Saturday, December 24, 2016

Patron Saint of Peace. Our Lady of Fatima

It is Christmas Eve and I am exhausted by the retail frenzy that begins for me at my studio in October.  I have the most gracious, kind and caring customers any business could wish to have.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't give thanks that I can do what I love for a living because of the many who have supported me. I enjoy the people who come in once a year just to appreciate the decor and get caught up on our lives. I enjoy the customers who buy lots of things from me but I, also look forward to the ones who come just to buy a bar of soap and chat. In the 25 years I have had a working studio, my customers and I have shared our lives.... divorces, caring for an elderly parents, loss of loved ones, happiness of finding a new love, children and their successes and failures, tales of travels all over the world, stories of our beloved pets, defeating cancer and other illnesses,  loss of jobs or houses, finding new careers and new homes, fears and uncertainty about our community and country, our dreams, hopes and successes.  Over the years, as we have become friends, we have found support in getting to know each other and sharing our stories. 

Gold Leafing details on Our Lady of Fatima
I recently received an order for a statue of Our Lady of Fatima and as I always do, I read her lengthy story again from beginning to end.  I like to remind myself of the story surrounding the statue so as I paint I can stay present with it's meaning.  In the past I have discovered I telegraph through my hands and paintbrush what ever mood I'm in and that can make for some disgruntled looking saint statues if I'm not careful.  You certainly don't want a saint that looks like she has PMS or is bad-tempered because she skipped a meal.  Our Lady of Fatima needs to have a serene, quietly reflective and deeply spiritual face which helps to impart her message of salvation and peace.

Almost 100 years ago, Our Lady of Fatima appeared six different times to three peasant- children in Fatima, Portugal during 1917.  Her visits were preceded by three apparitions in 1916 by an Angle of Peace who prepared the children for Our Lady's visits to come. The details are lengthy and the debates, discussions and interpretations have occupied many theologians and scholars for years.  I encourage you to read the details of her visits and of the messages she shared.  Generally, most agree the purpose of the apparitions was to help people grow in faith, hope and love.  Since the birth of Christ, we have had the option to choose what is good and to know evil doesn't have the last word.  "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."(John 16:33)  Our Lady of Fatima asks us to trust in this promise.

The base of the statue before gold leaf is added
The gold leaf details added

Our Lady of Fatima statue is usually shown standing on a cloud-like base, wearing a white gown and mantle trimmed in gold with a rosary and often a crown.  The statues can vary depending on the simplicity or embellishment of the clothing.  I use gold leaf on the edge of her gown and on the statue's base and other details.  To keep her story authentic, I then glaze and age the painted surfaces to look like all eternity.

Christmas Eve is a time to remember the events around the Holy Family and the birth of Jesus.  It is also a time to gather with family and friends and a time for gift giving.  It's a time when I reflect on how my life has been filled with so many people who are kind and good and have met the challenges of life steadfastly and honestly regardless of what their faith may be called.  It's a time when the message of Our Lady of Fatima speaks clearly above the din of the busy Holiday retail season to trust that no matter how many challenges, sorrows or burdens we carry, it is our choice to choose good over evil.  Her message of love, hope and peace is seemingly, more profound in 2016 than it was a hundred years ago.         


Saturday, August 27, 2016

St. Frances...Patron Saint of Animals and Gold Leaf

Madonna and Child with Gold Leaf Accents
Today I received a box which contained a highly anticipated order of Gold Leaf for my studio.  I felt like a six year old excitedly opening a present.  I use Gold Leaf for a magnificent finishing touch on my saint statues.  This carton of sunlight miraculously arrived at my studio door in a deceivingly dull brown box.  The beauty of the metal leafing was so striking it made my eyes tear-up and my heart ache as I took it out of the package.

Gold Leaf comes in metal sheets that are pressed so thin they float on air.  It is illusive to handle because it is almost impossible to hold without breaking apart.  Even when everything seems perfect, adding the Gold Leaf makes it more so.  Like adding Creme Fraiche to a freshly baked pear tart, the thin golden air sets off what's underneath in a way nothing else can.  Like adding the exact right piece of jewelry to an evening dress or the perfect flower from your garden to your dinner table, it's not necessary but once it's there you can't imagine being deprived of it. There are things we don't know we need in our lives but once we have them we feel we can't live without them.  You simply can't unsee it.

My dog Maizey was the Creme Fraiche in my life.  She was the Gold Leaf that made my day sparkle.  She filled an empty spot I didn't know existed.  Always there, willing to take as much or as little attention as I could give at any moment. She was my transition dog, escorting me through loss and change and discoveries that life presented over the five years she was with me.  She was a bridge between my head and my heart, showing me things about myself I hadn't known and her death taught me things I was not capable of knowing any other way.  

Maizey's Tea Party
Originally, Maizey came into my life as a way for me to soften the upcoming loss of my old dog, Rita.  Maizey unknowingly helped me weather the decline and finally the loss of my mother, with whom she had a special relationship.  She helped me with the inherent deep sadness that followed.  She loved me in spite of my being consumed with my mother's care and my becoming someone others and I had a hard time liking.  Maizey got me up in the morning smiling, made me feel going in the car was the best thing on earth and mealtime was Christmas twice a day.  She made me appreciate all of the mundane things of everyday living and she helped soften the hard stuff being on earth long enough can bring.

I prayed for St. Frances to intervene when Maizey first started getting sick.  Without St. Frances's help I wouldn't have had the chance to return her steadfast dedication and give her every chance to survive. Some days the helplessness overwhelmed me.  Other days I learned to just be present with her, knowing the end wasn't far away.  I had hoped I could control the path we were on but she showed me it was a waste of our time together and what mattered was the "how" and not the "what".

Now I see that the most important thing I learned from Maizey was to never again be satisfied with the inside of the box.  She took a series of unrelated events and wove a circuitous route of eight months of random illness into something that finally made sense in the end.  Only afterwards did I understand how the limits of my own brain kept me from seeing all of the possibilities and I learned I would never be able to see things in only a logical sequential way again.  Like the surface of Gold Leaf that casts a different light on what is underneath, Maizey showed me that there is more...she set off my life in a way I didn't know I needed.  She filled a hole I didn't know needed filling.  She let the golden light loose.  Like Gold Leaf, she made everything look brighter and more beautiful than ever before. 

Maizey         2010-2016   
As I touch the airy sheet of Gold Leaf gently so as not to break it apart, I think about what Maizey brought to my life in those 5 years we spent together.  How she touched my heart then broke it apart putting it back together with a dazzling light that makes my eyes tear-up and my heart ache.  Thank you, Maizey for spending those few short minutes with me as our lives crossed paths in the best of ways.  You are forever my Gold Leaf.           


Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Patron Saint of Procrastination? Don't Put Off Praying Invoke Saint Expeditus

I have put off writing on my blog by coming up with any number of excuses from being too busy to not feeling like peeling a layer of skin from my heart. I have two posts that I have been obsessing about for months but I have been paralyzed when it comes to finishing them because I just don't want dredge up uncomfortable feelings that make me squirm and face my weaknesses.  Although I would really prefer to wait until tomorrow, today I began my search for the Patron Saint of Procrastination.

Vintage St. Expeditus Holy Card
I found just the saint and fittingly, his name is St. Expedtitus or St. Expedite  He is thought to be Armenian, a Roman centurion who became a Christian and was beheaded in the Diocletian Persecution in 303 A.D.  He is known as the Patron Saint of those who hope for rapid solutions or who want to put an end to delays.  The saint to pray to against procrastination.  The saint who helps you to push forward when you really don't want to.  He is also the saint for general financial success, shop keepers, sailors, and computer programmers and hackers.  He is the one to ask for help with the prompt settlement of legal battles and bureaucratic red tape.  He has a lot of fans.  

St. Expeditus is shown holding a cross with the Latin word for today written on it, as he steps on a crow saying "cras" the Latin word for tomorrow.  Hence the opposing ideas of putting off until tomorrow what can be done today, also known as procrastination.  St. Expeditus has been invoked for centuries in the conversion of Christians.  If you're planning to convert, do it now since you might not be around tomorrow and then where will you end up?

As the queen of procrastination, I can make my own private hell by dreading the things I need to do instead if just doing them. No one knows how to procrastinate like I do and whatever I avoid most is exactly what I most need to face. I know that it's easier to put off than to put forth, easier to say than to do,  easier to wallow in dread than to push for a sense of accomplishment. With the help of St. Expeditus, I may as well get busy making things happen.  He can help me put an end to delays that can consume my days.  What are you waiting for?


Friday, March 11, 2016

Giving Up Interupting and Learning to Listen for Lent. Patron Saints of Sore Throats & of Hearing Loss.

This year I was hoping to give up something much easier than the swearing I tried to give up last year.  I figure I can do most anything for the 40 days of Lent.  Over time, the occasional swear word has slipped back into the open spaces of my conversations.  Nature abhors a vacuum and I have done my part to fill it. I'm still committed to not swear but it is damn hard to be disciplined when I'm frustrated, stressed, tired or trying to emphasize a point to someone who is not listening. While I remain devoted to finding other words to express myself, I decided to commit to something even more personally challenging for Lent this year.

First of all, for those of you who don't know much about the forty days of Lent, it begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on the Thursday prior to Easter Sunday and can feel like all of eternity.  It is a time of prayer, discipline and reflection as a means of spiritual renewal and growth.  It is a time to reflect on Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  A time to elevate our personal spiritual state by abstaining from things that distract us from being a better person. I love the idea of giving up something to show my conviction because it forces me to acknowledge my weaknesses and practice self discipline.  I know I should be living every day in that way instead of committing to just 40 days but I only seem to be able to bite off small chunks. Anything more makes me lose my appetite.

So I have given up "interrupting".  Yes, that's right.  My brain moves too fast.  I don't know how to slow down and listen.  I have mistakenly thought my opinion was more essential to a conversation than listening.  I actually believed it was important to voice what I thought rather than hear what others were trying to tell me. Recently, I had a revelation, a hot sweaty revelation that my opinion was irrelevant to the conversation I was having.  I found myself speechless as the other person continued to share their feelings with me and it made for the best conversation ever.  It felt good to listen and really hear what the the other person was trying to tell me.  Then it hit me.  I'm addicted to interrupting and I need to quit it now!  So I made a commitment for Lent to not interrupt anyone. I'm only a few weeks into it and it has already proven to be a much greater challenge than giving up swearing, chocolate or sleeping late.  It embarrasses me to think it took so long to figure it out.
St. Blaise "Patron Saint of Sore Throats

The first thing I needed to do was find a saint that could really lend a hand in keeping my mouth shut.  I need all the support I can get since, it is second nature to tell everyone what I think about everything.  As I pondered how to give up interrupting, I wondered if I needed to see my doctor and get medicine for Adult Attention Deficit Disorder since I find myself already replying before someone has even finished their question. I thought I might need to attend a support group for Interrupters.  I suspect the meetings are either deafeningly quiet or everyone talks at once.  I decided finding the right saint to intervene would be my best bet.  Where to begin?

I thought first of St. Blaise, Patron Saint of Sore Throats, throat illnesses and choking, wild animals, wool combers and wool trading, quite a dossier.  Physicians' documents from the 3rd century in Armenia, where St. Blaise resided, speak of his skill in helping people with objects caught in the throat.  He later became a physician of the souls, teaching by actions rather than words.  People flocked to him to be cured both for physical and spiritual ills. I pray silently to him to intervene, helping me to catch my words before they leave my mouth and interrupt one more person.

St. Francois de Sales
Once I realized that words weren't necessary, I began looking  for a saint that could help me be more thoughtful, help me listen with my two ears and learn to keep my mouth shut.  So that is where St. Francois de Sales, the Patron Saint of Hearing Loss can intervene.  Somewhere along the way I lost my hearing.  I quit listening and started talking, telling everyone what I thought as if it was more important then hearing what others are trying to share with me.  I've been praying to St. Francois to perform a miracle with my deafness and help me to listen.  I've ask for his help in learning what I think and say is of little value if I don't know what matters to those I love.      
 "Mere silence is not wisdom, 
  for wisdom consists of knowing 
  when and how to speak,
  and when and where to keep silent."





Monday, January 4, 2016

Patron Saint of Alzheimer's and Dementia ........................................... Remembering to Pray!

When I graduated from high school and went away to a private women's college, I was amazed and overshadowed by the number of brilliant, self possessed and attractive women around me.  It was the norm, not the exception at Stephens College.  Born in a small Southern Oregon town and raised raised on a ranch 12 miles from a store, I was humbled when I realized I was a nondescript fish in the well stocked pond known as college.  Even though I knew milk came from cows not cartons, that cattle get butchered in order for us to eat steak and vegetables came from gardens, instead of cans it didn't help my status one bit around those incredibly talented brainy women.    

I developed a lasting friendship with one of those exceptional women.  She was attractive, an excellent scholar and member of the debate team with an acerbic wit.  She could shame Einstein with her extensive vocabulary, often leaving me sneaking a look in the dictionary after a conversation.  It was a rare evening when I could win a game of scrabble.  And not once did I suspect she would  be diagnosed with early onset dementia caused by Alzheimer's in her 50's and slowly become a totally different person.

In my mother's case, I expected that by 101, she would have some confusion but nothing prepared me for the fear and anxiety that not knowing created for her.  After 5:00 in the evening my mother would start to get anxious.  She worried about getting home in time to fix dinner even though she was home and hadn't been able to cook dinner in years.  She was worried where my father was even though he had been dead for over 25 years.  Lengthy explanations to correct her thinking only made the situation worse.   

I learned to listen for the common denominator of her concerns.  All of them had to do with strangers verses family, anxiety versus security, fear versus safety.  Home meant being with people she recognized.  Fixing dinner was the way she showed her loved.  Wondering the whereabouts of my long dead father told me she needed to feel loved with a reassuring hug.  The less said the better.  As words failed, my mother developed a heightened ability to read my facial expressions and body language.  Smiling into her eyes, holding her hand and putting my arm around her spoke to her in a way words no longer did.  I had to enter into her world since she could no longer function in mine.     

Antique St. Anthony Shadow Box
My friend's memory issues are different then my 101 year old mother's dementia but the things they crave seem to be the same.  Safety, security, love, familiar people, not having to be confused by questions or corrected or lectured for not knowing.....As words escaped them both, they needed the comfort of laughter and touch more than ever.  As I've watched the disease progress with first my mother and now my friend, I have had to summoned the intersession of several saints a number of times to selfishly ease my own sense of loss.

St. Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Items, has gone beyond the call in helping find lost grocery money hidden in the dry dog food bag, a phone hidden in a shoe box and placed in the freezer, keys wrapped and rubber banded in layers of paper towels put in the trash, hearing aides planted in a flower pot and on and on.  Sadly, the only thing St. Anthony hasn't been able to help find is a lost mind.

St. Rita in Reclaimed Shrine from Chris Hart Studio
Sometimes, I cautiously ask St. Rita, the Patron Saint of Impossible Dreams and Difficult Situations, to lend assistance, knowing I need to be careful of what I ask.  I have learned through St. Rita's story that the consequences of getting what you want can be fraught with a whole new set of problems. I am happy my friend is taking a dementia medication but with that her acerbic wit I so enjoyed has vanished.  I prayed my friend could forget her grudge against her brother for taking her car away but with that washing her hair and clothes is no longer important either.  I wish that my friend could still log onto her computer and read my blog but if she could do that she would be walking her dog, losing her way home once again. St. Rita reminds us to gratefully live in the present because Alzheimer's is on no one's schedule.

St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, is the saint to pray to when Alzheimer's seems impossible and the only answer seems to be no answer, when everything points to hopelessness and solutions seem nonexistent.  St. Jude helps us shoulder the burden and reminds us to let go of trying to control the uncontrollable nature of Alzheimer's.  Once you put your faith in St. Jude, he can clear the path for us to accept that Alzheimer's has a life of it's own, that "unexpected" is its middle name and whatever happens was meant to be.

When I visited my dear friend last week, she amazed me with memories of our college days.  She could remember the outfit I wore on a blind date in the 1971, the name of the building where the college "mixers" were held and the reading list from the English 101 class we had together, all details long forgotten to me. But I still know what I wore yesterday, I can remember what I ate for lunch today and I know what a key is used to for.  My friend does not.  The saints are there to help us both.
All you have to do is remember to pray.