Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Valleys (a continuation from last blog...Mountaintops and Valleys)

Highland Descent...48" X 72"...Acrylic on Canvas...
painted after trip heading south along Scotland's west coast
























My January blog had me traversing many mountain trail recollections far above the tree line. Wide ranging beauty revealed, but demanding, not given to inordinate lingering.
This month I stride ranges lower, where sun slants through clay pots broken crack of morn, painting patina bronze, and casting long modulating shadowlands while levitated blue grey mists spiral high toward giants crown green gold.
My thoughts wander, considering the juxtaposition of the harsh mountaintop versus life’s lower plains. Valleys vast horizontal expanse, seen then afar, and now up to my knees in it. One often sinks and get’s stuck in what seemed solid and green from distant view...and now...muck and water gushing over the boot tops of life’s reality.
My own set of particular artistic and personality traits seem inextricably welded to the roller coaster’s spine. The initial thrill of ascending. Breaking momentarily free from my inward tendency’s response to the monastic walls of others expectations, experiencing cold buffeted vistas, arriving heights above, and ultimately the dull numb ache sliding down. These melancholic tendencies, believe it or not, are really blessings of one of the richest of temperaments. If harnessed to include ceaseless gratitude can bring great advantage. I’m certainly not suggesting that all artists struggle the same way, as some seem to float along with an exuberant ‘joie de vivre,’ ‘laissez faire’ perspective...yet as I observe, it seems a tendency for many of us.
Mountaintops can be times of great exhilaration. Time to see the big picture. To draw in deep the clean thin air. Times to recall success, affirmation and possibly applause. 
We are on-top-of-the-world! 
Just as quickly, adulation can fade, stage lights dim to disappointed oblivion, and temptation claws us to sing with Peggy Lee, ‘If that’s all there is, lets break out the booze and have a ball.’ At this moment many of our ilk do just that and turn to the ‘void fillers’ of drugs or alcoholism. Numbed on cold craggy clefts of some lonely rock face they merely survive, never rappelling lower to the compassionate warmth of lowlands where intimacy and affection with others can await.
The question needs to be asked...for whom am I artistically engaged when ascendency pushes? To stroke my own ego? To feel the warm filling for my ongoing need for affirmation...or as a possible act of serving others...an act of worship or the spread of joy?
There is certainly value in panoramic views from vantage point high, if recognized for what it is. Perspective demonstrates relative size to the vastness beyond and above. 
It humbles! 
Humankind, like dust particles, riding the back of this small blue orb across the interminable vast blackness of space aloft are made for more than ourselves and our personal ingrown, self seeking ‘mark-making.’ 
I am made with purpose and for purpose beyond myself! It’s not just about me and some little life legacy left behind for someone to recall with a short breathy eulogy or five-second sound bite after my demise...no, it’s for the eternal!
Jesus Christ in making one of his very non-Canadian, non-pluralistic blatant assertions as to his personal deity, states that each member of humankind is his created personal work of art, made ‘for good works,’ in the likeness of God, and that he has His kind eye on each of us. We are his special personal living sculpted image, with the potential chiseled purpose of reflecting his face and character facets.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
He had us intimately and personally in mind before stretching and stapling the canvas of the universe for us to take this ride. Quietly pursuing around the atelier of our lives, brush in hand, he waits patiently to add layers and textures of translucent colorful delight to the substrate of our dwelling place. Once however surrendered to the hand of this eternal artist, recognizing His role as master and ours as image receiver and bearer, life doesn’t automatically become sweet. He reveals other aspects of his character, that of sculptor, chisel ready to chip away, trying to transform us toward a different result of his choosing. Soft suds theology that teaches that Christianity is candy floss, candy apples and free Cadillacs instead of the rich joy found only in the raw wounds of the crucible of His chiseling is both manipulative and the fraud of fantasy.
Whether we find ourselves hanging by fingertips to craggy cliffs of doubt or stretched out on quiet beaches and cool breezes of self sufficiency, he quietly, respectfully stands aside, waiting for our invitation to move with love into the studio of our lives. It is our choice of free will to invite...or not!
These highly revolutionary statements either raise him to a place of honor or convict and demean him to the place of the lunatic, and add yet another opaque, rough layer to our sophisticated western crusty cynicism. One quote from C.S. Lewis, the brilliant and once skeptical Cambridge University professor, who eventually accepted Christ, not merely as a fine idea, but as his personal Lord, Savior and sculptural Master.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:“I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic…or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Arriving in these lower reaches I’m finding new warmth where higher harsh and bitter winds settle to breezes gentle. It is often in shadowed valleys that refreshment occurs. The ice melting high above feeds streams that give up their water to quench traveller’s thirsty. 
Floral and fauna’s vast variety and color appears...dewdrops embrace rain leaden leaves...dazzling watery diamonds reflect and refract light. Soft pine needles with revised careers, create beds of rest. Shadows relieve sun’s peeling scorch. It is here I can rest awhile. The paths straighter...more easily traversed.
After decades struggling with the isolation of icy depression I am personally grateful and indebted to a small group of faithful fellow sojourners, who pursued me high on icy, foggy shelves with warm affirmation and sincere affection, and led me along the path toward melting healing rivulets of shalom and joy. They know who they are and of my ongoing gratitude!
What we are considering today is the obvious flip side of the mountain heights. It is here in the valley where the not so pleasant offerings of the nearby cattle leave us with the stench of reality. This reminds me of honest, authentic,“fellowship restored!”  Too often the caption under Christian ‘fellowship’ is only sweetness and light, with no reek or darkness attached. True camaraderie, love and friendship is experienced where grace filled light pushes back the darkness of our personal Gethsemane and we accept our own and each others brokenness and continually initiate reconciliation. This reflects the truth of God’s love where He makes the first move and continues moving toward us no matter where we have been, what we have done or how many times we’ve been there and done that!
Life’s lowlands include sunlit fields, meandering rivers, tranquil scenes of sheep, places of tranquility, pastoral rest, repose, recovery and...the wafting stink of reality. 
In that reality I need to consider that a seed once planted in the valley floor, doesn’t need to recheck it’s growth or position by coming up for air. It needs to rest, silent in the soil of its surroundings trusting that the soil will be the life giving sustenance to bring forth fruit. It is about stillness in the valley. The seed just rests, leaving the results to come from outside sources. We find in John 15, the fruit itself doesn’t just appear. It is a result of resting in the vine which provides the power and sustenance for growth and the benefit brought to others as a result.
I look back toward the great heights while at the same time planting my feet firmly on terra-firma recognizing it is here in the daily lowlands where most of life is spent, that growth and sustenance is found. I need to remember to walk away from my drivenness to always be climbing, and rather bloom where I’m planted each day, knowing that it takes a certain amount of the fertilizer of life to make that happen. 
Be free, be vulnerable, take risks...climb occasionally to the heights but while doing so...keep close ties with those below…yolked and planted closely to a few!
Soli Deo Gloria
J. Douglas Thompson...SDG
Copyright 2011

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