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You don’t have to save the whole world.

Today’s reading is from 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6. Well, not really. I’m afraid I got mixed up and painted for NEXT Monday’s reading. Too late to re-do, so I’m going with it! We’ll save today’s for next week.

Love Your Neighbor © Jen Norton

“Love Your Neighbor” © Jen Norton

Pope John Paul II once said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

I think that statement may have been one of the truest ever uttered. In this reading the apostle Paul assures the Corinthian community that the ways of God are not dishonest or trickery and only appears so to those who are blinded by the “gods” of the generation. If their acts and words are in alignment, the truth of Christ in their lives will be apparent.

John Paul II knew something about veiled politics. He was born Karol Wohtya and grew up in communist Poland. He knew what vitriolic words, two-faced politics and neighbor turning on neighbor really looked like. He envisioned a world where people could work together, not against each other. A world where “Thy will (would) be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We are bombarded daily by many trying hard to sell us hatred. There are whole TV stations devoted to keeping us scared and giving us reason to detest our neighbor. Entertainment value supersedes fact and personal responsibility. No matter what side you take, there’s a long list of blame to be found on the other. The culture sold to our children is frightening. It all makes me quite weary. So what’s a modern girl to do?

For me, it’s choosing where to put my energy and focus on the things I can influence. It’s taking time each day, even if only a moment, in stillness. It’s spending quality time with my family. I can make sure my daughter gets her homework done. I can teach her self respect and how to treat other people. I can notice the man who picks up trash along the creek path. I can welcome people to our home. I can listen to a friend in need. I can do the laundry and walk the dog. I can make choices in line with my values about what I buy or how I dispose of what I no longer need. I can smile at a checkout clerk or help my old neighbor who walks with a walker bring in her trash can. I can vote. I can travel or read or otherwise educate myself on cultures and issues. I can pick the issue that’s most important to me and share time, talents or treasures as my ability allows. I can do so many things to make the bit of the world I come in contact with a tiny bit better. God is in the details.

Most of us aren’t required to save the whole world. We just have to do the best we can to keep our words and actions in alignment with our values within our own home, and allow that light to shine to our neighbor as it may. God will handle the rest.

You can purchase this piece here.

Your Purpose Will Find You

Family Tree © Jen Norton

Family Tree, Acrylic on paper

Today’s Advent meditation is on Jeremiah 33:14-16

Today is bill-paying day. I have a hard time with this task, not because I can’t handle simple subtraction, but because it’s so dang boring, my mind wanders. I often find myself, pen in hand, realizing that 10 minutes have passed and the empty check still sits before me (no, I haven’t migrated to online billing yet). You should not hire me as your book-keeper. It’s not my calling.

We all have a purpose determined by our talents, desires and skills. As one of my friends likes to say, “What’s for you won’t pass you by.” In this verse from Jeremiah, God assures us that He will keep his promise and that David will always have an heir to his throne. How could David (or Jeremiah) have known that somewhere down the line, his descendent would be Jesus Himself? In his own time, David was somewhat of a celebrity. Popular, musically gifted… a regular McDreamy of the biblical world. Like current pop-culture celebrities, he often fell victim to his own inflated ego. He did some bad stuff, like stealing his friend Uriah’s wife and then arranging to have him killed to hide his own guilt. He ignored his family in favor of work for so long that he didn’t realize his wives and children were plotting against each other for the throne. Still, he kept turning back to God, and when he realized his own evil mistakes, he showed true repentance. For some reason, God kept favoring him, forgiving his transgressions (although not without punishment). God kept his promise of salvation through the lineage of David. David’s purpose could not “pass him by.” Good God, I guess there’s hope for us all!

Today’s painting is of a tree, a family tree maybe. At the risk of mixing my biblical metaphors, Jesus promised that if we have faith only the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains (although he never says how long those mountains take to move). At the base of the tree is the “mustard seed” heart. From this, the tree grows, branching out into colorful boughs. This tree was painted over a previously rejected piece of art that’s been hiding in my junk pile for a few years. The glow of color emerging from the rough acrylic layers is from that earlier attempt. It never made it to a frame, but its purpose here is apparent. This tree would not be as bright if I had tossed the old piece. It had a purpose. I think I understand why God favored David so much.

This painting is available here.

This Little Lighthouse of Mine

The reference for today’s Advent Art Mediation is John 1: 6-9

Santa Cruz Lighthouse Art © Jen Norton

This Little Lighthouse of Mine

John is introduced as a man sent from God to bear witness to the light that was coming into the world. It is clarified that he is not the actual light, but merely here to testify. If we continue on past verse 9, we see that not all recognize “the Light”, but those that do are empowered to become children of God.

I have to admit, there have been points in my life where I wasn’t so sure about the light thing. Maybe Jesus was just a great social revolutionary. Maybe he’s just one iteration of many times God has become man. Other indigenous cultures have similar mythology, after all. I’m a painter…I work in shades of gray and alternate possibilities. But then I look at stories of men and women that really walked the earth (in recorded time) and historical narratives that tie together. The bible was compiled over a long period of time by a variety of people. It would be awfully hard to tie up all those loose ends and fulfill hundreds of prophesies without some form of divine intervention, not to mention stand the test of time under the scrutiny of scholars. And then there was that death and resurrection thing, with eye-witnesses. So I choose to believe.

Stronger proof for me has been in the moments when I’ve actually felt God’s presence. The occasion that comes to mind today happened about 15 years ago. We were trying to have children and coming to the realization that it wasn’t going to happen with out the miracles of modern science. I was really down and really worried.

One day, after work, I was “called” to go stand along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, near the Lighthouse that houses the surfing museum. Called is a weird thing to try to describe (or believe) in an internet blog post. I can only say that I had this intense desire to drive 1/2 hour in the opposite direction from my house, over a mountain, to go stand on the cliff of the sea for no known reason. This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this phenomenon, so I didn’t question. I just went. I stood by the ocean in the wind with my eyes closed. After a moment, all human sounds around me left and all I heard was the wind in my ears. In the wind, I heard a voice that instantly told me exactly what needed to happen and to not be afraid. It wasn’t an audible voice…it was more like the words were placed inside me.

You may be thinking I’m a bit crazy. That’s OK…I’m an artist, so your crazy might just be my normal. I only know that the feeling I left with that day carried me through the years it took to get my beautiful daughter, born on Christmas Eve. Near the lighthouse, I caught a glimmer of light to come.

This tiny Lighthouse art is available here.

In the Beginning was the Garden

Today’s reading, John 1: 1-5, was much more comforting than yesterday’s. Yesterday was all trials and tribulations. Today is about the Light that outshines darkness. Thank God.

Today, my darkness was time. I ran out. I needed more time, but I don’t have it, so I’m going to post what I have. I see things I want to edit, but I’m not going to obsess.

Plant A Garden © Jen Norton

Plant A Garden

My daughter turned to me the other day in the car and started one of those “car conversations”. You know the ones…deep philosophical questions that hint at your kids trying to figure themselves out. She stated (in a somewhat condescending manner), “You seem like one of those people who’d be happy living in the country. Is that true?” Yes, it’s true. I notice geese flying, color shifts in the sky and leaf patterns on sidewalks. My 13-year-old just rolls her eyes. She’s all about pop culture, make-up and things that are shiny and pink. She’s always been that way. I’ve always been a nature girl. She loves to dress up. I love to stare at trees. It’s just the way we are.

I know that we both have our place in the world, as do the million different kinds of pink flowers. Or the other million kinds of yellow flowers. Creation is abundant and there is room for all. Each has its purpose. I have always found the presence of God in the patterns of repetition and variation in nature. I don’t know how the beginning began. I still can’t figure out how something could have always existed and I’ve been pondering that concept for 46 years. (I guess I’m a bit sheltered, having only lived on Earth.)

But I observe the passing of the seasons. I know that springtime, with its myriad of flowers, follows the dark winter. Simple science can explain the How. Not sure anyone can explain the Why. Except that God is an artist, and a fellow artist I know you cannot continue to create beauty unless you are loving the process of creation. He’s found a way to remind us yearly that life is a cycle. President Lincoln’s speech writer once penned a line for use in good times and bad: “This too shall pass”. Everything we know will pass away someday, but I take comfort in knowing that something that is alive in Christ will live forever. He has created a priceless work of Art and Love that will last through Eternity. Death and darkness will not overcome it. Sometimes I doubt. But then I go work in my garden and I find the truth again.

This painting turned into an abstraction, painted with a palette knife, which offers very little control. It features a quote by writer Robert Brault, used with permission. I see things I’d like to change in the composition, but hopefully the meaning will overcome its faults. I’m too close to judge, and I’m not going to obsess.

The quote reads, “Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden?” —Robert Brault. I like this quote and will probably paint it again differently. If you’d like to buy this piece, I’m offering it for a great price here.

Look Alive!

Today’s passage for my Advent art meditation is Mark 13: 33-37. The apostle warns us “stay awake” and not be caught unaware when the Master returns. This passage comes at the end of a chapter on all the trials and tribulations to be expected in end times. I find the message relevant to me in current life, not just for some future official “End Times.” It’s a scary chapter. It snaps me out of my complacency and reminds me of all the horrible things that could happen in life. Things that DO happen…I just hope they don’t happen to me! Or anyone I know. Or to anyone near me. I’d rather stay asleep, under the covers. No tribulations, thank-you-very-much.

The only way to not worry about scary things is to live totally in the present. That’s a mighty tall order for humans capable of remembering, holding grudges, having goals and who live under the delusion that all we have belongs to us. It’s pretty much impossible.

Waiting Patiently © Jen Norton

Waiting Patiently

Animals are better at the practice of living in the present than we are.

Take my dog Patti, for example. Patti is a dog who was rescued from a backyard puppy mill. She was kept in a garage, used for breeding and then abandoned. She came to us with a lot of fear. She’s had her tribulations. Now, however, she’s living in a relative dog garden-of-eden. She doesn’t dwell on yesterday. She doesn’t worry about tomorrow. She only cares about two things:

1. Food

2. Who’s providing the food.

Like most dogs, Patti can often be found sound asleep, stretched across the couch, snoring away… But touch the can opener, turn on the stove or come through the door and she’s immediately up, bounding toward you in hopes of a dropped scrap or a bowl of tuna water. Patti lives in the present. She’s “awake” when her master shows up.

If only we could so easily be devoted to God. If only we could stay focused on 1. Love and 2. Who’s providing the Love. But alas, like a dog distracted by a piece of sausage, we once were tempted to step away from our natural state as “children of God” with a bite of apple. Now we have to remember to stay awake. We have to make a point of it. So much easier to fill ourselves up life’s “junk food” and ruin our appetite for God. But then the sugar high fades, and we fall asleep again. We go back to the dream that we’re ready. But we don’t know when we will be called to stand accountable or to breathe our last breath. We should be prepared at any moment. Bummer…I really did want to stay under those covers.

11 x 14 matted reproductions of this painting are available here.

The Season of Family

In the flood of Cyber-Monday media, it’s easy to overlook that we are also in the season of Advent, the beginning of the Western Christian liturgical calendar, and the four weeks leading up to Christmas. In an attempt to be more present in this season, I got my shopping done early and thought I’d try something different this year. Maybe you’d like to follow along? No need to be any version of Christian. Everyone is welcome.

Working from the “Painting a Day” idea, I am going to do a small painting each day from now until Christmas based on my reflections on a daily scriptural reading. This is not a bible study…I’m not a scholar. This is just about what the reading makes me think of on that day. If I read the same scripture on a different day, I might have a different take on it. I am following the readings listed on Catholic.org, and I am reading them from my old and well-worn copy of “The New American Bible,” Catholic translation. I will post the scriptural reference, my personal reflection, and the painting it inspired. In addition, the art will be listed for sale in my Etsy store at a discounted rate during this 2011 holiday season.

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And so…on to today, which is Day 2 of Advent. The reading is from Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 3-9.

Garden Party © Jen Norton

Garden Party

Paul is writing to the Christian community in Corinth to address the problem of the community splitting into various factions. The verses for today are merely the opening of the letter as Paul expresses thankfulness for the believing community, assuring them that they have all they need through Christ, that they will be strengthened through Him, and it is by God alone who that they are called to a fellowship with Jesus.

This reading made me think of family, especially after the two Thanksgiving celebrations I attended last weekend. The painting for today is from a photo of my sisters, mom and a few cousins at a family gathering. I think it might have been my Grandfather’s birthday somewhere in the ’80s, but I can’t be sure. We were all sitting around a table in the garden just talking about “stuff”. Probably didn’t seem important at the time, but 20+ years later, I find inspiration in it.

The most important social structure in God’s eyes is family, because it is through family that we learn the lessons of love and forgiveness. Sounds easy enough, but there sure are days I fail the class. If you’ve ever gotten annoyed with a spouse, frustrated with your children, fought with a sibling or whined about family obligations, you know what I mean. It’s so easy to think things would be SO MUCH EASIER if only everyone would just think like me! (can you relate?). But that’s a selfish lie. It’s a lie that breaks down relationships and community. In God’s world, we’re meant to give. We’re meant to put another’s needs first. We’re meant to live with charitable hearts. That’s a tough calling for a mere human to uphold. The Corinthians struggled with it. I stumble over it. But when I can surrender my own mindset for the good of another, I see what is meant by being “called by God to a fellowship with Jesus Christ.” Those same family situations that challenge me also give me opportunities to see that I am capable of more and loved by many.

The season of Advent is all about family. It’s about a 13-year-old Hebrew girl who becomes pregnant, threatening to dishonor the man she is intended to marry and ostracize her family. They’re poor, they have to flee to another land, sleep in barns and Joseph had to raise a child that wasn’t even his. Talk about family challenges! Yet, through the strength of God and His helpful angels, a child is born who is immediately recognized by poor shepherds and rich kings as the savior of us all. The family endured and we should all be thankful.

I hope everyone who reads this has someone they can call family, whether they are blood-related or not. What are your biggest family challenges during Christmas?

Would you like to purchase “Garden Party”? Click here.

Celebration of Craftswomen!

$1 off Celebration of Craftswomen

Print this postcard for $1 off!

Join me this Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday, November 11-13 for the Celebration of Craftswomen at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. If you come, be sure to print this postcard for $1 off the entry fee. To get your postcard, go to the Craftswomen site, click “ABOUT THE SHOW” and scroll down to the yellow button that says “PRINT A POSTCARD”. This is a great show by some really talented women artists. I usually end up buying a few treasures and gifts while I’m there! Plus, proceeds benefit the Women’s Building in San Francisco. See you there!

Traveling the world for inspiration, with my slippers on.

 

Hello Soul. Hello Business.I love painting food and recipes, but the driving force beneath my current work is the desire to reach out and encourage families to spend more time together around the table. I have lots of ideas about how I might do this…Too many ideas to keep straight!

One of my biggest challenges is to stay focused and not get overwhelmed. Sometimes breaking down my big ideas into achievable and measurable tasks is as elusive as finding a paint brush bristle on my messy art table. It can all get too big and before I know it, I find myself spinning my wheels in too many directions, not making any progress at all. Or even worse, not making any art. So I’ve made an early New Year’s resolution. I’m going to get help!

Sometimes when I’m feeling stuck, I go out and see what other artists I admire are up to. One of those artists is Kelly Rae Roberts from Portland OR. I first saw her work as a promo piece for our local KPFA Craft Fair years ago. There was something about the intended messiness and the beautiful expression of repose on the figure’s face that spoke to me, so I bookmarked her site. Since then she has built her career to an impressive level and her warm and welcoming brand delights people across the world, including me! She offers books, e-books* and e-classes to encourage and instruct other artists. I’m so impressed by her work, I’ve decided to join her new 9-week online class in January, co-taught with entrepreneur Beth Nicholls from the UK. It’s called Hello Soul, Hello Business and it’s all about fearlessly creating a sustainable business out of your passions (like making art!). It’s been a while since I took time for a workshop, so I’m really looking forward to this one…especially because I can attend in my slippers! Any of my artist friends want to join me? Check it out

Hello Art… Hello Soul… Hello Business… Here I come!

**I like Kelly Rae’s content so much, I’ve put an affiliate badge on my site to her e-book Flying Lessons. If you click through and purchase anything, I do get a commission. Paid or not, I still think she’s pretty cool. 

Find Yourself on the Road Less Traveled

Following Your Creative PathOne of my daughter’s friends recently remarked about my daily attire, “Jen, you’re like a pre-schooler. You don’t care what you wear!” It’s true…I’m sure I’m lowering my neighborhood’s property values by wearing 20+ year-old sweats and paint-stained t-shirts. On most days I get paint, food, dog slobber and dirt on me, so what’s the point? Of course there are times I put more effort into my appearance out of respect for the other humans who must come in contact with me or to present an image consistent with my art. But in general, my identity is not tied to how I look. I travel lightly. I have Art to thank for this freedom. Because of my years of making art, I have had reason to shut out the world for a time, reflect on what I believe, put those beliefs into tangible form, and inspire others. My creative path has led me to a place where my identity is tied to the content I want to leave behind, not in how I look.

As you might imagine, my version of fashion sense is a mysterious phenomenon to my teenage daughter and her girl friends. In their newly-forming world view, all questions of identity must be solved by editing one’s appearance. Every day I am confronted with the effects of a world less kind to women first-hand when these otherwise intelligent and beautiful girls are overheard questioning whether or not they need plastic surgery, complain that they’re too fat, refrain from eating in front of boys and spend every cent they have on beauty supplies in hopes of making themselves acceptable. They lack confidence in trying something new, pre-determining that others already do it better. Even in a home like ours where we are conscious of this negative mindset, it’s a hard beast to tame. In the prime teen age of identity development, it’s a daily battle.

I paint subjects of home and family in in hopes of re-addressing our shunned “feminine” qualities in some small way. I believe the things like laundry, daily cooking and nurturing children normally labeled as “women’s work” should be elevated to the place of highest honor, no matter which gender does them. They are the ultimate Fine Art, with a capital F and A. Why? Because they provide the connection that keeps our girls from becoming less than they should be. Because it’s hard for daughters to pursue their own dreams if they valued the work their mothers or grandmothers did in raising them as less important than their father’s paycheck. It’s hard to change the world when you don’t feel you’re pretty enough to walk out the door. These are the lies that stop up our girls, and these are the conversations I hope to facilitate through my art.

There is so much in mainstream life that tries to strip away a girl’s sense of self. We have to choose daily to step out and follow a different path, a more life-giving one where we tell our own stories. Where are you meant to go? There are better roads to be found.

PS: I was inspired to write this blog after viewing MissRepresentation, a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom about the messages girls inherit from our media culture. Check it out if you relate to what I’ve written.

PPS: Would you like to purchase a print of my Creative Path art? Check my Etsy store!

PPPS: No one ever questions my husband’s fashion sense and his sweats are older than mine.

To everything, there is a season*

Singing with Amy by Jen Norton

“Singing with Amy”

This is a story about patience. Like the five years it covers, it’s a bit long for a blog entry, but I wanted to tell it because sometimes the best things are worth waiting for. And sometimes we’re just not ready to receive blessings when we think we are.

I’m not much of a celebrity follower, with one exception. Since the age of 18, I’ve been a huge fan of singer/songwriter Amy Grant. My admiration began with the first note on her 1985 record Unguarded, and 30 years later I’m still a fully-confirmed “Granthead”. Beyond the music, I have admired her connection with fans (she kindly refers to us as Friends of Amy), her commitment to her faith and her growing stewardship of the causes she champions. She has been an inspiration to me in my own artistic journey as I notice over and over that art is merely a vehicle for deeper communication. So many times one of my paintings has prompted someone to tell me their story, my job being only to listen and be present in that moment. So many times, I’ve seen Amy give her fans their “moment”.

So last night, I had MY moment. I got to talk briefly with Amy at a soundcheck, where she exclaimed, “You’re Jen Norton! I’ve been hoping to meet you!”. No kidding, she really said that…but maybe I’d better backtrack a bit…

My first personal encounter with Amy was at a soundcheck in 2005 at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA. I brought my then 8-year-old daughter for moral support. I was a nervous wreck the whole time and could barely get a word out. Felt like I was back at a junior high dance again and vowed to do it better next time.

In 2006, Amy was a awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The stars aligned for me as well, so to speak, and my husband and I made the trek to L.A. to witness the event. Let me just say that this was completely out of my comfort zone. Hollywood is usually the last place you’d find me, but for Amy, well… It was one of those times when you knew if you didn’t do it, you’d regret it. So I went. A few weeks before the trip, I decided to paint her a picture for the occasion. I am a painter, after all. It’s my truest form of expression, and it’s the closest I’ll ever get to chatting over lunch with her. So I painted the picture above. It shows her in a contemplative moment because her most reflective work, the stuff you don’t hear on the radio, is the most meaningful to me. Behind her is an abstract cruciform shape made up of people holding hands (horizontal) and the sun setting in a musical sky over mountains (vertical). Together they elude to both the crucified Christ as well as the risen Christ with His light shining through us. Amy is all about connection, she loves nature, and of course her faith has shaped her career. Working on this piece was also a great lesson in painting what is meaningful to me. At the time, I enjoyed it more than anything I was doing.

So off I went to wait with my fellow fans on the streets in front of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I had all the other fan club members there sign the back of the painting so it could be from all of us and then passed it to her son during the ceremony. Because of logistics, I never had the chance to talk to her personally that day.

Lord, all that you have for me, I receive.

Lord, all that you have for me, I receive.

I also made her a smaller piece featuring a meaningful prayer she had shared with fans about accepting God’s grace: “Lord, all that you have for me I receive.” The piece was done in a quilt style because Amy collects quilts, and I put a note on it for her to give it away to someone who needed it. Yeah, I probably overdid it, but that’s what happens when I’m left to battle my own creative energy unedited!

A few years later, she came to the Bay Area and I had another chance to speak to her at a soundcheck. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a picture of the piece, and she had just gotten up from a nap for the rehearsal, so when I said I was the one who gave her a painting in Hollywood, she thanked me with a very confused look. Inside I thought, “Oh no! It might have been left on the bus!” I have a journal where I write down wishes that seem unsurmountable…the big stuff that requires God’s help. I know this isn’t life or death, but it was big to me. I write down my desires, then let them go. (In order to not drive yourself nuts, it’s good to practice a Buddhist detachment from these obscure goals.) Somewhere down the road, they manifest into another reality. I wrote down that I would like to know if Amy ever got my painting. I didn’t care if she liked it…I was ok if it ended up in a “fan gift warehouse” somewhere (I wonder if she has one!), or even sold at one of her charity events. I just wanted to know it passed through her hands. So I wrote my wish and waited…

Forward a few more years and Amy came back to CA, this time Malibu. Some of the other fans organized a lunch for her. I couldn’t go, but one of them was kind enough to let me include something in a special scrapbook made for that day. This time, I included the picture and I heard later that when Amy looked through the book she said, “I know that picture! I have that picture!” Phew…mission accomplished. I would still love to tell her in person, but I could live with this. Goal checked off.

So another year goes by and now Amy is back to do a concert literally 10 min (and no freeways away) from my house. Of course I must go, soundcheck and all. This time I am prepared and when I get a chance to say hello, I show her the picture and let her know that was my work. That’s when she says she’s been waiting meet me, hoping I’d show up along the way and that she not only has the painting, but it is hanging near her coffee pot in the recording studio she and Vince built at their home! (I know Amy loves her coffee, so that could be quite a bit of mindshare on a daily basis!) After all the years, I am much less nervous than at that first soundcheck, but but I’m still floored. Not only that, but many Nashville artists record there and people like LeAnn Rimes and Alice Cooper have walked by it and commented on it (how’s that for hitting a wide audience?). She even considered using the art on an album cover (wow!) but it didn’t work out. (Understandably, she used one of her own paintings on her last release). As for the smaller painting, she hung it in her cabin where she goes to write. Like the rest of us, she still needs to be reminded to receive God’s grace, and her willingness to share that frailty is what makes her great. Just to be able to look her in the eye while she told me all those details was well worth the wait. And because I had to wait, I was able to receive that gift much more fully. Thank you Amy.

Are you waiting for something big in your life? It takes a little time, sometimes. I hope my story inspires you to keep the faith.

*Ecclesiastes 3:1