Resting in the Grace of the World

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Crystal Light series original oil painting by Erin Hanson

“Crystal Light” by Erin Hanson

“When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” ~ Wendell Berry

I have not lain down where the wood drake rests, but I am coming to find a kind of grace in letting loose, more than letting go, in pressing steadily forward without attachment to the outcome, in a kind of letting be, come what may.

My granddaughter came to live with me at the beginning of summer and she is with me still, having started first grade at a nearby school in which I enrolled her. I am petitioning to become her legal guardian. This comes with the blessing of my son, but not the child’s mother, who will fight this. Both are struggling with addiction, both victims of this opioid crisis.

I grieve for my son and my heart breaks for the mother, even as I fear for my granddaughter. Sometimes it seems overwhelming.

Then I take a deep breath and do what must be done, regardless the outcome.

I move toward “the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.”

I rest in “the presence of still water,” and feel “the day-blind stars waiting with their light.”

I cannot say I “am free.”

But I do feel the grace of the world, and love of God, surrounding me and mine. I lean on that, and it comforts me.

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The Roman Forum, An Ancient Relic Then & Now

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Giovanni Paolo Panini Painting - Capricio Of Roman Monuments With The Colosseum And Arch Of Constantine by Giovanni Paolo Panini

The Roman Forum lies right behind the Colosseum, that I wrote about last week. It is the great plaza where Caesar and Augustus and other Roman emperors once trod and, like the Colosseum, has been a mecca for tourists, artists and photographers down through the ages.

It was mostly in ruins when the Vikings first sailed up the Tiber River to gaze at this wonderland of antiquity.

A View of the Roman Forum today, image from Wikipedia

I was there for one short and very hot afternoon last summer. I didn’t take as many photos as I wish I had, but the views I’ve become most enamored by are the ones that artists painted hundreds of years ago. You will find my photos mixed among those below.

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By Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1691 – 1765

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By Cannaletto in 1742

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By Franz Kaisermann, 1765 – 1833

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Watercolor by David Roberts, 1835

Ancient Relic of Rome – The Colosseum, Now & Then

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It seems so far away now, and long ago, that trip to Europe last summer. Even more so when re-viewing photographs of The Coloseum and Public Forum, which were ancient even in ancient time, when artists throughout the ages flocked here to paint these wonders that still stand like a thread through time, tying us all together.

Below are a few of my photos of the Coloseum that I took last summer, along with paintings of the same from long, long ago. I’ll do the same for The Public Forum in another post.

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The Coloseum by Gasper van Wittel (Vanvitelli), 1652 – 1736

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My photo of the interior, 2018

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The interior by Thomas Cole, 1832

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Here we see the floor of the Coloseum, the arena where the gladiators fought and Christians died, as well as a view under the floor, the little cells where they prepared for battle and were held captive.

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The Coloseum cells by Pietro F. Garoli, 1638 – 1716

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The cross in the Coloseum was a place of pilgrimage through the ages.

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By Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, 1783 – 1853

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Night view through arches by Carus Carl Gustav, 1789 – 1869

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A painting of an arched entrance to the Colosseum covered in plant life

Arches through arches By Francois-Marius Granet, 1804

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Self-portrait with Colosseum, by Maerten van Heemskerch, 1553

I loved seeing this Selfie from the 1500’s! So I’ll end with my own selfie, nearly 500 years later.

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Me with Coloseum, not so long ago

Secluded Pool, Secret Garden, & Summer Plans Gone Astray

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I haven’t been painting as much this year, but I thought I’d share these two. Both were meant to be abstracts, but the one became a secluded pool and the other, while more abstract, I think of as a secret garden. Secret, I suppose, because it exists only in my mind. Both are watercolor and oil pastel.

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One we’ve framed but not hung yet.  Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph it before it was covered in glass, and you can see some reflection there at the far right.

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My plans for the summer—more painting, more writing—have gone astray. The acrylic class I was supposed to take was cancelled. And then my six-year-old granddaughter came to stay with us for a couple of months. So I’ve been spending more time in the pool and playing games with her than painting or writing.

But I did finally get back to playing the piano again, teaching my granddaughter to play, and then playing duets with my daughter who plays guitar when she was with us last week.

And we’ve been watching parades of the wild turkeys and quail with their baby chicks passing behind out house, and the deer eating our roses, and hundreds of the squirrels scampering across the hillsides and digging beneath our oak trees.

My granddaughter will be with us a few more weeks and I am going to cherish every sweet moment I have with her. She’s still young enough to love cuddling and holding, and we’ve been reading lots of books together. I am so blessed to have her in my life.

The writing and painting can wait.

Michelangelo’s Pieta & Saint Peter’s Basilica

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I have always been drawn to and moved by images of Michelangelo’s Pieta, his sculpture of the Mother Mary holding the body of her son in her lap after his crucifixion. Seeing it in person when I visited Italy last year did not disappoint. To me it symbolizes that  perfect all-embracing, unconditional love that transcends time and space. Her son is dead, beyond her comfort. And yet she holds him with such tenderness and devotion that I don’t feel despair or grief. I feel the power of an undying love and that spills outward, encompassing her and her son and all who behold them.

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The Pieta was commissioned to be “the most beautiful work of marble in Rome, one that no living artist could best.”  It is truly that, even today, and is considered by many to be Michelangelo’s greatest work of art, even besting his sculpture of David, and his painting of the Creation of Adam.

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is a magnificent setting for the Pieta. Many masters of the Renaissance contributed to its creation, including Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael, Donato, and Giacomo della Porta.

After the narrow, crowded spaces of the Vatican museums, it was a pleasure to move within the spacious grandeur of the Basilica. I loved especially the lush details in the decorative grilles and arches, and all the beautiful and varied colors of marble found in the tiled floors and walls, as well as the stunning sculptures.

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Religious Art, Old and New at the Vatican

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Visiting the Vatican Museums while in Rome is a must if you love art and history. The vast richness and splendor of the long halls and chapels, along with the stifling crowds, is almost overwhelming. Too much to really take in. But I found a quiet refuge in the Modern Art gallery tucked away in the middle of the Vatican, where I was able to move at leisure, uncrowded. There I found religious art by Van Gogh, Chagall, Matisse, Kandinsky, Klee, Redon, Picasso, and so many others.

The place I was most excited to see was the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo”s painting of the Creation of Adam, with God’s finger touching Adam’s. But when I reached the place after being herded through so many countless rooms, I did not recognize it at all. While I found a place against the wall to actually sit and rest my poor feet, I gazed up at the magnificent paintings on the ceiling, not realizing I was in the Sistine Chapel. I was shocked to see the Creation painting, one small rectangle among dozens. Can you find it in the image below?

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For some reason I expected that to be the dominant painting covering nearly the entire ceiling. Not so, as you can see. It is almost lost among the others.

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Photographs were not allowed in the Sistine Chapel, so the images of the Creation painting featured  above are not mine. The photos below are.

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The Sistine Chapel was not the only room where the ceilings and walls were covered in paintings.

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But for all the splendor of the long halls and chapels, my favorite rooms and artwork were more intimate and modern.

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Sometimes for me, the simplest drawings are the most moving.

These time-worn tiles below . . .

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. . . and this little faded alcove above also touched me.

But of course, my favorite is still the Creation painting. Even as small as it is and almost lost among the many, it moves me like no other.

A Taste of Rome, The Eternal City

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The last place we visited on our 30-day tour of Europe last year was Rome, the Eternal City. We only had a few days there, and there was so much to see. So I’ll be posting over several days to try to do justice to what we saw.

This first post will be just random photos of the city to give you a taste of what it’s like to just be there, in such an ancient and beautiful city. Most of these were taken within walking distance of our hotel. The most famous being the Trevi Fountain at the top of the post.

In my nest posts I’ll share photos of the Colosseum, the Public Forum, the Vatican museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

If you’ve been to Rome, I’m sure you’ve seen all this and will revel in your own memories. If you haven’t, I hope it will whet your appetite to go.

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Welcome Reminders from “The Writer’s Life.” Thank You, Annie

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Writing 471px-Mary_Pickford-desk public domain

I’m finding it harder to blog these days, harder to paint, to play piano, to clean house, to do most anything but write, rewrite, and write again.

And yet, despite this, I’m trying to keep the blogging going at least. The painting is on holiday until I start an acrylic and oil class this summer. But the piano, the poor piano! I feel guilty each time I walk by. She so wants to play.

And the house. Well, let’s not talk about the house.

I’m explaining more than complaining. I set this rigorous writing schedule myself. A “scaffolding” Annie Dillard calls it. A “blurred and powerful pattern.” It is all that.

Here is her full quote:

What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being: it is a life boat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

She also writes about the writer’s precarious relationship to a work in process which I’ve found to be quite true:

I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.

This tender relationship can change in a twinkling. If you skip a visit or two, a work in progress will turn on you.

A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight . . . . As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room.

Another quote relating writing and dying strikes at the heart of the writer’s task:

Write as if you were dying . . . write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. What would you begin writing if you knew you should die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art. Do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength.

Who but an artist fierce to know—not fierce to seem to know—would suppose that a live image possessed a secret? The artist is willing to give all his or her strength and life to probing with blunt instruments those same secrets no one can describe in any way but with those instruments’ faint tracks.

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.

I read the above quote daily as a reminder: Push, pull, probe, go deeper, page by page. Leave nothing unturned. Don’t do what’s easy. Do what’s hard.

And finally, another reminder when the writing seems so slow and never-ending:

You are writing a book. . . . you do not hurry and do not rest. You climb steadily, doing your job in the dark. When you reach the end, there is nothing more to climb. The sun hits you; the bright wideness surprises you; you had forgotten there was an end.

“Do not hurry and do not rest.” Yes. Got it.

“There is an end.” Thank God!

Photo credit: Mary Pickford, public domain.

Letters From Beyond the Grave on Memorial Day

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While neither of these poems have anything in particular to do with remembering those who have given their lives to defend our freedoms, they are reminders that death is not an ending but another beginning. So my heartfelt prayer for them is that they fell into the arms of that great Mothering and are being nurtured and renewed there.

Farewell Letter to My Son

She wrote me a letter
after her death
and I remember
a kind of happy light
falling on the envelope
as I sat by the rose tree
on her old bench
at the back door,
so surprised by its arrival
wondering what she would say,
looking up before I could open it
and laughing to myself
in silent expectation.

Dear son, it is time
for me to leave you.
I am afraid that the words
you are used to hearing
are no longer mine to give,
they are gone and mingled
back in the world
where it is no longer
in my power
to be their first
original author
not their last loving bearer.
You can hear
motherly
words of affection now
only from your own mouth
and only
when you speak them
to those
who stand
motherless
before you.

As for me I must forsake
adulthood
and be bound gladly
to a new childhood.
You must understand
this apprenticeship
demands of me
an elemental innocence
from everything
I ever held in my hands.
I know your generous soul
is well able to let me go
you will in the end
be happy to know
my God was true
and I find myself
after loving you all so long,
in the wide,
infinite mercy
of being mothered myself.

P.S. All your intuitions are true.

By David Whyte

To Leave One’s Own Name Behind

Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things
in terms of a human future; no longer to be
what one was in infinitely anxious hands; to leave
even one’s own first name behind, forgetting it
as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one’s desires. Strange
to see meanings that clung together once, floating away
in every direction. And being dead is hard work
and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel
a trace of eternity. – Though the living are wrong to believe
in the too-sharp distinctions which they themselves have created.
Angels (they say) don’t know whether it is the living
they are moving among, or the dead. The eternal torrent
whirls all ages along in it, through both realms
forever, and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar

By Rainer Maria Rilke
from Duino Elegies, The first Elegy
translation by Stephen Mitchell

I found both of these poems and the photo by Edward Steichen on Beauty We Love, a wonderful source of inspiration I turn to often.

A Lovely Sip of Sorrento, Italy

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With summer around the corner I’ve been looking at all the photos I never shared from last year when I was in Europe with my cousins. Sorrento was one of my favorite places and I wish we had had more time to spend there.

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We arrived by ferry from the island of Capri which lies just off the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Sorrento is set upon a high, sheer bluff. We walked along the beachfront and the took an elevator in the cliff wall to the top, where we could look down on the boats and sunbathers.

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At the top of the elevator was a lovely plaza with old and new art, and a beautiful 14th century monastery which hosts events, such as this tribute to Sophia Loren.

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A short walk away is the famous Piazzo Tasso, lines with restaurants and shops, and with a view looking down at the winding road leading to the old port.

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A short block away, was a lush, sunken garden with the ruins of an old saw mill.

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A lovely lunch at a sidewalk cafe and a quick bus tour around the city rounded out our visit. Then we headed back to the waterfront to catch our ferry. I wish we could have explored more. Next time!

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