Prayer in response to the Presidential Election…
Prayer in response to the Presidential Election…
Thanks to all for this wonderful start to our collaboration: making this Art Deck into a reality. I’m so honored and uplifted by the support, and now I’m ready to get to work! Watch for Round 2 this fall…
Meanwhile, enjoy this little thank you video… with my grateful blessings. —Melanie
Here’s my latest invitation to co-create something wonderful. Please visit my Round 1 Join In For Joy GoFundMe campaign to launch an Art Deck! There’s a 2-minute video on the GoFundMe webpage, and an essay that I’ve repeated below. Thanks for considering this collaboration, and blessings to you! —Melanie
Join in for Joy: Launch an Art Deck
Whenever I sell my art prints at a conference or a festival, people say, “I wish I could buy so many more of them! It’s impossible to choose just one or two.” Whenever I make small-sized copies of my images to use in workshops or with my clients, people want to know whether they can take them home. And whenever I think of sharing my art more widely with the world, I dream of making a deck of art cards to play with and pray with.
I’ve talked about this art deck idea for years, and more earnestly for the last two. Last month at the Spiritual Directors’ International Conference, my friend Sarah C looked me in the eye and said, “It’s time. Make the deck.” When I told her I couldn’t afford to do it yet, her reply caught me off guard, but in the best way. “We all belong to each other,” she said. What if I were to risk letting myself belong to something bigger— to ask others to join me in a crowd-funding campaign, to let my art deck dream to belong to all of us?
For several reasons, asking is hard for me. I’d rather do all the homework myself, and just tell you about it when it’s all shining and ready for purchase.
But this is the moment when I actually need the most support— in the research, discernment, and development phase. I need quiet, concentrated time to listen for guidance and look for assistance, to explore the options and come to good decisions about the way forward. Since I’m a self-employed artist and spiritual director, those kind of hours are “unpaid” unless I find another way to fund them. As my friend Vicky said just last week, “Crowd-funding is the way art gets made now.” We all get to help the art, or the music, or the writing hatch and then fly. I know and love this when it comes to other artists… and now it’s my turn to open up yet again and risk us belonging to each other.
Are we ready? Here goes—
Hey, friends, I’m going to make a great deck of art cards, full of images I’ve received and created over 20 years of inspiration along my spiritual journey. It turns out this art encourages many others on their own paths of spiritual exploration. (I’m still so awed and glad about that— Every time!) And a lot of these people have been asking me to make the images more accessible. My guidance is clear that the next step is to make a deck of art cards (or two or three). Check out my 2-minute video to hear my voice and see the first deck prototype in action.
I want to offer pocket-sized card images of joy, challenge, love, and goodness. Would you like to help me? If it feels joyful and fun to you, will you consider giving toward launching this art deck project? I will so gratefully receive the gifts of your good wishes, encouragement, prayers, ideas, purchases of art from my website, and/or donations to this Go Fund Me campaign— whatever delights your heart to share. You’ll co-create something beautiful with me! Then we’ll let it loose, in our world that so deeply needs our offerings of beauty, truth, and compassion.
This Round 1 campaign will support me to:
–Discern how the deck/s take shape
–Name the deck/s
–Find a printing company
–Create the graphics for packaging
–Write and create an information booklet
–Plan and implement the Round 2 campaign
The bigger, wider Round 2 campaign will focus on production costs. In Round 2, donors can give in advance to receive their own art decks— and other festive incentives. I can hardly wait!
If Round 1 is successful, then I expect to launch Round 2 in the fall of this year and to deliver decks in the spring of 2017. How fun is that?!?
If Round 1 exceeds my goal, then I’ll use the extra support toward improving Round 2 with quality video software, a working creative retreat, and maybe even some business coaching to help me get the art out further into the world. That would be amazing.
Thank you so much for considering my invitation to “Join In For Joy”— collaborating with me to bring an art deck to life. I know there are many other important causes and projects we’re all supporting, so I’ll also be honored to receive your good thoughts and blessings for this work.
Let’s see what goodness unfolds!
For months, I’ve been working on an artistic, spiritual response to violence in our culture and politics. It’s timely to share what might be my bravest art yet– this fabric art called Cataclysm— and a brand-new 7-minute Cataclysm Art Process video clip on the making and meaning of the image.
Both the video and image are rather intense commentary, yet to me they are full of hope that the power of breakdown offers us new possibilities in the long run. Oh how we need that kind of imagination right now– ecologically, culturally, religiously, and in just about every arena of our lives. I’m deeply disappointed by the increasing violence and corruption in our political system, wondering how and when it will fall apart– maybe even with our help– to allow fresh justice, compassion, and leadership to emerge.
I’ll keep this post short hoping you’ll watch the video. It’s home-made, for sure, but I worked hard on it, and I think you’ll enjoy seeing the photos of how I created and then tore apart the fabric elements of the piece. Yep, it’s all fabric. Yep, I built a colonial mansion and made trilobites. Yep, this is the first time I’ve ever used a gun or bombs in my art. And yep, I shredded all those pieces to make a point– we can join the power of Cataclysm to dismantle whatever does not serve life as a whole, then out of the raw materials from the breakdown we might weave something new.
This Cataclysm image joins my Resilience Project series, along with the other more obviously inspiring principles I’ve sketched in watercolor, like Emergence, Allurement, and Centration. Check out my other just-finished art quilt, Seamlessness, representing the generative space out of which everything comes and in which everything is connected! (This science stuff still bends my mind and opens my heart.)
I can hardly wait to keep working on this ambitious project to complete 11 fabric art quilts embodying each of the Powers of the Universe qualities! I’ll appreciate your encouragement and support….
With blessings as it all unfolds,
I’m inspired today by the new Paris Climate Talk Agreements, and especially moved by the South African representative’s reminder of Nelson Mandela’s words– our long walk is not over.
As Bill McKibben tweeted, “This agreement won’t save the planet. It may have saved the chance to save the planet (if we all fight like hell in the years ahead) @COP21 .”
Let’s celebrate each victory and vista, then renew our personal and public commitments to whatever causes for justice, peace, or healing are tugging at our hearts– Black Lives Matter, Syrian refugees, poverty in our neighborhoods, quality education, disease research, more– there are a hundred thousand ways to serve. I’ll keep adding my voice and art toward bringing our human presence on the planet into right balance and right action.
The poet Mary Oliver says:
We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.
I’m deeply grieving for our Earth’s wounds this morning, and I’m thrilled by autumn’s crisp glory. I just found out about horrible Indonesian jungle fires, and I just took another gorgeous bike ride along the Rio Grande and Sandia Mountains. Seriously, I feel shaken by both. How can my heart possibly handle these together? It’s too much to express… so I’m making art to try to be with it all.
Soon I’ll start sharing images from my latest work on the Resilience Project. Meanwhile, here’s a collage about the grief (thanks to National Geographic magazine and my scissors), and a photograph from my bike ride just yesterday.
God help us to stay alive to both the beauty and the grief.
I’m remembering again the many gifts from teaching two more Pendle Hill workshops this summer in Pennsylvania. In our weekend called Mindfulness at Play, 17 of us worked together to create a little miracle of group poetry, one phrase at a time. Here was the tricky, awesome part: no one saw the entire poem until after it was finished! Each author was responding to only the one line written just before theirs– the lines above it were folded back and hidden until the end. When we unfolded and read the poems, we all marveled at the beauty and creativity of this heartfelt collaboration. See what I mean:
Or another one:
When our hearts and hands work together mindfully, wisdom comes out to play! Deep thanks to everyone who co-created these meaningful, inspiring workshops.
Maybe next time you will join us… New Year’s Retreat, or next summer…
Georgia O’Keeffe is one of my heroes. For my 45th birthday, my sweetie, Hol, and I went to tour her Abiquiu, New Mexico home for an hour yesterday… and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I felt a real affinity for Georgia’s space, and how she kept a strong blend of simplicity and beauty in every room. But more than that, it was obvious to me that she lived intentionally and well, even when that wasn’t easy to do. As the tour guide quoted her saying, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life– and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
So today my respect for O’Keeffe has me looking at my own life with a new admiration and intention. I’m carrying away the deep inspiration to keep living authentically, letting go of whatever is unnecessary, dedicating myself to beauty and truth.
I hope 45 will be a good year for me, and maybe for you too– less worrying, more art, more play. May it be so!
Photo above: Pedernal mesa– Georgia’s favorite– taken yesterday from Ghost Ranch, NM.
Sorry, we weren’t allowed to make photos of the inside of her house on the tour, and I didn’t think I had permission to use them from online… you can Google search for some if you like!
I’m offering this new image tonight, as a prayer of gratitude and invitation.
What within you waits to be free– nourished by the opportunities and difficulties of your history– ready to become a vibrant gift to the communities around you?
In what ways are you still unfree? When and how are our neighbors unfree? What’s our contribution to liberation?
May we see the possibilities for freedom within our deepest challenges.
Freedom from Within – fabric & thread – June 2015 – © Melanie Weidner
Just look at the joy on our faces when we creatively consider the Freedom to Be !
Thanks to Karli, Sally, Anna, and Lisa for joining me for the July 18 Juicy Workshop. I’m always amazed at how much we discover about ourselves and each other when we show up with our hearts and hands to encounter a theme like freedom. Then we can’t help but carry our wisdom out into the daily world around us! I believe that creative and spiritual work serves us all. May it be so.
I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.
–Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I, 12;
translation by Barrows & Macy.
Not long ago, I found this painting in a box! It was unfinished from 2011 and I’d forgotten all about it. I’d considered it a failed attempt, along with Protect the Emergence, for what would later be Wrestling with the Angel.
But when I rediscovered this third drawing, I knew it was time to revisit my “failure” and finish the painting. I added the wings, the background, and most importantly, the halo on the wrestling figure. Four years ago I didn’t understand as well that our struggles are just as sacred and holy as our successes… so I’d left the wrestler bare. Now in 2015, she feels honored and held in the embrace of self-compassion.
What challenges might you have put away in a closet and judged harshly? What wise or spiritual part of you might offer your struggles a compassionate and healing gaze?
May it be so.
A few weeks ago I received a gift that left me speechless. One of my workshop students, Lois Trusler, mailed to me a gorgeous book of photographs she’d made on the last afternoon of our New Year’s retreat at Pendle Hill.
Although I’ve tried for years to describe my workshops in words, this beautiful book literally showed the powers of spirituality, creativity, and community in action. Lois’ book taught me all over again why I lead these studio workshops, and what a miracle we make together every time.
Take a look.
And then come join us.
(Click the photos above to enlarge them)
See more workshop photos.
August 7-9 : Mindfulness at Play, Weekend Workshop – Register ASAP!
August 9-13: Treasures of the Inward Journey, 5-day Workshop – Register ASAP!
December 28, 2015 – January 1, 2016 : Creative Reflection, New Years’ Retreat. Mark your calendar– info coming soon.
Other workshop students say:
Melanie– I want you to know how much I have loved your workshops. They have made a difference in my life. I learned to play with art in new ways without judgment in a safe, fun atmosphere. You made it all possible by being your loving, nurturing, listening, understanding, artistic self for all of us. Many thanks.
This is a safe space to risk deep honesty, and to let yourself be seen.
It was a creative visual pilgrimage toward my center.
Melanie guided me into my creative self.
There is nothing better you could spend your money on.
Go to Pendle Hill, restore your faith in community, make everlasting connections, and soothe your soul.
Come and experience freedom and play framed by Quaker simplicity and spirituality.
I learned to risk and play and create. It was more true, more real, and deeper than I could have hoped.
It will open your heart and mind. You will have fun. You will be glad you came.
Can’t wait to come back!
I’m thrilled for all of us who will be empowered and recognized by today’s Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. And I continue to care for all those who will be fearful of or angered by these changes. As President Obama said this morning, it is every generation’s project to build bridges between our best principles and the changing times. May my prayers, actions, and votes work toward healing the hatred, injustice, violence, and oppression that we see each day in the news and in our own hearts. May my life– and yours– help span the gap between fear and love.
Well, I don’t know whether you think this latest painting is at all romantic… but here’s what happened when I sat down to make my partner Holly an anniversary gift to celebrate our four years together (yay!):
Clearly, I’m not in charge of what happens when I paint! 🙂 Thankfully, Hol loves the image, and so do I… It speaks to us both of just how bone-deep our stories go, individually and together. She’s had quite the life journey, my dear one, with lots of glories and plenty of struggles– including these past two or three years working with adrenal fatigue illness. (More struggle than glory there. Not fun.) But here’s the romance: I’m in love with how Hol lives all of her experience, how thoroughly she wrestles with and (eventually) welcomes and heals what comes her way, and how richly she weaves her life stories into compassion and truth. I want to live that deeply and welcome my core life too.
So what are your marrow stories, and mine– the really real, central parts at the core of us? Which of them wants to be known more fully in our own minds and hearts? Which of our stories might inspire or encourage others if the time were right for the telling?
My paintings always raise more questions than give answers, I’ve noticed…. I also can’t help but remember another layered, question-filled painting from 2003, Listen to My Bones. Guess the metaphor needed a revisit after a dozen years! (Wow, already?!)
Bless us all– deep into our bones.
Our new Albuquerque studio is alive and well– hurrah! Hol and I have chosen a name we love– Brave Joy Studio. We invite you to courageously find your joy in our creative space! My first workshop was a fun, inspiring afternoon of shared insights and art process. Come join me for more adventures– May 9, June 5-7… See Events to watch for what unfolds.
Meanwhile, Hol and I have postponed our studio open house, cancelling on May 2. We’re sorry for the inconvenience if you’d marked your calendar. It turns out Hol needs a bit more time for healing her long-term fatigue illness before we throw a party. 🙂 We’d appreciate your prayers or good thoughts for her continued recovery. Thanks!
With growing excitement and gratitude for this creative journey… Melanie
PS– Thanks to my cat, Mila, for “helping” to write this post… 🙂
Like the Tibetan Monks who created an intricate, sacred sand mandala prayer and then swept it away, 550 participants made a meaningful, nourishing conference this week in Louisville, Kentucky before scattering back to their homes across the country and around the world.
I’m still savoring and celebrating the 2015 Spiritual Directors International Conference… grateful for the opportunity to hear teachings, teach a workshop twice, and share my art with the community there. And what an incredible extra blessing and inspiration to watch these artist monks pray in color and chant for four days in the very same room with my exhibit table! Their persistence to make this impermanent beauty reminded me that I too am invited to offer my best each day, then let it go.
As always, I loved the personal connections and stories from new SDI friends and old. This year, many people let me know they’re using my art prints in their offices and ministries, as gifts to dear friends, and in their personal prayer spaces. I can’t convey just how marvelous and encouraging it is to hear that the art serves in all these ways! The workshops I hosted were a short, shining prayer of collective wisdom and insight too– as we enjoyed art and told stories in a circle that will never happen the same way again. I was so delighted with those collaborations, I wish I could relive them! But I get to remember, and let it go… my heart singing with the memory of sweet goodness.
Thanks to all who helped create this conference, and to all who carried art and books home with them. Your support helps me to keep working! May you be blessed until we meet again! –Melanie
I’m grateful whenever artists and friends of mine add their voice in response to conflict or injustice. Kudos to my friend Mandy Ford of This Girl’s Doodles who created this drawing to remind Indianans (and all of us) to choose kindness along with speaking out against discrimination.
When will my art and voice be needed next? And I wonder when you might respond with creativity and kindness?
Blessings as we use our art, lives, and voices for good in the world.
An anonymous elf sent me a tasty package to honor my new workshop logo… Was it you?
I’m loving it!! Thank you, dear Elf!
Update: Turns out my wonderful brother was the encouraging “culprit”… Thanks for the sweetness and love, Ryan!!
Have you ever had one of those moments when you pick up an object and suddenly a flood of memories shows up? I just felt a torrent of affection and gratitude while holding the old spatula. Yep, the spatula.
It’s tattered now. The awesome flexi-silicone edges ripped a month ago from years of faithful service. So yesterday I bought its replacement… but I just couldn’t use the new one at dinner time tonight. I had to give my kitchen friend one last turn. I’m like that sometimes.
Then when I rinsed it for the last time, and held it gently to say goodbye, I suddenly teared-up touching the burn scar on the back of the handle. I’m not kidding– it was really sweet actually– remembering that I melted that bit in my first New Mexican casita apartment, learning how to cook on a gas stove while wishing I might someday be cooking together with a beloved. Lots of longing and lonely.
But tonight, four years into our relationship, my heart and mind flooded with memory after memory of food prepared and shared with my Love, thousands of conversations at the kitchen table, and all the little boring, precious pieces of daily life that we’ve shared with each other– sometimes holding that spatula. Yeah, here are those tears of gratitude again as I write this, for real. Who knew I’d feel all this love for my Hol, for life, and even for myself tonight… in the good company of one of my favorite utensils. 🙂
Too lovely not to share.
What might happen tomorrow with the wooden spoon? Goodness, I hope– and for you, too.
Every few years I pick up a new favorite word to describe the good stuff in life. For example, I started saying “lavish” all the time after I read it in The Artist’s Way. Then in 2010 my Pendle Hill workshop students teased me (in the best way, of course) when they caught me using “juicy” several times a day. I’d say things like, “Imagine what color or shape would feel most juicy to you,” or “What’s the juiciest part of your experience right now?” It stuck around as a beloved go-to word, and a partner for the pear image that often shows up in my art work.
So it’s no surprise that “Juicy” popped up this week when I named my new Albuquerque workshop series. I grabbed a Sharpie marker, wrote out the word, doodled an iconic pear— and a fresh logo was born.
I always need the reminder trust what comes naturally. It’s my hope that the simplicity, fun, and joy of the “Juicy” name will inspire these creative wisdom circle workshops! I can hardly wait to gather to explore what’s ripe and sweet and wonderful in our souls and our lives. Together we’ll use art-making, poetry, conversation, silence and more to harvest the fruit on Saturday afternoons. No doubt our new studio will be a nourishing place for sacred play.
Would you like to join us? Watch the Events calendar page for dates and details as all this unfolds. For now, I’m starting with March 28 on the theme “Fresh Territory,” and May 9 on “Unfolding.” Contact me right away if you’d like to register since I have space for 8 participants. If things go well, registration will open April 1 for a third Juicy “Freedom” themed workshop on July 18. If we’re really rolling, more dates will come for autumn….
Meanwhile, if you want a deeper dive into creativity and spirituality, consider three 2015 summer retreat options: my two annual residential workshops at the terrific Pendle Hill Quaker Retreat Center near Philadelphia: “Mindfulness at Play,” August 7-9, and “Treasures of the Inward Journey,” August 9-13. See also the Albuquerque 3-day creative workshop intensive, “Growing Edges,” June 5-7. Please let me know if you’re interested.
With blessing for your juicy moments– Melanie
Slowly but surely, my partner Holly Bahn and I are making a sacred play space in our new Albuquerque studio office, and it won’t be long now until we start hosting workshops and groups. Hurrah!
For some weeks now, I’ve been seeing spiritual direction clients in person and by phone in the cozy office room… proud of the walls I painted and the chairs Hol found at our neighborhood thrift store. Doesn’t this look friendly?
A few weeks ago, Hol and I unpacked our twin mountains of art supplies… amazed again at all we’ve each gathered over the years for arts groups and workshops. Seriously, we’ve both been dreaming about and planning for this for a long, long time.
Now we’re finding shelves and drawers for all this good artsy stuff, making a creative studio that’s inviting, imperfect, and wonderful. 🙂 It’s good practice to work with what we have and to trust our intentions and those who gather with us to fill in the gaps.
Watch the Events page and look for email announcements for the first workshop announcements. (Sign up for eNewsletters on the Contact page.) We’ll appreciate your prayers or good thoughts meanwhile– for a few more lucky finds at the thrift stores, a little more income for track lights, paper drawers, and a sign out front, and the stamina we need to bring it all together and get the word out. Thank you!
I’m still celebrating the goodness and wonder of ten women who gathered with me at Pendle Hill Quaker Retreat Center in a New Year’s workshop to create art, intentions, and community. It’s a sacred privilege and great big fun to cultivate the connections that rise from soulful creativity in group spiritual experiences. More and more, as I’m learning to lead by leaning into the Flow and guidance of the Spirit and my heart, we’re all freed to learn, love and shine together.
See us all here, shining and connected? Oh, if you only knew what brave, beautiful, healing steps we all took toward wholeness and joy. Here are the covers and a page of my little art booklet made to honor and process the experience.
One of our group members, Ute Arnold, wrote the poem central to the pages above. It begins: “The magic is released and the red thread is weaving our lives– near and distant– what folly to think I might ever be alone…”
May we carry the thread of creativity and connection into our daily lives, strengthened and blessed by the gift of time away and together to remember our best intentions for 2015 and beyond.
Update, February 2015: I’ve taken the red thread theme into fabric! See Follow the Thread.
My partner Holly and I are thrilled– we just rented a studio-office space near our home in the North Valley of Albuquerque. For years we’ve been waiting to develop a place for our spiritual exploration and creative empowerment work. Now that Hol’s energy is returning after several years of illness, a new chapter of life is opening for both of us, and for those who will join this adventure. HURRAH!!
We’ll work individually and together, meeting with clients and offering groups and workshops. For now, the space is a “diamond in the rough,” as we begin to bring together our collections of art supplies, vision for this community of creativity, and years of experience. I’ll kick things off with an informal art sale, then we’ll spend the rest of December and maybe some of January “nesting” and preparing. It’s a perfect Advent practice, co-creating with the Divine in the dark of winter, waiting and watching to see what gifts will be born to bring a little more healing, compassion, and light into the world.
We appreciate your support and prayers! With great joy– Melanie
I love celebrating the sacredness of the everyday. Some parts of the Christian tradition honor it with the color green, in the liturgical season they call “Ordinary Time.” The irony is, there’s nothing ordinary about it, except that so much of lives are full of wonder that it’s more the norm than not! My friend Sue Joiner is a pastor who thinks this way too, so she commissioned me to make a green stole that she’ll wear while leading worship. We started with one of her favorite songs to set the creative stage– “Holy As the Day is Spent,” by Carrie Newcomer. Here’s the video:
And here’s the stole, full of Spirit, fun, and fabrics (even denim!) representing all sorts of ordinary sacred moments:
Check out Sue’s awesome sneakers that make the whole outfit complete. 🙂 When I brought the finished stole to her house, she threw on her ‘alb’ (that’s churchy-speak for ‘white robe’) over her jeans and I snapped a picture of her big smile. Without a doubt, Sue will share years of love and thoughtful sermons, wrapped in the colors and good news of the miracles all around us every day. (See the Pentecost Stole I made for Sue’s installation.)
Enjoy a few more photos of the process, which must of course include those beautiful “mundane” machine stitches on the backside…
Blessings for the sacred ordinary in your day today.
Update: See all 4 in the Liturgical Stole Series.
Fondly remembering my service as Friend in Residence at my alma mater seminary, the Earlham School of Religion, in Richmond, Indiana, September 14-19, 2014. What a rich opportunity to circle back around to a community that changed my life– TWENTY years ago— Wow. I spoke about my experiences then and now at Common Meal, the weekly lunch gathering of the ESR community, in a presentation I called, “That’s Not What I Expected (Thanks Be).” Long distance students joined us by video for the talk and Q&A. Although I’m a little bit goofy and a lot bit vulnerable in this talk, here’s a link to the video:
I instantly loved the current students who shared their hearts and classes, a great art and poetry workshop, beautiful collaborative worship, and a whole lot of one-on-one spiritual direction sessions. It’s heartening to know leaders are training to offer thoughtful, engaging, and inclusive ministry in a wonderfully wide variety of ways– from prison chaplaincy to poetry writing to spiritual direction, and beyond. Once again, I felt the joy of such good company.
Last but not least, I thoroughly enjoyed my reconnection with faculty and friends there in Richmond, Indiana. Dear friend and fellow alum Trayce Peterson even dropped in for a surprise visit! As always, it’s the relationships I treasure most.
It’s Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta week, and here’s what happens a block from our house. Just imagine overhead! Magic.
As I sat still to begin another collage mandala, images of fire, stars, and bombing rose together in my mind’s eye. My students and I had just invited Israa, a 20-year-old Muslim student from Iraq, to join our Pendle Hill workshop– allowing our hearts to break with her firsthand stories of a lifetime of violence in her homeland. Two evenings before, I’d pulled a nighttime photograph of forest fire embers out of a magazine. When I opened to the morning’s creative process, those fire embers looked to me like stars in a galactic cloud, or sparks in a bombed neighborhood that Israa described. What could I do with this imagery shifting from beauty to tragedy and back again? I started with prayer.
In fact, I wrote a very long, rambly, unedited prayer on the background layer of the wooden circle I planned to collage. I let the sorrow and the anger, and despair flow out in words, alongside beauty and wonder and longing. The sentences came through easily in my pencilled handwriting, mostly because I planned to cover them with paper and paint. The energy of the prayer would be buried in visual imagery. No one but God and I would know how jumbly and powerfully I felt about fire, stars, bombs, violence, grief, compassion, and hope. Only a few words might peak out around the edges.
During that day, I focused on teaching the workshop and engaging with the students. By nightfall, I’d added a thin layer of orange tissue on top of the still-visible words. When I called my partner, Holly, before bedtime, I told her about the art and how good it felt to write out that long prayer with its wild wandering through questions, metaphor, and petition. Wouldn’t you know, she asked if I wanted to read it to her! Shocked and shy, I felt both hesitant and eager. But since Hol is my safest, most compassionate listener, I worked up the courage and read my prayer aloud. “It’s beautiful,” she said, before I had a chance to argue. She said it was deep, rich, and heartfelt. And she asked me if I’d consider copying the words before covering them up. Amazed by her encouragement (and by my vulnerability), I went to sleep wondering about visibility and invisibility, and why I so often keep my writing and the complexities of my heart partly hidden.
The next day I photocopied all the handwriting on the circle– just in case. That afternoon I knew my heart wouldn’t let me cover all the text. The Spirit was inviting me to be more transparent in my art and with my messy thoughts and process. So rather than hide my words with magazine photos, I laid thin layers of tissue and paint to shape the flame my written prayer lines returned to, over and over. The whole image itself now illustrated the hide-and-seek of despair with trust, and the in-and-out ambivalence toward sharing my unedited, passionate, and unsolved thought and prayer.
On the last day of the workshop, the students and I shared and celebrated our art and our insights with each other. To symbolize my learning and embody some fresh courage, I displayed the photocopy of the whole handwritten prayer beside the completed art mandala. Offering the two together brought me a surprising sense of belonging and integrity. Then the feedback from the students and my soul made it clear that more transparency was in order– it’s time for me to practice more willingness to show up and speak up– especially when anger and heartbreak meet creativity and vision.
To that end, I’ve typed out that rambly, heart-felt prayer and posted it on a website page along with the art, called Ready for Flame. It begins:
I come tonight with a prayer for a broken heart, a burning heart with the pain of impossible, unthinkable choices. Or the terror of an earth on fire with greed, out of balance as we rich burn oil dug up from millennia of trees laying down their bodies as offering. Is there any offering we can make to the embers to calm them? Is there any act of peace that will still the bombings? …Read the rest here.
The prayer ends with this intention that you’re welcome to pray as well:
This seriously scary time might yet catch blaze with compassion, spark with creativity, burn with understanding. At times my heart flares up in a prayer or an action, yet more often I am a burned-down campfire waiting for new fuel, new wind, to fan the flame of passionate response, timely argument, or a quiet act of kindness.
May I burn as a starlight ember in waiting, ready for flame.
I’m reflecting on my sixth year teaching Arts & Spirituality summer workshops in one of my favorite art studios ever, at the Pendle Hill Contemplative Center. We add a bit of poetry, a dash of mindfulness, stir in fantastic students who come ready for community and adventure, simmer in inspiring group conversation and plenty of Mod-Podge, then sprinkle with bits from the Magic Scrap Bin (see poem below)– and we’ve made the recipe for co-creating a whole lot of transformative, nourishing goodness.
It’s hard for any of us to describe what happens in these workshops… and why it matters so much to practice creativity, awareness, presence, and self-acceptance in good company. This year’s students said:
Limits I didn’t know I had were released.
I came to renew my spirit & my creativity, and to reduce the power of fear in my life. I have.
The workshop helped me to slow down and take a deeper look at myself.
This program helped me connect with others, re-examine my direction in life and my priorities. I got to dive deeper into my spirit and express that with art.
We found it relaxing, playful, friendly, inspiring, and creative.
Come only if you are ready to explore, be present and GROW in a safe, holding environment. You will be delighted.
If you dream of exploring/freeing/engaging your inner artist or long for a fresh way of engaging your creativity or your faith or the sacred– try this out.
Come to learn, to play, to be transformed!
I deepened my perspective and insights. I feel nourished, rested, and deeply hopeful.
It’s true, our lives change as we work and play together. One student, Dawn Stewart, blogged powerfully about her meaningful experience: see “Let Your Light Shine.”
Our surprise guest student Israa from Iraq broke our hearts open with stories of her homeland, and then filled us with hope by sharing her deep courage to choose life and a future. She changed my worldview, yet again.
Did I mention we have a lot of fun, too? Trudy Kleckner wrote a spontaneous, funny poem to honor one of my favorite elements of all of my workshops: the Magic Scrap Bin– a collection of art paper scraps recycled from previous projects by my students from New Mexico to Pennsylvania!
Ode to the Rag Tag Band
(To be read in a snobbish, very cultured voice)
You know, my dear, it’s common knowledge,
those residents of the magic bin–
I mean the Magic Scrap Bin, of course–
why they’re nothing but remnants,
discards, quite frankly the left for dead.
And probably just as well, I hear
they are dubious characters, who lay around
in idleness and total want of use.
They are, quite understandably, rejected
in favor of their smooth, whole, and
perfectly beautiful cousins.
After all, they are rumpled, crumpled,
and oddly sized. Who needs them?
What? What’s that you say? Treasures?
And you only have to dive in and
I celebrate our courage and meaning-full play. It’s my joy and privilege to serve these wonderful people, who in turn touch the world with their renewed spirits and creativity.
We invite you to join us! See the Creative Reflection winter retreat, December 28, 2014-January 1, 2015 and mark your calendars for next summer’s Pendle Hill workshops, August 14-16, and 16-20, 2015. More information coming soon… watch my Events page or sign up for my eNewsletters on the Contact page.
Cheers for a few more little dreams come true! Yesterday, five friends gathered at Ann’s place out in the country to play together, making stuff. (After a potluck, of course.) Ann shared with us the impressive collection of gourds she’d grown and dried. She set out cool tools like her dremel and woodburning pen, covered her kitchen table in washable towels to make a work surface, and let us all pick a gourd and start creating. OH MY GOODNESS was it fun! I mean really fun— I conquered my fear of the dremel tool, used a woodburner for the first time since I was about 11 years old, explored a new-to-me gourd “canvas,” found out what gourd seeds look like, and loved being with my friends and partner in the process. Such a satisfying day.
Here’s the dreams-come-true part: I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who had a group of friends playing around with creativity on a Saturday afternoon, and really loving it. For a lot of years, that sounded too awkward or hard to put together, or too much like the work I do hosting arts and spirituality workshops. Or I thought I didn’t have a big enough or good enough space for it. Or I was moving too fast to take the time. But today I just had to tell you– it’s not that hard and it’s totally worth it to experience this much joyful, engaged ease, right in your kitchen or living room. And it’s FREE, beyond the gas to get there, a few supplies, and a side-dish. The tricks are: making an effort to live slowly enough (at least sometimes) to give a half a day to an adventure, being willing to be messy and try something new, and to ask some friends along. (Ok, the potluck might actually be a requirement too… but even that was a super-simple feast yesterday.)
It was Holly’s idea to invite these friends to meet every six weeks or so for creative exploration. We’ve totally loved the times we’ve gathered so far. Sometimes we do old fashioned “Show & Tell” with each other, sharing whatever we’ve been creating lately on our own. Other times one of us organizes a project, like collage-making at our house, or this terrific chance to make gourd art that Ann gave our group. Who knows what we’ll do next, but I’m already looking forward to it! Truly, these simple pleasures improve my life a hundred times over.
What’s more, when I read the wonderful book I’m enjoying right now, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwen, I can smile and nod in agreement, rather than cast my eyes wistfully to the ceiling in longing like I used to do. These days I’m deeply grateful I’m not just hoping for a slower, richer, creative life… some of it happened just yesterday.
When might you try your own version of creative play time? I can’t recommend it enough.
Click on the pictures to see the details, and leave a comment about your own explorations!
With blessing and joy– Melanie
Hurrah!! I’m delighted with my latest fabric experiment, inspired by a simple painting. After last week’s process, blue waves, and a final a few tweaks to finish the design, it was time for a title… (always the hardest part for me). My partner, Holly, asked me, “Well, what’s this one about?” And I answered, “I think it’s something about joy.” It stuck! Something About Joy, it is, and I hope it feels contagiously joyful for you too.
I love the motion of this art, and the energy. The fabric makes it warm and immediate, and its collage-like assembly gives it a “now” feeling somehow.
Also, in these recent images I seem to be processing a lot about incorporating the “stuff” of life, or the hard, jumbly parts. They get their own layer here, made of scrap bits, and yet they become almost a ground from which all the other flow and radiance emerges. Hmm… lots to ponder there about how I might accept and even build on the daily challenges and ‘interruptions’ that might actually be supporting and surrounding the sacredness of life, right in the middle of it!
Joyous day to you– Melanie
Cue the festive fabric project— antidote to the big push of the SDI Emerging Wisdom Conference and this difficult year of my partner Holly’s health challenges. Turns out I couldn’t wait to try translating a simple acrylic sketch painting into a loose fabric scrap mandala. Here’s a peek at the behind-the-scenes process, mid-way through this current experiment painting with fabric.
First, the sketch painting– I just loved the shapes and vibrant color that showed up from my brush during a contemplative workshop, beautifully led by Sarah Kotchian and Donna O’Neill. Can you tell that those two hours were a blessed oasis in the middle of the SDI conference? My joy practically radiated off the page! Here’s a snapshot of the painting:
When I couldn’t stop looking at my little painting (and loving it), I thought, “Why not try to convey that same energy in fabric?” I was right to try– it’s super fun! I built the background of the mandala first, with off-whites.
Cutting the gorgeous fabric shapes (below) reminds me of children’s book author Eric Carle, who paints his own paper and shapes it into collage. (Carle’s The Tiny Seed is one of my favorites. I received a copy from my friend Aaron Pruitt several years ago as a reminder that my work makes a difference. Thanks, Aaron.) I hoped to keep my cuts and shapes loose and a little messy, like Carle’s. That’s good spiritual practice for me, since I can get too fussy and exact, which cramps the energy!
I love using lots of scraps of fabric from former projects, so I get the added bonus of mini-trips down memory lane. Red from Sue Joiner’s Pentecost Stole, green from the Passion of the Earth project, etc.
Another surprisingly satisfying element in my fabric work are these messy micro-scraps. They seem to represent the junk or challenge of life, and the irony is, they always end up being beautiful and one of my favorite parts of the image.
This time, the grid of sewing lines over all these little pieces reminds me of a net. I’m trying to slow down and be mindful these days, catching more of the lovely bits I might otherwise miss.
“But wait,” you might ask, “How did you sew down all those little bits of fabric and thread? Wouldn’t they wiggle around too much or get caught in your sewing machine?” Yes they would, except for– check this out– the tissue paper method! I cut a piece of tissue to cover all the loose bits, pinned it down, then sewed right over the whole thing enough to tack down the pieces. The tissue tore away, then I added more sewing on top to keep bits in place.
Here’s the front-side image so far:
Next I’ll add blue watery waves at the bottom, giving a sense of peace and holding to the image. I’ll get to decide whether it’s finished at that point… to resist my usual temptation to add complication or detail. I think this one might want to stay more simple and raw, uncomplicated. We’ll see!
Hope you enjoyed the process tour, and I’ll look forward to sharing the finished image….
Colorful, messy life blessings to you!
UPDATE 7-9-14: I’ve finished this image! See the It’s Something About Joy blog post.
UPDATE 9-5-14: Original Art for Sale
Ok, I admit it– I’m afraid to let go and risk. (Again.) I’m offering original art for sale, and it scares me.
For years, I’ve held on to my original art too closely, like I’d never make another meaningful painting… or as if I couldn’t possibly part with each hard-won image. I know why I’ve been clingy: so many of my art works literally kept me alive and breathing when I made them. Even now, each one points the way back toward wholeness and truth when I lose my way. Paintings and art quilts hang on my walls like mentors and steadfast friends. Yes, I admit, I’m afraid to let them go. And yet…
I want to serve and offer my gifts of art more freely in the world, and it’s not going to work to wait until I’m unafraid. What’s more, (and I really don’t want to admit this one) maybe the fear itself is a more valuable part of this journey than I realize.
I spend a lot of energy trying to get around fear, or above fear, or through it. Do you? Fear is uncomfortable– who wants it?! But strangely, I’m discovering that the right fear can actually be one of my best dance partners. For example, there’s a certain kind of anxiety that itches in my heart and stomach when I consider doing something new or brave. I don’t mean the sort of danger-fear of touching a hot stove; the kind I mean is more like the fear of failure, or dread of exposure, or anxiousness around change. When that flavor of fear shows up, it usually means I’m on track for my own growth and courage. That particular “brave-afraid” feeling is often a really good sign and companion.
Maybe you know this variety of “I’m on a courageous edge” anxiety? Turns out it’s such a reliable signal for me, I’ve been practicing to welcome this new-edge fear when it comes around. I want to follow its lead out from my comfortable habits into the juicy realm of exploration. Well… SOMETIMES I want to follow… and honestly, sometimes I’d rather not be challenged by its wisdom and invitation. When it comes to a threshold of vulnerability, it’s far harder to stay curious and open.
This explains my feeling terrified about sharing my images a more public way. I worry about the brave territory of offering the nakedly honest paintings, showing some of my weirder paintings, and ultimately about what people will think of me. I’m especially afraid about pricing art! What if people think I’m arrogant to ask for so much, or stupid to ask for so little? My nerves kick up over the impossible conversation around the value of work, or art, or humanity. And as expected, it scares me to risk failure. Truthfully, it scares me even more to risk success! Clearly, these are all fears that lead me to my growing edges of courage and change.
If you’re reading this article, it means I stayed in the dance with anxiety long enough to act on this exciting, nerve-wracking vulnerability. No doubt I felt nauseous (as I always do) when I priced and posted the art images on the website, pushed “send” on the announcement email, and updated on Facebook. But I got through it one more time, remembering that this fear shows up to confirm my bravery. Best of all, my anxious dance partner kept me stepping (one backward, two forward) toward sharing the images with you.
Please click on the link if you’re interested in seeing the latest here: Original Art Gallery. (I’ll be adding about 60 more images in the next couple of months, so check back often.)
Are there certain fears that might serve you as good messengers, or as invitations? What courage or risk is tugging on your heart? I encourage you to consider welcoming a dance with your “brave-afraid” feelings to see where they lead you.
Congratulations to my dear friend, Rev. Sue Joiner, on her installation as Pastor of First Congregational UCC Church of Albuquerque yesterday! She’s passionate about community, ministry, and her favorite Christian church holiday, Pentecost. To honor these sacred occasions and also the 20th anniversary of her ordination, she commissioned me to create this fabric clergy stole.
Creating this clergy vestment was a surprisingly meaningful and challenging adventure– combining a dear friendship, a chance to illustrate Sue’s calling, gorgeous fabric, and a big learning curve. The design for this deceptively simple shape kept me guessing and listening close for guidance before it finally arrived. And then the meditative hand-stitching became another sweet and powerful prayer of blessing for Sue’s joy and service, keeping the flame.
Enjoy these photos of the stole in action at the Installation service taken by Holly Bahn, then several of the creation process I made along the way.
I’m thrilled and humbled that my art served as the visual background to complement amazing spiritual teachers last weekend, like Buddhist Roshi Joan Halifax pictured here. After a year of hard work in the making, mandala imagery created a warm, inspiring atmosphere for the Spiritual Directors International conference held in Santa Fe, NM. It all came together!! And it was SO BEAUTIFUL. Check out Conference Event Photos to see the beauty in action.
Just as I hoped, the colors and themes enriched the teachings and the community exploring the essence and practice of spiritual companionship. What a dream come true for me– to be given a chance to offer my best service to this group of my peers and leaders that inspire us. Wow.
In one of my favorite moments, a young spiritual director, Sarah Cledwyn, stood at the podium in front of my Center of Becoming banner and read a glorious poem about seeds, stars, and mystery. I wiped away tears of gratitude as I heard my intentions echoed in her words, when neither of us knew the other would share such kindred artistry. Spirit was weaving all this goodness ahead of time!
Fifty-five local New Mexican spiritual directors and community members also helped create 80 centerpiece mandalas on the theme “Emerging Wisdom” for the conference ballroom tables. I could hardly believe how wonderful it was to see this collaborative dream come true! Everyone was amazed and moved by the beauty and wisdom represented by these art works filling the entire room. See the Mandala Art Gallery for your own experience.
Finally, read the article written about the Emerging Wisdom Mandala Project also created for this conference, in “Connections,” monthly Spiritual Directors International newsletter. It’s terrific to know the workshops and all the conference artistic environment served so many hearts, hands, and minds!
Special thanks to all those who collaborated in this huge endeavor, especially: Sue Joiner, Holly Bahn, Patricia Campbell Carlson, Marianne Lewis, Bonnie Rich, Kay Veal, Jan Gough, the 55 mandala artists, and our host workshop communities: Norbertine Community Abbey (Albuquerque), St Paul Lutheran Church (Albuquerque), St Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church (Albuquerque), and First Presbyterian Church (Santa Fe).
And now for another recovery nap… 🙂
Great article about my Emerging Wisdom Mandala Project!
–by Katherine Hampton, in “Connections,” Spiritual Directors International newsletter, May 2014, Volume 23.1
“I invite you to be curious in your mind and heart about what Wisdom means to you. How do you experience your own wisdom, or what wisdom do you turn to in your daily life? Notice what wise words, stories, memories, or ideas show up. Try paying attention to what wisdom you need in your life right now, or what you’re asking for. What parts of our world need wisdom, and what would you offer to them? See whether any new understandings or insights come your way….”
These were the instructions given to participants in preparation for a creative workshop led by Melanie Weidner, an artist and Spiritual Director in Albuquerque, NM. Melanie led a series of workshops to bring folks together in community and creativity around the question, “What does Wisdom look like?” Participants had the opportunity to listen for whatever wisdom presented itself to them, and then work with various art supplies and fourteen inch wooden circles to create mandalas expressing what they encountered.
In turn, these encounters with wisdom were shared with a larger community. Over the course of four separate workshops, nearly 60 participants created over 80 mandalas and the finished pieces graced the tables of the Emerging Wisdom conference. (The pieces were later returned to the original artists.)
With the wide variety of art supplies provided, no two mandalas look the same. Using a collage technique, each artist added layers to the wooden circle. While they are all unique in texture, style, materials, and color— from string, tissue and magazine images to glitter glue, paint and colored paper – all are perfect. Everyone’s art went in different directions, and all of the expressions are beautiful. It should be noted very few of these participants would have considered themselves artists before these events. One participant revealed, “It means a lot since I did not think I was capable of creating such a meaningful piece.”
The process of the workshop was a lot like spiritual direction – the focus of the art was listening to the Spirit, not forcing something to happen. Participants came in with newspaper clippings, images, and perhaps some notion of what they planned to create. But after listening quietly and letting images and impulses arise in the community of others, most of the artwork did not match the original concept. Rather, wisdom and a fresh vision had emerged.
Collage itself is also a lot like spiritual direction; you start with what you have, and put it out there. One beautiful piece then leads to another in a collage of life. There are messy layers and smooth layers, but the composite of all the pieces is beautifully imperfect. At some point, we arrive at a place that feels, at least for the moment, whole and complete. As one participant said,”So often we go out searching for wisdom then come full circle and find what we need was here all along.”
Melanie is thankful for the beautiful artists who came out to share their gifts with the SDI community. Most of them were unable to attend the conference, yet they were there in spirit. Their art – and wisdom – contributed greatly to the Emerging Wisdom conference.
Read this article in context — Spiritual Directors International “Connections” newsletter, May 2014, Volume 23.1 (It’s on the last three pages.) Thanks also to Holly Bahn for editorial assistance.
I’m praying again in stitches– struck with just how wondrously lucky I feel to be conveying healing and inspiration through the work of my hands. This blue cloth, for example, will become a sash to drape the empty chairs of two revered teachers in the Jewish tradition. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi isn’t well enough to travel to the upcoming Spiritual Directors International Conference in person, and his partner Eve Ilsen will remain with him at home. We at the conference in Santa Fe will receive their offerings by video instead. So these simple drapes embody my prayer for his healing and my gratitude for a lifetime of sacred service.
I don’t know quite why this moves me so much– even now as I type I’m a little teary with how sweet it feels to imbue each push of the needle and thread with these blessings. An email from a friend this morning reminded me again just what a privilege this is, even though it’s also been a ton of work… whew. After months of preparation, it will be a big, big joy (and a huge, HUGE relief) to share all this beauty and collaboration next week! But today I am savoring the quiet gift of stitching blessings.
See the Emerging Wisdom Mandala Project page for more photos and details, now and after the conference. Check out my favorite part– the Mandala Art Gallery featuring the work of 55 community members who gave their time and talents to make 80 table centerpieces! What a fabulous collaboration this has been already!
More fun with fabric! I’ll be sharing this new mandala (sacred circle) with the Spiritual Directors International Conference next month in Santa Fe.
What amazing, beautiful lives we weave! My partner, Holly, and I hung a Christmas wreath with ornaments old and new, and I still feel so deeply moved by gratitude, sadness, joy, and awe. Our history threads through this moment and into the year ahead.
Thanks to God for the miracle gifts of love, Light, and each day we’re here to celebrate. Sweet Merry Christmas, and Blessed Happy New Year to us all.
May we remember that Light meets us
in these long, cold nights.
This Light cracks the dark despair
of our world and our neighborhood,
and (sometimes disguised)
visits in the struggles
of our hearts and bodies.
As we walk the path called “today,”
the stars burn bright with guidance;
wisdom shines through any moment
of courage, compassion, and creativity;
and we ourselves carry the flame of love
through every threshold.
I celebrate the strength I find in the Advent tradition remembering the Light born in the darkness. Many blessings in this sacred season, dear friends, to you and yours. –Melanie
Art and blessing © Melanie Weidner. Art: Starlit Doorway, digital collage combining NASA’s Hubble Telescope imagery and Melanie’s original photography. The paper bags lit by candles along the brick path are New Mexican farjolitos/luminaria, a traditional Christmas lantern.
My soul’s been too scrunched up and grouchy lately. So this week I surrendered, scheduled a few days without any clients or any plans, and finally let myself play– really PLAY– with fabric art again. Oh my goodness, how do I so easily forget to have fun??
I finished this fabric doodle yesterday using only scraps and a few beads, smiling the whole time. Combining bits of color and shape together to make something new deeply satisfies my heart and hands. Following the creative Spirit’s lead just for the joy of it nourishes my soul like nothing else.
May I bring this renewed creativity, an intention for integration, and a lot more play into my holiday season….
See finished art, Story Spirit
If you’re looking for a creative, intentional way to say you care to someone dear this holiday, consider giving a Listen For Joy Art Print that offers spiritual inspiration or comfort. Or share the new Storm Journey art book to honor someone’s courage or challenges while bringing hope with some tools for reflection. Bring encouraging words of every day mindfulness to a friend’s yoga practice, nightstand, or refrigerator door with a Yoga Wisdom Card Deck.
I hope you might find these gift options to be of good service to you and yours this holiday.
Please make your holiday order by December 18 if you can. I wear all the hats myself here at Listen For Joy– artist, publicist, inventory control, shipping department, etc– so these mindful gifts need turn-around time. Order giclée art prints by December 9, since they’re a collaboration with an artisan printer in Oregon. I’m glad to do my best for you after those dates, for “fashionably near Christmas” delivery. 🙂
May you and yours be blessed in this Sacred season! –Melanie
Storm Journey Art Book with Reflection Questions – $19.99 each
Standard Art Prints – $20.00 each for 11×14-inch prints
Yoga Wisdom Card Decks – $16.00 per deck, while supplies last
Giclée Art Prints – $145.00 and up, for full-size, archival, hand-signed & numbered giclée prints
Direct delivery: add a Gift Card with your message for $1.00.
I enjoyed my Yes Chicken art so much, I decided my chatty rooster needed a buddy. So I considered other spokesman animals and what one-word wisdom they might offer. (It’s a fun exercise… Give it a try!) In the process, however, the animals I imagined didn’t want to say the words they were usually known for. “Nothing too boring or cliché,” they protested, like Fish says “wet,” or Sloth says “slow.” I also remembered that a few weeks ago, a woman who owns a small flock told me that chickens are a whole lot more than their stereotyped fearful startle-response. I loved it when she said, “Chickens are actually quite curious.” Yep, they say, “Yes!” But what would their other animal friends say?
Because I’m a spirituality geek, of course this got me thinking about the (imaginary) spiritual practice of animals. For example, what inner qualities would the Fox have to really work on? We already consider the Owl as a model of wise discernment, but maybe Owl has a really hard time with frivolity or meaninglessness. Who knows, Hyena might wake up each morning longing for subtlety. Or what would Whale want to offer as his soulful learning curve?
And so, the Wait Rabbit stepped forward as the Yes Chicken‘s ally. Not so surprisingly, he just happens to embody one of my tougher spiritual challenges– the invitation to WAIT when I’m twitching to go FAST. I definitely feel that tension more than usual this winter. My body really needs a season of rest just as American culture pushes holiday hustle and bustle. So creating a jack rabbit icon for patience helped me relax a little. He sits at the end of the hallway with the Yes Chicken now, and makes me laugh… at myself mostly.
Meanwhile, I’m musing about another few critters to make this an official series… I think the Go Turtle might be shuffling around on my creative margins. 🙂 I could use her empathetic guidance, for sure.
What animals with ironic wisdom would you like to see?
I’m amazed again by the power of creativity and vulnerability.
Last weekend, I joined a circle of 30 yet-to-be-friends from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as a guest leader at their Pres House Fall Retreat. The first night, in that far too long and quiet moment just before I opened my mouth, the air felt thick with our hopes and hesitations. Would we trust each other? Would something wonderful happen? Would we have fun?
It took all my courage and a hundred silent prayers to speak up after that thick pause, with my whole heart, as open and unguarded as I could be. My inner critic was fierce that night about all my peculiarities and mistakes. I felt entirely vulnerable offering my art and stories. But I kept going– despite wanting to bolt out the door at least twice– hanging on to faith that authenticity and love would make it through my critic’s fears.
Then the students and staff opened their brave selves too. Each time we gathered in the circle over the weekend, more and more of their beauty showed up. I admired they way they included new members, jumped boldly into making art collage, gave honest, thoughtful answers in small group conversations, played hard and laughed even harder, and welcomed me so generously. They reflected deeply on their lives and purpose, and it shone bright in their art images. Their openness and beauty brought out more of mine, too! By the end of the retreat, we wrote gorgeous group prayers together and were sad to say goodbye.
A week later, I’m still savoring the fruit of our vulnerability at play.
Photos by Mark Elsdon
It’s my last day to prepare and pack for a teaching trip to Wisconsin, so of course my cat deliberately lies down on my laptop. “Not so fast,” she says, voting with her body. She could mean, “Hey there, not so fast– I get the sunny patch first.” But I hear her say, “Not so fast— stop the frenzy, slow down a little.”
Yep, it’s yet another message to be present to myself, available to the moment, and open to inspiration as I go along.
For a month now, I’ve been receiving all kinds of guidance to take pauses and make space– and it’s HARD for me to trust it will be ok if I go slowly. Just when culture tells me to ramp it up and go crazy getting ready for Christmas sales, autumn and my heart invite me to slow the pace, to soak in the beauty and meaning all around. Not so fast.
Somehow the chicken has become my cheerleader and challenger icon lately, showing up over and over whenever I make magazine image collages. Yesterday I gave him the reigns and played around with a bit of wacky chicken art encouragement. Here came this big “Yes!”
The chicken side of this guy seems to invite me to welcome my fear, but to keep going anyway. The rooster side reminds me to go ahead and crow a little about new projects. (Far too often I get shy or afraid to be too “cocky,” and then people don’t hear about what I have to share!) So I’m thrilled with this new painting-plus-doodle, making me laugh just when I might chicken out on the challenge of making art and getting the word out. “Yes I can!”
May the “Yes Chicken” visit you today too, wherever you need it most…
See Jack Rabbit Says Wait? for related image and story
Whew– this latest painting is strong, difficult, and full of hope too. Sometimes we feel near to breaking, yet I continue to sense the hands of support, the Holy One, and/or Earth near to us. (Look closely for the two hands in the image… and click here to find a detail close-up.) My heart and prayers feel especially drawn to those coming through floods in Colorado and northern New Mexico this past week. May our roots hold as we are held. –Melanie
See Melanie’s New Art Gallery page for more new images.
After selling out the first printing, 150 more Storm Journey books arrived safe and sound, ready for shipping! 28 of these copies are already sold… I’m honored and delighted that the book is finding its way to hearts and hands across the country.
This week my Storm Journey book arrived in mailboxes from Oregon to Pennsylvania, and the first printing sold out! I’m thrilled about a second order of books already underway, shipping out near October 1.
Thanks to all who are sending wonderful feedback about the book. I love this photo of Reed Carey Crosby, one of the dear-to-me children to whom I dedicated the story. My deepest hope is that Storm Journey might inspire creativity and collaboration to help make the world a better place for our kids and all of us. Maybe a page or two of the story could remind us to get curious and be creative the next time we hit what feels like a dead end.
Just yesterday, I received a tough letter in the mail about a rather impossible situation. To be honest, I melted down for a bit, and felt really scared and lost. Then, with my partner’s help, I calmed down and began to remember that loss, failure, and surrender are all part of the process in life and creativity… and they’re in the book’s storyline too. I don’t have the answers yet for that letter, but the Storm Journey images are reminding me to wait for real insight and transformation rather than force a panic-driven, fix-it solution.
I heard that a rain-damaged copy of the book arrived in Boulder, Colorado, where they’ve been facing all too real storms and floods this week. My heart is broken open again by the suffering and the strong Storm Journey echoes in those communities. And yet, I’ve seen a few early reports of vibrant and swift community response to the loss and trauma. I imagine that many, many more people are taking creative leaps to meet the needs of others in those impossible situations. May it be so, and may collaboration and insight bring transformation and hope. May I know and do my part.
Meanwhile, others receiving the book this week are excited:
“Your precious book arrived this afternoon. It is beautiful – really beyond beautiful…. Storm Journey is more than a gift. It is an inspiration and perhaps, a compass… Thank you, thank you.” –Albuquerque, NM
“The books turned out BEAUTIFUL! I knew they were going to be nice, but they completely exceeded my expectations. Love the reflective questions in the back.” –Media, PA
“The books are marvelous! I’m so pleased to have them in our library and in our ‘caring kit bag’ [to give as gifts when friends have challenges]. –Huntsville, AL
“Beautiful art, probing text, invitation to community, thought-provoking questions, teaching tool– this is the complete package hiding inside what appears a simple format.” –Portland, OR
I’m grateful for this encouragement, and hope others will enjoy the book and find it useful in the months to come. Order your copies if you wish, as gifts and as an imaginative resource for challenging times.
With blessing and a prayer for us all– Melanie
Hurrah! Big, bright, beautiful Storm Journey books in my hands at last. Holly and I did a happy dance– ok, I danced– and she made this photo of me beaming with joy and amazement. The books are finally, really here!
Now the Storm Journey is ready for its next page of the story– Yours. I’ll be mailing the pre-ordered copies out on Monday, with only 20 or so still available from this first printing. Time to print more books, since they’re just so wonderful.
Robin Kline and Bill Summers left our home last night with the first book out the door, celebrating this milestone with Holly and me. They were especially excited about the print quality and the reflection questions. “These questions are wonderful!” Robin exclaimed. Bill said, “The book is like Visio Divina,” a prayerful practice of engaging with images as one would a sacred text. “I want to give one of these to a friend of mine who prays that way.”
I can hardly wait to hear more of the responses to the book… So please let me know when your copy arrives!
The printer’s proof of Storm Journey finally arrived on Friday, and it’s absolutely beautiful! Somehow, the first proof mistakenly shipped to Alaska for it’s own adventure. ?!? No one knows how that happened… yet with this wild storm story, I’m not quite surprised. Meanwhile, I’ve been waiting and waiting to see how the printing would look.
How fantastic to return from my teaching in Pennsylvania to this big yellow package full of goodness! I’m teary-eyed again as I type, knowing how lovely and strong the book is going to be.
See a photo of the cover proof here, with the back of the book on the left and front on the right. Everything is clear, sharp, and oh so vibrant. No changes necessary! It all looks great. I wish you could feel the velvety texture of the cover paper and see the bright images on the pages inside….
Books are coming soon to you who’ve ordered! Watch the blog for the “Hurrah!” announcement. If you’ve yet to purchase your book/s, only 30 copies remain in this first printing, and they’ll go quickly.
Big thanks to my partner, Holly, whose latest in a long string of support included helping track down the missing proofs, picking up the replacement package, and waiting until I got home to open it with me. Special thanks also to dear friend Sue Joiner who believed in this printing project from the beginning, cheering me along at key moments. When she heard about the lost proof, she sent me an email to make me laugh and remind me to keep trusting: “What were those book pages again, ‘Trying,’ and ‘Surrender?'” Yep, the message I needed was in the book itself.