Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sharing the Pen

I recently began an Icon Writing class.  My friend Lovely (former) Vicar invited me to join this weekly class when she became aware that I wanted to learn to write icons.  Yes, you paint them, but the term is to write an icon.  There is rich and deep theology involved in the process of writing an icon.  More on that later.

Our teacher is a master iconographer and is Russian.  Every Saturday afternoon she moves among her students and patiently tells us what to do.  She demonstrates the next technique, and then tells me to do it.  Sometimes I don't always understand precisely what she is telling me because of her thick Russian accent.  Sometimes it doesn't seem to matter if I understand or not because my attempts are awkward and highlight the fact that I am truly a novice.

There are so many things I find fascinating about this process, but what strikes me today is how we share the brush.  She will come and inspect my efforts, take my brush and restore my unfinished icon. 

A few strokes here, a little correction there, and voila!  It's beautiful.  When I joke that she is making it beautiful in spite of my efforts, she corrects me and says, "No, WE did it."

So, here it is thus far.  The halo is gilded, the face of Christ is coming along.

The process reminds me of what I do with first graders who are making their first attempts at writing.  We call it "sharing the pen."  They aren't ready to write conventionally, but it's so important that we encourage them to make an attempt.  An attempt that we accept.  My first grader might have a pencil, and I a purple felt-tip  pen.  They try to write a word and write down the sounds they hear (usually consonants) and I add the sounds they miss.  Together WE write.

My master iconographer teacher is doing the same thing with me.  She does not quash my confidence and encourages my willingness to take a risk.  When we allow mistakes, we allow learning to occur.  It's interesting for me to be in the learner's shoes again.  I am surprised sometimes at how frustrated I am.  A good reminder for this teacher of babes.

This leads me to think of God and his hand in my life.  I do my best to be faithful here on earth, yet I know that I fumble at every step.  I am comforted by the knowledge that God shares my pen and my brush.  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

All Quiet on the Western Front

It's been a good while since I've written.  It just may be that life has been so normal lately.  I have been reveling in the mundane.  Ah, routine, regular life.  People don't realize how blessed that is.  I've been trying to pay attention to those mundane little miracles that surround me lately.

I sit on the board of directors for a local mental health organization.  Last night, I went to a meeting in the Department of Mental Health building.  I got off the elevator, and shuddered as I looked toward the room where I sat through more than one commitment hearing for JSB.  Just a little flash jab traumatic memory that made me wince.  I was so grateful to be attending a constructive and uplifting meeting and not a "We are going to cut your heart out now and stomp on it for a while, Mrs. Bell" commitment hearing for my son.

I was most grateful that JSB remains at the hospital with Western in it's name.  And it is all quiet there.  His commitment has just been extended another month, so we have until July.  That will make a full six months in the hospital for him.  Not to mention the two commitments before this last year.

He is doing so much better and for that I am grateful and immensely thankful.  I wish that I could say that there was no residue of schizophrenia left in him and that he has made a full and complete recovery.  Sadly, our nemesis schizophrenia loosens its grip, but does not let go.  I am so proud of JSB for hanging in there and working the program.  I cannot imagine what it is like for him.  It just occurred to me that I avoid thinking about that.  It's pretty unbearable when I really look at him with empathy and try to imagine his life and his sense of loss. 

The plan is that he will move into a transitional apartment in a small town about 90 miles from here.  A tiny apartment with privacy, a clubhouse with supportive programs and peers to help people integrate back into the community, and, I hope, receive a new lease on life. The tiny, ordinary apartment bursting with hope.  Hope for recovery and the portal to a life with dignity, depth, and meaning.

Thanks for your support, friendship and prayers for JSB and the rest of us.  It's been a difficult and treacherous road -  not unlike the unordinary and body-wrenching roads in Liberia.
It is so nice to know that we don't have to go it alone.  This torment of mental illness has been accompanied by an unlikely accomplice.  Grace.  Over and over again.  And I have learned to so adore the miraculous ordinary.

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