A Thought about Aging

January 9th, 2017

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La Sagrada Famila in Barcelona.

I read an article where, now older, comedian and film star Steve Martin no longer signs autographs. I think I’m going to make the same resolve.

The difference, of course, there was a time when Steve Martin’s autographs were in demand. Mine never were. But no matter, it’s a choice both of us can make.

Aging is a funny thing. It’s something everybody’s heading toward, but no one wants to face. Or even talk about . . . unless with one’s doctor. Or psychologist.

I read once where the 60th year is the beginning of old age. I thought that interesting as I cruised through that year all sails flying with a crisp breeze. At 65 it was the same thing. At 70, same.

Seventy is the new 60, we might say. But even with that, eventually we’re back to “the beginnings of old age.”

Drat.

Some years ago I found myself standing in line at La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Anne and I were in Spain in one of our later-in-life international excursions “just because.” Seeing the cathedral itself was a high point of the whole trip, and a wonderful example of a man, an artist, a Christian, pursuing his life work to the end.* But that’s not my point here.

Waiting in line we got to chatting with a medical doctor from Santa Monica. He said, by his experience, people often carry on strong until their mid-80s. It’s different for every person, of course, but generally until then people will say, “I feel fine; I’ve got the same energy and interest in life I’ve always had.” Then they stop saying that so much, after which things can start changing pretty fast.

It was a good bit of insight from a person with plenty of experience with aging people.

The nice thing is that perhaps 80 is the new 70.

But 85 is still likely the same 85.

Just something to think about. Maybe I’ll write more on it another day.

(Meantime, let me know if you want my autograph.)

_____

*Antoni Gaudi, architect of Catalonia

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Main Street, Afternoon Stroll

November 13th, 2016

On these trips we really do spend most of our waking hours working. That’s why when people wish us well on our “vacation” I bristle a bit. Not that we’d have it any other way; this is what we like to do. Every now and again we do get out. At least daily we take a walk, up and down the neighborhood hills for the exercise it brings, or down to Main Street for whatever we might encounter among the shops. We were out on one of those ventures just now, Anne needing to put birthday cards in the mail at the post office.

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The Holy Toledo, one of a number of bars helping to keep Main Street going.

Main Street has a certain intrigue. Come to think of it, I don’t know when we’ve seen another pedestrian. Half the store fronts are empty. Many of the buildings are quite handsome, remnants of a prouder time. There’s a large paper mill in view just down the river, great stacks of smoke and steam (which?) with all night industrial sounds and gasps as the night shift keeps things humming. A railroad line runs by and through town with it’s own short whistle blasts as it forwards and backs at the mill. There’s even a railroad “museum,” outdoors, with a relic of a steam engine and passenger cars and flat cars with massive chains that once hauled giant cuts of giant trees from the hinterland down to the coast and the mill.

But I was going to stay on Main Street for the moment, and our little walk. As I said, we didn’t see any other walkers, but we did have a number of friendly encounters with various proprietors looking for business or just another human being to greet. Passing by a breakfast and lunch place that was just closing, the owner, though talking on the phone at the time (a land line with a long cord) called out to us, “Do you want a doughnut?” We didn’t particularly, but to decline would be

breakfast-cafe

Where the friendly gentleman offered us doughnuts. I love the curtain on the upper floor.

unfriendly so we said we would and he put his call on hold while he went behind the counter and fetched two homemades and another morsel with a French name (beignet?) and handed them to us in a little paper hand-held. We thanked him and went on our way, tasting the beignet, tiny and rumpled, and sharing the first of the two doughnuts. I didn’t want to feel ungrateful for such a selfless gesture but I should have asked for the grease in a separate bag. We didn’t eat the second one.

Up the street we ran into a man we’d seen yesterday, one who’d remembered (when reminded) of two earlier visits here. He runs a most expansive antique and “art materials” store, now closing and with everything “half price.” I never saw the art supplies, but he said it’s mostly “found objects” that people use to make other stuff. We wondered if some of what we were looking at was of his making.

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The “antique store,” a business the proprietor told us there’s no longer a future for.

We’d bought a couple of treasures from him before and thought this might be our chance to really score, what with the prices. We just couldn’t find anything that would make any sense even with our widely eclectic tastes. We did get from him a litany of opinions about the town and the neighbors which I won’t record but was pretty interesting to listen to–for insights about the town and about him.

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A view inside. At first everything appeals, but on closer look, very little. Still, such a fun place.

When we saw him today he was going into the Methodist Thrift Store, “shopping for himself” he said. Following that guidance, we went in too. I remember in the past I found a number of books in their outside dollar shelf, all on subjects Methodists would have relished but apparently no longer. I think I’ve read them all since to some profit. Today I looked for more such, but found none.

On the way out we saw a rug in the window, a runner of pleasant design and color. It seemed of some quality and after discussing how we could use it, went back in to get the price, but it wasn’t for sale. Isn’t that how it is?

One more thing about the thrift store and all the used and cheap items was the girl behind the counter. I couldn’t look straight at her so my impression may be off, but it seemed she had tiny rings in a couple places in her lips and nose, as well as little “earring jewels” pierced around her mouth and a couple places high on her cheeks.  She was otherwise not unattractive.  I was tempted to say, “I’m sorry about your accident,” but figured she’d not take it as pity, even if that was my ultimate sensation.

Walking further along a man came out of a store front and called after us, “I do photography . . . and music.” Ahh, okay. He’d just been setting out postcard racks of his photos in small print form. “And I do big oversize prints, too.” We went in, more for his sake than any real interest of ours. He did have pictures on the wall, done back in the 80’s he said, with a Pentax Sureshot, of homeless types in Portland. They were interesting enough photos, black and white, not particularly artistic like a real photographer might aspire to. “Those were the wino days,” he said, adding that he was just getting sober himself then and knew half of those he photographed. Said he’d take their picture in trade for a bottle of something.

He went on about how he misses those days, and downtown Portland. “It’s not like that now,” he said. “They’ve cleaned it up?” I asked. “No, it’s much worse. It’s drugs now, and younger. I’d get killed going around with a camera up there now.”

With that, and a little about his own life (“a very long story”) and how he’d be playing music tomorrow (didn’t catch which instrument) invited us to come back. Right.

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The prosperous looking but always closed boutique furniture and “art” store.

Crossing the street we came to the store we’ve never seen open the five years we’ve been coming here. It’s a big expansive place crowded with interesting furniture and whatnot, the kind that invites browsing, but we never could because it was never open. One year we saw a parrot in a cage and I think a cat so we figured somebody must be feeding pets anyway.

One time when were were here over a Labor Day weekend (having been invited as visiting artist for their yearly event) we did encounter some other people on the street. As we looked in through the windows once again at this spacious store a man who seemed to know the place greeted us. When we told him of our dismay of never finding it open, first he said “They’re open on Labor Day weekend.” Of course it was Labor Day weekend, or a day after. Had we missed it for another year? Then he offered, “Well, they’re old,” and then gave an age the same as mine, less a year. As he must have seen my general exasperation he offered to call them on his cell phone which he immediately did. “They just live upstairs,” he said. He got an answer and explained our situation to the person at the other end and then, cupping his hand over the phone he turned to us and said, “She wants to know if you’re going to buy anything.”

How were we to know? So that was the end of that.

Today it was our good fortune to find a human being, a not-that-elderly lady in the french door, top half opened, but the bottom still blocked with all manner of decorative obstacles. We chatted in a friendly way, told how we’ve often been by and always curious to look in. “We’re open on first weekends,” she said. So we missed it again. “All this furniture is for our apartments and houses that we rent out in town. We’re really an art gallery.”

Actually I don’t remember seeing art in the store. Now it’s harder anyway to see anything as they’ve put something of a frost over most of the glass. I offered that we art artists, in town temporarily, staying at Michael Gibbons’ place. I thought this might help, and she did say nice things about Michael Gibbons, but never took the hint that we might like to just peek inside.

This is all the stranger as it is the only large and prosperous looking store front on the street, directly across from the Toledo Hotel (closed) and the Shiloh Thrift Store (closed) and the El Roca Mexican restaurant (closed) and a number of other store fronts with no names, also closed and empty.

The only places open, it seemed, are a tax office, a couple of cafes, a jewelry store (sometimes open), an county office for the elderly and disabled, a pool room, a tee shirt store, a gallery of local “art,” a couple of bars, and, newly opened since our last visit, a medical marijuana front.

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The vintage Indian, but the real business is behind that door.

Actually I didn’t know what it was at first. I saw the signs plastered all over the front warning against those under 21, in English and Spanish. Inside was just an empty room, though with some wonderful relics of motorcycles, a 1920’s era Indian, some Harley-Davidsons, and a few others of early vintage. That will always pull me in, but so far I still didn’t know where I was. There was an elderly couple (younger than me, but older than one might have expected) at a sort of bank window at the back of the room, the attendant being hidden from view. Then I noticed the door to the back room and, when it opened, a bar with a few younger types inside. That’s when it all came together for me, though I smelled not a thing. Exhaust fans? I smelled nothing on the street either.

mj-shop

A clinic indeed. So helpful for humanity.

Back outside I saw the signs I’d missed going in, “Green Dragon Herbal Clinic, Edibles, Flower-bud, Clones, Concentrates and Extracts, Local Blown Glass, Local Art.” Local art again, something I didn’t see any of. And there was nothing to satisfy my curiously about the motorcycles. I did see two young girls (over 21 of course) come out and get in their pickup truck and drive away. Made me glad I was walking.

So, it’s a clinic! Even had a big green cross in neon in the window, front and back, and a big white flag with the same green cross. How healthy. At least I’ll say this: It’s a store front that’s open; maybe it will help keep Main Street from dying altogether. Or maybe it’ll follow in the steps of our photographer friend’s downtown Portland.

There’s more to this town, and much that’s good, delightful and pretty. My few remarks about Main Street are probably not fair for those who live here and love it. Maybe I’ll tell more later.

For now, I notice that second doughnut is still looking at me. Just because it looks nice and was freely given, do I risk it?

______

PS I know this is mega-longer than usual.
I just couldn’t resist.
Let me know what you think.

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What to Paint

November 11th, 2016

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The restored Justice of the Peace apartment and studio where we always stay. More on this another day.

Anne and I are once again ensconced in our art-making retreat on the Oregon coast. Once again we loaded the back of the van with all the materials we’d need, including Anne’s press, drawers of materials, all my paints, canvases, and even my ironing board palette holder. We’ll be here for two weeks.  Now to decide what to paint.

For Anne it’s not a problem; she always brings unfinished work to complete. I do some of that too. But I find that, with all of my “must do” projects completed before coming, my galleries sated, no commissions pending, the field of what I can do now feels too broad . . . good for wandering around in but, without a path, going nowhere.

It’s funny: When we have too much to do, particularly if it’s for somebody else’s demand (like any job), we may yearn for the time when we can get away and just pursue our own ideas. Then we get there and find there are no ideas, or just as hard, too many.

So I take a walk. While walking I remember a tiny article I read many years ago in Time Magazine about a group of artists in Japan living and working together for the sole purpose of deeply pursuing their craft. In their case it was pottery, and their methods and approach were from classical antiquity. It’s like they were seeking an aesthetic perfection, and that for its own sake (never a thought given to crass marketing and sales). From the one accompanying photo of a beautiful ceramic specimen, it seemed they were reaching their goals. I kept the article but have long since lost track of where. Still, it remains in my mind.

As I think about it now, on my misty morning walk, it occurs that we’re currently in a situation that is, or can be, at least temporarily, along these lines.  The reminder helps.

Returning from my walk and crossing into the studio area where we’re staying, I happened on a brick walkway, evidence of some earlier fundraising, with inscriptions and names. I read a few. Then my eyes fell on the one apparently placed there just for my moment, left by one Art “Ace” Morgan: “Artist keep painting.”

I’ll take that. And as painting is useful metaphor for everything else, I’ll pass it onto you.

Find something to paint and paint it.

brick

 

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Design Everywhere

October 21st, 2016

wine-glass

Couldn’t resist this one. It was just there, as Anne and I were sitting and chatting at the end of the day. It was her glass, my preference being red, but no matter . . . what caught my eye was the symmetry, the chance reflections and the happenstance that came together in elegant and perfect design. Add to that my particular position for viewing, a penchant for noticing, and the equation’s complete.

Oh, and then there’s the easy access to a camera phone to record it.

With or without the camera, the noticing of such things is just that, a general alertness to beauty all around. In fact, it’s the overabundance that can dull us from the detail. Often it’s in the “cropping” that we can see it.

There’s much more I could say, and so could you, but today I’ll just keep it at that. Beauty abounds, sometimes it coalesces into design. Our part is just to notice. It’s its own art.

He who has an eye, let him see.

_____

While here let me remind of our show at the house coming up weekend after this, both afternoons and evenings. You’ll find lots to notice. (Oh, and wine, red and white.) Here’s the invitation.

a-2016-oct-show-650

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Trip Cancelled, Something New

October 6th, 2016

By plans I was to be on coast in South Carolina right now. But then Matthew hit.

The event had been long planned. I was to paint one of my “public” murals in the company of 200 guests and staff at a resort in Palmetto Bluffs. But the state governor called for an evacuation of all coastal communities. Too bad; I’ve never experienced 50 mph winds. Then again, I’m not sure I’d care to in an airplane trying to land.

So, that mural project will be put off till another day, or month, or year. Meantime, I find myself with five free days I would not have otherwise had. Wonderful! But do you think that’s easy?

It is easy to squander them. It seems I should take advantage, do something special, or new. But what? I could easily make a list of what to do someday in the future, but what about when it’s suddenly here, without pre-thought?

I found myself doing pretty much what I’d do anyway . . . not so much for lack of imagination, but because I like my life as it is.

I started out with a bit of trimming plants around the house. It’s good, working with the growth, basic, rewarding, and good for the body . . . and soul.

Speaking of the soul I took a walk. My place of choice is the rocky beach below the bluffs near by. Engulfed by the sound of the waves I found a solitary rock, opened my little book (Matthew, coincidently) read, thought, prayed and jotted a few notes in the sketchbook.

Back in the car I thought about driving up to the mountains, or asking a friend about the use of his cabin for a day or five. But the truth is, I like my own place better than any other.

Below, my first dry point. At left is the original, scratched with a pointed tool on a sheet of plastic, inked, and run through Anne’s press. In the middle is the first proof, in blue; at right, the second. And final? We’ll see.

I went up to the studio where Anne was working. (She’d also thought she’d have these days apart, what with me gone.)

With being caught up on all projects, there was something new I’d wanted to try for some years. Happily Anne was open to giving me a quick tutorial and I made my first “dry point” etching.

I found it interesting, but the patience required not a perfect fit with my temperament. I can draw a lot faster, and with more freedom. Still, I felt I’d done one thing new with my free day.

etching-face

So now I’m into my second free day. Once again I started it off with Matthew (but in my morning chair, which is my wont) and again a bit of time in the foliage. I have projects; there’s never a dearth. But again I’ll look for something new.

_____________

P.S.  One thing that I would have missed if I were away is this month’s art walk, tonight, in Laguna. This time Anne and I are sharing the same room. That’s at the Sandstone Gallery in north Laguna Beach. I’ll be painting live, something visitors enjoy. Come out an join us if you can. Who knows, it might be something new?

P.P.S.  We’ve scheduled our next Art Show and Studio Sale to be held at in our home. That’ll be October 29 and 30, the last weekend of this month, both afternoon. Mark your calendar.

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Fear and Love

September 28th, 2016

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Recently a friend came over to talk. She had a big engagement coming up where she’d agreed to paint in front of an audience while a speaker would lecture on the importance of creativity. Knowing I’ve had experience with such, she thought I’d have some input.

The truth is, the whole idea was beginning to weigh on her like cement at the ankles. She dreaded the day when she would be pushed out of the boat.

Though a fine painter, all her self-confidence was oozing out of her and she was desperate for ways to become “really good” in a very short time. But, of course, it doesn’t work that way.

The speaker who’d invited her knew she was just right for the task; I reminded her of that. The bigger issue was mental.

Since she asked, I offered my mind on the subject. First, she didn’t have to pull off a perfect piece of art. In the limited time, who would expect it? So forget that part. Besides, the topic was about stepping out and trying new things. If she were to pull off a perfect painting in 40 minutes, the audience might be impressed, but completely intimated to try anything themselves. Actually, an unfinished and imperfect painting would make the point better.

So, get off of “perfection.”

But another point that resonated even more deeply is the solid, though little-known, notion that perfect love casts out fear. I told her I get that straight from the Bible, but when applied, it makes all the difference.

Whether speaking or painting or anything else in public, if we’re preoccupied with how we’ll be judged, all our thoughts are about ourselves. They’re inward oriented, i.e. “fear!” Love, on the other hand, is just the opposite: It’s oriented outward.

And you can’t think about them both at the same time.

So, if we look at a situation like hers and consider that, in fact, we do have something to give, something useful which will help others, or at least entertain them and make them happy, our thoughts are outward, not inward. We’re no longer thinking about ourselves but them. Fear flies away!

These two thoughts, that perfection is not expected or even welcomed, and that love conquers fear, instilled my friend with a new peace of mind and readiness to face the challenge.

Since then, the engagement has come and gone. She succeeded, of course, and now laughs about it.

But the new thoughts made all the difference.

It’s so for all of us.

_____

PS Speaking of imperfection and freedom, you’ll enjoy my new book, Sketches of France (and all the rest) available on my website, here.

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Divorce. No!

September 21st, 2016

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At the first memorial Allison held up a copy of their marriage license. The date marked their 10th anniversary, a landmark they never quite reached. But without earlier resolve, wouldn’t have even come close.

In the recent memorial services for son-in-law Vernon many stories came out. One was told by me, another by Anne. One had to do with how he came into our lives and Allison’s, the other how he stayed.

At the beginning, when I first heard Allison talking seriously about this man she’d met I was concerned and Allison reacted to that. “It’s because he’s divorced!” she assumed and accused. But, no, I told her, people get divorced. It had more to do with spiritual matters and his non-alignment with Allison’s. The story of how that came together was the one I told. Ultimately, they married (I blessed it, even performing the ceremony) and they moved off to England, where Vernon was from.

He went back to school, the University of Reading, specializing in typographical design, a field in which later he aspired. Son Maki would spend time with them, visiting from Norway where his mother lived. Allison got a job and generally found her way into this new culture, marriage, and England. Things were good.

But not always.

It’s not that she ever called home to tell of personal difficulties; but there are always some when any two adults, particularly from different cultures, work to merge their lives together. It was work. And it was working.

But at one point it wasn’t. Apparently there had been some building of tension which finally erupted. (Have you ever been there?) Though he likely hated the thought, Vernon suggested that maybe this whole marriage thing wasn’t going to work out after all. With that he went away for the weekend on some pre-arranged venture.

Apparently that weekend, after the “blowup,” alone with her feelings and her thoughts, Allison came to conclusions. When Vernon returned she shared them: “Divorce is not something that happens in my family,” she said. “We’ll not be entertaining that word again. We’re going to make this work.”

And that’s what they did.

It was a major moment. After that it took resolve and wisdom and all manner of self giving love. It always takes all of that. But what I found so inspiring was the way Allison reflected on family and the role modeling she had around her.

Allison was the oldest of five and the last to marry. When she scanned the horizon of family closest to her, divorce wasn’t something she saw.

The rest, you know, at least if you’ve followed her story at all. A recent blog of hers was particularly telling of the love they shared, all the more tender because of his two years of disability.

In the end, they kept their vows, including the part about sickness and health till death do us part. But it’s not because it wasn’t tested. They just passed the test.

We all have tests. Let’s pass them.

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The “Whys” Unknown . . . Moving On

September 13th, 2016

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Not Vernon’s Vespa (which we never saw again), but this gives the idea.

As I’ve written, son-in-law Vernon passed. Now so have the memorial services—which were great, by the way, and just the kind I’d like when my time comes. (Maybe daughter Allison will plan that one, too.) But there were a few things thought and not said, or not said quite enough for such a major moment of closure. Here’s a list, with just a sentence or so of commentary by me.

Why was Vernon (or any person) cut off early?

Judgment? It comes to mind, but it doesn’t make any sense . . . certainly not in Vernon’s case. Many people in obvious need of judgment live on and on when often the good die young. So we can’t go there.

Was it chance? Maybe. Accidents happen. By coincidence, I happened on a YouTube video of motorcycle accidents. Every one of them was tragic and hard to watch, but somehow fascinating, especially as I was able to go back and run them frame by frame. In every case I was able to see where the error was made and who made it. The irony, of course, is that often the person causing it is the one unhurt, or unkilled. So it was in this case.

Is it because the person’s work is finished? History is full of people of genius cut off way before it should have happened. Vincent Van Gogh was just getting going; so was Raphael (both died at 37). How about Abraham Lincoln? As it happened, Vernon left a lot more, occupationally-speaking, than any of us knew at the time. (For more see my blog on that.)

Was it for the sake of others? It’s through hardships we grow. Many of us have watched (and read) how Allison bravely and creatively stepped up to the love-vow: “In sickness and health . . . till death do us part.” These are things none of us would wish for, but when they come, so can a whole new strength we never knew.

These are mysteries. Making demands to know why only steals our peace . . . and suggests that we’re in charge. But, in fact, we’re apparently in charge of very little.

Best to make our peace with the one who is, accept things we can’t change, step up to the challenge before us, and move on.

That’s what we’re doing.

You too.

___

PS There will be bills piling in for a long time. The insurance was next to nothing. If you’d like to help there’s a place to do so (and an informative video) here.

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God Only Knows

September 9th, 2016

vernon-hospital
From one of Allison’s blogs. The insight: we don’t even really know ourselves. Check it here.

Last Sunday daughter Allison and friends put together a service/celebration/party for husband Vernon, just deceased. The date coincided with their tenth anniversary, which they always looked forward to but never reached. It was in the same backyard where they’d been married. There were lots of speakers, plenty of music, food and wine. It was all very special. Among the musical numbers was the song God Only Knows, performed by all the musicians, including Vernon’s son Maki at the center on guitar, and a mini-solo part by daughter Justine. If you want to hear it, it’s here.

God only knows is particularly telling now during this season of eulogy. Why? Because eulogies are never complete.

Last week, with various people sharing, we all got to know more about Vernon than any one of us knew before. And to appreciate him more. But it wasn’t complete, and never could be. There’s always more to the person than any ten friends can relate, or a hundred.

No eulogy is adequate.

I think about my parents. They lived so long that most of their peers were gone long before them. Outside of family, few could speak for them.

Then there’s the situation where the one who knew the person best and could speak most eloquently has moved away, or isn’t asked to speak, or is given only three minutes.

That we get to know and better appreciate someone only after he or she is gone is an irony. The slide show informs and helps fill in the gaps. The praises of the person’s hidden virtues inspire. But it’s still never complete.

As the song says, God only knows.

Happily, he does.*

_____

This coming Sunday there will be another memorial service for Vernon. It’ll be at Heritage Christian Fellowship, San Clemente, September 11 at 1:30 p.m.  All invited.

*  “You are familiar with all of my ways.” Psalm 139:3

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House Builder Home Builder

September 6th, 2016

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Russian ikon, Solomon and his temple.

I came across a psalm the other day written by Solomon. I’d not thought of Solomon writing psalms, but there it was. The opening statement was familiar enough: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” I’ve heard that; I just hadn’t put it together with Solomon, the master builder.

Didn’t he build the temple which was one of the wonders of the world? And didn’t he extend and enrich the Jewish kingdom far beyond anything ever done before or since? And didn’t he do it through a superior gift of wisdom given to him by virtue of his prayer as well as his sonship of a particularly pious father? Yes. And there may be more reasons. But they’re not the reasons he gives. He just says, “Unless God’s in it, it ain’t gonna happen.”

The nice thing about that is it opens the field to the rest of us. We may or may not have special gifts or be part of a unique heritage, but we all have access to the one who created us . . . and who is pleased to go on creating through us. It is something to acknowledge, and we’re further helped if we do.

Reading on down through the psalm, I come to another familiar phrase: “Children are a heritage from the Lord; blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”

I’ll take that.

What intrigues is the juxtaposition of those two thoughts. Here from a building we’ve move to a family. From a house to a home. And once again, it’s the Lord that makes the difference.

It’s been my experience, hopefully yours too.

Whatever we’re doing, we’re building; we’re reproducing in some way. We’re thinking of things to do next, new projects, endeavors, activities. It’s how we’re made. And we’re all the happier if we feel we’re succeeding, that there’s fruit coming from it all.

Below, a random moment at breakfast, the family gathered for Vernon’s memorial, just half the grandchildren represented.

But the mystery of the fruit is the life in it; and that comes only from the Lord.

Take it and run with it.

________
Psalm 127

family-at-Harbor-House

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