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Seachange

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Early talent often dominates identity.

I must have been five when I drew a profile on an etch-a-sketch and discovered the delight this odd little knack produced in the people around me. I first drew to impress; I continued to draw because it gave me joy. Yet I was confused, and my art, being ultimately autobiographical, was confused.

Crisis inevitably flooded my life and spilt into my studio. While earning my Master’s degree at Yale, the stark revelation that I felt valuable to God and others only because of my talent was a truth too difficult to avoid any longer. So I gave up, let go… and it all unraveled. At the end of the undoing, God waited patiently. Secure for the first time in unconditional love, I asked nightmare questions: Should I do art any longer? What should it be about? So I spent time studying God with the same focus and fascination I experienced in the studio. He absorbed me more then any painting ever had, and I was willing for the first time to risk it all, to be misunderstood and unimpressive because I was fastened securely in Divine love, what could any man’s opinion do to me?

And so I thrashed about in my studio, contending with the task of interpreting colossal concepts like eternity, free-will, chaos and order with laughably insufficient tools… with pens, plastic, paper, scissors. In the thrall and fear of it all, I found myself traveling far, making progress till I was able to describe my work thus: I use lines, only lines. Steered by simple rules, these lines are given the opportunity to accumulate and, given time, strange, intricate articulations begin to take shape. I use rules to see if there can still be surprise in the midst of structure, hoping that basic imitation of such mysterious processes can infuse a kind of intuitive understanding of their ways. Choosing the most basic, childish parts, I assemble them in the most basic, childish ways. It’s embarrassing really. But in the end, somehow I write deliberate, accidental symphonies…scribbled one ordinary note at a time.

posted by linnea
4:54 PM

10 comments

Alarms Will Sound


The ambulance gnashes electric blue teeth

Tearing through parting streets

Lifting a wail

Like a spinning noose above the city

To catch my throat

And speak for what has ruptured

Silent and inside.

posted by linnea
4:50 PM

0 comments

Things Not To Be Afraid Of

Monday, July 24, 2006


Greatness (your own or others)

Suffering

Appreciating Others (and letting them know)

Excellence

Disappointment

Love

This Moment

The Next Moment After That

Being Appreciated

Risk

The Future

The Facts (they aren't everything)

Being Seen

The Purple People Eater

Your Great Uncle's Dentures

or

Full-fat Dairy Products

posted by linnea
5:28 PM

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And I Quote...

Friday, July 21, 2006


“To be in love is to create a religion who’s god is fallible.”-Valery

“I am who I want to be, but she is not who I thought” -Linnea

“The Conceptual Age requires androgynous minds” -D. Pink

posted by linnea
9:41 AM

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Shadowed

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Christ stands 100 feet tall in a robe of concrete

blank against the agile sky.

Everlasting arms jut

over the sugar-cube suburbs of Rio de Janerio;

His massive thumbs are tucked,

as though ready to dive.


City between His palms

the sun cranks

rotating shadow over laundry lines and furious traffic

smokestacks and flowerbeds. Deity

anchored on the pivot of pierced feet,

skids over parking lots and shopping carts.

All this

snag and clutter of civilization

swept by solar fission

and solemn testimonial shade


But in Chicago,

the skyline is muscular

brute commerce

drags slabs of shadow over curbs,

crosswalks, exchanges, intersections

and a chain-link fence that

meanders like a drunk man.


Where, tangled in the rust and shade

our statuette savior, diminutive

tips his chipped embrace over the Interstate:


Semis, vans

and taxies

flash

between the span of His Blessing.



( I wrote this piece comparing two images that I saw in the same day: the collosal statue of Christ that stands sentinal over Rio de Janerio filmed from a helicoper and aired on some educational TV special, followed a few hours later by a blurred glimps of an abandoned garden statue of the same Savior seen from the I-94 Chicago interchange.

Same template, different effect. So much content in such silent posture.)

posted by linnea
7:22 AM

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How The Mountains Must Pray

Friday, July 14, 2006


(Written in the Rockies)

Hear, on the upturned palm of the earth I am pressed into the sky. Earth lifts itself to You in great walls of stone scared by the epic passion of soil for sky.

I too am earth: clay, mineral and salt quickened by Divine Breath; and this soil that I am longs for the sky… strains to breach the burden of distance between what mortal and what is eternal.

And so… I lift myself as well.

I rise in prayer, pressing myself to heaven with the kind of fervor that rips up from me impurities with bone-jarring shock. Coarse monoliths, high and unavoidable, hoist themselves from my once unrumpled plains of serene religion … of easy, sun-drenched normalcy. These are the seismic events whose collision creates landmarks and monuments, cataclysms that scar and orient me. Plow my fallow ground from beneath so that familiar horizons burst wide with conflict and desire so hot, that shocking substances shoot from unidentified places - caverns of building pressure, fissures of scalding tension. Subterranean anguish rockets into daylight and I blink in surprise as envy, spite and sullied motives all hurl themselves up from my once placid surface. I need to be near to you Oh Father in heaven, and in lifting myself up to you I can in no way disguise the nature of my soil.

Earth that I am, tear and boil … let the torque of tectonic plates speak truths too difficult for speech. Prayer spits and arcs from me… inarticulate, deeply felt.

Yet as the air settles, Your sunrise spills on the face of these torn cliffs and escarpments; fingers of light catch the glimmer of gold. Coal and gold interweave in tangled seams of strata.

I have been found rich with the promise of refiner’s fire; and the wealth of promise is richest of all.

posted by linnea
7:55 AM

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Difficult to Keep

Thursday, July 13, 2006



Attention is difficult to keep; it skips like a stone skimming water. Few of us have the gravity and stillness needed to halt our dizzy spin over the surface of things. Speed, you see, is an idol of our age. It is one of the chief deities in our self-made pantheon of false gods; we are dazzled by it, convinced by its hoodwink results that efficiency and progress share definitions. So, for the cause of speed and the reward of efficiency we make lavish sacrifices that would excite the envy of even Baal, who’s alter was perpetually wet with the blood-red treasure of every civilization over which he cast his dreadful shadow. Perhaps we moderns are essentially the same as those greedy, supplicants, whose aim was to manipulate blessing on their fields and flocks by their bloody bribery. Perhaps we, as a culture, also sacrifice a valuable treasure to the god of efficiency; all too hastily we trade the slowly blooming wealth of meditation, of a reasonable pace and considered life, in order to reap the cash crop of progress. Meditation, then, is a kind of disciplined rebellion against one of the most enthralling gods of our age. Meditation is apostasy to our culture’s results-driven religion that reigns with almost unchallenged impudence. Yet it is powerful knowledge to realize that we are each capable of nurturing within ourselves an insurrection waged with the unlikely weapon of stillness.

Stillness is synonym to attention, a kind of attention that sustains like the whirr of a cricket’s chorus, throbbing an entire summer’s night, saturating both its open and small spaces with sound. It is a patient and unflagging song, each note, more then stereo. To truly study something requires similar multitudes of patience and faithfulness, as well as a submission to the object beheld, allowing someone or something to creep into all pockets of the mind. Stand before the thing you wish to know and humble yourself to it…. Even the most lowly thing: a word, the palm of one’s hand, a spider’s croquet web, a lemon secretly ripe or a claustrophobic chrysalis, torn by thrashing insect birth. Fixing on these meek things, dinking in their attributes, noting their minutia and larger meanings, these are energetic pursuits. Training one’s attention on something is exactly that: training. Arresting ourselves, encountering and quieting our over-caffienated, self-absorbed thoughts as they riquochette round our mind. Such thoughts are a chaotic throng that crowds into our consciousness mind, shouting, spilling things and starting fires. Collaring and submitting them, willing them into humbled attention to the object of meditation is no lax or natural enterprise. Small wonder that meditation occupies vast tracts of time, half of it is spent disciplining our own minds to not merely look, but really see.

Some practices and experiences sharpen this skill of seeing; acquainting us with the treasures found and won through the discipline of sustained attention. Drawing, study, writing, prayer, and the experience of love each contain at their center a particular shade of meditation. Drawing, for me, is an especially concrete and intense form of focused meditation. When I trace the outline of a friends face, for instance, I am completely submitted to its contour, to the balance and unique proportions of the person before me, it has become my purpose to notice, to watch with an almost greedy eye the hollow beneath the lower lip, how the mouth curls and tucks or how the cheek sweeps or a nose lifts its bridge of bone between glittering eyes half-hooded in their twin cradles. My own eye slows and the face shows itself to me, no longer obscured by language, presumption, symbol or names -- those linguistic abstractions beneath which the unique arrangement of features now before me is normally categorized and no more noticed. Names often assume understanding and behind the bulk of those assumptions we no longer notice the surprising details all around us etched in the most familiar of places. The most skilled and enviable explorer is the one who discovers the familiar as though it were new and strange, over and over and over again. They may never get marooned or capsize on the high seas, yet they lead a life of open-eyed interest and fresh vigor, discovering new continents daily.

When I draw, unnoticed things begin to emerge through the discipline of patience. I see Jill, Gabriel, Colleen, or Josh differently, freshly… perhaps for the first time. My attention must be as slow, as particular as a pencil’s point, the simplicity and smallness of the tool determines the speed, which cannot exceed the attention of my own eye and mind. The practice of drawing sharpens the art of meditation. It is then that I learn to be quiet enough to let something outside of myself speak to me about its proportion, about its relationship to its surroundings, about its exquisite balance, scale, color, incisions of light and pools of shade. Absorbed, quieted, I bend myself close to the task and catch the whispered language of the world around me, the glossy extroversion of a lemon rind, the accidental grace of poured tar scrawled in sinewy calligraphy on city streets, and the theatrical sky that wears as many moods as there are kinds of weather. Slowing myself enough to actually notice requires surprising effort; yet, when I do, the mute begin to speak to me about themselves, and the world comes astonishingly alive.

Study is also slow and subduing. In order to learn a subject, it is first necessary to enslave yourself to it, to spend watchful hours in the humble service of observation and let its language and concerns—be it cardiology, the migration of moon moths, or the expansive spirit of philosophy- dwarf and alter your own understanding. Study is an exercise in assertive humility, the act of muting our own chatter and half-formed ideas in order to allow the influx of things greater then ourselves to accumulate and smother under their ponderous weight our own thin presumptions. Only from the authority of long humility can we assume to know much of anything at all.

Love on the other hand, is a reflexive form of meditation. It asks no permission takes no prisoners, and displays a brazen disregard for our own selfishness. In the first flush of love… the kind that involves bended knees, stiff tuxedos, and the adorable ring-bearer who, though his task is simple, still nearly wanders from the isle on some mysterious quest all his own … the obvious symptom of this kind of love in its opening stage is an aggressive, unrelenting meditation. There is an impulse to dwell on every aspect of our beloved to the point that everyday life is repeatedly invaded with pleasant distraction. Human and divine loves mirror each other in this, among many other ways. When divine love first floods us, the upheaval is cataclysmic. Mind and spirit are continually caught up in thrilling meditations: dwelling on the lavishness of Christ, his dogged perseverance, astonishing mercy, winsome grace and scandalizing love. It becomes difficult to concentrate, to walk straight, or to keep from grinning like a doped fool. Truly, love like this is helpless meditation, falling in the truest sense of the word. Later, inevitably, the discipline of sustained attention must be implemented once comfort and familiarity have domesticated the unbridled wildness of first love.

Yet it is under the sway of this demanding kind of distraction that we first practice meditation in a way, that, were it mindfully cultivated and sustained, becomes a kind of continual prayer. Whenever another first captivates us, we keep their image near the surface of thought, and, in moving through the world, we are consciously or unconsciously testing it for reminders and resonances of that cherished image. It is as if we tap and knock everything in experience and press our ear against it to find if behind its walls speaks the muffled voice of our beloved… echoes and whisperings leaking through the familiar that remind us of the extraordinary. It is as if we carry this image in our core with such care and attention that we ask the entire world if it too, has seen the beloved. Every object encountered is asked this question above all questions and soon all of creation is rebounding with responsive echoes and reminders of the one occupying our perpetual meditation. Both the ridicules and the sublime, the comic and gorgeous are infused with this image; cartoons and sunsets somehow both call to mind the beloved. Yet these are meager shreds and scraps that we daily collect when we are swept up in human love; how much more all of creation … even the most modest atom, hums with the reverberations of our Divine Beloved, who supports and fills all things. A heart that is filled with his song, finds that the entire world is vibrating with thunderous chords in the same key. His image and song is in our love-sick heart and we look to the world to find the sparkle of his eye on the diamond crested wave of Pacific hue, the timbre of his voice in the tympani’s rolling crescendo, his gentleness in a grandmother’s thoughtful gestures, His intelligence in the functional, intricate thicket of microscopic systems … all the world is stamped with Divine fingerprints. When love for Him crowds our meditations, when we ask the world if it too has seen him, the planets that he set spinning like tops, the galaxies that he set afloat on oceanic space, the bizarrely tailored creatures of the deepest sea and highest mountain all give a resounding ‘Yes!’

Only in love are our prayers and praise helplessly perpetual … attention that is not difficult to keep.



posted by linnea
12:49 PM

0 comments

Branching From Her Blood

Wednesday, July 12, 2006



This morning I helped my Grandmother put on stockings prescribed by her doctor. They are tight, designed to constrict like the skin of a sausage. For years now, poor circulation has prevented the proper rush of blood through her legs.

Lately, I notice that she carries her body like cumbersome luggage. By her disposition you wouldn’t know her pain, but her marbled, purplish skin expresses what she prevents her mouth from speaking.

This morning her ankle lay in my hand, naked and thick. Without warning my vision blackened under a flood of panic. Something had punctured the blissful carelessness of my youth and I sat on my grandmother’s bathroom floor holding her ankle, disoriented, dazed and utterly terrified. All the while, acutely aware that in the other room, propped on the cherry wood dresser is a sunny snapshot of some July afternoon in which my Grandmother stands at the zenith of her own youth. She is on a pier, triumphant head thrown back, hand resting on a comely hip, long legs in shapely silhouette against the expanse of Cottage Lake, sparkling. Her equally beautiful friends flank my glamorous grandmother. One seems to be loosing her balance in a giddy paroxysm of laughter. No doubt the strong arm of some forgotten beau will soon enter the frame to steady her. They wear cheerful bikinis and hairstyles cut to their era…. my grandmother’s smile is blinding. Now I am holding the ankle of that same summer beauty, and wasn’t that picture taken only last week? Surely it was. Must have been. But on my palm her skin is waxy and stiff; like wood, indurate… hardening unto death, her leg is heavy and clumsy, knee a wad of tissue- like the elbow of a diseased elm.

It is Saturday. Take a picture of me now: strong, in the backyard, full sun, red skirt, green grass, smooth skin … at this moment, right now, when I hold the dying limb of my family tree in my own hand. Years promise to come, I am vital and expectant, but in this one nauseating instant, I am absolutely terrified. One day my own body will betray me, and it will feel like two weeks from now.

Time is the smallest thing of all.

posted by linnea
11:16 AM

0 comments

Ordinary/Extraordinary

Common things tend to be invisable... the trick is te see what is obvious. Then all things are sunstruck and the world becomes blinding with beauty.

Who knew a bag of bagles could be transendent?








posted by linnea
10:44 AM

0 comments

Truth Comes In Blows

(Or…. Disillusion, False Virtue and Dented Ideals)

There is no small difference between an idealist and a believer; they are vastly different.

This may not be obvious, but what IS clear is that all identities and experiences are an alloy of difficulty and ease, joy and pain, the anticipated and the unexpected. Idealists don’t see this, though those who know better shout about it, wave flags of warning and generally do their best to publish the truest report to prepare others aiming to be, oh, say an artist, a father, a teacher, a spouse. Instead of heeding and assimilating the facts offered by those who know, idealists wade-in, bewitched by the dazzle of the artistic myth or marital bliss or some such other fuzzyheaded half-Hollywood fantasy. And when the inevitable hammer of reality dents and bends those ideals into the shape tailored and appropriate to the particulars of circumstance, idealists feel as though their idol and motivation are desecrated by the touch of the actual and there is a crisis of faith that causes pause, perhaps even abandonment.

We want the world as we dream it should be, not as it is.

At this point the sense of outrage and bankruptcy feels somehow justified, as though no warnings were issued. But they were. The very fiber of existence is run through with threads of caution and realism. Every identity has both its obvious attractive qualities and it’s perhaps more hidden difficult ones, only discovered through experience. Even a child could tell you that.

Adults are always telling children that childhood is the best time in life… savor it, cherish it blah blah blah blah…. small wonder kids are convinced adults are crazy. Don’t they remember the curfews and chores, bullies, and groundings? Childhood certainly contains these tortures, but it is also pure bliss: afternoons of creek-wading and long games of twilight tag, weaving between lightning bugs under dusky oaks. Both are true. It is not as though this lesson is unavailable or tardy in the timeline of existence. It IS lovely to be a child, an artist, a wife, a gardener…but you also get some scabs and scratches in the actual job of being these things. How is it that this truth is both so obvious and unexpected, always a surprise when we actually experience it?

At such moments, two attitudes present themselves. Idealists can choose to become resolved believers, shoring-up hope with discipline, or go limp and become a cynic.

Many man-made ideas influence this choice, the strangest of which is the idea that ‘passion’ is thought to be a cardinal virtue… the absence or vacillation of which in any decision betrays a lack of genuine heart or feeling. At least that is what is thought … AND taught. Taught most often from pulpits. But common belief isn’t true simply because the majority agrees. Truth is not democratic. Never has been.

That the church has blindly adopted the notion that emotion is the index of sincerity and righteousness in thought and action is infuriating, dangerous and utterly un-biblical. This idea, at its root, is existential and speaks nothing to the truly Christian virtue of faithfulness, of the salutary power of limits.

If nothing else, the Bible is emphatic about the deception of the human heart…. Who can know it? Certainly not its owner…. Only, perhaps, its Lord. But that Lordship can be heeded or ignored and dramatically different consequences will follow. There is nothing wrong with making decisions with your head and requiring the heart’s obedience whether it is glad to comply or be in full rebellion to a chosen course. The heart feels and the mind assesses; God uses both and they must work in tandem. A ship needs both the map and the sail. Emotional winds are to be caught at the right angles, their power directed by the mapped information. Some winds are rejected outright; take no easterly wind if your course is west.

So, then, there is an call to discipline… lordship…a kind of faithfulness that determines to withstand all persuasions, including emotional mutiny, and move forward only on the chosen way. Obedience is the strongest evidence of love - or so the Bible bluntly says. And when we are commanded to love, all the resources of human determination are clustered together: ”Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, spirit and strength.” Love is too difficult to support with only one ingredient, so why make emotion chief among equals?

Grant feelings such power, and they become fickle tormenting gods… why submit to such despots? Choice is our one weapon against their tyranny. Small, stubborn choices are powerful to bring down empires, to break long bondage with the incremental force of persistence, and God promises His substantial reinforcement if we would but choose. Freewill is the thumbprint of the Divine; but it is a healthy thing to recall that humanity is a strange mixture of eternity and mud, stardust and dirt. We are free to use the better part - our sovereign will - to steer toward the true Light …. or toward our own unattainable will-o-wisp. Lord, teach me to number my days so that I may gain a heart of wisdom…. not mere feeling.

Human passion is a potent force; but who is Lord, your heart, or His Passion? His Passion was demonstrated in the staggering choice to die for the ungrateful; He allowed His whole life and death to be steered by love despite wrestling in the Garden with strong desire to do anything otherwise. Yet He persisted to the last breath and the greatest love was demonstrated in the most unbelievable obedience. Will we imitate His example, and allow the tension of love’s limits give shape and direction to our existence, or give our lives to the whims of emotional hedonism?

There are no doubt dreams and passion are powerful, ecstatic realities of human experience and life would be intolerable without them. But never enthrone them. Be suspicious because while giving gifts with one hand, unexamined dreams can rob with the other. They can steal this moment, and the next and the next and the next… like pennies one at a time. Distracted by dreams, reality, in all its commonplace glory goes unguarded. It is not our place to think over-much of the future, and if we do, it is wise to ask whom or what shapes our expectations. Most unspoken expectations could very well be false, in which case disillusion in itself is a shattering blessing. It is for our best when our illusions break because it is then we can be shaken from their spell in order to question the sorcerer and ultimately decide to let disappointment or determination shape your destiny.

It is a fact that things go wrong in life. Thank goodness it’s short; things are really messy down here. In truth, it is a blessing that there are troubles that do not leave us; we need Him because of them. Even given all that’s necessary for happiness we humans would create a flaw. Besides, how could we ever hope to even know what will makes for happiness? Circumstances certainly do not. There will be no final arrival, no static state of bliss and balanced contentment; anyone who says otherwise is lazy and wants God to coddle them, to carry them through this bewildering life as though they were helpless, hapless children. Those who talk overmuch about perfect destiny are suspect. With such theology there is no need to make decisions, to feel any real guilt or trepidation, instead we can shovel all such personal responsibility into the shadowy, romanticized abyss of ‘Divine Destiny’. For God’s sake, grow up… yes, for God’s sake and yours. Viewing life in such a way can smear God’s reputation with horrible evils; the torture of Chinese Christians is not Divine Destiny, it is wicked. God, however, promises to redeem our troubles. They may not be removed, but whom we choose to be in the midst of them can change everything. The prisoner who chooses hope is to be envied more then the crown of a despondent, cynical king

And that’s another thing. There is this unspoken concept that cynicism is somehow inherently truthful. It is not…. lazy, self-protective unbelief is what that is. Cynics guard themselves from disappointment by never trying; they do not risk, and so, stagnate in their self-made safety. Hope and determination are the only steering forces that shape identities, cynicism stalls motivation, robs the future, darkens the spirit, it is the opposite of hope. Cynical disillusion is not truthful, it is pernicious.

Perhaps it is better to take idealism in one hand and disillusioned cynicism in the other and mix them to form belief, which is neither foolhardy nor disparaging, but realistic, motivated by hope and fortified with determination. Under the influence of belief, perhaps then it will be possible to step through the door of decision armored by faith but light-footed with hope.

Faith, Hope and Love are an indivisible Trinity, no one aspect is possible without the others. Greatest of these is love… but Love must be Faithfully, repeatedly chosen under the influence of great Hope. Only then does childish idealism fall away and the true believer born.

posted by linnea
10:41 AM

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