Friday, May 29, 2015

Nurse Nancy rides again

As a young girl, I decided to be a nurse when I grew up. It was like a holy calling, and I thoroughly romanticized the profession. In my day-dreams, I rode a horse as I went on house calls through the countryside, arriving just in time to rescue despairing children and save lives.
It’s not that I didn’t do my homework. I actually undertook my first research project at the age of eight on the subject of nurses. Aided by my father and the local library, I scanned books and encyclopedia articles, coming up with a manuscript several chapters long and fully illustrated. My parents supplied me with a box of 32 brand new Crayolas for the project. I imaginatively entitled it, “Nurses.”
That was all well and good until, in the messiness of Real Life, I discovered I did not have a stomach for blood, vomit and such. Gradually, my holy calling slipped by the way side.
My next calling was to be an actress. Not a movie star, but a Serious Actress. On stage. In the pre-adolescent years, a friend and I formed a neighborhood drama club. Our intention was to write and produce plays for the all the people, adults and children, who lived around us. The dreaming and planning part was fun, and we came up with several notebooks of well-drawn costume designs. But we never managed to actually produce any plays. But I did write skits for our church youth group and gained somewhat of a reputation as a playwright. The three-act murder mystery I wrote in the 7th grade was put on by my classmates for the whole middle school, with parents invited. I insisted on playing the lead role, figuring I had that right since I wrote the play. (The role happened to be the criminal, the maid who actually “dunit.”) It was all great fun.
My participation in high school drama further cemented my resolve not to go to college, but to enroll in the Pasadena Playhouse for professional training. Somehow, in the mysterious ways of God’s interventions, I ended up at George Fox College. Granted, my first major was in theater, but after one year that gave way to world literature, which by my junior year had become Spanish. I graduated with a Spanish major and a desire to serve God overseas. Another holy calling.
Down through the years it’s dawned on me that my first calling is to write, whether it’s an illustrated volume entitled “Nurses,” a three-act murder mystery, or a manual on writing designed to help Bolivian Quakers write their own materials. I’ve gradually come to describe my vocation as being “to discover and express the grace of God, hidden in the ordinariness of life.” I can carry that out no matter what particular task I happen to be doing, wherever I happen to be doing it.
At the moment the place is our home in Newberg and the task is to nurse Hal back to health. It comes full circle. Nurse Nancy is back in the saddle.
After several weeks battling an infection, Hal had emergency surgery to open a blocked bladder. It was an “in-and-out” operation, and after about six hours in the hospital, I brought him home. That was last week. Since then, we’ve followed a regimented schedule of medications, rest, exercise, rest, meals, and more rest. It’s Hal that does the resting, not me. But I’ve discovered that even emptying urine bags can become so routine as to lose all offensiveness. To help break the monotony, we’re watching “Foyle’s War” on Netflix. We’re going to manage to get in all the episodes, from all seven series.
And can you guess where God’s grace is hiding these days? It’s right here in our apartment. In abundance.
And here am I, writing about it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The joy of linguistic error

I love catching myself at linguistic mistakes. Some of them are pretty funny.
Yesterday I was cleaning the bathroom and I ran out of one of my supplies. When finished, I went to the kitchen and added to my grocery list, “toilet boil cleaner.” Then I looked at what I had written and thought, “Something’s not right.” After a few seconds, I recognized the error of my ways and laughed, wondering, “What might a toilet boil be?”
Next, of course, I wrote a poem. This is a very short poem with a very long title. It may never end up in a published collection of my works, but it made me laugh. That’s worth something.

On My Sense of Indignation
Upon Learning that My Local Pharmacy
Does Not Carry Toilet Boil Cleaner
 Let's just say that I was
really really
ticked off.
My face actually

Friday, May 15, 2015

"The Steed Bit His Master"

I have a delightful two-volume set of poetry called, Chapters into Verse: Poetry in English Inspired by the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993). Beginning in Genesis, it goes through to Revelations, citing poets ancient and modern.
Most of it is Serious Stuff, but I occasionally find a bit of whimsy. This one takes off of Psalm 40:6-8 and was written by that most prolific of poets, “Anonymous.”  Enjoy.

The steed bit his master;
How came this to pass?
He heard the good pastor
Cry, "All flesh is grass."

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Art as a door into prayer

I have a certain place in my living room where I go to keep my morning watch and then return to from time to time throughout the day. My chair faces a window with a view of trees and sky. I also keep certain works of art nearby, to help me focus on life and give me courage.
On the stand by the window sit a copy of an icon of Pantokrator Jesus and a picture a friend drew/prayed for me in the Zentangle art style. On the wall above the stand is an original painting of a forest stream.
On another wall I see an original painting of three Aymara women, a crafted wooden picture of a Bolivian village, and a reproduction of Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son.”

 Pantokrator Jesus
The original of this icon is a gigantic wall mosaic in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, once a Christian cathedral, later a mosque, and currently a museum that is trying to restore and blend the art of both religions. Several years ago I stood before this mosaic and felt moved. In the original Christ is accompanied on either side by his mother Mary and John the Baptist. His two fingers represent the double nature of Christ, both man and God, a response to one of the controversies of the 5th century. I love the tender expression on the face of Jesus. I sense his love and care for me.
Zentangle drawing by Miriam Bock
Miriam prayed for me while I was doing research in Bolivia during January and February. She used this art form to focus her prayers. It’s full of symbolism. The center of the piece, the goose (which emerged and surprised Miriam) is a Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit. The more ordered squares in the bottom represent the discipline and order of research, and the egg is the hidden treasure I hope to discover. The drawing also contains a playful spirit, the sprouts of poems, and the eyes of God continually watching out for me. There’s more, as I keep discovering. It’s a visual blessing and reminder of the life God offers me.

Forrest stream by Dave Vanderveer
My brother-in-law is a gifted artist. He’s also a generous person. I admired this painting, so he gave it to me. I love the way the light skips off the water. I can almost hear the stream singing over the rocks and the breeze in the trees. It speaks light and life and Spirit.

Three Aymara Women by Oscar Tintaya
Oscar Tintaya is a Bolivian artist who is becoming well known in his own country. He is also a Quaker, and he is my friend. This painting reminds me of the high aesthetic values of the Aymara people, as well as the mystery of this culture. These three women, seated in the market place, aren’t about to let you into their world. And yet God has opened the doors. I continue to marvel at the beauty and mystery.
Wooden picture of an Aymara village
This picture, by an unnamed Bolivian artisan, is formed of tiny slivers of wood artistically arranged to show a village in the foothills of Mount Illimani. Again, the beauty and mystery of the Bolivian landscape and the Aymara culture bring up a spirit of wonder and gratitude.

Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”
I bought this reproduction of Rembrandt’s painting in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, after having stood for an hour in front of the original. Henri Nouwen’s book of the same title was the key that unlocked this work. The picture draws me into the unending story of the father’s love, the possibility of redemption.

Even though a Quaker (with our reputation for stressing reality above symbolism), I’m also a poet with a love for art and a responsive nature. Art helps me pray, and I need all the help I can get.
Of course, the Original is far more beautiful than all these works. Sometimes I just close my eyes and enjoy the presence.