When walking, running, or limping along very carefully putting one foot in front of the next, how will you maintain your balance? By again and again, choosing through your actions to delight in his way! Proverbs 4:12, Psalm 37:23, 24 Paraphrase JDT*
I ran, flat out, sprinting the 220 and the 440 yard dashes in track meets. I was not the fastest, but fast nevertheless. Later, I sprinted for airplanes and buses.
I played tight end in football, racing downfield and cutting left inside from my right end position and snagged those short important six-yard gains that over time, often won the day. One day in Ecuador during mid-life, I played flag football one afternoon with my co-workers against the Marines from the American Embassy. I caught several of those short passes and enjoyed once again being in a football game. The joy of movement!
I loved to hike! Endless days, hourglass sand painting high castle moments, passing the twenty-four, without the thought of limping. From times when my life was measured in months, I revelled in walking.
Those were the days!
My steps have taken me pathways of stumbling dreary days and sometimes long-valued ecstasy. Sometimes I chose the movement, sometimes I was handed reality that demanded my movement. From each, I walked toward the sun through fog and rain.
In my studio, I paint, usually standing up, moving, and walking back and forth. I do this to constantly gain perspective on my work. I now do it more slowly and with premeditated thought. It would have been wise to have interjected more of that in earlier life.
Hiking, as I said, was a passion. I loved the aloneness of the green pine scent breaths while breaking a trail through some wild place. My legs have taken me through high mountain passes, rivers up to my waist and rainy mud-sucking bottoms. I’ve slowly strolled curved beaches inhaling the beauty only the tropics provide. I’ve explored cities worldwide, galleries in them all, regions far-flung, valleys and heights galore. I drank deep as I ran, leaped and skipped through experiences gallons full, but seldom gave it a passing thought as to how my legs gave me the freedom. I had expectations. My legs would work! I was, however, a ‘dead man walking.’ I was numb emotionally—(another subject)—and seemingly was becoming numb physically.
My legs were doing as expected, or so I thought, but then things began to change. Electrical impulses from my brain raced currents of complex wiring through my spinal cavity to nerve endings telling each muscle how to react and mobilize me forward.
During the last 30 years, little red flags have warned me that not all was exactly as it should be. I would be walking, and suddenly, my legs sent me on an unintended journey downward as they collapsed, and I had to grab onto something to keep from falling. Electric shocks radiated from deep inside my muscle core to the surface. Hot needles sank deep into my feet and insisted on consideration. Finally I had a diagnosis of CMT, found in the family of Muscular Dystrophy. It could have been substantially worse as we investigated MS and several other considerations, but after years of various doctors probing the possibility, the pro’s settled on this.
I’m thankful. I can still walk! I’m semi-mobile. I now use a cane and often pull myself upstairs with my arms. A walker is engaged for taking out the garbage and so on. Walking is a luxury I intend to follow daily for as long as possible. There is however, no longer free-wheeling dance jiving except through the distant fog-insistent memory bank.
I need to choose daily upbeat thinking and rest in the fact of Proverbs 4:12
Brushstrokes and Color notes
So to me and maybe for you, let’s keep walking and living full out while we can, each day a joyous choice. And then, when we cannot, let our light shine in ways in our days that may seem fog thick, but give just enough hope and direction to the next person or ourselves for their next step. Each season brings the joys of acceptance, the tears of realization that the seasons change, and the choices of enduring.
As Thou Goest Step by Step I will Open the Way Before Thee
Having my promise, needing nothing more
Poem by Arthur C. Ritchie
Child of My love, fear not the unknown morrow,
Dread not the new demand life makes on thee;
Thy ignorance doth hold no cause for sorrow
Since what thou knowest not is known to me.
Thou canst not see today the hidden meaning
Of my command, but thou the light shalt gain:
Walk on in faith, upon my promise leaning,
And as thou goest all shall be made plain.
One step thou seest – then go forward boldly;
One step is far enough for faith to see;
Take that, and thy next duty shall be told thee,
For step by step, Thy Lord is leading thee.
Stand not in fear thy adversaries counting,
Dare every peril, save to disobey;
Thou shalt march on, all obstacles surmounting
For I, the Strong, will open up the way.
Wherefore go gladly to the task assigned thee
Having my promise, needing nothing more
Than just to know, where’ere the future finds thee,
In all thy journeying I go before.
“Let’s consider…When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;
when you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:12(NIV)*
The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand. Psalm 37:23, 24 (NIV)*
…we, as chosen and trusted, sent one’s to deliver healing, installed as small islands within another nation enclosed in adversarial territory. We speak, appealing to their best sensibilities to come and join the eternal festival…
I’m being engulfed God, about to go under. The salt is deep in my throat. I’m gagging, frantic to find rock bottom! It’s almost too late, the rip tide too intense. I’ve screamed for your help endlessly but the roar has drowned my weakened cry. I’m closing my eyes, ready to sink under for the last time, given up last hope. One last gasp, Oh God, please, come, I need to be held. — Psalm 69:1-3 paraphrase JDT
It came, tsunami like!
Waves began their mad unrest as distant harbingers. They made me look up, questioning as I gazed headlands distant. I had seen heavy seas before but this had a different taste. The gull’s raucous call sounded a haunting. There were short respites as the rollers rested in momentary relief, but then they came, again, each more intense. Another respite and thinking all was well, a swim perhaps, and then the crash.
It came, a fearsome wall too large to fathom. My knees buckled and sent me shore bound, sand cement stuck. Immoveable, heart literally in my throat!
Pressure waves mounted while crushing vise-grips enveloped chest, pulling me tight under.
I was being overwhelmed as the tsunami laughed its grand profundity.
I needed rescue!
Yes, they came carrying initial care! With rapidity and young oar strength they entered in and carried me shore safe to where I was warm and dry. It was not over, however, as in the ‘rescue hut,’ I lay for several days. I was weekend ward trapped without a thought it seemed, waiting the reason why my tsunami had arrived in the first place. Nothing could be done until Monday I was informed. However, as I lay, the tsunami returned more than once with no assistance until my wife intervened and stirred the pot to get some action!
Tsunamis are caused by under sea earthquakes. Mine was the largest artery in the body the LAD, and it was blocked 99.7%. They call it ‘the widow maker.’ This artery carries 75% of the body’s blood back to the heart muscle, and things on that path were more than a little tight, causing my earthquake and tsunami, heart disease!
Finally after my wife’s intervention, it was recognized I needed to be moved to higher ground as an emergency (can you believe it, yes, even on weekends, hmmmm) and then, after deep insertions insight for the earthquake was observed and yes, resolved through a stent. I’ve always wanted a BMW, and this stent, laughably had that, its moniker. I made the joke wide-awake while the doc was trying to ‘park it.’
As I write this it has been 2.5 years since the epidode.
There could be several thoughts to chew on based on my experience. I think I’ll choose the obvious. I needed help! I needed rescue! In my own strength there was nothing. I was fully undone and vulnerable.
This, my existential physical crisis required external physical response. Often in life I have felt undone, unable to find footing, drowning either spiritually or emotionally, cement stuck in confusion as to ‘where is God when it hurts.’ I’ve groaned as I’m sure maybe some of you may have, ‘Where are you God?’ Do you exist, or is this just metaphysical fantasy?
In our journey from newborn infants leaning toward maturity often we find ourselves in the depths of quandary. We flail, screaming for rescue, feeling we are being sea-swallowed.
Even though pain seems to be unfair or unjust, I’m finding that it is often the tangled path to sovereign joy. Physically, without pain we would never know we had a problem…and as Yancey and Brand say, ‘The Gift Nobody Wants.’
My experience of His faithfulness is later, sometimes much later. Just when the dim light of dusk is fading, I often see His hand in those shadow-lands. With acceptance of mystery, I choose gratitude, and in that, I find a modicum of peace and joy, and again dip my brush into life and continue painting toward possibility.
Tim Keller left us his indelible mark-making. That is, through sculpting words to both his New York audiences but also the broader world, he presented the truth of Christianity as thoughtful, intellectually satisfying, well-reasoned sketches and full-out masterpieces within the context of his vast resumes of oratorial and written work. He often presented both sides of any given argument and asked us the listener or reader to engage with our minds and then based on good evidence, choose rationally the most reasoned conclusion to apply to our personal lives.
I have also linked to a couple of secular editorials by the New Yorker and the Atlantic below as to what the broader culture said about him and his ministry both in New York but to many of us over many online platforms.
His life seems short, as I am presently one year his senior as I write these words. In fact it is short but his will be very long as the years pass, as both his deep, and far reaching selection of books and lectures will carry on to future generations.
I also,personally attach today my poem, ‘Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go’ (obviously title stolen from an earlier era) as maybe a simple response to him and his ministry to me personally as he was a pointer to Jesus, the Word and the light that enhances all of his creation.
My workspace, a small ‘studio’ at the top of some stairs was the path I negotiated each morning for several years. It was also near the top of the world at 9700’ above sea level, making each step a distinct decision.
To quote a colleague who recently wrote me, she said, ‘when we worked together in Ecuador you were this very unassuming ‘printer assistant,’ an artist in disguise, in a very tiny and somewhat messy and seemingly disorganized print shop above an even messier mechanic shop!!…I laugh now as I remember the joyful anticipation I experienced every time I huffed and puffed my way up that shabby staircase (unaccustomed to the altitude, coming from the jungle)! I was excited because I was getting MY ‘artwork’ published as communication letters sent to my friends and supporters.’
It was there in my studio that I produced literature for her, other agency staff and the organization at large through corporate communications informing the supporters in North America and Europe of our work. Our radio propagation covered vast swaths of the globe worldwide with the good news. We were broadcasting from the equator to more than 30 countries while producing programming in those languages by fluent speakers working on our campus. Our antenna farm had many directionally targeted antennas that towered over and along side a special mobile antenna on rail tracks targeting specific geographical areas at specific times. We had our own hydroelectric plant further up into the Andes providing power. All this along with cultural investments in the community with excellence in FM radio, concerts at the National Theatre with the National Orchestra of Ecuador etc.
This not-for-profit organization known then as HCJB, The Voice of the Andes, also did healthcare work with two hospitals, including a teaching hospital in the Capital city of Quito and also a jungle hospital on the edge of the Amazon. There were also myriad health based initiatives such as the eradication of ‘River Blindness;’ by Dr. Ron Guderian and other water based projects working for and with indigenous people groups.
(Dr. Guderian among other accolades, was Member expert commission on parasitic diseases World Health Organization, Geneva, since 1985, consultant on onchocerciasis, 1981-1995. Consultant for malaria United States Agency for International Development, Quito, 1984-1985.)
I admit, that I found out much later after having left and moved back to North America, that I excelled as a ‘producer/art director’ much more than a hands-on graphics practitioner. I saw images in my head instantly which I wanted to produce, but lacked the ‘then new fangled computer skills,’ often failing. I must admit to some obvious frustration as work piled up!
Later in my ad agency days I found the formula and perfect niche for me of being the person interacting with the client, interpreting their needs into visual ideas and then art directing free-lancers who, working for me, produced the final physical product. As stated before, I had twenty-five productive years owning and running my agency.
However, again I digress. Now back to my friend Rachel Saint.
She grew up surrounded by culture, offered the status of becoming the heiress of significant New England wealth yet early on chose the path of its antithesis, a life of invisible service in the depths of the Amazon. She was disowned materially from that opportunity because of her choice.
She personally reminds me of Mother Teresa!
She lived and worked from the late 1950’s until her death from cancer in 1994, with who were at the time known as the Waodani (Aucas) tribe deep in the Ecuadorian jungle. I have had the honour of flying in and then navigating down the Napo river and visiting some of that territory, and then meeting some of the tribe members later.
Rachel’s brother, Nate Saint was among the 5 missionaries who arrived to the tribe earlier and were then speared to death by them. The story is intense, painful and yet paints for us lives of incredible lasting beauty. There have had several books published about these men whose motto from one of their number Jim Elliott made this now profound and famous quote. ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’ At the time of their murders this was front-page news all across North America including Life and Reader’s Digest magazines.
One of the more recent books and subsequent full-length feature motion picture is by Steve Saint,Rachel’s nephew and son of one of the martyr’s, Nate Saint. They are entitled ‘End of the Spear’A true story.’(2005)*
I keep digressing.
Rachel would find her way back up to the highlands of Ecuador to its capital for a time of rest. While up there, she came regularly into my little office to visit. These visits were among the best intermittent blessings of my time there.
When she came out of the Amazon depths from, in many ways a stone age reality, and then came to visit my studio space, maybe it was partially to help her reconnect with her early life of significant culture. Not that there was any significant culture in my studio other than our mutual love of art and chatting about it together.
Her father Lawrence Saint was after all, one of the world’s most famous leading stain-glass artists of this generation, designing and creating the ‘North Transept Rose Window’ along with 14 others in ‘The Washington National Cathedral.’ I recently had the chance to visit there along with my son Jon. Of course Lawrence Saints artwork spreads and illuminates light down over the heads and into the eyes of many of the worlds most powerful elite in Washington D.C., as they often attend services there and or funerals of fallen dignitaries like themselves.
Rachel would spend these times with me recollecting the beauty of her past and connection to the arts, which she had now very little time to surround herself with, other than the abundance of the natural world. I guess the fact that I was ‘an artist,’ although pretty junior at the time, gave us a bond of connection that was of both encouragement to her and to me.
Later, as a side note, I did have the privilege of teaching a few watercolour workshops to the widows of the 5 slain missionaries. It was and remains a warm memory of our years working there.
All this to say, no matter our position or place in culture or in life, it is a rich heritage to participate in spreading good news everywhere. We all are human beings with needs, lost longing’s that travel with us permeating our souls. In this we need community, to be a small place of refuge for someone to ponder and recollect and feel partially at home, working things out together. I’m much richer for having had those conversations!
Seine’s left bank, awash in gilded morning’s light
Misty drizzle worked the night shift
Fades and heads for bed
Cobalt, yellow just arrived, punching in right on time.
Reflecting pools, splashing feet
Steam swirls up
Gossamer ballerinas off cobblestone
Breezes waft, scent of fresh croissant
Baked warm honey bronze, butter drips
Cafetière à piston forces drive, pressing down, toward French roast
Caffeine dark with fresh release
Grounded whiffs from Latin climes
Mornings bliss, again arrives
City of arts.
I stop, inhale, turn, then sniff
Purveyors amble near, from far
Leather classics bound, inlaid on canopied carts.
Floral constellations flash and blaze
Created brilliance radiates
Redemptive tear, it falls
Intricate, so eloquent
With great design it calls
Ignored by most
Day shouts to day, see wisdom here, and
Night by night shows knowledge deep, then
Florals curl and head to sleep.
Young love glides by
Their hands entwined
Others rowing on the Seine
Dripping drops like gilded stones
Circles of concentric float
Vanish into currents deep.
Piaf croons low
Old love she sighs
Long long since lost
Stumbling, shuffling sadness comes
Fiercely grasping warm baguette
Gauloises haze surrounds beret
Circling blue in upward draft
Gently turns and softly says
Seasons, ‘mon jeune homme,’ don’t lightly take
C’est la vie, but then again, it’s very short
So live them well
Each and every day
Notre Dame, her bells ring wake
Human’s day begins to stir
Chorus wafts cross abstract swells
Grandest organ growls bonjour
Sorbonne’s youth, French chic, blow in
Quickly stand and kisses give
Café au lait, a cigarette
Philosophize, then au revoir
To, live let live.
The artist wanders west then north
Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées
Boulevard amour, at times
Concentric circles instead enshrine
Blowing mad cacophony
Passing fast, without a glance
Architectures high climax
They race, and miss, just feet away
Auguste Rodin his
‘Thinker’ waits, a quiet garden just aside
Bronze patinas smooth, amaze
Song of Solomon, carved in white
The Kiss, its deep embrace in marbles grace
Others dear, are worth a year, a month per chance
Time to give them but a glance.
The Louvre, she calls
It’s not too late
Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Suerat
Mona, Venus, and Versailles
Even Eiffel, don’t be shy
Across the ville toward Montmartre
To catch a glance of Sacré-Coeur
And peek as artists paint
Wet oil moments of fleeting dreams
Gone so far, gone too fast.
Mais Oui, a lingering lunch of French paté, a Bordeaux dry with warmth of bread, and then…too soon, Ah Paris, I leave you love, yes, once again.
You stole and guard my painter’s soul
Yes there remains the broken piece
That left a longing ache too long.
Yet in mind’s eye, lives on so strong.
In early years, months of days were given to live within her strong French embrace, and then through decades long, I’ve circled back to come again, each time my heart rekindled with the spirit of true living free – a dance outside the lines – how rich and blessed I’ve been.
Desires wandering heart He gives
Again affords, a nonstop flow
Never once to be out done!
It’s impossible, you know!
I’m thankful, stirred through the rich sauce of nostalgias reminiscence, and yet somewhat thoughtful too, how oft in life I’ve buzz-sawed my mornings, leaving my mouth caked sawdust dry and spurned my months with only skin-deep encounter.
Depth demands circling back, hovering above, chewing well, swirling around and over, time after time, whether toward the sensual or spiritual. Art and spiritual disciplines have this common golden thread to know them well.
Time, silence, solitude, reflection, rest, repentance, practice, patience, repetitiveness and yes, surrender – all requirements of growth toward depth.
If I am to know intimately the one who calls me son, friend, brother and whom I gratefully call Abba or Aslan, the one who names me new, passionately and personally – the artist above all – (his claim, not mine) – I must go and sit in the garden, yes, alongside ‘The Thinker,’ not leaving my brain at the door.
This, a rational passionate journey in mystical relationship – not pie in the sky, by and by. If otherwise, like the man from Damascus, most miserable, deceived and devoid of hope, I might just as well take the ultimate step off the proverbial cliff and leap into cosmic darkness.
If one seeks with the cup of one’s heart full and splashing over, or dry, cracked as dust, you will find, the call floats out, a promise proffered. Then He waits, asking, toasting, slow the pace, ponder, sip, swirl, drink long and deep – come weary one – rest awaits – thirst satiated.