Lenten Art Meditation:

Madonna and Child of Budapest (title of oil painting, 8″ x 10″)

ArtWay Visual Meditation 14 March 2021

I was honored to have my Lenten art meditation posted on this international and and theology website, on March 14, 2021. It will still be available at this site, and I am posting it below. www.artway.eu

This site has lots of wonderful resources for individuals and churches, with the quote by Dante: “Beauty awakens the soul to act.”

You can also purchase the artwork and/or meditation on my website at: http://www.BarbaraBjelland.com

Afflicted Ones Rising with the Son of Righteousness

by Barbara Sartorius Bjelland

In all their affliction he was afflicted,
        and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
        he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. 

Isaiah 63:9, RSV

This painting was inspired by a recent trip to Budapest. The two background buildings are the Hungarian Parliament and St. Matthias Church which actually face each other across the Danube River. One night I visited the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a small memorial next to the Hungarian Parliament building. Sixty pairs of bronze shoes tell the story of the 3,500 people, many of them Jews, who were killed at that spot by Nazi collaborators during WW II. The victims were lined up, ordered to remove their shoes, and then shot, their bodies falling into the river and turning it red with their blood. The image sticks in my mind—little children’s shoes, stylish women’s pumps with curved heels, men’s lace-up walking shoes, none of which could protect the people from the horror at the hands of their fellow human beings.

There was an oppressive dreariness about the place. I could not fathom the atrocity. I felt connected to both the oppressed and the oppressor, knowing that my grandmother was a Jewish American and my grandfather was a German. At the memorial there were freshly laid flower bouquets and burning candles. In the dark waters the reflected lights of Parliament mingled with the candlelight. The lights illuminated a pathway across the river to St. Matthias church, the most beautiful church I have ever seen. It was if I were glimpsing the heavenly Jerusalem on the other side.

My personal tragedy years before was the still-born death of our first child. At that time God provided comfort through an image of Mary. So, as I prayed for God’s love and redemption to bloom in the place of the memorial, this image came to me. The Madonna was inspired by the brown-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe with her star-studded mantle, a woman “clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet” (Revelation 12:1, RSV).

The virgin’s cape rolls and wraps around the child like the waves of the river. I pictured the Madonna and child descending into the waters with the slaughtered people. The mother and child also ascend, carrying the people up to God. The faces that unintentionally turned up in the upper church windows seem to be angels or heavenly beings with expressions of horror, expressions much like the man standing on the bridge in Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream. There is a paradox in my painting—one that cuts through the heart of our world: if God is all-loving and all-powerful, why does he allow such evil? An intellectual understanding of the consequences of free will, the pervasiveness of sin, and the brokenness of all Creation, does not fully satisfy. It is more accurate to say that Satan and his workers, though conquered, are still alive and active in this world.

Lent reminds us that God does not stand far off in our suffering. Christ came to suffer to conquer sin and death, and he suffers with us today. As Isaiah writes, “In all their affliction he was afflicted and the angel of his presence saved them.” There is another message that rings throughout Scripture: Christ will return and the veil of death, evil and sadness will be removed forever. As God promised through the prophet Malachi, “The sun of righteousness will come with healing in its wings (Malachi 4:2).” And we will gaze upon this son face to face.

As we wait, Christ gives us signs of his love and care. The deep reds and purples in the painting point to Christ’s blood and the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We celebrate that God’s love has come to us and binds us together across all our divides. The moon above curves toward Mary and the child like the eye and hand of God. I often gaze upon the moon and feel the love and peace of God shining down on me. The hand of the Father sends forth his own child that he may return with victory spoils: hearts turned to him, love responding to Love. The stars give light and the sky is alive. Here I am inspired by the crescent moons and magical realism of Marc Chagall, whose work whispers that “all the air has wings.”

May we have eyes to see the multivalent signs of God’s presence with us, and may we be transformed by that seeing. May the power of the Holy Spirit give us hope. May we live out our calling as Christ’s image-bearers, knowing each act of mercy has eternal significance. May we know that the son has risen, risen to redeem the world of all evil, and that Christ is coming soon.

I INVITE YOU TO FOLLOW MY BLOG AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION! WHAT THINGS DO YOU LAMENT DURING LENT, AND WHAT GIVES YOU HOPE?

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Barbara Sartorius Bjelland: Madonna and Child of Budapest, 2019, oil on panel, 30.48 cm x 22.86 cm (9” x 12”).

Barbara Sartorius Bjelland (b. 1964) is an American artist, author and ordained minister. She began drawing at an early age and spent part of her childhood in Mexico. Her work incorporates the sense of a mysterious unseen world infusing our own, using movement, light, colour and imagination. Barbara has degrees in Ancient History (University of Minnesota), Faith Formation (Seattle Pacific Seminary) and Theology (Regent College, Vancouver, BC), and studied Studio Art at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She has received multiple grants and exhibited her work widely. She delights to combine visual art with her work as an ordained minister and author, and to create resources for the church. Since publishing an intergenerational, multicultural illustrated book on Communion entitled: Supper with the Savior: Communion in the Bible and Today (Regent College, 2012), a sacramental worldview has been the focus of much of her research and writing, artwork and public speaking. www.BarbaraBjelland.com; blog: BarbaraBjelland.wordpress.com

Advent Moon Angel

 ~ BARBARA SARTORIUS BJELLAND ~ EDIT

This “Advent Moon Angel” is one of my Advent/Christmas images, to use as a Worship Visual or Christmas Card. More black and white and color images on my website at: http://www.BarbaraBjelland.com

(Email me fro more info at: BjellandBarbara@gmail.com)

Here is a beautiful poem entitled “Advent Moon” by Angier Brock. Victoria Emily Jones posted it today on her blog at: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/43151628/posts/3057404952

Let the coming of the One
who arranges Orion and the Pleiades
begin in darkness.
Let the night be cold, with drifts of snow.
Let there be one lily blooming,
and whispered messages, and kneeling.

The fierce earth spins in expectation
beneath the long night’s moon, Advent moon.
Like the restless fox crossing frosted meadows,
the silvered owl in focused, silent flight,
each of us is hungry.
In rooms of untold longing,
we sing our seasoned carols,
watch, and wait.

Let the coming of the One
who kindles fires of hope,
whose faithfulness runs far beyond our sight,
be like the coming of a child.
Let there be milk, forgiveness, quiet arms.
Come quickly, Love, our dearest deep
and sweetest dawning.
Come, fill us with your light.

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As Angier Brock writes, “Each of us is hungry.” We are hungry for God and God longs to fill us. As I preached in a recent sermon, even the longing can bring joy, light in darkness.

When I look up and see the stars and the silver face of the Advent Moon, my heart reaches up to God. During Advent, we prepare for God to come down to us.

I invite you to join the conversation: what makes you reach up to God, even during days of darkness?

#advent #adventblog #moonangel #adventangel #angels #worshipvisuals #christmascards #adventmoon #annunciation

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for the opportunity I had to lead worship services for people with varied physical and intellectual abilities.

I witnessed people who could not walk, blessing others by reading Scripture or praying, sometimes with unintelligible words. People who could not talk stepped in to give hymnals to latecomers and introduced newcomers by pointing and smiling. One gentleman always shook my hand after the service and said, “Thank you for being our preacher.”

They knew Jesus loves them and returned thanks to God by offering their whole selves in worship, illustrating Romans 12:1 (NRSV):  

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

All of us are invited to receive God’s love in a personal sense, and to make a difference in this world. God invites us to respond by saying “thank you” and “yes” to God’s good ways for us. All of us have gifts to share, even during a global pandemic. God even uses our weaknesses and pain to touch others with his love.

Please follow me and join the conversation. What are you thankful for?

Here is a coloring picture I created of a little girl with Down syndrome and her friends. My Leader’s Guide on Communion also includes TIPS for including people with varied abilities. These resources are found in my website store, at: BarbaraBjelland.com

#thanksgiving #thankstoGod #variedabilities #disabilities #worship #coloringpicture #thanksgivingillustration #thankful #jesuslovesme #jesusloves #Downsyndrome #thanksgivingwreath

My Morning Walk

My friend Susan has many gifts to share born of her work as an ordained chaplain, spiritual director and photographer. Check out her new blog!

Peace Even Now

Her eyes appeared anxious behind her sunglasses, but that was almost all I could see of the middle-aged woman as I passed her on my Saturday-morning walk.Despite the summer weather, she was dressed for full coverage in long pants, hiking shoes and a long-sleeve sweatshirt with the hood covering her hair and much of her forehead. Her dark glasses overlapped her black face mask, worn as protection from COVID and the smoke that has filled our California skies the past couple weeks. Only her stiff slender fingers were exposed as she nervously raised them a couple of inches in a timid greeting.

I nodded hello as an attempt to connect in the awkwardness.I was comfortable in my shorts and tank top as I walked along the path.But I knew the burden of protective layers from my work as a hospital chaplain. I had spent my week “gowning up” and donning…

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Trevor Gloats, Psalm 23 & “I Am Not Alone”

Trevor Gloats

Once long ago (in the year 2004), I lived with my family in the country of Wales. In that fair green country, the public hiking paths go through private farmland. The farmers are not always happy about this. So it is wise to look and see what is in the pasture that your trail goes through, before you open the gate.

On one family hike we encountered Trevor the Goat. He didn’t look too intimidating compared to the bull in the next pasture, so we opened the gate and stepped in. Trevor put his head down and butted my son all the way across the field. We crossed that pasture really fast. Thankfully, my son was not injured.

Trevor gloats

Here Trevor gloats over his “victory.”

Psalm 23

After escaping from Trevor, I took a photo that I used for my painting entitled, “Welsh Farm,” which you can see below. The rolling green hills and contented sheep make me think of Psalm 23. This psalm is entitled The Divine Shepherd, and begins:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
    he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters
    he restores my soul
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;  for thou art with me…Thou preparest a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies…

There are two things from this psalm that stood out to me today. The first is, there will be enemies, and they will be a lot worse than Trevor. In the Bible, death is considered an enemy. Jesus told us there will be lots of strife in the world. So though the current world pandemic dizzies us with grief and uncertainty, it does not mean we are abandoned by God. In fact, God can even provide a table of love and hope for us, in the midst of it all.  

Welsh Farm©

I am Not Alone

The second thing that stood out to me today from Psalm 23, is that I am not alone. In verse 4, the psalmist proclaims “Thou art with me!”

This psalm is fulfilled in the Good Shepherd, Jesus (John 10:1-10). Jesus told his friends, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Luke 24:49; Matthew 28:18-20).

I believe Jesus wants us to know, he is with us, and he loves us. He is the Good Shepherd who suffers with us, and who has power to lift us up, because he is divine.

 

Below is my drawing of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who delights to carry his sheep.

 

Good_Shepherd© Even when I’m by myself, I am not alone. I often hold out my hands with my palms open, to receive Jesus’ blessings. Jesus invites us to open our hands and our hearts to him. 

Here is a blessing that was written to a persecuted church:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13: 20, 21)

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Here is REALLY AWESOME song by Tauren Wells entitled, “Hills and Valleys.”  (I don’t believe all loss is God “taking away.” Remember, there are enemies.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4rRCjrAyCs

I invite you to follow, comment and share my blog! For more art meditations or to license artwork, please see my website at: BarbaraBjelland.com

Not Seeing and Yet Believing

Jesus' hand©_pencilAfter the resurrection, Jesus invited doubting Thomas to reach out and touch his nail-scarred hands and wounded side. Thomas did so and responded, “My Lord and My God!” Jesus replied, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:26-29).

When I first read this, it seemed to me that Jesus’ response was a bit harsh. On further thought, I realized Jesus was lovingly pointing the way for Thomas to know him more.

There is something about seeing and touching, and knowing that Jesus had wounds and suffered, that helped Thomas believe. Thomas recognized Jesus as Lord and enthroned Jesus in his heart. He committed his life to following Jesus, to knowing him more and more.

Maybe the point is, knowing and believing in God wouldn’t happen for Thomas by just seeing the facts of Jesus’ resurrection. In John 11:43-53 some people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead still didn’t believe in him and plotted to kill him. Faith and belief are openness to receiving God. In the Bible, “knowledge” is more than intellectual assent. Knowledge is an intimate experience of a person. “My beloved is mine and I am his…” the poet wrote in Song of Songs (2:16). There is love and joy in the intimate knowledge of Christ.

Jesus feet flowers2Jesus’s Feet in the Tomb Garden after the Resurrection

This is comforting to me in my times of doubt. I don’t think Jesus minds if I ask for proof that he is there and that he cares. Many are asking those questions, in these difficult days of COVID-19. The ways that Jesus assures me, speak to my heart, go beyond reason. I have already decided intellectually that the best explanation for the empty tomb and for transformed lives, is that Jesus actually rose from the dead. But I need more.

God speaks to me through a different kind of seeing, a seeing that comes from beauty, from love. I experience these things through Creation, through visual art and music, through touch, through taste, and through God’s Word in Scripture. Like when I saw pink sunset clouds high above the lake and thought of the verse,

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love… (Psalm 103:11).

So Jesus told Thomas, and Jesus tells us: there is knowledge that transcends reason, knowledge that dips into the realm of experience, into the deepest recesses of our hearts. God comes to us in the here and now.

Let’s keep seeking the Risen Lord. He longs to reveal himself to us, as he did to Thomas.

The Breaking of the Bread

God has promised that one day we will see Jesus face to face, and know fully even as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will see and know with the eyes and with the heart. Until that time, one way that we see and touch and taste Christ is in the breaking of the bread. In Bible times, “breaking of the bread” meant eating together. The early church also used this term to refer to the Christian practice of Communion.KM_C454e-20180416182636

Jesus shared many meals with people in the New Testament, and these meals help us understand how Jesus meets with us today. In Communion, we touch Christ’s wounds and proclaim his death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). The beauty of Communion touches us in a place that transcends reason, space and time.

As we see and touch Jesus, we respond with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” We offer our bodies, our whole selves as living sacrifices in the service of our Living God (Romans 12:1-2).

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you (2 Corinthians 12:13).

Description of artwork above:

My drawing depicts the Emmaus Supper where Jesus was revealed to Cleopas and the other disciple in their deep disappointment, in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:35). The other disciple may have been Cleopas’ wife. The baby she holds is visually cradled by Jesus in the crook of his arm, because Jesus loves the children! This meal points toward Communion. Jesus had explained to the two on the road from Scripture that the Messiah had to die and rise. But they didn’t get it and didn’t recognize Jesus, until he broke the bread.

Why is there a goat in this picture? There are several reasons: I was inspired by a painting of Noah’s ark by Marc Chagall, that also includes a goat. The goat is fitting because all of Creation will praise Jesus and be renewed (Rev. 5:13).

lo_Trevor the goat

Also, my family had a memorable encounter with a goat named Trevor…that is another story which I will share in an upcoming blog on Psalm 23.  (I’ll share more on the goat and Psalm 23 for May 3, 2020 which is Good Shepherd Sunday.)

The goat also reminds me of the many ways that God “touches” us. Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop. This ritual communicated purification from sin by the blood of the covenant. This ritual was fulfilled in Christ, “who having been offered once to bear the sin of many, will appear a second time…to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:19-20; 28).

As we wait for Christ’s return, God uses his Creation to communicate and commune with us, as he did in Moses’ day.  Jesus is still revealing himself to us, and has promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).

See my website STORE page at BarbaraBjelland.com for:

  •   “Supper with the Savior: Communion in the Bible and Today,” my intergenerational Picture Book and Bible Studies 
  • Art Meditations/Sermon Starters for Good Shepherd Sunday, May 3, 2020

 

 

The Cross, the Lonely Owl and COVID-19

 

my flying owlOn Holy Saturday, I was drawn to read Psalm 102. Like many during these days of isolation, I was feeling lonely and crying on the inside. I remembered the “lonely owl of the wilderness” which is identified with Christ in his suffering, and turned to this psalm. The psalmist writes,

Hear my prayer, O LORD; Let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress… I am like an owl of the wilderness, like a little owl of the waste places. (Psalm 102:1-3; 6, NRSV)

Cross_©2020 BBjelland

The psalm oscillates between despair and promise:

You will rise up and have compassion on Zion…He will appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute. (Psalm 102: 13; 16-17, NRSV)

I noticed in these verses, that God’s glory is combined with God’s compassion.

This is who our God is.

That made me smile on the inside.

 

 

Resurrection Garments and Psalm 102

After more desolation, the psalmist proclaims:

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hand. They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like clothing…(Psalm 102: 25-26)

I was reminded of a New Testament passage where Paul takes up the clothing metaphor:

For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (II Corinthians 5:4).

Paul envisions death as being lovingly bestowed with new clothes (even more clothes than we had before!) by the hand of our Maker. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul sees the blooming of a whole new world.

Ascension_rec©

In my painting, the risen Christ ascends in glory. Jesus’ dazzling face and garments point to the glory of the New Creation. He is the “first fruits,” and one day everything, including us, will be gloriously renewed.

If we belong to Christ, we are already risen and ascended with him into God’s presence. He clothes us with kindness, humility, patience and love (Colossians 3:1-14).

That thought inspired me to go for a little run by the lake. I saw eagles.

Let us go in peace to love and serve the LORD.

Home Bible/Communion Resources

revised cropped color supper logo copy

Resources are now available as ebooks

and coloring pages to download and print at home.

Please visit my website at: BarbaraBjelland.com

“Supper with the Savior: Communion in the Bible and Today” PARTICIPANT GUIDE includes:

“Supper with the Savior” LEADER’S GUIDE includes artwork and Tips for People with varied abilities (disabilities), and more!

  • Lesson Plans for 3 Home Interactive Worship Services
  • Seder Dinner from a Christian Perspective
  • Theology of the Holy Trinity
  • Bible Memory Verses, Crafts, Games
  • Circle Dance
  • Labyrinth
  • Motions for the Lord’s Prayer

Receiving and Returning Thanks

pottery-barn-pic

Thanksgiving is often minimized in our rush for Christmas. Can you think of any pop culture Thanksgiving songs? Sometimes, I feel guilty giving thanks because it reminds me that I have so much when so many have so little. This season, I am trying to remember that giving thanks is a vital part of my spiritual life, and it helps me share God’s love.       (This display is from the Grand Rapids, MI, Pottery barn)Bjelland_St Francis

When I painted this image of Saint Francis, I intentionally depicted him both welcoming and releasing the little larks that flew into his hands. This image can guide us in giving thanks. We welcome or receive all good things as gifts from God. Then we release or return them to God with thanksgiving.

This helps me remember to thank and worship our Creator God, rather than the gift. This helps me remember that as a member of humankind, I have a special role to play in caring for Creation and One Another. This helps me trust God to provide. This helps me share the gifts God gives.

There are lots of great ways to put this way of thinking into practice…like inviting people over and sharing food, especially those who don’t have family to share meals with over the holidays. THANK YOU to all the people who have done that for me and my husband over the years as we have moved here and there.

In the next few weeks, I am looking forward to cleaning out my closets and thanking God for the clothes that I no longer wear (or can fit into!). Then I will return the clothes to others who can use them through a local Thrift Store. THANK YOU  to all the people who manage and volunteer at Thrift Stores, and all the people who share their used clothes with me.

These are two small ways that we can return all that we are and all that we have and all of Creation, with thanks and praise to God. As theologian Alexander Schmemann writes in For the Life of the World, in “receiving the world from God and offering it to God,” humankind “transforms…life…into life in God, into communion with Him…[humankind] was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament.” This way of life is embodied in the sacrament of Communion. Communion is also called the Eucharist, which is derived from a Greek word which means #Thanksgiving. #Eucharist #Communion #FaithFormation #ChristianBlogger

Here is a lovely acoustic version of the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God,” performed by Nathan Drake (Reawaken Hymns): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ecqss2ZvN2c

Please join the conversation–What do you receive and thank God for? How/what can you return with thanks to God this season?

The Canticle below reminds us that we join Creation’s praise:

Canticle of the Creatures

(attributed to St. Francis)

All praise be yours, My Lord
through all that you have made.

And first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day…
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us…and produces various fruits
With colored flowers and herbs…

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.