere. Thank God, I found it.

Giving God a face maybe one of the best of the many reasons God became flesh in Jesus.

The Woman Caught in Adultery by David Hayward

The Woman Caught in Adultery by David Hayward

Remember that sad story in the Gospel of John about a woman who has been caught in the act of having sex with a man she is not married to and is dragged in front of Jesus (that kind of sex was a big deal back then and would have called for not only seriously ugly facial processing but stoning)?

Jesus nonchalantly kneels down and draws in the dirt.

“Go ahead and kill her,” he says. “If you too are without sin.”

Slowly her ugly faced accusers sneak away.

“Where are those who condemn you?” The woman doesn’t know.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Here’s the beautiful thing I’ve seen in this story recently. The passage doesn’t say Jesus looked her in the face or that he had a kind look on his face. But I can’t imagine it any other way.

John 8

John 8

Such kind, firm, life-giving words cannot come from a mouth formed in a scowl. Nor scorching eyes or knit brow. We can all accurately imagine what her accusers’ faces looked like and how Jesus’ face contrasted their withering hate and disapproval.

She could well have said, “Did you see the look on his face?”

And maybe that, along with Jesus’ words, and, of course, his death and resurrection, are what transformed her and allowed her to become who she really was: go and get false love from sex and men’s faces no more.

Diogo Morgado as Jesus in the new “Son of God.”

Diogo Morgado as Jesus in the new “Son of God.”

The question for us is the same as the one Jesus asked this long ago prostitute. “Where are the faces of those who condemn you?” Like the woman, when we focus on his face instead of the myriad of our accusers, we see love and forgiveness, not condemnation. We see his honest omniscient, open face and hear him say, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. Look no more at faces beside mine”

Categories: Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Jesus, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Imago Dei in Her Soul

Poem Eugene C. Scott, Art Michelangelo’s Creation of Eve

Poem Eugene C. Scott, Art Michelangelo’s Creation of Eve

Categories: Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Grey Saturday: Waiting for Communion

Good Friday in downtown Littleton by Eugene C. Scott

Waiting for Communion

The house is silent

Like the hearts of those

Who saw Him hung

And the stone rolled over

In gray morning light

 I remember the last night

We gathered round

A table piled high

With bread and wine

And hope

I sit and wait

For life to stir

His voice to fill the room

And touch my fearful heart

By Eugene C. Scott

A Celtic Prayer of Waiting

Though I am poor…
though I am weak…
though anxious of heart…
tried as I am…
though [the way] may be hidden…
though the night is here…
though you be silent now…

Categories: Art, Christianity, Community, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

How Helplessness is Good

The Good Friday Cross, photo by Eugene C Scott

Spending time in a hospital is torture. People are always coming to visit and nurses and doctors are always bothering you with thermometers, needles, medicine, and bedpans. They think they are trying to help. Why can’t they leave a poor sick guy alone? When I get sick, I lock myself in my room alone until the fever, vomiting, or worse passes. This is mainly because I don’t like people to see me in that way, in my weakness.

In 1992 I had to have a laminectomy. After years of maltreatment, my back went out when I was at work in a church in Illinois. Unable to stand and unwilling to ask for help, I crawled down the back stairs from my second story office, out the back door, and down–more stairs–to my car (I am not exaggerating). I spent weeks lying on the floor of our house refusing to let anyone but my family see me in such a degrading, helpless state. Finally I had to admit my need for help. After the successful laminectomy (thank God), I was in varying stages of helplessness for months. I was being healed but getting there was humiliating.

What’s all that have to do with Easter? Just this. The whole Jesus story is about our human helplessness. And our unwillingness to ask for help. The cross is a constant reminder that I cannot save myself . Nor can you. No matter how many self-help books I read, goals I set, lists I make, verses I memorize, years I live I cannot–by myself–overcome my deepest faults or fiercest fears. I am weak and helpless.

As singer, songwriter Bruce Cockburn puts it in his song “Dweller By A Dark Stream,”

“It could have been me put the thorns in your crown
Rooted as I am in a violent ground
How many times have I turned your promise down . . .”

But I don’t want you or God to see me in my helplessness. No matter how much I need it, I don’t want help. So I deny it, hiding, pretending, obfuscating. Yet true transformation, true victory over faults and fears, comes only in looking up, reaching up, to those hands stretched out on the cross. Every year, like a lamb, Easter slips back into our lives showing us two things: our need for God’s help and God never tiring of offering it.

Cockburn continues,

“. . . Still you pour out your love
Pour out your love”

This Easter is no exception.

P.S. If you have no place to celebrate Easter, consider joining me at The Neighborhood Church. Click here for more info.

Categories: Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, healing, Jesus, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Power of a New Day

Categories: adventure, Art, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Living Spiritually | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Good News of Les Mis

The Grace Board

The Grace Board by Eugene and Dee Dee Scott. Photo by Eugene C Scott

A few months ago I saw a thought-provoking work of art called “Before I die I want to.”  It’s an artistic bucket-list.  As it was designed to, it made me rethink what is important to me.  I wound up thinking about who I want to spend time with–not what I want to do–before I die.  I wrote a blog about it you can read by clicking here.  As art and an image conveying an idea, it stuck in my head and heart like a splinter.  I’m glad for that.

But it also made me realize very little of what we accomplish in life provides a real, lasting feeling or knowledge of worth that so many of us long for.  To paraphrase that old folk tune “My Bucket List’s Got a Hole in It.”  We check off item after item after item after item endlessly adding new items hoping that the next one will fulfill.  But still we just don’t feel right or good or worthy.  Like puppets, we live with strings attached, pulling or being pulled by our desire to be loved unconditionally.

“I love you,” we say, hoping for a like response.

“I’ll help,” we offer, dying for someone to recognize how important we are.

“Look at what I did,” we shout like a child on a swing for the first time.

How different could our bucket-lists be if we knew we were loved, important, watched over by a God who does love us unconditionally, who loves us whether we deserve it, earn it, want it, or even love back?

In Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Misérables” Jean Valjean receives this kind of gift, a gift of grace.  Caught stealing the Bishop’s silver and facing, once again, life in a tortuous prison, Jean Valjean is “dejected” and “overwhelmed.”

Then the Bishop gives him a second chance.  “Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs.”

Thus freed Jean Valjean cannot believe, because he has done nothing to deserve this.  Then the Bishop says, “Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”

Jean Valjean had made no such promise.  But the truth that Hugo proclaims here is that when we receive unconditional love and grace it changes us.  It frees us.  Cuts the strings.  And we must be different.  We can be different!

Because of the Bishop’s grace, Jean Valjean is able to become a new person, start a new life, live under difficult circumstance, run a factory, adopt an orphan, and inspire heroism.  That’s quite a bucket-list.  What are you able to do because of God’s grace?

Imagine then, who each of us could be and what we each of us could do if we received and believed in God’s grace the way Jean Valjean receives and believes in the Bishop’s.  It would matter not that the bucket’s got a hole because God has an endless supply.  And maybe the hole is part of the point.  We let God’s grace and love and forgiveness and eternity out our holes and into the lives of others while God fills us back up.

Oh, that is how I want to live.

So, inspired by “Before I die,” “Les Misérables,” and mostly by the grace of God I have received, I made “The Grace Board.” We set it up in church and wrote what all of us are now able to do because of the grace of God.

The Grace Board

The Grace Board by Eugene and Dee Dee Scott. Photo by Eugene C Scott

Now it’s your turn.  In the comment section finish the sentence “Because of the grace of God, I am able to . . .”

Categories: Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Wonder of Lent

Good Friday Art Walk, photo by Eugene C Scott

This year I couldn’t wait for Lent.  So I started early.  February 4 to be exact.  I know that sounds akin to being excited about getting fired or wearing shoes two sizes too small.  But last year during Lent I added a measure of silence to my life by fasting from television and radio.

It was delicious.  It was like an extended beach vacation where I basked in time for thinking, reading, praying, hiking, listening, watching, writing poetry and my novel (and this blog), photography, and talking with friends and my family.  And doing nothing.  It was rich.  The richest part was the freedom I gained.

There was no talking head or disembodied radio voice telling me what to buy or which current crisis to worry over.  I was free to think my own thoughts, listen to my own music, invent my own stories.  Little do we know how much ambient thought control we submit ourselves to (but that’s another blog on another day).

I didn’t go back until August when the Denver Broncos once again took the field.  Around seven months.  Even then I watched mainly football.  I mean a guy has priorities.  Fitting it was then that I again took up my mass media fast the day after the Super Bowl.

I couldn’t wait for Lent.  Why wait for a good thing?

It’s been two weeks and I’ve been surprised how easy it’s been.  The first day or two I reached reflexively for the knob on the dash.  And I’ve not even thought of television.  And that’s a little disappointing.  Last year the wrestling match in my mind was brutal.  The skinny guy won but the thought of giving up had me in a half-nelson a couple of times.

And out of that struggle came the insights, the learning.  Now I find myself falling into other patterns.  My mind has chained itself to new salve owners.  Mainly thoughtlessness.  Routine.  Low expectations.

Therein rests the new challenge.

This feast of silence will not be one of being caught by surprise.  I hope to be caught by surprise on purpose.

Photo by Eugene C Scott

I’m going to use the silence to renew wonder in my life.  In “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places,” Eugene H. Peterson writes that as children we “lived in a world of wonders” but that “wonder gets squeezed out of us.”   He goes on to say, “wonder is deep and eternal, that we are part of a creation that is ‘very good.’”

At this point, however, I’m not sure what wonder is.  Do you know?  Let’s look together.  I’ll let you know what I’m seeing and what I’m hearing.  Maybe we can wonder together.

Categories: Art, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God Sightings, Jesus, Lent, Living Spiritually | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

What I Heard in Silence

Snow fall out my front window

A muffler of heavy snow shrouds my world.  Only a few inches, but enough.  Fallen snow can create a cavernous silence.  Sound catches in it and rolls up like a huge snow ball to sit and wait for a thaw.  Then it breaks loose again, noisy, intrusive, grating.  Until then, a snowy night is a perfect night for contemplation.

A Feast of Silence.

In silence time passes less swift and mechanical for you cannot hear its deadly tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock.

In silence ideas fly free as chickadees, flitting from one bare branch to another leaving imagination in their wake.

In silence loneliness lurks, waffle soled boots, mud covered, leaving indentations and scuffs on my heart.

In silence words and stories climb out of their caves and sit in front of me like blinking children woken from fabulous dreams.

In silence I hunger for the sweet voice, familiar, resonant, of the one I love.

In silence questions pry up the rocky places in my soul and leave them bare, tender, trembling for answers.

In silence memories wander back up the trail, slapping me on the back, bidding me good day, treating or troubling me according to their given names.

In silence dreams roll over white and billowy and laden, so dragging dark bottoms.

In silence fear scrabbles up my legs.

In silence freedom like a wind drives impossibilities before it, leaving only windswept possibilities.

In silence I hear my own beating heart, the rushing of my own breath, the ticking of my own clock asking, “Is . . . There . . . Someone . . . Out . . . There?”

In silence I feel His voice fill the empty space.  Yes, I am.

Categories: adventure, Art, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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