Friday, October 14, 2016

Thoughts on creation and wisdom

Dogwood in front of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church; Lansdale, PA

I have been asked to reflect upon it at my church this Sunday (10-16-16). So I better get some thoughts flowing.

I have always struggled with the "created in God's image" bit from the first Chapter of Genesis:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
 Why us and not the Northern Shafted Flicker, or a virus that fractures a tulip in a dazzling array of colors, or a Dogwood Tree? Does God not resemble trees, diseased plants, and Woodpeckers?

Thirty years ago I gave a talk on Nuclear Winter in front of fellow biology students and biology professors. I was asked one question: Are you depressed now?

I remember my answer: No, because even at our most destructive self, we humans apparently cannot eliminate life on this planet.

And 30 years later, might I add: if you leave God a critter or two, God will be use the laws of science to recreate the image of God, which we see as a mirror.

And that is one of the things that has caught my eye about Sophia in the seventh chapter in the Book of Wisdom:

26 For she(Lady Wisdom, Sophia) is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. 
27 Though she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things...
Creation is a mirror and God's light shines off of it in the most amazing reflection. We see creation when a photon of light enters the lens of our eye and sends an electrical impulse into our brain. All of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly is all creation. We are meant to open our eyes and be moved by what is seen.

Don't ignore the good or the bad. Beauty fades. Ugly transforms. Creation is not static.
Creation unfolds with time and space. The master of understanding this relationship was Albert Einstein who said:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. To whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: their eyes are closed.

which sounds like a fine transition to my most recent post.

Then to make an ending in which I motivate all to be like God, be creative.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Bishop's Gift changes the tides

The seven prayer mandala by Wayne Stratz

What does it take to change the tides in your life? Once pulled away it takes a shift to bring us back to a place where we were progressing. This summer as we had far less rain than normal, I spoke of the need of a weather event to knock that prevailing dryness for a loop. Apparently my blog needed the same thing and it came one day at my church, when a friend asked me to create a gift for the new Episcopal Bishop for southe east PA

When I pray, awe in the studio, this is it what I mean: When friends and people I have never met, trust that I will create beauty; I am awed. 

When we are awed by God's presence, a flower, a bird, a piece of music, a meal, or a story; we are called to be aware of how amazing creation is, to be awed." 

When I am trusted to create a piece of art that will be seen as beautiful, is a gift of trust that I don't want to ever forget. So I keep reminders in my studio to keep me aware that God's presence is there. 

When someone sees my art on their computer or phone, they may or may not know about the spiritual side of my studio; but my friend has listened to me lead discussions to adults and youth at our church and so he knows me in ways that others may not. He trusted me to not only to be artistic, but also spiritual. 

The tide shifted. And that is why this commission meant so much to me. And I felt a need to write a post.

Here is what I wrote to the Bishop:

"Dear Bishop Gutierrez

It was an honor to be asked to create a piece of art to celebrate your visit to Holy Trinity Lansdale. Welcome.

When you look at this you may or may not see seven circles, but at one point that is all that was on a piece of paper. The circles represent what I pray each Sunday after I receive the Holy Eucharist.

Love in my home
Awe in my studio
Beauty in my garden
Music in my church
Joy in my classroom
Grace with my friends
Hope in all things.

I wrote these down at a silent retreat at The Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA in 2014. Over time they have not changed, except switching out music for jazz, however, show up on a Sunday when I am setting up coffee and you will hear some jazz.

However, I have seen them changed and how they flow from one place into another. My experiences of God in a sunflower help my eyes to see beauty everywhere. A hymn bringing tears to my eyes, only reinforces my desire to play music in my studio.

If I try to understand why I wrote down Grace with my friends, I am not sure, but maybe one day it will be clearer. A conversation at a memorial service yesterday seems to be a piece of the picture.

And maybe it is the blending of these circles in my life, that shaped the design in front of you. As I listened to Clark Terry play ballads, the circles that I wanted became blurred. It was not my plan, but luckily I let it unfold into what it became.

And a thought about the colors: The colors were chosen from memories of a trip to New Mexico in the late 90’s and the landscapes of Cezanne. I started with the green and chose a variety to flow through the mandala. That left 14 pieces. Seven for a red created by the Youghiogheny glass company here in PA and a deep amber that took me to NM and Cezanne.

Again, welcome to PA. My day job prevents my presence today, but I do hope to meet you in the near future."

Friday, January 1, 2016

My birds of 2015: birds of glass by Wayne Stratz

 Only two have not found new homes and they remain in my critter section of my etsy shop along with a couple butterflies and a funky turtle. A few were commissions. The male and female cardinal, although I had started the female cardinal when someone asked if I had ever created a cardinal, but the male cardinal was a commission from the start, as was the hummingbird. I remember the day a hummingbird visited a Hosta bloom, raising their favor in my garden. A couple birds were revisited designs: The Blue Jay and the Goldfinch both chosen for the patterns created by their plumage The Blue Jay was a chance to celebrate a corvid, a rare one with color. The Goldfinch that rare bird that passes up on bird feeders to eat seeds from a variety of my flowers. At the end of the summer opening the front door always meant a burst of gold flying from the sunflowers. And the Great Blue Heron and the American Kestrel were birds I loved that were new designs. I still see herons on a regular basis, in fact one flew over my car as we drove to Margaret's sisters on Christmas. Kestrels are a bird that I saw all the time in the late 70's and early 80's. I hear their numbers are dropping and I can say I rarely see them though I have not moved out of their range.

I ended the year creating two more heron mosaics when asked by a friend for one of them. A Wood Duck has been simmering in my mind for months. Maybe this will be the year.

What is your favorite bird?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sermon: Of Ravens, Goats, and Humans

Raven by Ed Archie Noise Cat as seen in Washington DC  Photo by Wayne Stratz

Thousands of years of human wonder and impossible questions remain.

How did the first spark of life on Earth happen?
Why was the universe as it was the nanosecond before the Big Bang?
Who introduced these beneficial bacteria that live inside our guts?
Who has mastered the path of the hurricane five days into the future?

Job may have had the worst day ever and emerges from it with leprosy. His wife gives him some advice: curse God and kill yourself. Job’s friends come over to give him some theological advice. One friend tells Job the specific sins he must have committed because God only does bad things to bad people. Another friend tells him that classic line of how horror and destruction will make Job stronger. You know how it goes: God never throws a curve ball we can’t hit, thus God pushes us to terrific limits so that we can learn from them.

Then a true prophet arrives and the word of the Lord thunders down upon Job and his friends. Impossible questions. There are page after page. Do you know the wisdom of clouds? Can you take a crocodile for a walk on a leash?

I tell my students I am glad that questions remain that science will never answer. So how did that first spark of life happen? My answer is, “I don’t know and please don’t trust anyone who speaks with absolute certainty, for if they do, they need to step back into the land of mystical uncertainty.”

Today’s OT reading then ends with this question: 41Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?

Are you ravenous?

Are you 1. extremely hungry; famished; voracious:

Are you 2. Intensely eager for gratification or satisfaction.

Baby ravens with open mouths are restless within their huge nest on the side of a steep cliff. They scream to all who can hear to be fed. Have you ever wanted to move on? To be in a new place. To not be trapped by elders.

They are ravenous. Feed me, for without strength and energy leaving a cliff side home could be your last bad move. Feed me so I can leave to be my true self.

In Luke Jesus again brings up the feeding of Ravens:

24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!

God feeds the ravens and God wants you to ponder how much more value you have then birds. Asked the same but opposite question, I am sure the Raven would claim to have more value than humans.

Consider the Raven: Devoted parents who mate for life, who dance in courtship and feed their young, which are intensely eager to be satisfied. They are intelligent and playful. We are like ravens.

Consider the Raven: Ravens are creators of the Universe in Native American myths, but also tricksters not to be trusted. Their call is said to predict human death and on battlefields they feed on the flesh of our hate. They are a mixture of the good, the humorous, the bad, and the ugly.  The Hebrews had four guideline to whether a bird was kosher or filthy. The raven met two of each. Ravens are mixtures of good and bad.

Consider the ravens. Ravens are the first bird mentioned in the Bible. Ravens dared to mate on the ark and when Noah released them, the ravens unlike the olive branch carrying dove released later, didn’t come back. They are hated as deserters. But I don’t blame them, would you return to such a place? How many humans would return to a place that stank and was confining, if they found a better home? How many refugees return home? If Noah listened to Ravens instead of cursing them, instead of fearing them; then maybe he would have heard the call from dry land just like a refugee trying to get their family to a new safe home.

Consider the ravens. When the prophet Elijah ran to save his life and went to the desert, he found himself in a strange land with no food. Having fled into exile, a surprise arrived when for days a raven flew to him with food. We also bring food to feed the hungry at Manna and at Forteniters. Who has brought you food? Who have you fed? 

Consider the ravens. They are allies with wolves, an animal hated nearly to extinction. What do we think of people who associate with our enemies? If you find out a friend belongs to the wrong political party, or a strange religion, or God forbid a Dallas Cowboy fan; then our mind begins to second-guess and they lose favor.

Consider this dirty creative friend of our enemies. Jesus calls us to do this when he attempts to help us with our anxieties.

Impossible questions come to mind? Can I trust in the Lord to feed me me when I am 82? Will I live to 82? What happens when I die? Am I just headed to be fuel for ravenous baby ravens? Will I be fed by love in an eternal life or will I be thrown out of God’s presence and be gnashing my teeth? In Matthew Jesus seems to turn eternal life into a black and white world. The sheep are in. The goats are out.

To be honest I am a mixture just like a raven. Linn, Linn, and Linn wrote a book called Good Goats. And surely that is where I fall in, I am not a perfect sheep; and I think good goat sounds better than bad sheep. I am a mixture of good and bad.

Have you ever cared for the hungry, the poor, and the imprisoned?
Have you ever bought a special but truly unneeded electronic gadget instead of feeding the hungry?

Welcome to the land of Good Goats and the patient God who tries to guide our way. God forgives flaws and asks only that we accept love and forgiveness. Not real easy to honestly accept, but better than that gnashing of teeth route.

God’s epic ramble of impossible questions to Job must have been overwhelming. Job is stunned and tries to get some words in, but God regains his voice and when it is all over Job stands before God awed by an amazing universe. Shall we stand with Job and be amazed even if we can’t comprehend it all? God hid mysteries that we cannot answer. That’s OK. God will be patient with us as we try to be good goats.

God wants the ravens and humans to be fed, and creation is hungry. God hears the cry of hunger and our call is to listen and be called into action.

Just as a well-fed apple tree will bear splendid fruit, we bear fruits when fed by God. We love beyond our imagination. We know a joy that comes from seeing others feel joy. And we are patient to feel the peace of who we truly are. In 1986 I had plans to be an environmental lawyer. I was going to save wetlands and defend wildlife. Maybe help out a raven along the way.

I stumbled into becoming a special ed teacher and was embarrassed, just like a squirrel I once saw fall out of a tree. I felt I had crashed instead of flying to where I thought I was headed. Richard Rohr wrote, “Our first job is to see correctly who we are, then act on it. That will probably take more courage than to be Mother Theresa.” God’s food helps us to become ourselves.

Consider this: God wants to feed you. God wants to see you grow fruit. Are you ravenous for the Eucharist?


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