making with

Remembering Sanctuary

The week before Easter I started a small fiber piece that I titled "He Is Alive!" I knew what I wanted to do and I thought I could be done by Easter. That was five weeks ago. Every time I work on this piece time slows. I spend hours working and when I look up, I have made almost no progress. This piece refuses to be hurried, and I have finally surrendered to it. Here is the picture I took of it two weeks ago:

 

Here is what it looks like today:

 

See? Slow going.

More confessions:

  1. I knew what I wanted the piece to be. Eyes are such a metaphor for Life. I didn't want an entire face. That would be entering territory I wasn't prepared to enter. I don't know what Jesus looked like and I don't want to speculate at this time. I just wanted eyes. But, once I got started I was afraid of them. As you can see here, I have saved the eyes for last. Honestly, I did everything else first because I felt vulnerable under that gaze. In fact, the thought made me so uncomfortable that I was forced to really consider what I might be trying to hide from God. I worked on the piece with this question hovering near. It has been an interesting month.
  2. I wanted to do this piece using solid cottons because I didn't want the skin color to be obvious--Christ belongs to us all-- and because I wanted to do some hand embroidering. I couldn't pull this off. Turns out I am so addicted to printed cottons that I cannot get through a project without them. [Sigh]. This is going to seriously limit the hand stitching fun I was hoping to have.
  3. This stubborn little piece has reminded me why I love to do this. I am so enjoying every minute spent on it. This is worship for me. This is play. This is healing. This is good.

A friend asked me not too long ago how I manage to "do it all" (which I don't, by the way). This quiet making, this is Sanctuary. God is here. We meet. Talk. Argue. Lean in. Rest. Renew. Here. Sanctuary.

Take Me Deeper: Love God

This week at the His Kingdom Come website, the study is on a verse fragment:

Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of you soul,
with all of your mind and with all of your strength. ~Matthew 22:37

I don't think we really know what these verses mean. I think we live into them, but I don't think we really understand them. This makes it difficult to accomplish. Perhaps that is the point. We can never cross this command off our to-do lists.

I started by trying to plumb the depths of the first part: Love the Lord your God with all of your heart. I remembered another verse, Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be." Loving with all our hearts means that we treasure God above all else. I decided to embroider a treasure map, and purchased these coins for embellishment:

Then I changed my mind and decided to embroider a compass rose as a pendant. It was a plan that seemed easy enough, so I set it aside for later.

Next I tackled "with all your mind," because it seemed like an easier section than the others. Our brains have an analytical side and a creative side. We are to love God with both. I found a brilliant mathematician-beader named Gwen Fisher whose bead patterns are based on mathematical and scientific principles. I purchased one of her spiral patterns (she referred to it as an Archimedean spiral, but named her pattern "Slugs in Love" --gotta love that analytical mind!) and set to work beading what I intended to be the spiral dangle for this pendant.

17 hours and three attempts later, I had learned a lot. But, I failed to produce anything usable. The pattern is for an earring. It says to make a larger pendant "just do the same thing only bigger." I wanted a pretty large pendant, but I started with the earring to try to learn the technique:

 
   So far, so good. Yes, it took me four hours, but now I've totally got this!

 

So far, so good. Yes, it took me four hours, but now I've totally got this!

 

I got started on the large pendant:

This is the second attempt. It took me six hours to get this far. I realized I had made a mistake that I couldn't fix so I abandoned this one too and started a third time.

This is the second attempt. It took me six hours to get this far. I realized I had made a mistake that I couldn't fix so I abandoned this one too and started a third time.

Third attempt! This one I finished in seven hours. The problem? It looks like a bejeweled appendix instead of the spiral seashell I was going for.

Third attempt! This one I finished in seven hours. The problem? It looks like a bejeweled appendix instead of the spiral seashell I was going for.

Artists need lots of time and space to experiment and try again. That's part of "it." The tools in our toolbox get there through lots of playing. Some might call this trial and error, but I think that puts the emphasis on the wrong part. The point is to learn how a medium behaves and how a technique works so that in the future it can be used effectively.

At this point in the project I decided that this particular piece wasn't going to happen in time to meet the deadline. However, I enjoyed the study, I enjoyed the time spent creating and time spent silently with the Holy Spirit. I needed that quiet of just being in His Presence and working with my hands. This week doesn't feel like a failure even though I have nothing tangible that is beautiful to show for it. Instead, there is much that is beautifully intangible here right now. I might dissect that weird bejeweled appendix looking thing and try again this weekend. I am fascinated by the pattern and I would like to conquer it.

Or, I might do something else....

Take Me Deeper: Beginning the Journey

I am one of the moderators over at His Kingdom Come, a social site for Christian artists. One of the on-going projects for 2015 titled Take Me Deeper, is a weekly Bible study with artistic response. There are various and varied groups of artists using different mediums to respond to what they hear God speaking in them. My task is to create sample projects for the Textile and Fiber Art group. The theme for January is Transformation and the verse for Week 1 is:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~Romans 12:1-2

As I started to pray through this, the very first thing I thought of was that I wanted to portray transformation as gradual using an ombre pattern in some way.

Next I got caught up in a (not so tangential) tangent: transformation is possible because Christ broke our chains. We are no longer slaves to sin and death, but can choose to make ourselves available to Him. We offer ourselves as living sacrifices and He changes us, right? If my shackles have been broken--all of them--then why am I still wearing some of them? What is keeping me from shaking them off? Exploring this question in prayer this week has been really quite eye-opening.

I wanted to portray the broken shackles/chains in some way and making a cuff seemed like the best visual. The problem was that the shackles had to be broken. I considered various options for a "broken" cuff that was sufficiently intact that it could be worn. I settled on a loom beaded cuff using a broken warp technique. Here is my project page:

 
 

I applied the ombre-like effect to the broken warp sections on the cuff. The beads start brown at the bottom (from the miry clay), transition to topaz, then a matte metal, silver and eventually gold to symbolize how we are washed and refined. Each section on the broken warp has 40 beads on it for the 40's of transformation (40 days and nights of rain to transform the earth, 40 years of wandering in the desert to transform the hearts of God's people, etc.) The solid sections (representing the old shackles) are woven using a confetti mix of the brown, topaz and matte metal with RED mixed in (for Christ's blood that set us free) and GOLD to represent God With Us through it all.

I like the result and it reminds me to question those shackles I needlessly carry. I also love wearable art that is spiritually symbolic. It reminds me of all those verses in the Bible about wearing the Word of God (on your head, on your wrist, as a garment, as armor, etc.).

I wrote out the pattern with a confidant beginner in mind. It is available on my etsy shop for $6.50.

Transform Bracelet on Creator Spiritus Shop on Etsy

 

The Word Speaks in Pictures

I was in distress. For almost two years I struggled with a pervasive, all-consuming fear. It kept me from approaching God. I still attended church, continued to go through the motions, but I couldn't talk to God. I couldn't find relief from the weight of my fear. But then...

During church one Sunday, our pastor led us in a lectio divina. Lectio Divina is a reverent reading of God's Word. It is about listening to the Living Word speak. My strongest experiences with lectio divina tend to be when someone else leads it. I find I am often distracted if I have to lead myself into this experience. I know it can be done and I have had good experiences with it, but by far my strongest interactions with imagination and God's Word happen when I can be completely available to the Holy Spirit without thinking at all of the "next thing." On this occasion I remember the moment, but not the text. I remember that I was sitting in fear-induced darkness and that God's Word exploded in me. The pastor's voice began to read and a picture formed in my imagination. I saw God as a Father, arms outstretched, welcoming me home. I saw myself run to Him and I felt His delight at my coming. I felt safe. I felt Home.

But in the silence after the first reading, the fear in me rose up again and I questioned this picture. "How can I come home, Father? There is so much between us and I am scared." The pastor's voice took up the reading again. Another picture formed in my imagination. I saw a little boy standing at the edge of a pool, aching with anticipation. He was so excited he couldn't stand still, yet so fearful he couldn't jump. His father, in the pool, stood with arms ready to catch his son. The little boy kept reminding his father, "Don't let go, Daddy." But it was clear from the smile on the Father's face, and I knew in my own mother-heart, that the child was truly in no mortal danger. The parent didn't need to be reminded. There was absolutely no possibility of real harm coming to that child.

Those mental pictures helped in the days ahead as I continued to struggle with fear. When I was able to pause and hold those pictures in my head as wordless prayer, the grip of fear loosened. The problem I had was that those pictures were fleeting and my fear was persistent. I needed some way to process the images God had given me. I needed to digest the truths, to take them into my bones.

My need to understand grew bigger than my pride. I asked my family to pose as figures in my mental pictures. I took photographs from every angle. We had no pool, but I had my nephew and husband pose on the back porch as if they were near a pool. Then, I asked my nephew to run over and over again in my husband's arms. They had lots of fun with this and the delight that everyone felt in this exercise was affirming to me. These mental images expressed a Truth.

See what I mean about delight? Those guys loved the running, love-crashing, nose smashing, bone crushing, hug marathon. (copyright 2014 Michelle Winter)

See what I mean about delight? Those guys loved the running, love-crashing, nose smashing, bone crushing, hug marathon. (copyright 2014 Michelle Winter)

I began to use my sleepless nights to prayerfully pour over the photographs. One particularly anxious night, I sat in the dining room whispering, "Where is the story here?" Suddenly, I saw it. In one photograph early in the photo session, my nephew was feeling nervous. He gripped my husband's thumbs tightly, a silent "Don't let go." 

Nervous thumb-gripping and tentative little smile. I can relate! (copyright 2014 Michelle Winter)

Nervous thumb-gripping and tentative little smile. I can relate! (copyright 2014 Michelle Winter)

I made a pattern from the photo, gathered fabrics and thread and began to quilt. My studio became a sacred space, a place for me to sit with the questions. The cutting was meditative, and God met me there. The piecing was an opportunity for solitude and partnership with the Holy Spirit. Each breakthrough became a celebration of co-creators. By the time the piece was stitched, embroidered and bound, I knew. I knew that God was holding me and that we could face the fear together. I was even beginning to believe we could conquer it together.

And there was something else. Something I knew in my bones. God was waiting for me in the solitude, and meeting Him there was the only necessary thing.

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If you are interested in exploring lectio divina, Christine Valters Paintner has written an interesting book on the topic. I own it and revisit it often:

The Lectio Divina - The Sacred Art: Transforming Words & Images into Heart-Centered Prayer (The Art of Spiritual Living)