Monday, November 20, 2017

Thankful for the Grandeur

Quick Watercolor Sketch

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed.  Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell:  the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs---
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah!  bright wings.

---Gerard Manley Hopkins
1844 - 1889

For all the wonderful grandness of creation I am thankful!  To be out sketching in nature with deer slipping across your path or eagles soaring in the heavens is a pure delight.  I am grateful to the great Creator God for all these experiences. May you bring a heart full of thanks to this Thanksgiving holiday!

Live bravely and beautifully!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ninety Years

"Roses for Mom"
Pen and colored pencil

Today is the birthday of my mother, Mary Bell Whitbeck.  She turned ninety.  At this point in life, I admire anyone who achieves this milestone.  Think of all the life that has been lived, all the ups and downs, hardships, beautiful moments, and many ordinary days that encapsulate a long life.  My mom had a very eventful early life that many would never dream of experiencing.  As a teenage girl of fourteen years during WWII, she was returning with my grandmother and uncle from West Africa to the United States.  En route, their ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk in less than two minutes.  They were among the few survivors and floated aimlessly for weeks on the Atlantic Ocean in a small life raft with 19 others until a very dramatic rescue.  Books have been written about it, one of which is my Uncle Robert Bell's account, "In Peril On the Sea".  As I look back over my family's history, I see indications of God's faithful involvement throughout.  Because of that, I am here to write about it today.  My mom has been through and suffered much.  These pink roses are a tribute to being her favorite color.  Happy Birthday, Mom!

An Evening Landscape

The artist of creation
Revealed his work to men
(The sun lay down till morning
All knew he'd rise again).

The clouds that covered heaven
A perfect canvas made
And as the painter touched them
They changed from shade to shade.

One watching down below them
Would almost gasp with joy
As colour after colour
The artist would employ.

Then suddenly it ended
And evening lost its light
While thanks to God ascended,
The artist said good night.

---Elroy Roffe
(My mother's uncle)

Live bravely and beautifully!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day Weekend

Quick sketch of Table Mountain near Mt. Baker

This weekend I took a break from a back-to-school schedule full of lesson plans and preparations to squeeze in a few minutes to sketch.  This setting is in the beautiful Pacific Northwest Cascades about an hour from home.  Anyone care to hike that trail crossing the rocky scree of Table Mountain?  What an inspiring view you'd enjoy!  

There is a Pleasure in the Pathless Woods

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.

---George Gordon, Lord Byron

Live bravely and beautifully!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Leave the Routine Road

Pen and colored pencil sketch-Bellingham Bay

Lately I read the Robert Frost poem "Unharvested".  In it he used a phrase that struck a chord with me.  It was written like this:

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall, 
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load...

We all struggle with keeping a balance in life between the tyranny of the urgent and the daily round of doing chores, going to work, and keeping life organized.  And keeping a schedule keeps chaos at bay.  But at the same time, we can get so stuck in that cycle that we forget to notice the unusual or any oddity that presents itself.  We don't nourish our curiosity by pursuing the quest to find out things.  If you are around small children any, you will be bombarded by lots of "Whys" about things.  Somehow in the growing up process, we forget to ask why or how or what.

Keeping an inquisitive mind takes effort.  Digital technology bombards us with the constant text message or Facebook notification.  We can walk past people and never look up from our device to notice them.  Noticing things is a part of being fully alive and engaged with the world.  It keeps us focused on where our feet are...on what is happening in our environment.  Giving yourself permission to leave the routine road on occasion opens up new possibilities and opportunities.  Life becomes more of a fascinating adventure.  I love the poem by Sara Teasdale about the things in life to see and hear and feel and smell, that can't be bought with money:


Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Live has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

I like what King Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs that encourages us to be on a life-long quest for gaining wisdom and understanding in life.  He urges one to "cry out for insight, to ask for understanding, to search for them like silver, to seek them like hidden treasures."  Those are vivid action verbs expressing a yearning and deep, down desire to learn and gain wisdom.  This life is so full of amazing, fascinating things.  Above all the possible subjects to study, the first and best place to start is with the foundation, which King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said was with the Creator God of the universe.  This is where true knowledge begins.  It's where God unlocks His heart to us and makes us wise and alive to all the rest of this fabulous creation we live in.  So leave the routine road, get curious again, and enjoy the adventure of being a life-long learner!
Leaving the routine road in the Pacific Cascades

Live bravely and beautifully!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Adventure Awaits!

(Woodburned house sign on old pine)

Have you had an adventure lately?  Do you live an adventurous life?  I like what Helen Keller said about the topic:  "Life is either a great adventure or nothing."  Not much squirm room for gray area there.  G.K. Chesterton provides an interesting perspective on the subject:  "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.  An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."  Apply that to your next vexing circumstance!

One of America's most adventurous presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, gave this commentary about an adventurous person:  "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure...than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

Being a creative person as an artist puts one on the route of an adventurous life. It is risky and takes courage to create art.   I like what filmmaker Godfrey Reggio said about the process:  "A life of creativity is a life of risk.  It is a life going beyond your ordinary, or embracing the odyssey, of leaving your familiar, of trying to make a contribution."
(Small watercolor study of Medicine Bow Peak, WY)

What is an adventure?  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as "an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks, or an exciting and remarkable experience."
Does that appeal to you?  A number of years back I read to my four children the amazing account of Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 epic attempt to cross the Antarctic overland with his crew.  How would you respond to a Want Ad like this?!
You can read more about this heroic, gripping, suspenseful tale in the book Endurance:  Shackleton's Incredible Voyage.  
What makes people take risks and dare boldly?  What takes people to the top of the world's highest mountains, on treks across the Sahara, or on solo crossings of an ocean?  What is it that drives a human being to endure extreme conditions, to leave one's comfort zone, and risk daringly? 
(Small watercolor study of Mt. Whitney, CA)

Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Paul Tournier wrote that there is a need for adventure in the heart of man.  He goes on to say "that the majority of broken lives that we see seem to be suffering from the fact that this need has been repressed and is gnawing away inside...their lives remain fossilized, as it were, in conventionally mediocre patterns." The antidote to mediocrity in life is responding to a life of faith lived in God.  Seeking after God is the most wonderful adventure of a lifetime.  As Dr. Tournier expresses, "it takes all those who commit themselves to it much farther than they expect.  It is the source of an ever-buoyant enthusiasm."  I like how St. Augustine of Hippo put it:  "To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement."

So....what's holding you back?  Adventure awaits!

"The Road goes ever 
On and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow,
If I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way."
---J.R.R. Tolkein

Live bravely and beautifully!

Friday, June 30, 2017

A River Runs Through It

(Quick watercolor sketch of Sumas River, BC)

Rivers are captivating elements of landscape.  These natural flowing watercourses move along at a constant pace, taking your gaze across the surface with it.  Here and there a rock or broken tree limb may punctuate the tranquil procession.  One senses motion and not stagnation around a river.  Abundant lush vegetation along the banks testify to the power of water in plant growth.  Beauty and serenity are experienced in a river setting.  Nourishment abounds to plant and animal alike.  A river can provide transportation to another place.  

Mankind has been enamored with rivers through the ages.  Rivers have been written of in poems and songs.  Artists have included their magic in landscape paintings.  Movies have featured them.  Communities are built around them.  Life thrives around a river.

Columbia River, Wenatchee, WA

We also thrive when we choose ways for richness and depth to flow like a river into our lives. Taking time to read substantive books, to look at meaningful art, to listen to great music,  to spend time in thoughtful conversations, and to be regularly in nature cultivates our souls.  The frenetic schedules many of us maintain shrivel our well-being and reduce daily life to just covering the bases.  King David wrote that "all our busy rushing ends in nothing (Psa. 39:6).  Such a life is not attractive but diminishing.  We have nothing to give out of the overflow because there is not much inflow.  We need time for reflection and evaluation.  Life is meant to be lived fully and grandly, not on the run. I like what French psychiatrist Dr. Paul Tournier wrote:  "God likes life; he invented it.  It is to the full flowering of life that he calls and leads us."  And I also find directive wisdom from the words of King David regarding the importance of having our souls planted by the riverbank which is God's Word.  That's where true thriving occurs! Here are his words from Psalm 1:
Oh, the joys of those who do not 
follow the advice of the wicked, 
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the LORD,
meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.

You can find another beautiful word picture of a river in Psalm 36 where King David again writes:  
How precious is Your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
in the shadow of Your wings.
You feed them from the abundance of Your own house,
Letting them drink  from Your river of delights.
For You are the fountain of life,
the light by which we see.

Live bravely and beautifully!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Bear/Bare Necessities

(Small watercolor study)

All living things require some basic essentials in order to survive from day to day.  Boiling down a bear's requirements will lead you to basically two things they need.  One is food. That's not surprising! For a bear, eating is serious business. What kinds of foods make up a bear's menu?  Contrary to Goldilocks' findings, bears enjoy berries, roots, and grasses. They will dig for rodents, eat ants, grubs, other insects, and sometimes meat from a winter-kill animal, fish, or larger mammals.  

The other necessity for bears is shelter for the winter.  From the fall to mid-April a bear usually stays in hibernation.  It may dig a den in a hillside, under tree roots, or stay in natural caves.  During this period, their heart, breathing, and body temps lower to conserve energy. This enables them to survive the long winter period without eating.

"More Than You Can Bear"
8" x 10"

Food and shelter...the bare necessities in life.  Bare necessities are what you would consider as just sufficient resources.  They are what is absolutely necessary, with nothing to spare. As humans, we also need nourishment and shelter.  So much information is available to inform one on how to eat healthy.  Many of us endeavor to make wise choices in our diet. But I want to encourage you to not neglect the feeding of your mind and heart, as well.  Never stop learning!  If you stop learning, you are dying inside.  Read widely and read deeply. A favorite quote of mine is by Benjamin Disraeli:

"Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think."  

Joseph Addison also made a similar statement in the 18th century:

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."

So....what are some great books that you have read in the past year?  Are you currently reading one?  Gene Edward Veith wrote that "the wielders of influence will always be those who read and write".  Readers are leaders!  Gladys Hunt has written in her book, Honey for a Woman's Heart, that "reading makes one bigger on the inside...reading helps one feel is a window into takes us beyond ourselves."  Reading is an absolute necessity if you are going to grow in understanding life and contribute to other's lives.

As shelter was a necessity for bears, so it is for us.  Beyond our physical dwelling places, a place of safety and nurture is required for our souls.  Where do you turn when encountering life's overwhelming problems?  King David wrote in a variety of his Psalms verses like these:

"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
---Psalm 62:5-7

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and
my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.' "
---Psalm 91:1,2

So as you head out into this summer, don't forget the bare necessities.  Take along a great book.  Read to nurture your soul.  And be sure of your shelter.  What anchors your life? Think carefully about that.  And keep an eye out for those bears going about their serious business foraging in those mountain berry patches!

Live bravely and beautifully!