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On my living room wall you’ll see the painting, A Drawing In, by Peggy Shopen. It’s a pastel look across a tree-shaded lawn to a house that is tucked behind two large tree trunks in the middle distance. Though the artist is a good friend, and I’ve admired her work, I had not had such a sense of personal encounter with a piece until seeing this. I felt a spontaneous, non-analytical sort of ‘bonding’ with the painting.
How much of my response had to do with the fact that this particular house is one I’ve known intimately as a place of warm, human, Catholic fellowship and ‘culture building’? This home and the artist are ‘devoted to the service of fellow men,’ but does the painting reveal that to the viewer who does not know them? These questions intrigue me, though I don’t think I can answer them definitively.
The painting would, I think, bring viewers to a higher understanding of beauty, because it clearly portrays its subject – a simple, unassuming house – as a thing that is beautiful, that is seen with a deep appreciation of its interior, or hidden goodness, and as worthy of the work of an artist. Certainly, the painting points to the universal value of the home as a safe haven, and also to the value of the natural setting in which the house sits cradled and which forms an antechamber that seems to be bigger than the wood-enclosed rooms of the actual structure. This is so much entwined, for me, with my personal awareness that the artist really does perceive this tree-embraced ‘front room’ as an extension of her home, but I believe any viewer would sense this.
Because the natural beauty around the house so predominates, you could say the artist has placed the work of God-as-artist deliberately in a position of precedence over even her most-cherished personal sphere.
I love the way the sense of ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’ keep changing in this painting. The interior is the house, protecting an ‘inside’ from the elements, but it is also the deep-and-beckoning, almost spherical negative, open space framed by tree trunks that suggests the artists’ soul and calls to mine. The exterior is the outdoor world, but then is also the mere structural combination of old wood and fading paint that suggests the mortality, or temporary nature of such passing things as houses, possessions, and bodies.
This artist is a painter and iconographer, not a ‘word person,’ yet her painting’s title is another delight for me – an extra, poetic gift to me in a brief, three-word verbal enigma. “A Drawing In” plays on all the elements I’ve discussed in the painting – the ‘drawing in’ of friends and family to the shelter and joys of home life, and the artists’ literal drawing of ‘in’ – as the interior of her soul glimpsed inside a humble structure by those with eyes to see.
So, I offer these observations with joy, because writing this has helped me to see both my dear painting and my dear friend more richly.
Sometimes my interest catches something that isn’t in a book. I thumbed through junk mail before tossing it and a hot-pink-painted, topless female in black short shorts and loooooong black boots caught my eye. Her black hair was teased out in an un-halo that seemed fitting to the overall repulsive vibe.
If only the caption hadn’t quoted her as saying she was “trying to add some beauty to the world,” I’d have chucked her unceremoniously in beside the sweepstakes letter guaranteeing I’d won a million dollars and the latest offer to join AARP.
But they did quote her, and she did say it, and it broke my heart! To think, that the impulse to paint and exhibit her bony body had sprung from the same source as my own desire to dress with dignity, write a poem, or put a few flowers in a vase! I have since tried to wrap my mind around the concept that much of what I experience as jarring to the senses, at best, and as diabolical negation of beauty, at the worst, is born of this as-yet-uncrushed yearning to “add a little beauty”. The fact that it also contributes to the ugliness of the world notwithstanding, this stuff reflects the humanity of those who offer it.
I hope if I see pink-girl on the street, I’ll be able to hug her and say, “Thanks for wanting to add some beauty and sparkle to the world! That’s just what Mother Teresa wanted to do. I love you, and God loves you for that. Keep it up!!”
The Catholic Creatives Salon just hosted a viewing of St. Pope John Paul’s play, The Jeweller’s Shop. This is my introduction to it for guests who had not been reading Cat Hodge’s great article, Theodrama in Mid-Century Poland, from Second Spring volume 18.
Pope John Paul II once said we could know him best by studying his plays. His understanding of the role of drama, of the spoken word, in proposing truth to the world is at the core of all his writings about human freedom and human destiny.
In Nazi-occupied Poland, during WWII, young Karol Wojtyla considered how theater might be a means to restore man to himself. He was opposed, in principle, to a school of thought in which theater becomes a quasi-liturgical event, and where actors so strip away the elements of self as to become empty transmitters between impulse and action, drama and audience. Believing that the actor’s gift of self must not be a complete negation of self, Wojtyla emphasized the primacy of the spoken word over emotive gesture in his plays.
His Rhapsodic Theatre was a form of cultural resistance to the Nazi suppression of national identity. Stories that help us hold onto the narrative of our people help us hold onto our individual sense of self. Naturally, Poland’s masterworks of literature and her history were not welcome under German occupation.
Wojtyla and friends presented their adaptations of these essentially Polish stories in cramped spaces, in secret, in real danger, with few props and no lighting or sound technology. The actors wanted to so lift up the words as to convey idea most purely and emphatically. Just as an icon points back to the viewer for its full realization in his own being, their plays created a sacred space of encounter between audience and idea. As the viewer is moved, is provoked to come to a judgment, is challenged to respond, that space opens to God’s action within him.
Instead of propelling a wave of emotional stimuli, and initiating a thoughtless movement of gestural imitation in an audience, Rhapsodic Theatre, with its ‘words like a song’, sought to serve idea by proposing it well, and serve listeners by respecting the boundaries of their personhood. The Theatre of the Word demands more from us than to sit still while others act, vicariously experiencing action while atrophying in our own capacity to act. Instead of a bath of emotions, ‘free’ of intellectual analysis, reason, and judgment, we are involved in a questioning, and not supplied with a simple answer. Such a production isn’t complete until each of us then acts, freely, in response to the idea we have met through dramatization.
After Wojtyla became a priest, he continued to write plays, and The Jeweller’s Shop is his most famous. In it, he meditates on the Sacrament of Matrimony, through the lives of three different couples. In the third act, we meet the children of the first two couples. There are two spheres of action: the shop where they buy their wedding rings, and each character’s interior landscape. The Jeweler stands for the durability of marriage, as the couples reflect the pain and struggle in tension with that ideal.
We loved the movie, and had a great discussion of the ideas it placed before us – the importance of community to marital strength, the beauty of the Lover claiming his Bride, the way our response to the dissonance around us shapes our lives, the reality of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ that surrounds us, our longing for priests with time to be part of our families’ lives, and more.
In an amazing ‘God’s instance,’ The Jeweller’s Shop was also picked for this year’s readings by the Well Read Moms. God must agree with them that this a good time for the ‘year of the Spouse’!
It is not always a pleasant thing to come to Christ. All around us are women in varying stages of hardened self-defense against the pains of un-love, abandonment, violation, fatherlessness, abuse and sin. To such women, from another, these poems have been written. The pair can be read individually, or back and forth from verse to verse, as a dialogue. ‘Cacophony’ is the cry of a woman’s heart to be loved, purified, and husbanded. The journey she has begun, of trusting her wooer, has become extremely painful as her vulnerability increases in response to his love. She feels betrayed and frightened as her self-protective cover drops away, revealing sin and pain. ‘Euphony’ is the response of Christ to this woman. His calm resolve to love and have her as his own is not upset by her self-loathing frenzy. Unperturbed even by her seeming hatred of him, he sees through to the deep need of her soul for healing through faithful love. [Read more…]
Don’t waste the food! Don’t waste the oil pastels and the good watercolors! Don’t waste the expensive fabric, the nice paper, the good wine! Above all, don’t waste time playing, chatting resting! Have you ever thought about the paradox of forming the highest things?
To learn to turn ideas into works of art, we must indulge a bit – not recklessly, but with some daring – in wasting art supplies. Give a kid the kind of art supplies you don’t care if he wastes, and I’ll bet they’re also not satisfying to use, either. Interest will wane. To learn to cook, we need to take some risks with foods.
No skill at words is acquired without long practice tossing away and rewriting ‘wasted’ words. No friendship is strengthened without great ‘waste’ of time together. No love is proved by other than life poured out in service. To turn feasts into practice for the Eucharist, we need to taste the finest wine (Note: the ‘finest wine’ I’ve ever been able to afford cost $26 a bottle, but it’s the thought that counts, and paisano is great for most meals. As fans of Rumpole, we call ours ‘Chateau Kaw Embankment’!)
We must learn to value and to give what is of highest value. There’s the paradox. Only a child can give, or use up, or waste with complete abandon, and only an adult can rightly value things. It is the work of growing up to become able to bear the tension of doing both. To give without knowing the value does nothing to honor the recipient, and to value without giving communicates no actual good.
A priest once counseled that if time is our greatest asset, the best gift we can give Him is to waste it. Since I write and speak about Holy Leisure, this was great reinforcement! Sabbath rest is all about learning to be, to be acted upon, to be whole and offer that wholeness to Christ. It can be very, very hard in our goal-oriented, product-producing, efficiency-loving culture to let go and give God some simple leisure time. Even our Christian culture tends toward purpose-driven lives and accomplishing great things for God.
I hope you’ll learn to waste boldly where the great thing being accomplished is YOU!