GarThoma

The contemplative artist

Transparent Places

My body is a temple,

This solid soil somehow

Leads to heaven.

Angels ascend and descend

Upon clumps of ground

Made up of yesterday’s

Garbage. The flame of

Your Spirit burns away

Satanic opacity from

Before my face.

The ladder of my dreaming

Reveals thin transparent places.

This is none other than

The House of God and

I knew it not.

Some Haiku Poems and a Couple Micro-Poems

Waiting to be seen,
The Kingdom is within you.
You are transparent.

Discernment comes hard
Illusion clouds clarity
Listen to the heart

My soul is the rain
I am dissolved into You
For You are the earth

Even through the fog
The sun still perfect and round
Blessed obscurity

I’m building a house
A place where silence abides
Evicting chaos.

One day leaves are green
Then they turn yellow and red
After that they’re dead

Your life is fragile
Handle with care God lives there
Vessel of honor.

May you live in God
His word your sustenance be
His call your journey

Control calms the fear
Relinquishment comes from trust.
Freedom gives us wings

Crushed grapes bring forth wine
Create in me a clean heart
Take away my sin

It’s unknown to sense
The soul seeks the mystery
Divine providence

Silence, a blanket weaved in grace
shields from cold winds of distraction
In a quiet room I take my place
And rest in mercy before action

Here’s what trees teach us: stay rooted to your place and grow toward heaven.

Vulnerability, the storm on the horizon.
Grace, the snowflake
that makes craters in the ground of shame.

Good Morning 

“I meditate once more on the work of your hands, I stretch out my arms to you.” Ps. 143:5
Lord you stayed up all night

Working in your studio

Crafting the light into day. 
While I slept you were forming

The colors of the sunrise; you

Were carefully placing droplets
Of water on blades of grass.

You were carving out the clouds

So that shafts of sunlight would
Find their way through the openings. 

You were busy writing the tunes for

Birds to sing into the breeze
That would find its way through

The window by my bed. 

God you painted each minute
On the clock that greets me 

When I rise. 

You whisper “Good morning”
As I step into the shower, 

You ask me how I like the 

Warm water on my back. 

Offering

Lord, I offer myself to you today.

I give you my head, that I may think your thoughts after you
That my mind may be set upon the things of the Spirit.

I give you my eyes, that I may gaze upon the beauty you have created
That I may see the hurting
That I may receive the vision of your Spirit.

I give you my ears that I may hear your voice
That I may listen more than I speak.

I give you my mouth, that I may speak words of life and of healing
That I may speak the words you give me.

I give you my shoulders and back that I may stand under the yoke with you
That I may carry the cross you have presented to me.

I give you my hands that I may reach out to those in need
That I may give what I have received.

I give you my legs and my feet that I may walk with you where you lead
That I may climb the mountaintops to preach the Gospel.

Amen.

Learning to Pray

I asked the Lord, teach me to pray. 
He showed me the way of abandonment

He showed me the way of relinquishment 

He showed me the way of acceptance 

I asked, 
Is prayer ever for changing situations 

Like I used to think when I was young? 

Does prayer change people
Or just me? 

if prayer changes things, is my soul only a thing? 
You, Lord are not a thing. 
Prayer does not change you,

You need no change; 

You stretched out your arms and showed me you are already perfect

Testimony

In pride living large upon the tops of mountains;
In pride I moved ahead and
soon found myself in company with the wicked.

My heart grew dark with the ways of this world
I stumbled and fell, dashed open my head.

My wounds cried out and your grace came to rescue.
In humility I found joy.

I’ll inhabit my smallness before you
I’ll live in the dust I am made of.

From there your hand lifts me
To abide in the place you went to prepare.

Creation’s Request

The chaos asked for form, God listened.
The earth asked for vegetation, God provided.
The seas asked for fish, God understood.

The night sky requested distinction from the day
God gave it the moon.

The land asked for life, God breathed.
The universe asked to see God
so He made a man and a woman

Complaint 

My soul searches for care through complaints stacked up in my heart like firewood in Fall.My mind provides the spark, my lips the fuel. 

Complaints. 
Aimlessly tossed into the abyss of human hearts
Echo back meaningless words that only validate my own personal justice. 

Sometimes I can be a cynical psalmist. 
Who cares? 

Who?  Cares. 

One who stoops down low
His hand is cupped behind his ear. 

Complaints can become prayer. 
The effect made evident by the shining light in the dark room where my heart resides. 

He validates my complaints
He vindicates my soul with the salve of his Spirit. 

Pentecost

Grasping the soul, is like attempting to contain the wind
Your strength is not only for holding on

Greater still is the strength it requires to let go into
The wind of the Spirit. To be born of the Spirit is to

Travel on the wings of Wind propelled by fire.
Your paper wings burn up in the fire, since

They are constructed with your own hands, propelled
By your own tongue. The fire of the Spirit burns up every

Human thing and frees your tongue to speak the glory and
Mystery of God. Don’t try to hang onto the stake you’ve driven

Into the ground. May the flame of The Spirit burn up the stake
For it is made of straw. May You fly into the wind of the Spirit,

He will Carry you into Heaven.

Contemplative Vision

vermeerPainting

I have recently been reading the book Contemplative Vision, by Juliet Benner. It is a wonderful book of writings reflecting on works of art based upon scriptural narratives. This book was written after Benner came to see the “enormous potential of physical seeing as a gateway to spiritual seeing.” She writes from perspective of the Catholic and Orthodox tradition which use images as aid in contemplative prayer. Brenner says that these images are not ends in themselves, but rather means to end for the purpose of connecting to the Lord in prayer and discerning what He might be saying to us through contemplative looking.“As we carefully gaze on the painting,” she says, “we enter the scene it depicts—into its time and place. When we do this all time becomes present time, and we are led into the eternal presence—into the One who is ever present to us.”

The first chapter gives a wonderful apologetic for contemplative, listening prayer. It seems that, for the most part she is writing to evangelical Christians; many of which do not value the use of silent, meditative prayer, much less, gazing at images to aid prayer. Many of the evangelical Christians I know might see this kind of prayer as “new-agey”. I am a part of this evangelical tradition myself and would love to see my brothers and sisters come to see the transformational power of this kind of prayer. Bennett’s book has given me some ways to integrate these things into my own life and my own church tradition.

The rest of the book follows with chapters focusing on specific works of art that depict a narrative story or scene from scripture. Brenner encourages the reader to read the scriptural passage from which the painting is made, then spend time in silence simply gazing at the painting and reflecting what one sees there. She then begins to discuss various aspects of the painting that she picks up on. I have made it a point to not read her insights before spending some time looking, listening to and journaling about the painting myself. It is interesting to note that there were some things Benner noticed that I did not; and some that I noticed that she did not. In my mind, this proves that the Holy Spirit is definitely engaged in this process. He speaks to everyone in the place where their heart presently resides. It makes sense to me that He would use great works of art to do this.

Following is a reflection on one of my favorites in the book so far…

Jesus at the Home of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer.

My initial observations:
Mary sits inactive, low, at Christ’s feet, while Martha actively stands above; Christ sits in the middle gazing at Martha with eyes of compassion as he gestures toward Mary. Mary leans forward resting her cheek upon her hand, gazing up at Jesus. Martha also looks to Jesus while he gestures toward Mary with an open inviting hand. I notice that Christ’s hand not only points and invites; it also receives.

The composition is triangular. I noticed this right away. Brenner points out that there is also a triangle within the triangle. Right in the center, where Christ gestures with his hand there is another triangle made of the white tablecloth. The triangle, Benner points out is a kind of invitation for us, the viewers, to enter into this space. The triangle also reminds me of the Trinity. I am invited into this contemplative space shaped by the trinity. I am invited to give to Christ the only thing I can truly give; my contemplative presence and attention.

Another thing Benner points out is the fact that Christ is wearing the garb of his own time and place and the sisters are wearing the garb of their own time and place. She notes that Christ comes to us in our own time and space; there is a kind of timelessness to this painting.

The major thing I noticed about the painting is the fact that Martha brings Christ bread. It is ironic to me that she would be serving bread to the “bread of life.” We cannot give to Christ what he has already made provision for in our own lives. Then I notice that the space they are in is the same color as the bread Martha is serving. The space is small and intimate and the color of the bronze freshly baked bread Martha serves. It would seem they are not only with but also surrounded by the presence of the bread of life himself.

Many of us are more willing to do things for the Lord, rather than just be with him. Even my prayers can be an attempt to “please” and “serve” the Lord. I am worried and distracted over how I form my prayers — the words I use— I somehow feel that my prayers are not sincere enough, there is not enough groaning in them. I want to just be with Christ, but find it difficult to simply be when i am so distracted by my many preparations to please him.

But, like Martha, in the painting, offering bread to the bread of life, it is absurd to think that I can give to him what he has already given me; what his is to me.

How can I just be with you, Lord, without inner dialog questioning everything I do or say or think; oh to simply be with you. I can be distracted by preparations in my mind. I often ask, what am I getting from this time of prayer; of scripture reading? when what I really desire is to simply be with God.

Interior silence; interior contemplation. When I have this I can listen to the voice of God, I can be with Christ even in the midst of noisy distraction. Mary is not worried of defensive in the painting when here sister comes to complain. She remains so focused upon Christ and responding to his invitation that she is oblivious to the complaints of her sister.

Lord, I want to come to a place in my life where I can just be with you so intensely and intimately that I do not feel a need to be defensive. I want to be like Mary in this painting; only gazing upon you, Lord.

Right now, as I write this I am sick. I have been for two days. I hate being sick. The thing I hate about being sick is being needy. I do not like to be needy. I want to be the caregiver; I want to be needed; not needy. That is the Martha spirit in me. And yet, Jesus says: “blessed are the poor in spirit…” it is the needy who Jesus says are the owners of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps this is why Jesus said Mary has chosen the best part.

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