Advent and the Feast of Christ the King

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

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.


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.



  • 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: 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.”


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.


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:

(Prints of this artwork are for sale; please inquire via my email:

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.


 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.


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:

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

July 4th and the Gift Parade

Our neighborhood is proud of its July 4th parade. Just about anyone can be in the parade, from kids riding in wagons, to grannies beating drums.older_drums                                                  kid_wagon

I have an early memory of a July 4th parade. I must have been pretty little, because I remember looking way up at a fire truck, and being showered with candy. I felt so special, as if the candy were just for me.

This image recently came back to me, as I was reading Ephesians chapter four. In this chapter, Paul writes about Christ ascending and giving gifts to his people (Eph. 4:8). Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18, which speaks of God’s triumph in freeing his people from slavery in Egypt.

This psalm hails God as the true King, who marched from Mount Sinai in the time of Moses, into the temple in Jerusalem, during the time of David. In David’s time, the Ark of the Covenant was carried up the mount into the temple in a festive procession.

Paul tells us, God’s ascending march was completed by Christ. Just as the ancient kings led captives in their train and received gifts from other kings (Ps. 68:29), God made captive all the powers of darkness, through Christ’s ascension on the cross. As all the kingdoms of the earth are called to sing praises to God, awesome in his sanctuary, every knee shall bow to the ascended Christ, when he returns (Ps. 68:32-35; Phil 2:6-11).

Paul lists prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, that were given in order to build up the body of Christ and prepare God’s people for works of service. These gifts are a result of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s glorification (John 16:14; John: 15:8).

When I read these verses, I pictured the big fire truck that I saw as a child in the July 4th parade. Important people sat high up on the truck. They threw out candy to children waiting with outstretched hands.

I can picture the triune God leaning over the edge of a grand float in a victory parade, stooping down, to pass out gifts. He has a special gift for me, and for everyone else too. I picture God with a big smile on his face, delighted to pass out gifts that make us happy. There is enough “sweet candy” for everyone.

flipped Juy4 march

In a July 4th parade, people are united in their celebration of independence. Because of Christ’s victory, freeing captives from sin, there is a gift parade. Gifts are passed out that build up the church in unity and love.

I invite you to comment and tell us what was special about your July 4th celebration!

Pentecost and Peace Like a River

I lead an evening worship service for people with intellectual disabilities.For Pentecost Sunday, we enjoyed watching a fan make red and orange streamers billow in the wind. We couldn’t see the wind, but we could see the wind’s effect. Like the wind, the unseen Holy Spirit is active in our midst.

streamGod gives us several images running through both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, that help us know and understand the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke of his Spirit as “streams of living water.” I recently heard a lovely song about God filling our empty wells. The song is by Andrew Ripp, and is called “You Will Find Me.” Here is the link to the version I heard, covered by Derek Wigboldy, here in Grand Rapids:

(I took this photo of one of my favorite streams, the Temperance River in Northern Minnesota.)

Another image for the Holy Spirit is fire. Forty days after the first Easter, Jesus ascended to heaven. Fifty days after Easter, the followers of Jesus were meeting together in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit came upon the gathered believers, and a visible flame was seen above each of their heads. (That is why the streamers on the fan were red and orange.)


(This image of Pentecost is from my intergenerational book on Communion, Supper with the Savior:

We often think of the Holy Spirit as a dove, rending the heavens and coming down to rest on Jesus at his baptism.

In worship, we call down the Holy Spirit to be present in a special way, such as when we ask God’s blessing on the Communion elements.dove

(I created this little painting of a ground dove in oil paint.)

The Holy Spirit also lifts us up in worship. Because of Jesus’ ascension, we too can ascend; we are “raised with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-4).”

Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann writes with wisdom about the Eucharist. (“Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving,” and is another name for Communion). Schmemann writes:

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best described as a journey or procession, it is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom...our entrance into the risen life of Christ… [1]

 In the early church, worship was seen as a moment when participants could glimpse the Kingdom here and now, and all of life was understood as transformed by God’s light. [2] Have you ever felt like you glimpsed another dimension of reality in worship, a part of God’s Kingdom that you don’t usually see?

At the close of the evening Pentecost service, we sang “Peace Like a River.” One of my friends came up to the front to help me sing, “I’ve got peace like a river…joy like a fountain…love like an ocean in my soul.” My friend usually only says a few words at a time, yet he sang this song in its entirety. His eyes lit up, and he had a broad smile in his face. I glimpsed God’s coming Kingdom.

In worship, the Holy Spirit lifts us up. We are carried by the dove and  the wings of the wind. We are raised and united by holy flames; we float on streams of living water.

Please comment on this blog and share your thoughts. How do you see and experience the Holy Spirit: as wind, water, fire, or dove? Does it seem that Holy Spirit comes down as you worship, and/or that the Spirit raises you up?

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (New York: St. Vladmir’s Seminary Press, 1963), pp. 26-28.

[2] John P. Burgess, Encounters with Orthodoxy: How Protestant Churches can Reform Themselves Again (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), pp. 141-142.

An Ascension Day Tribute to Grandma Hulda

A few weeks ago, we attended the funeral for my husband’s grandma. Grandma Hulda died just short of her 98th birthday. At the end of the service, the pastor raised her hands in benediction, calling blessings down on us, and commending grandma’s spirit and our spirits up to the Lord.

cropped_grandma  (photo: Mark’s grandma Hulda with Mark’s father, David)

My husband spoke at the funeral for his dear grandma. He recalled a family reunion about 10 years ago, when grandma hiked with us in the Wisconsin hills. The hills are called “coulees,” from a French Canadian word meaning, “to flow,” because of the valleys with steep walls and flowing streams. Grandma loved spending time in those green pastures; they seeped into her soul and helped make it so sweet. Grandma loved Psalm 23, and we read those words at the funeral, in her honor.

(photo: Grandma’s brother Henry with the Wisconsin coulees in the background)

HenryAs a girl, grandma spent a lot of time in those hills, tending to the cows as they fed on the lush green grass. I think that up there, she got a perspective that added to her life-long sense of beauty and contentment. Grandma always decorated her table with wildflowers. Grandma suffered from dementia later in life. One time when we visited, she deliberately poured her cranberry juice into her milk until it turned into a rosy shade of pink, and exclaimed “pretty!” We all ache for missing grandma.


This week, the church calendar calls us to celebrate Christ’s Ascension (May 14). Before he died, Jesus said he had to go away so that the counselor–the Holy Spirit– would come to us. Forty days after the Resurrection, Christ gave his followers final instructions, and was lifted up to heaven.

Christ’s Ascension means more than the Holy Spirit coming down to us. It means that we are “raised with Christ” now, as well as when we pass into eternity. In the future, we’ll join grandma and all the “saints” in Christ—all the ordinary people who trust in him. As for now, we are already lifted into the heavenly realms, another dimension of reality, as we worship. Being lifted with Christ gives us a new perspective on life that changes us, like dwelling in the lush green hills of Wisconsin.

“God…made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:5-6).”


(photo: View of the farm where grandma grew up.)

(The above drawing of the Ascension is from my inter-generational book, “Supper with the Savior,” available on Amazon or signed copies via my email:

The Peacock, the Unicorn, and the Blessings of Easter


(All text and images on all posts copyright 2015 Barbara Bjelland)

“And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.” (1 John 2:25, RSV)

Eternal life is a new kind of life that begins now, and continues forever, as we are united with the triune God and with one another.

In the church calendar, the season of Easter lasts 50 days, and for Christians, the blessings of Easter last all year long.

When I was in elementary school, my father took our family to live in Mexico during his sabbatical year. We lived next door to wealthy art collectors, who also collected a menagerie of live animals, such as a deer, spider monkeys, peacocks and even for a short time, a cougar. The peacocks sat high on the wall between our yard and our neighbor’s estate. When the peacocks ventured down to see us, our golden retriever chased them into the swimming pool, collecting only a few jeweled feathers in his paws.


We recently visited Minneapolis for a beautiful family wedding at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church. A relative asked me if I knew why there were peacocks depicted in the stained glass windows. I was excited to explain what I had learned through my studies related to the early church and Communion.


Images of the peacock can be found in catacombs and in early Christian churches. Male peacocks molt and lose their tail feathers every year, only to re-grow fuller and brighter plumes. Because of this, Christians used the peacock as a symbol of immortality and eternal life through Christ. (See 1 Cor. 15)

Note that after the resurrection, Christ still bears the nail prints in his hands–he shares in our sufferings.

I also had the opportunity to visit South Carolina over spring break. Early on Easter morning,  I rode my bike to a sunrise service at the beach. As the sun rose and warmed my face, the pastor said, “the resurrection of Christ changes everything.”

None of us can escape loss and pain and death. But because of Christ, we can grieve with hope (1 Thess. 4:13,14).

Because of Christ, we can find more enjoyment in the good things in life. We know love and beauty, good food and flowers, art and ice-skating, point us to God, and are gifts from him. Many of C.S. Lewis’ writings concern joy. He says the longing for God’s fullness itself brings joy, that one day will be fulfilled. One day we will stamp our foot on the ground of the new world, like the Unicorn in Lewis’ Narnia stories, and cry out,

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, chapter 15.)

Because of Christ’s work on the cross and in the grave, we can have new life, even in the places that are dead. My life has purpose and eternal significance.

I can experience God’s love and faithfulness new every morning (Lam. 3:22-24).

I can gather and feed on the “manna” that falls from heaven, like the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16).

The resurrection of Christ makes all the difference in the world.daff

This is the blessing of Easter.

When the bluebells lift their tiny heads and the daffodils turn their golden faces to the sun, open your heart again to the warmth of God’s love. When you hear the rain softly falling, gather God’s streams of living water, and nourish your soul.


(I took photo of daffodils while on a spring picnic on the grounds of Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, MI)


Related Links:

(There are two peacocks in my inter-generational book, “Supper with the Savior: Communion in the Bible and Today. Here is the link to my book:

Note to picture book fans and parents and grandparents of young children:

For a lovely children’s picture book on spring things, by Sally Lloyd Jones (author of the Jesus Storybook Bible), see,

“Bunny’s First Spring,” on Amazon at:

To read more CS Lewis quotes, see: