A Diamond in the Rough

Thoughts after reading a passage from Ephesians, and attending the Festival of Faith and Writing:

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms… (Ephesians 3:10, NIV).”

When I read this passage, I thought, “Hmmm…who are the rulers and authorities…why do they care what the church is doing…what is the church doing anyway?”

Commentaries noted that “manifold wisdom” means that God’s wisdom is like an intricately cut diamond, that has many faces and facets that enhance its beauty. Commentaries noted that God’s work through the church, causes angels and heavenly beings to glorify God.beads like diamonds

“But many people have been hurt by the church,” I thought. “God’s wisdom may be manifold, but the church is too often a ‘diamond in the rough,’ its facets shrouded and clouded. “

(Photo at right: My prayer beads look like diamond dewdrops  in the garden)

I heard a great speaker at the Festival. He said that he was initially excited about the call to follow Jesus. Then he became disillusioned, when this call got equated with going to church and being good. Later, this man read in the Bible about Jesus and his radical love. Now this man is a prison chaplain and shines brightly with a heavenly flame.

This response fits with Paul’s letter to the Ephesian, which is about God’s amazing and radical work, in making Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ (see Eph. 3:6). Paul goes on to say that when Christ ascended, he gave gifts to his people, to build up his body, the church (Eph. 4:7-13). God has given all of us unique gifts.

You may be a prison chaplain; you may write children’s picture books, but when you think of following Jesus, don’t just think about going to church and being good. Lets’s think about being the church that God intends, and letting the love of Jesus flow to us and through us, outside of the church building. Let God show us the unique people he has called us to be, the gifts he has given us that help us connect to him with joy. Let the living water spill out of us into the world.Let’s iInvite others to connect to Jesus and his body, the church. This is radical. This is Jesus.

••••••••••••••

The prison chaplain is named Chris Hoke; he has written awesome books, and his website is: http://chris-hoke.com/

I heard the prison chaplain speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing, April 14-16, 2016, at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a very awesome conference!

Please comment on any of these questions:

  • How does the idea of being observed by angels and heavenly beings, affect how you interact with people in the church?
  • Has your church experience been mostly positive or negative?
  • Why/how is God’s glory in the church so often shrouded and clouded?
  • What gifts has God given you?
  • How do these gifts help you connect to God and build up Christ’s body?

 

Good Friday and Isaiah 53

I use this crucifix for prayer. It was created by liturgical artist Grant Gilderhus, for a wall or procession cross.

(Grant’s website:http://www.vista3designs.com/uniquely-qualified)

cropped_cross 1

I notice how Jesus’ arms are stretched out wide, wide enough to embrace me and the whole world (even a world that rejects him).

He was despised and rejected by men; 

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 

The crucifix is made of metal. I feel its weight, as I hold it in my hands. I think of laying on Jesus, my sins and pain, burdens and sorrows.

 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.cropped_cross 2

I touch the wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet. I know He suffers with and for us.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole…

I experience new freedom, as Christ bears all my burdens on the cross. 

   and with his stripes we are healed.butterfly

 

May it be so this Easter!

(Scripture verses from Isaiah 53:3-6, Revised Standard Version)

 

PLEASE COMMENT on what helps you connect to God during Lent and Easter—

Are there group or individual spiritual practices, traditions or Scripture that God uses in your life?

 

Barbara’s Writing Must-Have

This is my post  for the Breathe Writer’s Conference. This Christian writer’s conference will be held Oct. 7, 8 in Grand Rapids, MI. Hope to see you there!

on Mar 18, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

BreatheConference.com-8-300x300

In order to write, I must have light. I love to turn on the white twinkle lights, the ones on the white cords, left over from Christmas and still strung about my house.They help me settle down and sit to write, as they twinkle at me from over the French doors in my office.

These tiny lights lift my spirits and point me to the One True Light. They remind me of the star shimmering over the dark clouds of Mordor, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien writes, “The beauty of [the star] smote [Sam’s] heart…and hope returned to him…the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

PLEASE comment on what you need to have in order to write or do creative work.

Barb_photo-300x277Barbara is an author, artist and chaplain. She writes, designs, and illustrates books, and has published an intergenerational devotional book on Communion found at http://www.amazon.com/Supper-Savior-Communion-Bible-Today/dp/157383453X

– See more at: http://breatheconference.com/home/featured-articles/barbaras-writing-must-have.html#sthash.qcLDbAIy.dpuf

Jesus’ First Miracle on the Third Day

God’s Glory in the Ordinary

We are nearing the end of the season of Epiphany in the church calendar. Part of Epiphany is Jesus’ first miracle, changing water to wine at a wedding.

(This is a photo I took in Italy this summer, of modern-day guests arriving for a wedding.)wedding_guests

John  writes,

“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him (John 2:11).”

 I recently gave a message on this story, in which Jesus blesses marriage by his presence. I was struck by several things that I had not noticed before. To those at the wedding party, wine was a symbol of joy and celebration and a sign of God’s provision of fruitful land. God cares about the things that bring us joy, and we can bring all of our cares to him.

Wedding Feast coloring picture

(This drawing is from my book, “Supper with the Savior.” Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/Supper-Savior-Communion-Bible-Today/dp/157383453X)

The large pots that Jesus told the servants to fill with water, were used for Jewish rites of purification. Hmm…and the water put in those pots turned to wine…and at the Last Supper, Jesus said the cup of wine was his blood of the new Covenant …and at the end of time we will celebrate the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).”

It is clear that this story has Eucharistic implications. (“Eucharist” mans thanksgiving, and is another word for Communion.) We are now purified through Jesus’ blood, which we celebrate in Communion.

The artist Veronese recognized the Eucharist implications of this story.

Here is a link to images and a commentary from the Louvre Museum in Paris, where Veronese’ painting of the Wedding Feast at Cana now resides after being captured, rolled up and transported to France by Napolean’s troops:

http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/wedding-feast-cana

(Accessed for this blog on Feb. 1, 2016)

The commentary on this painting by Aline Francois notes that,

“in the center of the composition a servant slices meat, symbolic of the body of Christ, quinces—symbols of marriage—are served as dessert to the guests. “

The commentary also points out that the artist mixes sacred and profane images. This reminds me that Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:30). We are all sinners in need of the great physician; this tells me not to live exclusively in the bubble of my church community.

The Third Day

John specifies that this happened “on the third day (John 2:1).” This was the third day after Jesus had called Nathanael and told him he would see greater things (John 1:50). John is also pointing to Christ’s resurrection on the third day.

Many years before, the prophet Hosea had referred to the third day and called out,

“Let us return to the Lord…on the third day he will restore us…he will come to us…like the spring rains that water the earth (Hosea 6:2,3).”

In the Bible, the third day symbolizes fulfillment, completeness, restoration, resurrection.
flowers

 

Jesus’ first miracle reveals that Jesus is our Lord the healer prophesied by Hosea, the restorer who brings new life, like spring rains awaken sleeping seeds buried in the ground.

 Water Pots

 

I like this utube video of the Marriage at Cana. (That part of the video is about 3 minutes long.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTAl-v2qkc8

I like the sly smile Jesus has, when he asks his mother why she involved him in the wine issue, and says his time has not yet come. (“Woman” was a respectful address in that culture.) Notice how Jesus’ power is apparent as the pots are being filled and the water is changing to wine. His glory is almost scary.

I also like how the chief servant looks a bit confused after the pots are filled with water, but still follows Jesus’ instructions. (That is how I feel sometimes, but I can still live faithfully.)

The bride and groom continue to celebrate blissfully, not realizing all that has happened. Isn’t that like us too—not realizing all Jesus has done for us?

 

Wine and the Fountain of Life

At the Cana wedding, Jesus’ wine was the best. His party at the end of time will supersede anything we have yet experienced. All peoples are invited to the feast:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
… he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;

 It will be said on that day,

“Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:6,8, 9 New International Version (NIV), Revised Standard Version (RSV)

This miracle reminds me that there are things worth waiting for, and I don’t have to fear growing old.

wine

As theologian Alexander Schmemann writes,

[Christ] is the wine of the new life of the children of God, and communion in it will proclaim how, by getting older and older in this world, we are growing younger and younger in the life which has no evening.

(Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, New York: St. Vladmir’s Seminary Press, p. 91).

Comments are welcome!

How has God’s glory in Christ been revealed to you? What miracles has God done in your life and community? When have you been aware that the Holy Spirit dwells within? How have you have experienced new life, restoration and joy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advent and the Feast of Christ the King

Supper_Italy_king_Jesus
King Jesus

(Text and images copyright 2015 by Barbara Bjelland)

I took this photo during a fabulous trip to Italy this summer. It is from the San Martino Cathedral in Lucca. I had never heard of Lucca before, but it is quite the hot spot in Italy, known for its mediaeval architecture and concerts by celebrities such as Elton John.

This image is carved in white marble, and sits below a painting of the Last Supper. Notice the chalice below the right foot of Christ, the grapes at the top and the wheat at the bottom. The sculpture makes plain that in Communion, we drink from a chalice filled and flowing from the life-blood of Christ. The tall crown indicates that Jesus is a King, not of this world, but over this world and all the cosmos. (Communion is at the heart of Christian worship. To see my intergenerational book on Communion, go to http://www.amazon.com/Supper-Savior-Communion-Bible-Today/dp/157383453X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449667293&sr=1-1&keywords=supper+with+the+savior)

The Feast of Christ the King was celebrated this year, on November 22. “Christ” means one anointed by God. In Bible times, a king would be anointed by having sacred oil poured on his head, to show that he was chosen by God to act as God’s representative. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925–a time when secular dictatorships were rising in Europe. This feast emphasized that our true allegiance is to Christ, who is Lord of all.

3_kings

Now we are in the season of Advent. Among other things, we think of the shepherds and the wise men from the East, and remember that Christ came for both Jews and Gentiles, for everyone and for each one.

Though they may not have understood that Jesus is divine, the wise men recognized that Jesus is King, and they bowed down and worshiped him (Matthew 2:11). Our spirits are formed in part, by gestures and actions that we do with our bodies. The Bible often connects worship of God with bowing or kneeling, as a sign of reverence, and willingness to surrender the whole of one’s life to God:

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel  before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    
the flock under his care.                         Psalm 95:6,7 (NIV)

This psalm reminds me that worship involves trusting God to care for me; He is a gentle shepherd-King who provides and cares for his flock. God is reminding me that I don’t have to live by my own strength and power. As I wait for God’s strength, I can rest in His love.

Worship is saying “I love you” back to God.

We love Him with our whole lives.

This Advent, may you anticipate the coming the King of the cosmos.

May He also be King over your heart, mind and soul.

………………………

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT:

  • What does worship mean to you?
  • What gestures help you worship?
  • What feelings and memories are connected to your experience of Advent?

 

 

Prayer by Basil the Great, to go with “Creation Groans”

I just came across this prayer by Basil the Great (c. 329-379), in the Encyclopedia of Prayer and Praise. This prayer sheds light on some of the theology in my painting,  “Creation Groans.”

(Please see post below and my ArtPrize page: http://www.artprize.org/barbara-bjelland/2015/creation-groans for more on this.)

“O God. grant us a deeper sense of fellowship with all living things, our little brothers and sisters to whom in common with us you have given this earth as home. We recall with regret that in the past we have acted high-handedly and cruelly in exercising our domain over them. This, the voice of the earth which should have risen to you in song has turned into a groan of travail. May we realize that all these creatures also live for themselves and for you–not for us alone. They too love the goodness of life, as we do, and serve you better in their way than we do in ours. Amen.”

cropped_St_Francis

I also post this prayer, and my drawing of St. Francis, in honor of the Feast of St. Francis, which many churches in the United States celebrate on Oct. 4. Many animals are brought to church for a blessing on this day.

Please comment:

How do you see Creation groaning?

How do your “little brothers and sisters”  bless your life?

(Text and images copyright 2015 Barbara Bjelland)

Creation Groans

“Creation Groans” is my entry in the seventh annual ArtPrize competition, here in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

clipped_Creation

If you are in Grand Rapids between Sept. 23 and Oct. 11, 2015, I hope you will view my piece and consider casting your vote (by Oct. 3) on my behalf! My vote code # is: 62066. For more on where to see my artwork, and on the ArtPrize competition, go to:http://www.artprize.org/barbara-bjelland/2015/creation-groans

(Prints of this artwork are for sale; please inquire via my email: bjellandbarbara@gmail.com).

This piece of art is close to my heart.

Creation is beautiful but broken.whale_hand

This imagery grew out of a Lenten meditation. My artwork suggests that we are in God’s womb, together with the whole round earth, being nourished by God, and being formed into his image.In all of our affliction, God suffers and groans with us,longing for the full redemption of all creation, which will take place at the end of time.

(My meditation was on Ephesians 2:10, says, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ…”, and on Romans 8:22 which says,The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”)

Like an expectant mother holding her womb, the hands that flung stars into space, still hold us all.creation_hand

The process of creating this painting helped me experience many aspects of the world God created in a deeper way: the tenderness with which God holds the creatures He loves; the wonder of the night sky and snow like cake-frosting on the mountains; the power and danger of crashing waves; the horror of evil and expulsion from paradise.

small_adam_eve

 Artwork often takes on a life of its own, not deliberately intended by the artist. I intended the hands to represent God the Father/Creator; other things changed their meaning as the painting progressed.

I chose a polar bear to represent the suffering of Creation, because the polar bear’s habitat is diminishing. The polar bear also became a Christ-figure : God the Son who suffers with Creation, yet who is distinct from His Creation, that he may redeem it in love. bear

I referenced the falling bird from a painting by Marc Chagall, about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. In my painting, the bird became God the Counselor/Sanctifier/Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters at Creation, and who rends the heavens and comes down to us.

bird

For a terrific article by Dr. Lynne Baab on “Listening to Creation as Part of Environmental Stewardship,” with links to a United Nations light show on the Environment, and an article on “Spiritual Practices that Nurture Creation Care,” see:

http://www.lynnebaab.com/blog/listening-to-creation-as-a-part-of-envir

Please comment on “Creation Groans,” and join the conversation!