I’ve been pondering the character of Hagar in the Bible. Her name has come up several times in different situations so I thought I’d take a bit of time and take another look at a story that has become so familiar to me that I assume I know it and don’t think much about it.
Her name means stranger, or forsaken. She was a north African slave of Abram and Sarai. Most of the churches I grew up in used the King James Version’s euphemism of servant, giving a modern reader the notion that being a servant could have been a career choice. A more careful reading of the story tells us that Hagar had no choices.
I wonder how many slaves Sarai had and I wonder what made her think Hagar would make a good surrogate. I wonder how the pregnancy made Hagar forget she was a slave. Was it the hormonal change to protect her child or were promises whispered to her?
I don’t know. I know in the end when her son was around 14 or so she was forsaken again in a big way. She was given insufficient food and water and sent out into the desert with her son. They didn’t even get a donkey to haul adequate supplies. Just bread and water on her shoulders and sent away. By Abraham. A man lauded for his faith.
Utterly forsaken by everyone. Her family sold her as a child into slavery. Her mistress trafficked her. The father of her child rejected her. Her son was dying in the desert. She had nothing. When God spoke to her as she was sobbing off on her own, He said, “I have heard the boy crying.” What about Hagar’s tears?
I can come up with no easy answers here. But I do note a couple of things. Hagar is one of the few people in the bible who have actually spoken directly to God. The encounter was so important to her that she gave God a name - El Roi. The God who sees me. Usually it was God who named or renamed people. But not only did he let a slave woman name him, he put it in scripture for all to see through the ages.
The abandoned slave woman called him ‘The God who sees me’. Finally, she was no longer forsaken.
I wonder what that means to me as we’re (hopefully) coming out of the pandemic and out of isolation. I have been greatly saddened by this past year. Deaths of friends and family. Many relationships either past the point of repair, or not worth repairing. Yet, God sees me.
And that gives me a glimmer of hope.
Exciting things are happening here.
A painting I’d entered into a competition at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art was accepted into the show. The Artmobile got a chance to live up to its name. I told Mike upon delivery that I felt like an artist again. It’s been a long time.
Earlier this year, as I was contemplating how divided our country had become, I spent some time in prayer and asked the Lord to help me be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And idea for an art installation piece was formed and it is starting to take shape. It’s called Mercy of Lament. The South Sudanese Episcopal Church and Lake Effect Church on the northwest side of Grand Rapids are hosting the artwork. There is a website up where you can see an artist’s rendering of what it will look like and you can read more about it. You can find it at https://mercyoflament.com/. There’s also a Facebook page to post photos, if you decide to participate in the project. Word is spreading quickly, and I’m excited to see where this goes. While I originally was thinking about all the people lost to COVID, I’ve realized that there was actually much more lost last year. There was loss of jobs, loss of income, death of dreams. There were suicides, a sense of a loss of justice, and death of natural causes. People need a space to grieve all sorts of things, and I hope this installation piece helps.
Another thing that’s going on is that I’m taking another online calligraphy course. This time I’m focusing on the pointed brush as a tool and also adding some photo editing into the mix. I’m hoping to add this skill into future paintings.
Last of all, I’m finally getting around to redesigning my website. After researching on how to do it myself, I decided that I’d rather spend the time making art and I’ve contacted Tasha Glover (https://www.techwithtasha.com/) to work with. I heard about Tasha through an arts group I’m part of and she was also recommended by Shae Bynes (https://shaebynes.com/). I’ve heard nothing but good things about Tasha and I love her heart. But she’s got a list for me to get on and I have my work cut out for me. It’s work that desperately needs to be done, and I’ve ignored it for far too long.
From doing absolutely nothing outside of the studio in February to full steam ahead in May… things are getting interesting.
Some years ago, we bought a vehicle that I dubbed the Artmobile. To see what happened to it, you can read this post: https://www.thepastoralartist.com/blog/artmobile
At the time, we were immersed in elder care for Mike’s parents. The car was great to transport my mother-in-law before her stroke, but it really didn’t live up to artsy the name since I wasn’t able to create much art during that time. I called it the Artmobile more as a statement of faith that I would once again do art professionally and that I’d be transporting paintings to shows and exhibits. Or transporting art materials to my studio or to workshops. That didn’t happen at that time. After its demise, I’ve been driving Dad’s former car - an aging Buick.
The car was old and it was beige. A friend of mine (in her 80s, mind you) called it an old lady car. But it was serviceable. This past year, though, the front end started to go. While like to get every last mile out of a vehicle, there comes a point where you need to recognize the time has come to retire it. We started researching cars and I took a couple of test drives. After some hemming and hawing, we finally settled on one.
Behold. The Artmobile part deux.
More to come, I'm sure.
On January 6, the day that celebrates Epiphany, I had a lovely Zoom meeting with a group of artists across the country. I’d just gotten off the call, intending to start a new blog post when my husband called my attention to the news that was unfolding. We watched live coverage of rioters breaking windows and assaulting some of the capital police officers while searching for lawmakers to harm.
Epiphany means revelation, and a lot was revealed about the state of our nation that day. The idea of keeping up on blog posts suddenly seemed absurd to me as my social media was filled with posts of people attempting to rebrand the rioters as ‘patriots’ and the rewrite the narrative of that day. But although I live in the midwest, I know people who live in D.C. and I’ve heard some of their experiences of that day. This was lawlessness, pure and simple.
For weeks I despaired of the state of our country and of the Church - since many who claim to be followers of Christ were advocating violence to create a government in their own image. Social media became toxic for me so I took a couple of months off Facebook and used that time for prayer and reflection. Jesus built the Church on a firm foundation. Through the centuries there have been many efforts to corrupt the message, to gain power, and to further personal agendas. But there has always remained a remnant of believers who kept their eyes on Christ and persevered. The true Church - those who submit their lives to the example and teachings of Christ - will prevail.
And remembering that, I turn once again to what my role is in the Kingdom of God. My call is to be a creator, a maker, an artist. I’m called to reflect God’s beauty and character by the works of my hands. Not painting sermons, but reflecting His mystery and glory in all I say, write, paint, and do.
With that in mind, I’ll be re-working this website.
As I ended out the old year, I listened to a free webinar given by Renovaré called ‘Don’t Just do Something, Pray!’ It was originally recorded in September, but I just got around to it. So glad I did. It was hosted by Carolyn Arends and featured Lisa Koons and Pete Greig. They tackled some difficult issues with grace, humility, and wisdom. There is much to think about and put into practice and I’m so glad they have archived the webinar. If you are interested in listening, you can find it here: https://renovare.org/events/dont-just-do-something-pray
Anyone who knows me well, knows that prayer is vital to me. I’m not talking about the insipid, “my thoughts and prayers go to you” that are spouted by so many civic leaders in times of crisis. Because if prayer is really part of your DNA, you will eventually take action and not just spout platitudes.
No, my method of prayer is PUSH. Pray Until Something Happens. I took God at His word years ago and go to the mat with things on my heart and mind. I do not hold back in feelings and expressions. I’ve sometimes prayed in groups and have shocked some folks with how blunt I am. I remember a friend saying, “Did you really say that to God?” And I replied, “Do you think he doesn’t already know?” Why would I lie to God if I’m trying to pour out my heart about a situation?
God is big enough to take your feelings, your anger, and your frustration. I sometimes picture a toddler having a meltdown, sitting on a loving parent’s lap. A child will pound on the chest of an adult, screaming and crying while the parent soothes and calms the child until they can speak about the issue as best as the child can understand. I picture myself as that child and God as the loving Father I never knew growing up. Once I pour everything out, we can start a real conversation. The Lord created those emotions and wants them expressed in healthy ways. Pushing them down to look holy is pointless.
But sometimes, I just want to sit with God in meditation. Just silently sit and experience God. Thanks to this webinar, I’ve found a wonderful tool that helps me with that because frankly, my mind wanders. It’s called the Lectio 365 app for either Apple or Android phones. Based on an ancient practice called Lectio Divina, this app guides you in prayer and meditation daily. I started yesterday and I’m making it my new daily practice to start each day. It takes about ten minutes to still yourself and pray through.
Data has shown that one of the most online searched topics during COVID has been prayer. If you’re looking to learn about prayer, start with this. You can find it here: https://www.24-7prayer.com/dailydevotional
Happy New Year.
Over Thanksgiving, I was down and out with COVID. Even though I’ve been careful, social distanced and worn a mask, I still managed to get it. And though it was a relatively mild case, I wouldn’t choose to do that again. Even more than 20 days after I was diagnosed, I’m still fatigued and have tightness in my chest. But while the weather is still mild (due to change this weekend) I have started taking short walks to build up my stamina again. I’m thankful for both the break in the weather, and the ability to once again go for a walk.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I know for most (during normal times), it’s a time of family, football, and food. But I like having a time of gratitude. I like reflecting on all I have to be thankful for. This year, I couldn’t make it off the couch. But I still have much to be grateful for.
There is an old hymn, Count Your Blessings. The chorus goes “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God has done.”
I encourage you to take some time to practice gratitude. It may surprise you.
This past week was Veteran’s Day. A couple of weeks ago, on the last Friday in October which was sunny and cold, our little family laid to rest our last World War Two veteran.
I called him Uncle Frank because he was a few years older than my mother and I was taught to address adults with respect and the title of Uncle was a way to indicate that. He was actually my mother’s first cousin which made him my first cousin once removed. But that’s too complicated for a child so it was Uncle Frank and Aunt Lorraine. As I approached adulthood, both Lorraine and Frank insisted that I drop the title and have a more casual relationship with them. They were a kind and wonderful couple and I didn’t see them enough. Lorraine past away nine years ago and one by one, his loved ones passed away until he was the last man standing of his generation.
He served in the Pacific theater in the war, in the United States Navy. But he didn’t talk about it much around me. In fact, he was a man of few words, but great joy and service. He worked at Chrysler for 31 years and faithfully served his church as an usher for 55 years. Every time he saw me, he had a smile that lit up the room and would tell everyone how, when I was a little girl, I would always run up to greet him with a hug. It obviously delighted him.
His son asked me to join as a pallbearer, and I think Frank would have liked that. In between two burly cousins and across from Mike, we accompanied Frank on the last few steps of his journey. The burden was light because we did it together. The burden was light because it was Frank. It was a small thing to serve such a good man.
He made you feel special and loved whether at church or at a family gathering, he was happy to see you. The world could use more people like Frank. I am sad to see him go, but I know he’s happy to be with his parents, his brothers, and especially Lorraine.
Rest in peace, Frank. I’ll be seeing you.
Many years ago, I was walking to my car in a parking lot that was covered with glare ice. I slipped and fell flat on my back, knocking the wind out of me and it felt as if I had hurt my back. I was alone except for one young man who ran up to me with a look of concern and asked, “Are you all right?”
“No,” I groaned, and laid there in pain.
With a startled look, he stood up straight, thought a moment, walked to his car and drove away, leaving me laying on the ice. He did not help me get up. He did not go into the building we were next to to get help. He simply left.
Realizing I was on my own, I did manage to crawl to my car, get in, and drive home. Nothing was broken and although I was bruised and sore for a few days, I was basically okay. Fortunately.
Now, that young man was not being malicious. He was concerned enough to come over to me and ask if I was all right. But no one had trained him what to do if he came upon someone who was hurt. In his world, you asked someone if they were okay and they were supposed to say, “I’m fine.” He simply didn’t know what to do next. Perplexed, and possibly feeling he had done all he could he simply left me lying alone, in freezing weather, in an empty parking lot on a sheet of ice.
I wonder how many of us, looking at our culture right now feel like that young man? We have plenty of good intentions, but no concrete strategies or actions to follow through. Plenty of opinions are flying around, but very few plans, and even less follow up. Many in the church have declared culture wars, but few are thinking about culture care. Meanwhile, it seems that our nation is lying flat on its back, unable to get up.
About twenty years ago, it was popular to wear bracelets or tee shirts emblazoned with WWJD. It stood for what would Jesus do? It became quite popular. If faced with a life situation, you were encouraged to stop and ask yourself that question. Of course, to answer that question one has to educate themselves with who Jesus was, what he taught, and how he lived. An understanding of a sacrificial lifestyle was important and why he came to show us how it’s done. You really had to educate yourself biblically to truly answer to question, but it’s far more popular to just adopt a fashion statement.
Which brings us to today. As I ponder the life of Jesus and wonder what He would do, I’m confident from being familiar with his teachings that he’d find a way that would honor the authorities, since he was clear on the importance of paying your taxes, to respect those in government and to pray for those in authority. Not just the public figures you liked. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be posting unkind and untrue memes about people or political parties he didn’t like, since he came for all people. All.
And finally, I’m confident he’d put the phone and tablet away and engage people on a much deeper level. He had more important things to do that to be constantly distracted.
So do we.
The month of July is drawing to a close. It is a time where Cindy is very much on my mind. On her birthday, I hiked through Blandford Nature Center with a friend. Cindy and I enjoyed nature walks and it was a good way to remember her on her special day. The center has changed since we were last there together. I wish she could see it.
A week later I was kayaking again, introducing a friend to Wabasis Lake - a large local lake that has fun places to explore hidden among the reeds. Cindy and I discovered kayaking together and we really enjoyed it through the years. I hadn’t been on the water for two years - she had become too weak to paddle and I just wanted to stay available to her. Last summer, it felt disloyal to take my boat out when she could barely walk. So my kayak hung on the garage wall until last week.
The flowers Cindy had given me for my garden bloom in July. They are a beautiful reminder of our friendship.
This has not been a great year and in some ways I’m glad she didn’t live to see the pandemic, the brutality, the national strife…but I will always miss her and July will always bring her to mind.
Mary Oliver was one of her favorite poets. I’ll leave you with this poem that she read at a friend’s funeral a few months before her own.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be. - Thomas a Kempis
Someone posted an idea on Facebook last week that I thought was something worth pondering, so I shared it on my feed. Basically, the writer wondered why the Church in general was not leading the charge to protect the vulnerable and postulated that a it was due to political expediency. I didn’t comment on it, just thought it was something worth mulling over.
Perhaps it was this quote, or perhaps it was already raging on but it seemed like suddenly the subject of masks was a hill people were willing to die on. Pro or con - the debate raged (and continues to rage) on social media.
It’s become so toxic that I’ve stepped away from that platform to ponder and to pray. What on earth is going on? I prayed for God to explain things to me, and I believe that no matter which position a person lands on, the intense reactions are based on fear. From fear of a virus that can kill or disable to fear of the government overstepping its role to take away civil liberties. One person I know has a very limited oxygen intake and fears wearing a mask would kill her. It’s not as far fetched as some have expressed since even without a mask she has passed out due to lack of oxygen. Everyone has a reason for their response. You may not agree with it, but as the Kempis quote points out, you cannot change people - we can barely change ourselves.
In the atmosphere of general panic, I want to take a step back and reorient myself. How, in this overwrought atmosphere, do I live a life of faith? How do I reach out to others to still their fears? How should I live my life to demonstrate God’s love and mercy in these dark times?
I turn to scripture and find that Jesus said “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid” a lot of times. A lot. Someone did a devotional that claims there’s 365 verses about not being afraid, but I haven’t come up with that number. However, the version of scriptures that I prefer (New American Revised Standard) comes up with 4 – fear not; 57 – do not fear; and 46 – do not be afraid. Enough to know that God is making a point. A point I need to pay attention to.
I can’t make everyone chill out. There are times I can barely do that for myself. But as a believer in Christ, I can remember that He is where my most important freedoms are and I can set my heart and mind on Him as I try to put into practice the verse in Micah. Do justly, be kind, walk humbly.
And a note to myself - stop posting things on Facebook. It’s better to sit down in conversation to find out why people feel the things they do. To anyone I’ve hurt with my posts, I do most humbly apologize.
And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? - Micah 6:8 NASB
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.