Receiving and Returning Thanks


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):

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.

Mary, Freedom and the Mermaid

All text and images copyright 2019 Barbara Sartorius Bjelland

I have always loved mermaids, and I like the Starbucks logo. Mermaids seem to symbolize being wild and free. Yesterday I went to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). There I saw an even more beautiful image of personhood, and gained a new perspective.Barb and French Mary sculpture

Here I am looking at a French sculpture of Mary and Jesus, in the museum’s courtyard. The courtyard is a lovely place to sit and/or eat, surrounded by medieval sculpture and a skylight overhead. I noticed that Mary’s crown has flowers and stars in it. I wondered if Starbucks got the idea for their mermaid’s crown with a star, from similar sculptures or paintings of Mary.

I realized these are two cultural touch points, two  images of personhood. The Starbucks mermaid seems wild—one with nature—and free to pursue individual pleasure.

cropped mary's crown

The biblical view of Mary and personhood is being free from sin in order to serve Christ; being “one” with Creation but also being set apart to steward Creation and return it to God in praise; and finding one’s identity in community with the triune God and others.

In artwork, Mary is usually depicted with the angel Gabriel, with Jesus, Joseph or her cousin Elizabeth. Here is a 1 minute, 45 second video from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, discussing a sculpture of Mary visiting Elizabeth when they were both pregnant.

Here is another image of Mary, being granted a crown of stars. The dove of the Holy Spirit swoops over Mary’s head, breathed on her by Jesus and God the Father/Creator. This image is in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

cropped pastel Mary.jpg

The Coronation of the Virgin  from about 1420, by the Spanish Rubrieles Master.



(You can follow me by clicking the blue bar on the lower right of the page.)

-What images of personhood do you see promoted in our culture?

-What do you think freedom means?

-Who is a role model for you, and why?

Saint Francis and Psalm 148

St francis_for web siteHello Friends, This is my recent oil painting of St. Francis with Brother Wolf, welcoming and releasing the larks to the sky. (Please contact me for prints and greeting cards.)

This goes along with the Revised Common Lectionary reading for this Sunday, which is from Psalm 148. St. Francis of Assisi based his “Canticle to the Sun” on this psalm of praise. William Draper used St. Francis’ canticle, as the basis for  the majestic hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King.”

Here is Psalm 148 and a link to some beautiful music, from the blog by Victoria Emily Jones. Just scroll down a bit for a performance of the hymn by “All Sons and Daughters,” (Leslie Jordan and David Leonard) on location in Assisi!

Victoria Emily Jones’ blog is entitled, “Art and Theology.” May these words, music and images help you join Creation’s praise!

Creation’s Praise (Artful Devotion)

Psalm 148 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Praise for God’s Universal Glory

148 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens,
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels,
    praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon,
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord!
    For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them for ever and ever;
    he fixed their bounds which cannot be passed.[a]

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
    stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together,
    old men and children!

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his glory is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his saints,
    for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the Lord!

Please join the conversation and pass my blog along!


Lion Tears

All original artwork and text on this blog copyright 2019 Barbara Bjelland

(Border image above is a detail from my oil painting, “Festival with Dancing Goat.”)

I haven’t posted for a while. Big news: I was ordained to Word and Sacrament last June. I recently went to a great Pastor’s retreat, with speaker Kevin Butcher. I got back on Halloween, just in time to celebrate with my family. Our dog Caspian dressed up as an adorable lion.

lion caspi

The pastor’s retreat and Caspian’s costume are connected as “Lion Tears.” Let me explain:


In C.S. Lewis’ book, The “Silver Chair,” Aslan calls two children from our world into Narnia. (Aslan is the wild and good lion who is a Christ-figure.) Jill and Eustace rescue King Caspian’s son, who has been captured by an evil witch. King Caspian dies shortly afterward, and is carried away in an enchanted stream. It is here that we pick up the story:

They all three wept; even Aslan wept, “great lion tears, each tear more precious than the earth would be if it was a single solid diamond.”

Then Aslan asks Eustace to pluck a thorn and drive it into his paw. The drop of blood “splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King…and the dead King began to be changed… and suddenly he leapt up and stood before them…and he rushed to Aslan…and he gave Aslan the strong kisses of a king, and Aslan gave him the wild kisses of a Lion.”

And it all began with Aslan’s lion tears.

CS Lewis

So here is the connection: At the retreat, Pastor Kevin Butcher talked about tears–the need to lament, both individually and in the church community, for our own sorrows and those of the world. He shared the powerful story of Sonia, who began her healing path through lament. This discussion empowered me to take time to cry.

Then I came across some resources on this subject which spoke to me, which I would like to share. There is an important article in Christianity Today entitled, [The Pixar Movie] “Inside Out,” and Christian Sadness. The article quotes theologian Ben Myers who writes, “In the Protestant West today, smiling has become a moral imperative. The smile has become regarded as the objective externalization of a well-ordered life. Sadness is a moral failure.” The article continues that “this wasn’t Jesus’ way;” Jesus was the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).”

(Painting below is “Man of Sorrows” by Luis de Morales, c. 1560, Minneapolis Institute of Arts)


None of us wants to be sad. I believe God has joy in store for each one of us. However, the path to healing leads through grief and lament. Take time for the tears. The Man of Sorrows has time to meet with you there.

I invite you to follow my blog, comment and join the conversation!

Also, if you want to see some of my sacred art and Biblical illustration, please look at my “Original Art Exhibits” page.


Links to check out–these are insightful resources for pastors and all who grieve and lament:

  1. Pastor Kevin Butcher’s book is available to order from your local bookseller on Amazon (the part about Sonia lamenting loudly in church is on p. 56 :

2. Theologian Ben Myer’s blog, “On Smiling and Sadness: Twelve Theses:”


3. Christianity Today about Pixar’s new film Inside Out

4. Blog by Pastor Geoff Sinibaldo, on the painting above of Jesus, the Man of Sorrows:




Is it Spring Yet?

I passed by these doors the day after Easter, when I was walking the dog. It was cold and snowy and blowy outside, so the doors captured my attention. They proclaim that Easter is here, and spring is on its way, despite the weather.


That is the message of Easter. Christ has conquered sin death and evil, despite the “weather” we see around us. C.S. Lewis frequently uses spring as a metaphor of God’s new Creation. He writes,

“A [person] really ought to say, “The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago” in the same spirit in which s/he says, ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’ Because we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is the corner has been turned.

 There is, of course, this difference, that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not. We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of man, already dwells, and to which he is calling us. It remains with us to follow of not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and summer.”


C.S. Lewis writes within the Christian framework of God’s Creation, the Fall into Sin, Redemption and New Creation in Christ. Theologians call our present time God’s “already but not-yet Kingdom;” the Kingdom of new life that started with Christ’s resurrection.

Here in West Michigan, there are Easters doors, and blades of green grass beneath the snow. Before too long, there will be carpets of grass, sprinkled with cherry blossoms. These are signs of our sure hope in Christ, small signs of the Kingdom that is coming.

Can you picture a “high mid-summer pomp?” It’s on its way.

One day, Christ will return and “the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples…Then the Lord GOD 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, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation (Isaiah 25:6-9).”

Please join the conversation!

What signs of God’s already but not-yet Kingdom do you see around you, in people, in Creation, in worship?

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This is my drawing of the banquet we anticipate when Christ returns. It is from my intergenerational multicultural book on Communion, “Supper with the Savior: Communion in the Bible and Today.” My book contains many resources, including 21 Bible studies for youth and adults, and coloring pages! To order a copy, please email me for a signed copy:, or contact your local bookstore (they order from Ingram), or order on Amazon at:


Text and images copyright 2018 Barbara Bjelland

Christmas and Christmas Victor


It’s the second week of Advent, and Christmas is coming. Advent means “coming.” We remember when Christ came to earth and look forward to his return, when he will make all things new.

When we think of Christmas, we think of the babe lying in a humble manger. We may think about how the wood of the manger-bed points to the cruel wood of the cross where Jesus died for our sins.

Jesus didn’t just defeat sin on that cross. He was also victorious over death and evil. I recently learned in my Theology class, that the classical biblical view of the Atonement is also called the Christus Victor view. I like that. Zephaniah 3:17 says:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
     as on a day of festival (RSV).

Above is my drawing of Jesus as the Victorious Warrior, defeating the evil one.

Below is a photo of our beautiful new puppy, Caspian. He is not afraid to be in a graveyard, because Christ has defeated sin, death and the devil. In fact, Caspian is even eating the graveyard grass, like a sheep lying down in green pastures!



OK, so I intended to post this photo at Halloween and am a bit late. OK, so the neighbors may not have appreciated Caspian eating their grass. However, this all ties together for Advent, in a very old poem by Aurelius Prudentius (Roman, ca. AD 348-415). This poem is also a splendid Christmas hymn, entitled “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”

Here is the closing stanza of the poem/hymn:

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore.

Let’s keep that eternal victory in view, as we wait for the time when there will be no more mourning, crying or pain, and we see our Savior face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; Revelation 21:4).

Advent Blessings to You!

Please leave a reply and share some encouragement with others.

Where do you see goodness and beauty? How do you see God’s Kingdom and Christ’s victory breaking into this world?