Ripple Effect, 2008
As 2016 draws to a close, I’m thinking a lot of all that I have to be thankful for. Even with our country and the world experiencing massive change and uncertainty, I have found some respite in the season of Christmas. While many things around us change constantly, some things never change, and for me, one of those things is God.
Recently our family saw a great student production of Fiddler On The Roof. The main theme is tradition, set in a Jewish community facing external political tension and change. The main character Tevye feels powerless and fearful. This has resonated deeply with me during our current political season of change, and of the breaking of many political and diplomatic traditions that I hear about on the news. While I am all for change and questioning traditions, there are some traditions I am finding myself wanting to cling to, like the patriarch Tevye, who calls tradition his anchor. One of the most famous lines from this musical is, “Because of our tradition, everyone here knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.” I was struck by this line in today's context, and as I meditate on who God has made me to be and what he expects me to do... just one person out of billions, but who can make choices to make a positive impact on my community.
Another thing that has been helpful to me is looking at time with renewed perspective (another theme of the play, reflected in the song Sunrise, Sunset). Taking it one day at a time on the rough or stressful days… planning and looking forward to special events… thinking about time in terms of seasons… putting seasonal things away and bringing out old things I’d almost forgotten about… like cleaning up the outdoor games off the porch and putting the garden ‘to bed’ for winter. At least for those of us living in New England, and for anyone who follows certain faith traditions, we have a calendar to follow that is directed by both seasonal change and holy-days (holidays). Those who follow Jesus are now in the season of Advent, which means we are waiting for Christmas Day and following the biblical stories leading up to the night of Jesus’ birth. Festivities, traditions, and rituals are huge for us in Advent.
Earlier this month, I had a Holiday Art Salon Open House in our home, and friends came over. To get ready, my husband and I moved furniture. I hung up sixteen of my paintings. The kids picked out a full, tall, fragrant Christmas tree and decorated it. These activities of preparation brought a lot of joy to us and have now given us a home that is fun to be in for the whole month as we 'wait' for the arrival of Christ(mas). Contrary to more sober and austere beliefs from my own puritanical Anglo-Saxon Protestant heritage, I feel there is nothing wrong with treating a holy season with abundance, showing way more love and displaying way more beauty than is necessary. Using certain heirloom stemware passed down to me, for example, just makes me feel happy. I think about the family members who chose it, purchased it, touched it, toasted on special occasions with it, sipped from it. I think of how many boxes and moves it has been through over 80-plus years, and how lucky I am that these wine glasses have not broken. These are symbols that give me a tangible connection from my past to my present. I got a kick out of seeing my guests enjoying drinking from these vintage etched glasses at the Open House.
Painting is who I am, and what I feel God expects me to do, but in the sense of a joyful calling I feel, not out of a sense of duty. I am painting forward, while keeping rooted, aiming for fresh progress and not for nostalgia or simple pat answers in my painting. While the world may be in turmoil, and I must admit my stomach has been queasy many days, one of my mainstays is working hard at making new discoveries in beauty. Maybe this feels too luxurious, like fancy stemware. But, maybe this is needed even in the face of uncertain times, not just for me, but for others' sake. Where do we turn when we are stressed, sad, in need? To the senses, for comfort. Senses find a resting place in songs, in color, in nature, in tastes, in beauty, in places of worship or spaces for quiet reflection. Hopefully, there, we can be met by God to give us the deepest peace and solace.
I wish you and yours a beautiful holiday season, with whatever you reflect on at the years’ end, whatever traditions or beliefs you choose to observe, however you celebrate, and with whomever is close to you. May there be Peace on Earth even in the midst of the change and uncertainty we are all facing together. We are one people, even if some say we are not. May we be encouraged by, and give way to, generous displays of brotherhood, sisterhood, and love in 2017.