Makoto Fujimura: Silence and Beauty

“When you feel overwhelmed with the enormity of your assignment, give yourself boundaries. Limitations are wonderfully clarifying. So when I started thinking about illustrating the four Gospels, I gave myself a boundary and started with the shortest verse: Jesus wept.”

Charis-Kairos (The Tears of Christ) “Tears of Christ” Makoto Fijimura

This was how Makoto Fijimura began his speech,  and the painting that started the evening. His intent in the painting was to start with a dark background (the backdrop of the voids and traumas of our world) and illumine it with prismatic colors.

The painting fit his speech, “Silence and Beauty,” as Mr. Fijimura unpacked the story of John 11 and 12. I wanted to study the painting for a long time. There is depth, darkness, movement, passion, and light in it. I watched the world-renowned artist shuffle gently back and forth on the stage, talking softly–so softly that I couldn’t catch every word, smiling, peaceful, confident, gentle. He showed us a picture of his simple painting called “Silence,” which he is giving to movie director Scorsese who directed the recent movie with the same name, based on a novel by the same name. “This is painted on mulberry paper, using ink that’s a hundred years old. It’s easy to transport, compared to my other works that are harder to take from place to place. And with their colors, when you take pictures of them, they just disappear. So you just have come see them.” Gentle tone. Shrug. Beaming eyes. Smile.

Fijimura is uncommonly equipped to critique the movie and the novel Silence because of his extensive knowledge of Japanese thought, culture, and art. His speech last night was uncommonly ambitious, moving from a nod to his art, to “Jesus wept,” to Silence and our own unanswered questions, and back to Jesus.

An aside: I was glad of how candidly Fujimura spoke when he showed a picture of the carnage in Nagasaki. He said more Christians died that day than had ever died as martyrs in that country. He didn’t dwell on it, but he put it out there. It is right for Americans to hear and see images of that unconscionable trauma that often gets glazed over.

I haven’t read Silence yet. I’m trying to decide when I’ll have the fortitude to read what I understand to be a harrowing, deep story. But Fijimura was doing more than providing well-informed commentary on Endo, the novelist, and talking to more than those who have read the book.  “Do you know what it’s like to talk to God and to hear nothing in return?”

In John 11, Mary and Martha say the same words to Jesus at different times. They don’t understand His silence, His inaction. Their faith is not an issue. They know He could have kept their brother from dying.

To Martha, the busy CEO of the house, activist, organizer, the one who makes the party happen, Jesus responds with left-brain answers. To her He gives the shining proposition: I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. He speaks her language, meets her where she is.

Mary is the artist, impractical, intuitive, inefficient. She says the same words Martha did, words of questions and bewilderment. For Mary, Jesus has no declarations of truth. He is silent. Instead of declarations and explanations, He weeps. He speaks her language, meets her where she is.

The Gospel is not about fixing things that are broken in a shattered world. The Gospel is about the tears of Jesus and His presence. 

Because He is the answer. His silence is not distance. He is present, and His presence heals what is shattered.

Then in chapter 12, Lazarus is the only one is the story who does nothing. He’s not fighting a culture war to prove that he’s on the right side. He just stays with Jesus, confident,  knowing reality of the Resurrection. They can’t do anything to him because he’s already died and knows death won’t have the last word. What is there to fear or be defensive about? There is nothing to defend and get worked up about. The resources he draws from have no limit. I think Lazarus’ confidence was akin to Makoto’s gentle invitation for us to come look at his paintings. A shrug, a little grin, nothing to prove or defend.

Mary, the artist, pours on Jesus’ feet the perfume that would have pleased her husband on their wedding night. Artists rebel against the bottom line because they know that their resources are infinite. Mary, extravagant, intuitive, lavish, gave the best she had.

How to respond to trauma and betrayal? What if Jesus’ artists would spread His aroma, the Gospel, extravagantly, wastefully, because we know the resources will never end? What if left brains and right brains would meet in the amygdala, the brain’s center, and be Lazarus, and not fight culture, but stay with Jesus?

Mr. Fujimura’s speech moved me deeply. I wept again this morning, remembering Jesus’ response to the women, and I know the message will stay with me always. The speech itself was profound, with ambitious themes covered masterfully in a most understated way. His words were like giant brush strokes that at first appear disconnected but eventually paint a stunning design of emerging light, space, and color.

Matthew - Consider the Lilies “Consider the Lilies” Makoto Fujimura

 

 

Ruminations and A Little Adventure

Yesterday I was ready to walk out the door after attending a women’s conference in Holmes County, OH. One lady told me goodbye and said, “I’d like to sit with you awhile because I think you have lots of stories behind you.” I told her she can read the stories on my blog, but right now I live a very normal life with no exciting stories. I was shaking my head and chuckling, surprised at how odd but fine it felt to say that.

For so long, I was the girl who lives far away and has Adventures. Now that girl lives in the sticks of gray PA and has no sweet little grandmas pressing money into her hand for fish for Christmas, and doesn’t fall into (many) atrocious language mishaps. Her car shimmies badly and gets dirty, and her orchid is pushing buds. Every day, she has very honest discussions with God and quiet, deep chats with people , but none of that stuff is story material or blog-able.

She has a lot of Thoughts and wonders about a lot of things.

  • Someone needs to write a Mennonite philosophy of the body.
  • What is to be done with songs with lines like “send grief or pain” or “I’ll trade sunshine for rain, comfort for pain–that’s what I’ll be willing to do”–when no sane person would say any of that.
  • What does it mean to mirror God’s image of creativity in us?
  • We can observe the ripples of traceable influence from Amy Carmichael to Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, but who’s next? Who will the next Christian heroes be? Are we walking among them now? How will their stories be preserved to influence and shape the next generation?
  • How can we come to understand more deeply the profound impact of words, and how they give life or death? How do words exercise man’s dominion over the created world, which includes the spirit world?

But none of that translates into stories. Hence the silence here.

But something funny did happen to me this weekend, and it makes a story to laugh about, and it was a little adventure.

The conference I went to asked me to speak in one session, and reserved a room at a nice hotel–one much nicer than the kind I reserve when I’m paying. The girl at the desk gave me the key and instructions, I found the room, swiped the key, and stepped in.

I saw lights turned on and clothes  and an open suitcase and I knew there would be a body on the bed. In the half second it took to assess the situation, I backed straight out, walked downstairs, and told the check in girl. She had no idea what was going on, and looked terrified and bewildered. She said someone had checked out of that room earlier in the day, didn’t know why someone was in there, and had no extra room to give me because they were booked full that night. I knew (but didn’t say) that we had an Agatha Christy plot on our hands. She gave me the employee’s restroom and I changed and left for the evening session. I couldn’t quite relax all evening. I knew a reputable business would take care of me, but still.

When I returned  hours later, the same girl was still there, falling over herself with apologies. The conference organizers had made two room reservations for two of us speakers. The check-in girl had given the other speaker the room with my name. That girl had already left when I came, so there would have been no body on the bed, but oddly enough, she said it went through her mind that she’s always a neat freak, but this time someone will come in and see the mess she left.

To compensate for the mix-up, the hotel gave me a $25 gift card for a local business I’ll probably never patronize, but it was awfully kind of them. Human error can happen anywhere, and happily we could laugh about it.

What a Woman Needs

Last year in psychology class, our teacher spoke briefly one day of gender differences. We girls all looked knowingly at each other when we listed the stereotypical things about us: emotional, verbal, soft-hearted, quick to cry.

Then the teacher shared a vignette of a marriage counselling session. He was encouraging a couple to understand their differences and be aware of what the other needs. (Live with your wife in an understanding way, the Bible puts it.) The husband could love her best if she could talk and feel heard. He doesn’t have to explain it away or find solutions for her, just hear her out.

In typical human fashion, I only heard what I wanted to hear from the teacher’s lecture. (I didn’t hear what the wife should do!) I heard an acknowledgment that women function best when they can talk. I did two things with that: 1) winced because I don’t have a husband to talk to and 2) took it as permission to knock on someone’s door to talk when I need it.

Those of us with opinions and fears and ideas and wishes and falterings need a place to get outside our own heads, have someone else look at what is jiggeting around in there, and sift through the stuff. Untangle the spaghetti. Bring to mind what’s been forgotten.

So this morning I was troubled about something I heard yesterday. I was out of my depth and didn’t know how to think about it. I needed perspective and it suited my mentor to meet over lunch. We met, I talked, and she talked. She gave balance and wise perspective and encouragement, and when my scalloped potatoes and salad was finished, I was good to go. I thanked her soundly, and hardly thought about the troubling issue again.

I’m saying this for any woman out there with spaghetti muddling her tired, clever brain: you need to talk with someone.

I don’t mean that you tell someone EVERY time you’re bothered, because that could be every five minutes or every five hours. Life gives bumps and questions and riddles. That’s normal, and we have to roll with the punches. But when there’s a niggling that won’t go away, a worry that festers, an unrest that simmers, find someone who can hear you talk about it, and then you can go on.

No one can do life on her own. Not even the independent ones who know their own minds. (And most of them are independent only because they have to be. But I digress.) We function best in teams, families, communities, small groups. The sum of the whole is worth more than the individual parts, and each gives to and benefits from the others, and we lose more than we realize when we isolate ourselves and try to push through on our own.

Bouncing ideas off someone or sifting through the things that simmer inside is a big part of staying emotionally whole and healthy. It isn’t a right to demand or be selfish about, but something to be honest enough and weak enough to admit need. I think there are a lot of women walking around who are slowly withering inside because they haven’t found a safe confidante or mentor or counselor. And that saddens me because bottling things up is not how we were designed to live, and there are options and better ways of living.

Some options:

  • journal
  • go on a brisk walk around the block
  • email someone if you can’t talk
  • curl into a ball and cry and talk to God for a long time
  • text or call someone to ask if they have time to meet

Burrowing into a book or scrolling through Facebook are not good options for a bothered brain, usually.

I’m unutterably grateful to be writing from a place of wealth, not want. I know loneliness. I know the ache of friends far away and confidantes too busy. I also know the little bit of courage that it takes to ask to talk gives huge payback in equilibrium and peace.

The tissues and tea help too.

Image result for willow tree heart and soul My Willow Tree figurine: “Heart and Soul”

 

 

A Special Kind of Recycling

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There should be a word for déja vu reversed. Maybe ‘tables turned’ is the idiom I want. Or “what goes around comes around.”

It happened after work when I was hurriedly eating my solitary supper before rushing off for my voice lesson at the local college. I was keeping an eye on the clock when this warm wave of memory washed over me.

I remembered how my English students would rush in after their work day, fling a coat off, and sink into a chair. I made it a point to have a warm, cheerful classroom, and a bright, positive attitude. During our lessons, I cheered and cajoled and guided and believed in them when they couldn’t. My students, individually or as a group, would relax, smile, and even laugh. Actually, we laughed a lot. Often. Head down on the table laughing. Leaning out of the chair laughing.  Then they said things like “Coming here is like therapy” or “I had to stay for this late meeting at work, but I didn’t want to miss this lesson” or “The train was late, and I was so angry, because I didn’t want to cancel with you.”

Eating my supper in a rush, I suddenly understood them. Now it was me whose head was tired of thinking, whose creativity was wrung out by 5:00, and who couldn’t wait to walk into a doorway of light to a welcoming, confident person who knows what she’s doing.

My teacher teaches voice like I taught English, and I am like my students were. I was coming off of 6 weeks of no lessons due to a bad cold, and this was like starting from zero, like all the time she’d put into me was nothing. The first few scales were really, really horrible, even I could hear it, but she never flinched. She knew what I needed, knew the incremental baby steps to take, and got me do things I didn’t think I could do. And we talked about other stuff as fast as we could between warm ups and French pronunciation.

Just like it was with me and my students.

This kind of pay back is beyond-words-delicious.

Now I need an English teacher to help me with my metaphors.

Who Am I?

Last Sunday we were given a chance to talk to each other about our memories of our grandparents. Two of our girls had just lost their grandfather who was a pillar and a patriarch, and they told us some of the things they’ll miss about  him.

These times can never be comprehensive and say everything there is to say, but the opportunity brings to the surface some of the cream, the richest and most enduring aspects of the people we love.

I heard myself talking about my grandpa. Totally ad lib, some words and memories came tripping out.

I didn’t know my grandpa as soon as most children do, because he lived with his family in El Salvador when I was very little. They came up on furlough when I was three, and my first memory of him is when this tall black-bearded man crouched down with his arms open, expecting me to run to him. I was afraid of this stranger and refused to go to him.

They lived in Central America for more than five years and he would happily have spent the rest of his life in El Salvador. He learned to preach in Spanish. Locals there called him Papi Juan.

Recently a friend used her wise counselor voice on me: “I wonder if your itchy feet and love for the open horizon is part of your pathology.”

Hmmm. It was a new idea. It’s possible that it’s part of my brokenness. I don’t want to be trapped. I like plenty of space and freedom. It might not always be a good thing. I remember how Bilbo said, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

But I also wonder: this man who tromped easily around foreign countries and opened his heart and arms to people, I carry some of his genes. It is ironic to me that I was tramping around Rome the day I got the call he was dying. Maybe his endearing himself to his big world is part of the reason my heart feels stretched tightly across continents. Living that way is part of my normal. It’s how my family and extended family have lived. (There’s a cost to that, maybe some pathology, but this post is not about that.)

This is the tribute I wrote on the flight from Europe to Chicago, and had the honor of reading at his funeral. Today I’m asking God what it is that would give Him the most glory–where should I live, what should I throw my energy into, who does He want me to embrace and care for? Following my Grandpa’s footsteps means “home” is not necessarily a static address. It could be that, but it’s not a given.

It took someone else’s grandpa’s death to remind me of how I’m shaped, how I make my own choices but they’re not made in a vacuum. And I have more than one grandpa, and not two, not three, but four grandmas. Family lore, genes, traditions, even broken places, help to shape the pieces of me.

None of us are self-made people. This is cause for deep humility and gratitude.

Anita’s Life Hacks

If you read other life hacks, you know that some are genius, and some fall flat. Well, these are my latest ones, and they work for me.

Kefir with orange concentrate

A couple years ago, I was attracting every bug in town, even with eating garlic sandwiches and Polish pickles at a tremendous rate. Jewel and I had an English student who is a metabolic dietitian (isn’t that a cool title?!) and she said I need probiotics.  So I got attached to kefir, and now I don’t like to do without it for more than a couple days. The healthiest option is to use fresh or frozen fruit to make smoothies with it. Last year when I lived in a dorm, that wasn’t easy to carry off, so I improvised by just adding lemonade mix, and it was lovely.

Now, with summer being over and frozen fruit being at a premium again, I found another solution: orange juice concentrate. I drop a dollop of it into my pint jar, add a bit of sugar, and  oh, it’s so good that I moan every time at the first sip. I associate cold, juicy oranges with this time of year anyhow, and this just fits. Add a smidgen of vanilla and call it an orange julius for breakfast. Yum.

Happy bubbles 

You know how some little people need time to warm up to you, and sometimes you don’t have that kind of time? Or they’re grumpy and won’t be charmed? I found a trick. It’s called bubbles.

It started when I just happened to slip a little tube into my purse after a wedding, and happened to remember it was there when I was trying to befriend a fairy child. The minute I started blowing the bubbles, she started giggling and chasing them and suddenly she liked me after all. Well, she liked the bubbles, but that was ok. Her rollicking laughter was the best thing that happened to me that day, and her gorgeous, chocolate truffle eyes are still with me. I gave her the tube to keep and she couldn’t get done talking about her “happy bubbles.”

So now I have a supply of mini bubble tubes in a closet (JoAnn Fabric’s bridal supply) and keep one in my purse to give to the next child. It’s a sure way to make sweet little friends in an instant. (The photo is at my sister’s wedding reception when my nephew forgot about being grumpy and hungry.)12698453_805008379644694_4219333476885333484_o

Newest News

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In the spirit of things today, Cyber Monday, my book is available in e-format!

While I will always love the tactile experience of paper and ink, there is much to love about this e-book.

  • It’s cheaper than the printed version. (1/3 of the price)
  • You get it instantly.
  • You get a preview of it while you decide you want it.
  • It adds no bulk or weight to your purse or book bag.
  • You can buy a copy for your friend and have it emailed to her. (Think easy, thoughtful, inexpensive Christmas gift.)

I wrote the book for single women, but am often surprised and overwhelmed at how warmly other women–mothers and pastor’s wives– speak of it. The book focuses on living well in Plan B. That’s not only for singles. Turns out most of us everyone is in some form of Plan B and we all need input, encouragement, companionship in that situation.

Today, that voice just got more accessible!