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.

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.

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/online-features/viewpoints/visitation

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.

 

I INVITE YOU TO FOLLOW MY BLOG AND JOIN THE DISCUSSION:

(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!

WHAT LEADS YOU TO PRAISE  along with ALL CREATURES OF OUR GOD AND KING?

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)

Luis_de_Morales_(called_El_Divino)_-_Man_of_Sorrows_-_62.24_-_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.

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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 :

https://www.amazon.com/Choose-Again-Brave-Returning-Gods/dp/1631465244/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1541626589&sr=8-1&keywords=choose+and+choose+again+kevin+butcher

2. Theologian Ben Myer’s blog, “On Smiling and Sadness: Twelve Theses:”http://www.faith-theology.com/2010/11/on-smiling-and-sadness-twelve-theses.html

 

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: https://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/sitting-with-jesus-man-of-sorrows/