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Archive | Philosophy

Glory Be!

"Glory Be" painted prayer © Jen Norton

Life on modern earth can be like a hurricane, swirling us one way, then the other. Fear, indecision, conflicting opinions, self-doubt, 24 hours of noise. It can all be overwhelming. And if you “build your house on sand” by trying to navigate it all yourself, it just might crumble you when the hot winds blow. But then there’s this little ancient prayer crafted from the words of Jesus (Matthew 28:19) and the apostles (Romans 11:36). The “Glory Be.” Just a short little recitation that lays the solid foundation of the Holy Trinity. A reminder…as it was from the beginning of time and ever shall be. Hope. I find it a very comforting thought.

This artwork is available on prints and products in my Fine Art America store:

Photography Prints

…or on small prints made in my studio on Etsy.

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Thy Will be Done: A Year of Mercy

Painting of the Works of Mercy ©Jen Norton

“The Works of Mercy” 36×48″ Acrylic on canvas

The Pope has declared 2016 a “Jubilee Year of Mercy” in the Catholic church, an opportunity for faith-filled people to mindfully practice acts of mercy among their families, communities and in the larger world. No matter what your belief system, practicing works of mercy has the power to both enrich your soul and help alleviate the hardship of another, if you’re brave enough to take it on.

So what is Mercy anyway? To quote Fr. Jim Keenan of Boston College, “Mercy is entering into the chaos of another person’s life.” It’s acknowledging the worthiness in another and offering hope and healing.

“Mercy is entering into the chaos of another person’s life.”

And why does it require bravery? Because when you willingly step into another person’s chaos, even with the best of intentions, you might be rejected. Or judged. Or even harmed. And to step TOWARD another soul, you often must step AWAY from your own judgement about it. If you’ve ever thought about giving a homeless person a dollar, and then judged that they might not use it in the way you’d like them to, you know what that feels like.

As followers of Christ, we are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. But looking up at the cross, we realize just how hard that can be. In His most passionate act of mercy on our behalf, Jesus’ hands and feet are broken and bleeding. They are pierced with nails and He cries out, “I thirst.” He has been rejected. It’s not pretty or easy; It is the ultimate surrender to God’s will. But He offers it to us anyway, knowing we are worthy of Easter.

Several years ago I was volunteering at Sacred Heart Community Services in my town. I was working in the clothing shop, where families can come in and shop for free from donated items. A woman came through the line who looked to be in pretty bad shape and we had a few moments of conversation during the “check-out” process. She had teeth missing and what sounded like a painful cough. In those few minutes I learned that she had walked several miles to get to the center that morning, and would now be walking back with her cart. It had been raining, so the streets were wet. I must have said something like “I hope you have a nice walk back”…blah, blah, the usual small talk. I don’t really remember what I said, but I’ll never forget her response. She looked me straight in they eye and touched my hand saying, “Bless you and all that you do.” It wasn’t just the words, but how she said it. I really felt Christ in that moment. Truthfully, I wasn’t doing that much. But for those few moments we shared, she probably felt like a regular customer having regular conversation in a regular store, and she was all-present in the moment. I may have “stepped into her chaos” by being physically there in the store that day. But she stepped back into MY chaos and affirmed that I was doing something of eternal value. And that’s what Mercy does. Love and care freely given can offer both parties the hope that they are worthy of God’s compassion and love. Everybody wins. The Kingdom Comes when His Will is done.

So are you up for practicing some Mercy? You’ve got 14 ways to try it out, including…

the Corporal works of mercy (works that tend to bodily needs of others):
• Feed the hungry
• Give drink to the thirsty
• Clothe the naked
• Shelter the homeless
• Visit the sick
• Visit the imprisoned
• Bury the dead

the Spiritual works of mercy (works that tend to spiritual suffering of others):
• Instruct the ignorant
• Counsel the doubtful
• Admonish sinners
• Bear wrongs patiently
• Forgive offenses
• Comfort the afflicted
• Pray for the living and the dead

Even if you only pick one, the world will be a better place. Pope Francis offers further instruction to a modern world saying, “Every word, every gesture, whether in conversation, social media, or email, ought to reveal God’s compassion.”

Let’s get to work!

My “Works of Mercy” artwork and products can be purchased here:

Photography Prints

Listen to your Mother: Pray the Rosary

The Joyful Mysteries by Jerry Windley-Daoust

Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. —1 John 2:11

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the darkness? Turn on any news show and you’ll want to run to your nearest closet, lock yourself in, and declare the world a hopeless, evil place. But there is a key to unlock that closet, and it’s held by an unlikely girl, once a nobody, really. But then she was given a great task to become part of the salvation of all creation, and she said “yes.” She did not let darkness overcome her. She walked with it until it passed. And now she wants to lead you to The Way, to her Son. The steps on the path are the beads on her Rosary.

Pray one decade (1 Our Father + 10 Hail Marys + 1 Glory Be) on your couch with a cup of coffee. Pray all 5 decades x 20 mysteries on your knees in a monastery. Pray it on your fingers in the car. It doesn’t matter… as long as you pray it. Why? Because when you spend even a few moments of each day mindful of the feminine strength needed to bring God’s Grace to the world, you will begin to understand your part in overcoming darkness too.

When I was a child I was preoccupied with order and perfection. It’s safe to say I probably had a bit of undiagnosed OCD… and one thing I obsessed about was church rules. I would try to say the rosary before bed, but if I made one mistake, even in the last word of the last prayer, I’d start over. As you can imagine, I did some pretty heavy praying for a kid! My one reprieve was to recite it with my mother. Together, we could make all the mistakes we wanted and it was OK. Her inherent goodness was powerful enough to negate my imperfections. So I would trek down the hall to her room at 10 or 11pm, frustrated by my “prayer failures”, and wake her up from a deep sleep to say the rosary with me. And to her credit she did it. I’m sure her reaction was a mixture of happiness that I was so devout and complete annoyance that I was interrupting her much-needed sleep. Still, she was there for me. She didn’t leave me all alone in my darkness.

I continued to say parts of the rosary throughout my life, albeit less devoutly. Ten “Hail Marys” before bed, an “Our Father” on the way to a college test. No real devotion…more of a comforting insurance policy, really. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I really needed to turn to prayer for a difficult situation that comfort of the rosary became real to me. This time, it was my turn to accompany someone through darkness. In recitation of the simple prayers, holding each bead as I went along, I felt the Blessed Mother walking beside me. I was guided toward the help needed; I was given the strength to think clearly when things got scary. But most importantly, I was provided with an underlying sense of Peace. I was given the mantra “Let it Be”, which I understood to mean that in the end, all would be well. Just what a mother would say. And she was right.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:6-7

Recently, two of my paintings, “Hail Mary” and “The Canticle of Mary”, were included in an Illuminated book of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary by Catholic author Jerry Windley-Daoust. From an artist’s perspective, it’s definitely a boost to the ego to be included in a published collection of work with the likes of Fra Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli! On a deeper level, I believe this author found me because we both share a vision to provide a new, fresh perspective to timeless traditions of our faith. Artwork can offer a deeper understanding for both children and adults; a good companion to the beads. Jerry’s book offers an alternative way to experience the Catholic meditative devotional to Mary: through the eyes of artists who have spent their own prayerful time at the canvas.

I hope you will consider making the rosary part of your spiritual practice, if you don’t already. They’re simple prayers, to a simple girl. And, quite simply, they can drive out darkness. The devil hates that, you know.

A preview, and copies of the Illuminated Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary can be purchased at www.pbgrace.com/joyful-mysteries 

Prints of my included artwork are available in my Etsy and Fine Art America stores.

The original paintings are part of the permanent collection at the Presentation Center in Los Gatos, CA.

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Abundant Love

Love Is Abundant © Jen Norton

Valentine’s Day is just a month away, and I have to admit it’s not one of my favorites. Not that I don’t appreciate love, or the efforts of the somewhat ambiguous St. Valentine, martyred in the 2nd century by the Roman emperor Claudius for, among other things, assisting persecuted Christians in getting married. It’s just that the day always seems so fake to me. Overpriced red roses, pre-written sentiments, the expectation that if enough demonstrations of love aren’t expressed on this day, you’ve missed out somehow. I don’t like to be told what to do or how to feel. And I already eat too much chocolate and I don’t wear much jewelry. The traditions that have formed around this day don’t interest me. I’d rather read a book.

But that’s my perspective on something that brings others great joy. And that’s the funny thing about Love…REAL Love. It’s always there, constantly surrounding us, always ready to rain down on us the minute we’re open to it. But often we’re not. Love is always an abundant commodity. Our ability to see it, accept it, believe that it is really meant for us, is often clouded. We hide under our “umbrellas” of fear, judgement, past beliefs. But while this shield might keep the rain out, it will also hide the sun.

What happens if we change our perspective, turn our umbrella upside down, so to speak? Then it becomes a vessel to gather all the Love we want. Sure some rain my fall. Your hair might get wet or your mascara run. But if we have the courage to accept all that is ready and waiting for us, our cup just might runneth over.

Matted prints made in my studio are available here.  Or you can purchase a set of signed Art Cards here.

This original is 9 x 12″, Acrylic on cradled birch wood. To inquire about the original, please contact me directly.

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No matter how small, God’s Love is big!

patti_dog

I have a nervous Boxer named Patti. She came to us after years of neglect and abuse and I love her to death. She reminds me of myself at a young age: overly concerned about small stuff, shy and scared in new situations, but joyful once she feels safe. After a few years with us she has settled in to our family just fine. Lately, though, she’s been shivering with anxiety just before feeding or walking times. It’s December as I write this, and boxers don’t have a lot of hair, but I don’t think it’s the cold. We live in CA and have a heater…even a hairless mammal like myself can survive it! But she has to rely on us to open the door to go out, and with the colder weather making her hungrier, her mealtimes can’t come soon enough.

Tonight as she was shivering right before her dinner time, I said, “Patti…you know I always take care of you on time! What are you shaking for?” I mean, really…in almost 4 years and even on my busiest days, I’ve remembered to feed the dog!  But isn’t it that way it is sometimes between us and God? We’re so desperate to get what we need (or want) that we worry and fret and shake. We can’t focus, we annoy our family. We make ourselves sick. What we don’t do is trust in God: that he has our ultimate best interests at heart and will not forget us. Sure, He’s busy…tons of people in the world have way-bigger needs than me, a white American suburban girl. But my needs are still big to me, and God knows that. He’ll give me what I need, fill my food bowl, all in good time. I should let go of my worry.

What do you need this Christmas? What do you desire deep down in your soul? On Christmas we remember that God came to us in human form to show us the way back to Him (have you noticed He always comes to US… ). He was born a small, helpless, poor child in a world where the powerful were out to eliminate Him from day one. You can’t get any more needy than that. Yet, even from that lowly position, He offers hope and promise. I think there is a message here: even in this big scary, seemingly hopeless world, a infant-God is still bigger. Whatever lack-of-faith crisis consumes us, His love is still greater.

I will always take care of my dog, and she’s not even human. How much more does our Father love us? Do not shake and shiver in the cold, wondering if you are loved. You are. Let the One who Created you give you strength to face your doubts. Let His Love fill your heart and give you Joy.

Merry Christmas.

Something Small has Great Value to God

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The Value of an Art Education


Detail of Monarch Butterfly painting © Jen Norton

There was a point mid-way through my university art education when my mom kindly suggested, “Why don’t you study business instead so you can get a job?” Ahhh… the lament of so many well-meaning parents. So I added in a business minor. I suffered through every econ, finance and accounting class, but I made it. Thank God I had art to fall back on. Truth is, without art nothing else made sense. Art is my language. I am forever grateful my parents let me declare it my major, even with their misgivings. I am thankful they trusted in my character above their own fears. It all worked out.

Over the years I have been approached many times by worried parents of college-aged kids who want to study art. We all seem to agree that having art in grade schools is a good idea. But study it in college? That’s a whole different jar of paint all together! How will they get a job? What will our friends think? How can we justify the cost? Talent and creativity are great, but you should study what will get you a top job, they argue. I disagree. Unless you are on a specific vocational track, I believe the purpose of college is to prepare young people to live independently with the ability to adapt and LEARN. The arts are uniquely positioned to help with that goal because they encourage creativity in problem-solving. There is no one right answer, but many possibilities.

Art is the language of the soul. In a healthy society, some of us need to speak it fluently so others can experience it. It is the “human” part of our humanity; the proof of God. Art is creating something out of nothing; expressing an emotion in a concrete way. We all need that, whether we know it or not. If you want more than a choice of a burlap sack for clothing, food in tin cans (with no pretty labels), or a plain white card for your birthday, you might need art. What if you could only paint your home white, white or white? What if your only weekend movie choices were military propaganda, there were no books to read or music to listen to? Can you imagine the state of our economy if there were no emotion involved in a purchase? Art touches everything. Someone needs to make all that art. Someone gets that job.

It’s true that it often takes years of passionate dedication to make it as a working artist. I believe this is largely due to the “self discovery” aspect of art. When I look at artists who have made it big or who I admire, they have done so because they figured out their message and their purpose. They know their audience. This discovery can take years, even a lifetime. Sometimes you do need a day job or an understanding life partner. But there are so many lucrative fields one can explore above and beyond the solitary artist stereotype, from graphic design, to movie or video game production, to in-house illustration. If art is your child’s passion, they just might make money, empower others and create a joyful life while they are figuring it out. Or, they might take on a different career, but be an art supporter. Perhaps a music promoter, a designer beautiful office environments or they might discover more creative ways to flow traffic. A life will unfold the way it’s supposed to, but taking time to study art just might open their eyes to some unconventional options.

Here’s the thing: we all have a soul purpose, and the thing that most naturally uses our talents, personality and abilities to manifest that purpose are exactly what the world needs. The world doesn’t need more miserable people spending lifetimes doing something they think they should do. That creates dis-ease. The world needs inspired people inspiring others. So go ahead and let your kids study art if that’s what drives them. They just might become the productive citizens you dreamed of.

 

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The Joy of Imperfection

color inspiration

Making art can be a lot of fun, but it’s not always easy. At times it can be down-right torturous. My perfectionist mindset kicks in, saying, “You should be able to command divine inspiration at will… You have to make a great piece of art now…  Maybe you’re not as good as [insert name of another artist here_________].”  Boy, what a creativity killer. I might have the skills, eye, and years of practice to know I can find a solution. But as a human, I have to do the work to unearth it. Every time. So how does a left-brain-dominant girl access her right-brain creativity?

I tell myself little white lies. Yep, fight fire with fire, I say. I will start by messily painting color and texture, telling myself it’s only a surface for a future painting. I will point out that whatever I’m working on today is only a rough idea of some future final piece. Or I’ll destroy an old finished painting that never sold. As I mindlessly dabble, coffee in hand, my whirlwind of frustrations quiet and I begin to hear my truths again:

• There is beauty in imperfection.

• It is most natural for me to express emotion through color and texture.

• I am only part of the process. When I let go of fear, Creativity flows.

Before I know it (and because I’m no longer thinking about it), I’m in the rhythm of making art, delighted by the happy accidents and revelations that materialize. You may be surprised to know how many bad paintings I’ve created by thinking, “I’m going to make a great piece!” I almost always avoid that train of thought. Almost.

matilija poppy ©JenNorton

I am currently enrolled in an online course by agent extraordinaire Lilla Rogers, who is known to profess, “People buy your Joy.”  While working on a recent assignment for the home decor market, I found myself having to stop and ask myself once again, “What brings me Joy?” I began this project inspired by some photos I’d taken recently at the Santa Barbara Mission and Botanical Gardens. I was going to use my hand-drawn line style with some color and texture fills (see plate #1, below). In my mind, the idea looked great. But after several hours of work, it just wasn’t bringing me joy. It was saying, “nice enough, but who cares?” I didn’t.

I tossed and turned all night, re-drawing and painting it in my mind (do other artists do that?). By morning I knew I had to return to my painterly style. Same subject, similar layout…but more fun. More depth. More emotion. And, most importantly for me, beautifully imperfect. (plate #2, below) I purposely promote all unfinished and broken edges and blocky brushstrokes because those are the things that bring me Joy. I allow myself to paint and re-paint things as a reminder that I don’t have all the answers up front, but that they will come. In the end, I am enamored with this piece for a possible plate design.

Poppy plate designs ©JenNorton

I do my best as a humble human to paint what brings me Joy so that I can share some happiness with you. And if I’m lucky, I am rewarded with divine inspiration.

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The Spirit is a Movin’

“Spirit in the Wind” © Jen Norton

Oh, woe is me, woe is me…no one can possibly understand my pain and suffering! Well, yes, actually they can, and they probably have. In a spiritual realm, we are all connected. Pain or joy in any one of us has an effect in the paint or joy of all of us. If you’ve ever pondered why a teen can listen to the most hateful lyrics in a song and feel comforted, consider the fear and alienation driving the person who wrote it. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with joy in a worship setting and wished you could re-create that magic at home, consider that perhaps the spirit needs a minimum of two to connect. If you’ve ever had a desire to help or pray for victims of a disaster half a world away, you’ve felt the Holy Spirit.

We’re all just hoping someone will step forward and say, “Yes, I understand…I’ve been there too!” We all want to know we’re all alone in a world that constantly tells us we need to make it on our own.

But we’re never alone. Recently, I was dealing with a stressed-out-kid situation. While my emotional energy was being spent in resolving it, my enthusiasm for making art was greatly diminished. Same with my online presence. I’m never sure who’s out there reading my posts, so I was surprised when a fellow creative I only know online emailed and asked if I was OK…that she had sensed something was going on with me. I was reminded of the power of prayer. I was reminded that when we ask, someone answers. We don’t know who, how or when, but it shouldn’t stop us from opening our hearts to the spirit that flows and binds us together.

This piece is an ode to that empathetic soul, a person who I know owns horses somewhere in Oklahoma. I call it “Spirit in the Wind.” The Holy Spirit is embodied in the horse who rides across time and distance connecting us with unseen threads.

Original: 10 x 8″, acrylic on cradled wood panel. $200. Contact me for availability.

Prints available in my Etsy store: 14 x 11″ matted, $28

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Understanding Freedom through Art

USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor

Walkway to the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor

 

What does it mean to be free? It’s such an abstract concept for someone who has always been relatively free. I mean, it sounds simple enough to understand, but how do we really appreciate freedom unless we’ve experienced the opposite? If you’re an American reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’re female, 35+, and probably grew up middle-class. Maybe you’ve felt discrimination in the workplace or overlooked pursuing a sport, but you probably weren’t slated to marry solely for your father’s economic gain or afraid to voice your opinion for fear of beheading (or your children’s beheading). You were most likely educated and encouraged to do something productive with your life, other than having sons. It’s hard to really empathize with the unfree.  That’s where art comes in. Art is one of the tools God gives us for creating compassion and visualizing the impossible. I believe the freedom to develop and express creatively is something worth fighting for.

We just returned from a trip to Hawaii, stopping at the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor on our way to Maui. Pearl Harbor was always one of those “events in history” for me. I could appreciate that some died, that began our engagement in WWII, but it was always somewhat abstract since it happened before I was born.

And then there was 9-11. As I sat with my then 3-year-old watching towers that I had stood upon fall and hearing accounts of civilians my age who were dead or missing, I began to really understand what Pearl Harbor might have felt like to my grandparent’s generation. The recent movie about Pearl Harbor (the one with Ben Affleck), helped me FEEL what might have been at stake for someone on that island when the planes struck. Last week when I walked through the museum on Oahu, I was MOVED by the terror and loss, but also the sense of purpose. How differently things could have turned out! And when I entered the memorial which begins with a rise, descends to a mid-section drop to indicate the low point of the war, and then rises again to the names of those killed flanked by the “tree of life” design I was RENEWED by the HOPE and FAITH it takes to fight for freedom. The design of the memorial expressed that to me.

Pacific War memorial viewed from the deck of the USS Missouri

The Pacific War memorial viewed from the deck of the USS Missouri.

 

My husband loves the military toys. Not war itself…he’s as conflict-avoiding as I am. But the ships and helicopters and stuff? Testosterone rules. After visiting the memorial, we boarded the USS Missouri for a detailed tour of the ship and account of the signing of the treaty with Japan. I’ve toured other military ships, subs and aircraft with him and I always have a mix of two thoughts:

1. Good God, if we didn’t have to spend THIS MUCH MONEY on fighting, we could solve all the poverty issues of the world!

and

2. I am grateful to live in a country with the people, technology and vision capable of defending my freedom. I look at those cramped ship quarters and think of the grace under pressure needed to run the machinery. I am awed not by the politics or the might, but by the dedication of the troops. It’s not a job I could do. It’s not one I take lightly. It’s one that’s hard for me to comprehend without standing before the design, scale, and imagery of it all. It’s easy to get caught up in one’s vitriol or apathy until you stand on the site where lives were lost and history was made.

I am a peaceful person. I am an artist. I am a thinker who tries to take large abstract concepts and present them in simple, beautiful ways. The beauty of art is that you may find something valuable in what I paint or say that touches part of you. You may connect to something in my art independent of how you judge the actual “me.” We might be from wildly different backgrounds and beliefs, but through art find something even more primal in common. We might appreciate each other, differences and all. And isn’t that the crux of the Freedom?

On this (American) 4th of July holiday, God, please DO bless America. We still need it.

Are you strong enough to be a dad?


Father's Day art © Jen Norton
“Reach for the Stars”, acrylic on wood panel (original Sold)

The vocation of being a dad is not for the faint of heart. I am a daughter, one of three sisters. I also have a daughter and mostly girl cousins. Almost every living being in our family, except my long-suffering husband, is female. Even the dog, cats, and we think a frog we once had. Consequently, I have a library of girl-raising insights. But that’s not enough.

If a mother’s influence teaches us how to interact in the world, a father’s influence teaches us how to FEEL about ourselves.

The one piece of advice I have insisted my husband practice in raising our daughter is to never, NEVER say anything disparaging about her looks, even as a joke. Girls remember and internalize every negative thing said about their appearance, eventually believing them to be true. And they remember forever.

Some guys might judge that to be a bit hormonal, but here’s the thing every father needs to know about raising girls: The world judges us first by looks, second by everything else, and it can undermine even the strongest of us. It’s unfair, it’s shallow, it’s frustrating, and it’s animal biology. To succumb to it is to deny the creative power of half the planet’s population and support a culture of death. But God has given fathers of daughters the special task of defending abundant life, one daughter at a time.

It’s harder than you might think, and not all fathers are “man enough” for this type of service. But those who are must use their natural protective instincts to shield their daughters from the onslaught of self doubt and hate that the world offers. They must encourage their daughters beyond their comfort zones so they can command the same respect from others outside the family. It requires consistent, long-term diligence similar to that required of a marathon runner or mountain climber. It asks a man to overcome his reluctance to talk about girl stuff…especially in the early teen years when “girl stuff” sends some fathers diving into the nearest couch for a re-run of “Deadliest Catch,” beer and remote in hand. The payoff for all his hard work is a daughter who knows her worth, who doesn’t compare herself with other women, and who is generous and kind, not shallow and self-centered.

A father who is up to the challenge consistently lets his daughter know through his words and actions that she’s beautiful, that she’s worthy and that he values her. He spends time with her doing things she likes. He knows that one tiny, ill-intentioned comment can wipe out years of hard work. It’s not a job for the faint of heart.

And that means fathers also must raise sons capable of the challenge.

You can order a matted art print of this piece here.

You can order a signed Art Card of this piece here.

You can order this art in other formats and sizes here.