The following poem was created after a conversation took place between my fellow European traveler, Jenn, and Grace Ammarabile, the owner of the retreat house that we stayed at while in Tuscany. She told stories of heartbreak and harvest in her decades of caring for the land entrusted to her. Through the years, she's watched her olive trees oscillate between being so pregnant with fruit that branches brush the ground with their weight, to harsh weather killing thousands of trees in one day. She has learned to find beauty, goodness and purpose in both abundance and scarcity. This poem by Jenn reflects Grace....
She tends the field of olives
Her eyes and hands speak
of good harvest
and the harshness of winter
-the year the olives died.
Life, she says
lives just under the bark
the thin layer that cloaks the sap
tough skin over soft places
warmth in cold places
an earthy vulnerability in her lap.
On her lips, a smile
a tune ~
a steady song
for both drought and flood
the vigor of crops and creatures
Dio e buono, la vita e bella
This too, is good.
I recently had the opportunity to go back and visit one of my favorite places in the world. Florence, Italy. This time around, I was able to stay in the surrounding hill country about thirty minutes away from the city in a small town called Montespertoli. The previous two times that I had been to Italy, I stayed right in the heart of Florence. So, this was altogether a different experience. We stayed with the Ammirable family who run a retreat center, complete with vineyards and olive groves for miles. I was so enthralled with the way that these olive trees populated the rolling hills. I noticed this tree in particular, and others like it, that seemed to be growing together, following one another's undulating movements. As I stared at these trees, I began to wonder what narrative they were trying to tell. They looked like one tree the way they mimicked each other's growth pattern, but as I observed them, I could not find any point in which they were connected. I wondered if they were thriving off the same root system. I wondered what existed for them underground. Were they separated underneath the soil as well? Or did they belong to the same root system? Above ground, the trees were heavy with branches, leaves and fruit, which were all autonomous from one another. This intrigued me. Were they always like that? Were they once one tree that had separated over time? I thought of Pangaea, how the evidence suggests that there used to be just one land mass until a large scale unknown event caused the land to separate and drift. A map betrays that history. Our land looks like a jigsaw puzzle that was once assembled into one whole piece. I wondered if these trees had a similar story. So I asked the Ammirables about their olive trees. They shared with me that in 1985, shortly after they acquired the olive groves, they lost their entire crop of olive trees. The temperature that year dropped below 20 degrees, which kills the trees. There was nothing the Ammirables could do except to wait. Wait and watch. What happens with olive trees is that shoots will spring up from the dead trees and begin to form new trees. Several trees can grow from that one root system. The new trees create these beautiful mimetic structures where the forms follow one another, but they are completely separate trees growing out of the old root system of one tree. So what used to be one tree grew into 2-3 different, independent trees. And, somehow, they become more beautiful as they work and grow together, making something new out of what has died. This tells the eternal story of humanity. We experience death, which is so painful. Devastating. Union is broken. What once gave life and promise is dead. And yet, something happens in the dark. There is something going on that our eyes cannot see and perhaps our hearts cannot perceive. Earth and water and sunshine preserve and nourish. Shoots spring forth. What used to be one has broken apart and become many. And each individual is living, flourishing and growing alongside another.
A 2nd Edition of Waking Up Grey is in the works! Look for info soon on how to preorder your copy. Lots of great changes and additions. Can't wait to share it with you!
I'm beginning to see Jesus as a subversive rule breaker! Yes, you heard me correctly. Jesus was there when the world was created. Not only was He present, He created the world in which we live. He also created its laws. He knows them inside and out, up and down. Of course He does. He created them! And, just like any artist, He breaks the rules beautifully. As an artist, I see that I must learn the structures and the laws of art in order to understand how to create. As I grow in my artistry, I begin to work outside of the rules I've learned. I begin to break the rules to create more subversive, provocative and innovative art.Read More
Much of what I do in my studio for those that come to me wanting more of Jesus is to help them trust themselves again. What we hear from our church leaders is that we are not trustworthy. We cannot trust our own experience of God. We are told to look to our leaders to tell us what is right and wrong, true and untrue. While there is a place for that, leaders have done a terrible disservice to our own inner experience of God. II Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” EVERYTHING WE NEED – The resurrection power of Christ, who has made our fleshly bodies His dwelling place. The Holy Spirit is active and powerful within our physical bodies. I can trust what my experience of Christ is. He is my teacher. The Spirit of God is my teacher. God the Father is my teacher, in accordance with His holy scripture. Thanks be to God!Read More
New eyes to see. Layers of hopefulness over layers of sadness. Dreaming big. Free falling. Quiet, lingering delay. Invitation to come. Invitation to BE, not DO.Read More
This is a charcoal sketch I made of the Bernini marble sculpture in Rome, Italy entitled, "Ecstacy of St. Teresa". I'm captured, disturbed, confused and fascinated by this saint. I'm not aware of anyone else in history that speaks of Divine relationship in this way. She wrote of her sensual experiences of God and the following is an account that was the inspiration for Bernini's sculpture:Read More
This is my second painting in theBridal Mysticism series that is currently in progress. It is entitled "Wedding at Cana." These paintings are very personal and very real in terms of how they've been experienced. To recap, these images are born out of my experience with the Ignatian exercises. (Look below for the specific passage of scripture).Read More
I am intrigued with the marital language that Jesus chooses to use in scripture when He talks about the church. Over and over, He paints a picture of a bride and groom when He talks about His beloved people. In 2010, I was able to travel to Italy and see the Bernini sculpture of Teresa of Avila, where she is depicted in a romantic encounter with the Divine, which fascinated me. Through my experience of prayer, I am exploring this mystery of bridal love with the Divine. I am excited to put some of these scenes onto the canvas.Read More
This beautiful photo was taken by my oldest daughter, Rachel, one early dawn in December of 2014. If you know anything about my family's sleeping patterns, you would recognize the existence of this photograph as truly miraculous! We usually only hear of the phenomenon of something called a sunrise. We are night owls at my house. We see plenty of sunsets, but are usually down for the count when the sun appears on the other side of the horizon.
Sometimes the utter joy of anticipation and curiosity liven us to do something that is completely counter-intuitive and unnatural, some new thing that captures our attention if we allow its spell to take hold. Rachel loves a good adventure that involves a road trip and the natural beauty of the great outdoors. So much so, that she and her friend, Katie, got up at 4:00 am to arrive at"Narrows of the Harpeth" near Kingston Springs, TN, just to view the sunrise! The curiosity of the new and uncharted was the fuel that denied the snooze button that morning.
There is something incredibly alluring about the new. There is also something risky and nerve-wracking about the new. If new was easy, everyone would do it! What is easy is staying with what you know. But then, photographs like this and experiences like this would not exist.
The challenge of doing something new is that the world is harsh toward what it does not know. It is afraid of the new. Walter Brueggeman, in his brilliant, substantial book, The Prophetic Imagination, says, "...[prophets] understood the distinctive power of language, the capacity to speak in ways that evoke newness 'fresh from the word.' It is argued here that a prophetic understanding of reality is based in the notion that all social reality does spring fresh from the word. It is the aim of every totalitarian effort to stop the language of newness, and we are now learning that where such language stops we find our humanness diminished."
What new ways are you being summoned into? What new ridge do you want to look out over to get a better view? What new project do you want to try this year? What new way of thinking is "springing fresh from the word?" If it's not a scary thing to look out over, it is not new for you.
When you think about your creative life, I want you to look at the big picture. Your creativity is your life, meaning, you are the piece of art. Every effort you lay down in your life is an opportunity to create. How you respond to your children, your marriage, how you go to work, how you begin a new painting, how you wash a dish, how you have lunch with a friend - all of life - is an opportunity to create something new. I know, know, know this to be true, but it is mysterious and often nebulous. It takes a great amount of faith to walk into your life with a creative approach, looking for ways that the new "springs fresh from the word." It is difficult and scary, but also exhilarating and hopeful because it resides right there alongside your longing! If you've spent a great amount of energy killing your longing, the new will sound ridiculous. If you are here, perhaps a good place to begin is to allow your longings to come forth and live and have a place to speak. That may sound like crazy-making. Just hit the snooze button, then. But the alarm will go off again and you'll be staring the same decision down in 9 minutes. As Lord Aragorn in Lord of the Rings says to a little Hobbit who has just lost a dear friend, "On your feet, Sam!", so I am saying to you, the snooze button will keep ringing and interrupting your slumber. Wake Up! You don't want to miss this stunning sunrise... It's happened millions of times before, but this one is brand new, fresh from the word!
I want to begin using some of this blog space to share stories. I have been incredibly graced to be in a position where I get to see beautiful, brave stories unfolding and emerging forth in the world. Perhaps you have a story to tell, or a story to hear to help you along the writing of your own.Read More
So, we have a family tradition that we've done since the kids were small. Each year, we set up an Advent wreath to guide us along the Advent season toward the crux of it, when Christ is born. There is a great crescendo all season long, leading up to that hour where Divinity meets human flesh and changes the world forever. All season, we are waiting, listening to the swell of the music as it gets louder and louder, catapulting us to that sacred moment where Heaven meets earth and matter and spirit are united. I observe that we so long to get to that point, that we turn our heads away from the build-up and the waiting. But so many beautiful and important moments are found on the way. Advent is a season of waiting and preparing. As we gather around our Advent wreath each week and light a new candle, we tell ourselves the beautiful story and are moved yet again by the implications of "word becoming flesh". Last night, on the first Sunday of Advent, we lit our first candle. It is the prophecy candle, or the candle of hope, observing prophecy that has been fulfilled in Jesus. After reading the prophetical scripture from Isaiah, I played a song. It wasn't your typical Advent song, but it was the song that captures the Spirit of Advent for me this year. To experience the song, click on the link belowRead More
Art has a way of bringing people together. It seems to have some secret delight in being an excuse for humans to gather in places and come together. Art covertly acts as an adhesive, bonding people together in rich connection and shared human experience. It doesn't need our acknowledgement or permission to go about such work; it simply and intrinsically happens, whether we invite it or not. I realized after the fact, that's what took place in my home studio this weekend.
I had scheduled a 2-day encaustic (heated wax medium) workshop at a studio workspace in Nashville. I ended up having a smaller number of registrants than anticipated and so last minute, I moved the location of the workshop from the Nashville location to my home studio in Franklin. At first, I was disappointed, wishing we could spread out in the large studio space that I had reserved. But as the first day went on, I noticed that though the space was tight, it was very conducive for conversation and interactive creative processes. There was a palpable camaraderie around the projects that were being created. If one was stuck, not knowing what to do next, another would offer thoughts on the next possible movements. The conversation was about the possibilities that were out in front of the artist; there was a freedom for that artist to move one way or another without rigidity. I sensed a great honor and respect for each process that was present in the room. There didn't seem to be competition or militant expectation. I sensed a spirit of solidarity in the exploration, leaving a spaciousness rather than a confining right and wrong, black and white approach to the process. It was quite refreshing!
There is something incredibly mystical and magical that takes place on a creative process. I taught the same techniques and the same processes to each person in the room. They received what was given to them from the lens with which they see life and with which they see their own artistic process. And each declaration of such was completely different. There were no two pieces or processes that were alike. It's always quite breathtaking to watch the individual process for each creator. It further solidifies my deep belief that God cares so intricately for each person and their creative process. He can touch something so deeply held in crevices of a creator through this process, perhaps for some of us, in ways that other forms of worship can't quite get to.
These photos are little peak of what took place over the weekend. If you would like to participate in the next Encaustic workshop, please go to the Art Instruction page to register. The next workshop will be January 18-19 in my home studio near downtown Franklin. I hope you'll join us!!
I have been given much grace and am privileged to come into contact with some incredibly exceptional people as a result of the work of Waking Up Grey. I want you to meet just a couple of them right now. Marya Elrod is a woman gifted with stunning grace, perseverance and a love for beautiful things. She is a visual artist and is currently building her website, which I will post when it is ready. She has endured an incredible amount of hardship and suffering as part of her beautiful story and she comes to us as one who is more wise and compassionate as a result of hard places in her story. She is truly courageous and I am continually learning lessons of kindness and steadfastness from her.
My dear friend, Stacy Elliott, went through Waking Up Grey for the first time a few summers ago and has been a girl on fire ever since. She has married her back round in social work with her recent new love of screenwriting to create awareness around the issue of human sex trafficking!! I am so proud for her and the work that is coming out of her!
So, these two kindred spirits approached me last Spring with an idea they had concocted. They wanted to bring Waking Up Grey to their church community along with some new material that I had been writing. Their vision was to incorporate the Waking Up Grey process with some hands-on technical studio direction and space for solitude and silence all while creating an environment for artistic and spiritual community. This would be within the structure of the church, offering it as one of the women's ministry bible studies that would begin in September and conclude in April. I was hesitant at first, concerned that the intimate atmosphere provided by facilitating Waking Up Grey in private homes would be lost to the clinical institutional feel that can sometimes accompany meeting in a church building. As Dan Allender says, "I don't know if I am right, nor am I sure the path chosen is the best, but after reflection, feedback, debate, and prayer, I am choosing this path. In the process, I will seek life like water and drink death like wine."
And so it was. We went forward and I have been blown away by the people I have met and the brave paths taken and courageous stories being told.
This past week, we set up griddles and heat guns and after blowing one circuit, we finally figured out how to get everything to work and I got to share my love of the encaustic medium. This is a heated wax medium made of beeswax and damar resin and is delightful to use for mixed media exploration. To see my encaustic work, visit jennieschut.com
To sign up for my upcoming workshop in Nashville, please go here: http://www.flyforward.org/art-instruction/ and save 50% off the class fee!
I would love to see this happening in your church community! Message me to discuss if you are at all intrigued!
Encaustic Morning (Pictured Top, left-right: Tiffany, Brianna, Christi, Jennie, Gayle, Lori, Jan, Kristin, Jeanie. Bottom, left-right: Colleen, Kirsten, Lani
Me and Marya
Stacy Elliott and Lani
Encaustic Morning (Pictured: Deb Wilson)
I have a bit of good news......It's not up to you!!! It's not up to you....does that comfort you? This small phrase settles me. Such simplicity; what does it mean, really?? Well, Sir Isaac Newton captured it well in his three laws of planetary motion. As he studied the universe the first law he came up with became quite apparent. It is this: "Every body continues what it is already doing unless compelled by an outside force." This law governs the universe. This is God's universe. This is the way He has ordered it and today, that law brings me much comfort. Something outside of my own will and my own "self" must act on my behalf to bring change. This law reveals to me such a grand scheme.....the Grand Designer has set things in order so we could receive Jesus, an outside force that is needed to make of us something different. Because of this Force, we move in a different direction, see things in a different light. Love pulls me into something bigger and compels me to do something different.
It is this external Force that makes everything possible. Without it, I would not have a choice to cooperate or submit to anything that I would want to cooperate with or submit to. If no outside force ever bumped up against me, I would naively and ignorantly continue to do what I am already doing. But God is making all things new and bringing redemption into every corner of His world. This Force, this commitment to redemption, pulls me, draws me in and I, in turn, cooperate with the tug and submit to the Compass as He leads me to another destination. Trust tells me that the destination He has in mind is good and beautiful. I find that I am most effective as I wait and listen and I am least effective when I choose to decide my own course. If in doubt, wait and listen for His Force to gently and sometimes fiercely interfere with your orbit. Either way, it's not up to you, but up to the external force; an External Force that is deeply in love with you.....