Doing What We Have Learned

Doing What We Have Learned

Abstract painting of people of all colors embracing

Painting by Richard Duarte Brown

Originally published in The Catholic Times  Oct. 8, 2017

Perhaps it’s because I’m weary of the divisive speech that is becoming more commonplace in our country and of the racism and ignorance of the “other” that undergird it. Maybe it’s hearing hateful comments, seeing intolerance, and recognizing that choices are being made to stoke fear and anger rather that to encourage true listening and dialogue. It’s these things and more that make me read and reread Paul’s words this Sunday, healing, like balm on an open sore:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4, 8)

A friend at work gave me a flyer about a unity celebration being held at a local Episcopal church that Sunday evening. I’m glad I went. It was something gracious and lovely that reminded me of the many good people who, in ways large and small, are being love in the world.

A woman opened the celebration with a drum call to gather everyone, including the ancestors. I thought of my parents. Of people who have gone before, working for civil rights. I thought of the communion of saints.

The rector welcomed us and read “Blessing When the World is Ending” by Jan Richardson. It finishes on a hopeful note:

This blessing/will not fix you,/will not mend you,/ will not give you/false comfort;/it will not talk to you/about one door opening/when another one closes./ It will simply/sit beside you/among the shards/and gently turn your face/toward the direction/from which the light/will come,/gathering itself/about you/as the world begins/again.

A young Syrian refugee, 13 when she arrived speaking no English, 17 now, shared her powerful poetry. A woman pastor reminded us that while we look different on the outside, we are the same on the inside and pointed out the fact that human beings are made with two ears and one tongue, perhaps indicating we should listen more and talk less.

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

Two young women in flowing white dresses gracefully danced their prayer to the One we can’t live without, expressing with their movements the prayer in my heart. An Imam spoke of Islam and respect for all prophets. We listened and learned.

A folksinger led us in “We shall not be moved,” a song loosely based on verses from Jerimiah about one who is like a tree firmly planted by the water surviving drought and yielding fruit. A young girl called out that we should sing for peace. And we did.

A Jewish rabbi considered that we have many names the for same Holy One. She spoke of the prophets of old and wondered about today’s prophets. About being prophets and being bold.

A soloist shook the rafters and sang about God breathing on us, and I felt the Spirit-breath.

A community organizer pulled wisdom from each presentation and put them into questions for us to ponder.

Afterwards, we shared food, listened to stories, and wondered why all churches don’t have evenings like this.

Paul’s final words in that verse from Philippians—Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you—prompted me to consider that what we learn from Paul, he learned from Jesus. What have I learned and heard and seen in Jesus that transforms me?

painting: The Good van Gogh Samaritan, by Vincent

The Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh

In the gospels, I have learned that love, not power, is important. That one’s life doesn’t consist of possessions. That everyone is my neighbor, and I must take care of them. I have seen Jesus heal the sick, feed the hungry, hang out with those on the margins, and eat with outcasts. He was welcoming, patient, and merciful. He was a man of prayer. On his last night on earth he prayed “…that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me…” I watched Jesus wash his disciples’ feet and instruct them to do the same. He spoke truth to power, faithfully lived that truth, and was murdered for it.

I heard him say that whatever we do to the least among us, we do to him. And when it came right down to it, when someone asked him what was most important, he had two things to say: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.

These are the things we need to keep on doing, each of us bringing the God of peace who dwells in us into our times and places. Through all people of peace, God transforms the world.

© 2017 Mary van Balen

“Breathe Free”: Columbus Crossing  Borders Project Documentary

“Breathe Free”: Columbus Crossing Borders Project Documentary

Poster with information on he Columbus Crossing Borders Project's documentary opening at The Drexel Theater in Bexley, Ohio, August 10, 2017. The poster shows an artist working on a painting for the project

On Thursday, August 10, 2017, the Columbus Crossing Borders Project documentary, BreatheFree, premiered to a sold out audience at The Drexel theater in Bexley, Ohio. In order to accommodate those unable to attend the first show, a second screening was scheduled for later that same evening.

Breathe Free features the stories of five refugees as well as the creative processes of some of the 34 artists participating in this project.

According to Laurie Van Balen, project director and producer, The Columbus Crossing Borders Project was created in response to the alarming levels of anti-immigration sentiment and racism being stirred throughout our country. The project consists of 34 painters and a film crew employing art as a means to instigate critical thinking and compassion for the millions of refugees in our world.

The Columbus Dispatch published an article about the documentary and exhibit in the Weekender section of the August 10, 2017 edition of the newspaper.

Next showing and exhibit

Breathe Free will be shown at The Drexel Theater again on August 31 at 8:30pm in conjunction with the reception—5-7:30pm—at the exhibit of the 34 paintings on display at that time at the Schumacher Gallery at Capital University. The exhibit opens there on August 28 and runs through Sept. 1.

Both the exhibit and the documentary will continue to be shown in locations around Ohio and other venues around the country. To learn more about the Columbus Crossing Borders Project and future dates to view it, visit the CCBP website.  You can see a trailer for video here.

Paintings and artist statements

Oil painting, "Waiting" by Mark Gingerich, which shows a mother and two children, refugees waiting for a place to go

“Waiting” by Mark Gingerich oil on canvas 20″ x 24″

Waiting

​”When I came across the image of a Muslim refugee family waiting to be received by a host country, I was struck with the sense of helplessness conveyed. It is a powerful image that I believe captures the spirit of the plight of the refugees. Thus, with the permission of Irish photographer Andrew McConnell, I have painted “Waiting.”   Mark Gingerich

 

Gaye Reissland

 

Painting by Gaye Reissland of diverse group of poeple with hands held high forming a heart shape with their fingers while approaching the Statue of Liberty.

Gaye Reissland acrylic on canvas 26″ x 12″

My painting is putting the world on notice that the poem “The Great Colossus” inscribed at the base of The Statue of Liberty still stands true in the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans! We are a nation filled with immigrants and their descendants. The vast majority of us want to welcome our brothers and sisters whether they are refugees or have a dream that includes the potential prosperity our great nation. Our nation stands great because of its diversity and willingness to open its doors to those ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’  Gaye Reissland

 

Virginia Carvour

Painting of a refugee woman holding a small child

Virginia Carvour acrylic on canvas 16 x 20

Devastation

noun

1. great destruction or damage

2. severe and overwhelming shock or grief

 Empathy

noun

  1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

 Refugee

noun

  1. a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval or war, etc.

Virginia Carvour

Connecting through the Columbus Crossing Borders Project

Connecting through the Columbus Crossing Borders Project

Project Director of the Columbus Crossing Borders Project speaking to audience

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

People gathered at the Martin de Porres Center last Sunday to see the traveling art exhibit, Columbus Crossing Borders Project, and to hear Project Director/Producer, Laurie Van Balen, share its vision and mission.

She spoke of the refugee crises around the world and in our country and the need to welcome the “other” into our spaces: our country, cities, neighborhoods, and home.

Before and after her presentation, people viewed the exhibit of 34 paintings by Ohio artists whose work draws the viewer into some aspect of the reality of the refugees’ journeys, hardships, and successes.

a mother and daughter viewing an art exhibit

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

People took their time, reading the artists statements that were posted below the paintings. Pointing out how some element of each painting crossed over into the space of the painting to its right—crossing borders and creating a powerful visual testimony to the love, strength, and resilience that sustain those who must flee their countries and build a new home in a strange land.

“I had to move away from the group of people looking at the painting with me,” one woman confided. Her eyes were filled with tears. “I was afraid they’d ask me something, and, well, I just couldn’t speak. It’s overwhelming.” She paused for a moment and then said, “How could anyone think these wonderful people have nothing to offer to us, to our country? How many gifts they bring!”

Conversations like this or the longer ones among artists, refugees, immigrants, and others gathered around the tables or standing in clusters in the room, are one of the most important result of this amazing exhibit. It opens hearts. It opens doors. People share and get to know one another. Like the title of this project suggest, they cross their own borders and leave enriched and changed in some way. Come, and experience it for yourself.

the logo for the Columbus Crossing Borders Project shows silhouettes of immigrants, men, women, and children, against a blue clouded sky.

The Columbus Crossing Borders Project is currently being exhibited at:  the Martin de Porres Center, 2330 Airport Drive, Columbus, Ohio through June 30.

Next exhibit: Schumacher Gallery at Capital Univeristy, 2199 E Main St, Columbus OH from August 28 – September 2 with a reception on August 31.

For more information visit the Columbus Crossing Borders Project website

Columbus Crossing Borders Project

Columbus Crossing Borders Project

the logo for the Columbus Crossing Borders Project shows silhouettes of immigrants, men, women, and children, against a blue clouded sky. The Columbus Crossing Borders Project was begun by Columbus area artist, Laurie Van Balen, in response to the alarming spread of anti-immigrant sentiment that is sweeping the country. Visit the website to learn more about the artists, traveling art exhibit, and documentary film that is the result of 34 artists, refugees willing to share their stories,  a film crew, and many volunteers.

You can watch parts of the video made by Doug Swift,  meet some of the artists, see their work, and hear some of the refugees’ stories. This project aims to inspire compassion and encourage critical thinking when considering the plight of refugees in our country.

Columbus Crossing Borders Project is working with the Community Immigration and Refugee Services (CRIS) in Columbus.

Currently in production, the traveling art exhibit will open on May 21, at the Cultural Arts Center in Columbus. You are welcome to attend the opening reception:

“As we seek to inspire compassion and support for the 65 million people in our world who are fleeing war, terror, persecution and hardship, The Columbus Crossing Borders Project warmly invites you to attend the initial public presentation of our traveling art exhibit and documentary film.

Sunday, May 21  2 – 6pm    Cultural Arts Center  |  139 W Main St, Columbus, Ohio 43215

This event is being presented with support from the​ Greater Columbus Arts Council.”

I hope to see you there!

We Walk Together

We Walk Together

The oil painting "Supper" by Joseph Hirsch shows twelve homeless men, shabbily dressed, sitting and eating at an lavishly set table.

“Supper” 1963-1964
Oil on canvas
Joseph Hirsch American 1910-1981
Columbus Museum of Art
Photo: Mary van Balen

Originally published in The Catholic Times, April 9, 2017

On Saturday, I had the unexpected pleasure of spending a few hours in the Columbus Museum of Art. My sister and I slowly moved from one gallery to another, savoring the opportunity to see the world and explore ideas through the eyes and souls of the artists. They “wake us up” to realities easily overlooked as we hurry through our day to day lives, or challenge us to see the world, others, and even ourselves from broadened perspectives.

A small white sign on the wall of a hallway between two larger exhibits proclaimed: “The Extra Ordinary.” It referred to displayed works made of old bricks, cardboard, and other common objects.

I took a closer look at the row of oil paintings of a water glass. The artist, Peter Dreher, had painted the same glass at different times of day and night for years. “What can change?” you might ask. Light. Reflected images. You’d be surprised what you discover by simply focusing on the lines and beauty of something that usually doesn’t get a second glance. Our lives are filled with opportunities to wonder at the creativity and grace evident in objects made by human hands or that are part of nature. “When was the last time you took a close look and really saw?” the artist seemed to be asking.

A room or two later, I stood in front of a painting by Joseph Hirsch titled “Supper.” Twelve men sitting around a long table, sharing food that included bread and wine immediately suggested the Last Supper. Images of Leonardo da Vinci’s mural of Jesus’ final meal with his apostles might spring to your mind, but this painting is different.

Instead of a white Jesus surrounded by men in flowing robes, twelve homeless men of various colors, unkempt and dressed in shabby jackets and coats, eat hungrily, drinking wine from goblets and lifting food to their mouths with silver forks.

No brightly colored clothing here. The men are dressed mostly in grays, blacks, and browns. The brightest things are on the table. A silver serving dish and coffee pot rest on a white table cloth beside serving bowls heaped with fruit and salad. Obvious at the front of the table sits a goblet of wine and a broken loaf of bread.

The contrast between the poverty of the men and the opulence before them is striking. It spoke to the truth that wealth in our country and the world is held by an increasingly small percentage of people while so many are without food or shelter or hope of finding it. I read the signage to learn when “Supper” was painted. It was finished in 1964. “…at about the same time that President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted laws and reforms known as the War on Poverty, designed to aid disadvantaged American communities.”

I counted the people again. Twelve. “Why didn’t Hirsch include a figure to represent Jesus?” I wondered. Gazing at the image, I slowly became aware of Jesus’ presence. No need to paint him. The Christ was there, dwelling in each of those men.

Before leaving, I read the rest of the sign. It ended by noting “…the relevance to the present day of Christian values of compassion and charity for the poor.” I would say “justice.”

As we move into liturgical celebrations of the Last Supper, Good Friday, and Easter, reflecting on this painting’s message could inform our prayer. In 2017, as in 1964, we examine our response to the call to follow Jesus through death to new life—to share God’s Love given to us.

Do we see that Love shining through creation? Do we see the risen Christ in our sisters and brothers? Do we recognize God dwelling in every human being regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, religious faith or lack of it?  Do we share what we have with the poor, the homeless, the immigrants and refugees who live in our neighborhoods and cities and around the globe? Do we foster love and acceptance with our speech as well as actions?

Jesus was God’s face in the world, and it is a face of Love and inclusion, leaving no one out—not Samaritans or gentiles, not women or children. There was no “other.”  We walk together in Christ.

©2017 Mary van Balen

Seeing Everything Shining Like the Sun

Seeing Everything Shining Like the Sun

Photo of a domed stained glass window In Church in Rome, Italy, depicting the universe.Originally published in The Catholic Times, November 12, 2016 issue

Liturgically speaking, November begins with celebrating the holy ones who have gone before and who live among us: the saints and the saints-becoming. Canonized or not, they are those who open our eyes to both the presence of God-with-Us and to the responsibility to reverence that Presence in how we live our lives.

What if we looked at this month through the eyes of the saints? Would we see things we usually overlook? Would we be moved to act in ways out of our ordinary routines?

Trees blazing with color will soon drop their leaves and stand starkly against winter skies. On some days, snow will cling to their branches and cover the ground. Beauty has many faces. Growth often happens deep within, out of sight. While autumn’s riot of color shouts, winter’s muted palette speaks in whispers. Silence guards the life that has withdrawn to the center, content to wait and gather strength.

The great contemplatives speak of encountering God within, spending silent time resting in the Sacred Presence. Often, though, in the midst of contemplative practice, nothing much seems to be going on other than distractions. When tempted to wonder where God is in those times, we can remember the winter trees and landscape where the mystery of life deepens unseen.

The saintly scientists invite us to encounter God in the ordinary and spectacular realities of the universe. St. Hildegard of Bingen living in the 12th century, wrote about ecology, natural science, and medicine. St. Albert the Great, whose feast we celebrate next week, was a philosopher and scholar recognized for his knowledge and writing not only about theology but also about the sciences including physics, and astronomy.

Watching the super moon rise on November 14 or gazing at the dance of the moon and planets can be worship.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest born in the late nineteenth century was a mystic and accomplished geologist and paleontologist. His vision of the evolutionary nature not only of matter but of spirit and his understanding of the Cosmic Christ continues to inspire today.

Looking with these saints helps us see not only the magnificence of creation, but also the connectedness of all things. We are a small part of a universe beyond imagining. From the perspective of such immensity we become aware of our place in the world, participants in Infinite Life. What happens to one affects us all.

The great challenges of our time require such a universal view. Pope Francis has emphasized our moral obligation to respond to protect the earth. He also calls us to be merciful and to create a culture of encounter with one another.

How many stories are told of saints who lived their lives serving the poor and marginalized, the sick and suffering? Elizabeth of Hungary, whose feast is also celebrated next week, was a queen and mother who gave herself so whole-heartedly to sharing her fortune with the poor and nursing the sick, that, when her husband died on the way to battle, she was thrown out into the street by his parents who were offended by her discipline of prayer and good works!

Monument to the Immigrant in New Orleans. A statue depicting a female muse whose flowing gown leads to family of four immigrants. By Franco Alessandrini (1944), American sculptor of New Orleans

Monument to the Immigrant. 1995 New Orleans by Franco Alessandrini (1944), American sculptor of New Orleans.
Dedicated to the courageous men and women who left their homeland seeking freedom, opportunity, and a better life in a new country.
Photo: Mary van Balen

Martin de Porres entered a Dominican monastery as a lowly lay helper, but spent much of his life using gifts for healing not only tending the monks, but also the poorest in his city of Lima, Peru.

Today as millions of refugees leave their homelands destroyed by wars and violence, looking for a safer place to live and raise their families, we do well to remember how these saints saw every person. St. Benedict instructed his monks to greet every stranger who came to the monastery door as Christ. Mother Teresa saw the face of Jesus in every dying person she lifted from the street. How do we see these people, fleeing for their lives? How do we welcome them when they arrive at our shores?

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton wondered at God dwelling within every person he saw at a busy intersection in Louisville, Kentucky: “…There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun!”

When we are able to see the hand of God in every speck of earth or distant star, to recognize the Holy Presence in others, or to trust the Indwelling in ourselves, we can pray for Grace so, like the holy ones who have gone before us, we will reverence the Sacred that is in our midst or knocking on our doors.

©2016 Mary van Balen

Pope Francis and the Common Good

Close up of Pope Francis addressing US Congress 9 24 2015

 

 

 

 

 

This past Sunday, while spending an evening with the Nuns on the Bus, I heard one man say that the words “the common good” had all but disappeared from public discourse. Today, Pope Francis put it back—front and center. He stood before Congress and in the first minutes of his speech, reminded those legislators: “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.”

I hope they were listening.

The organization of the Pope’s speech was masterful. He reminded us of values and struggles for liberty, freedom for all, social justice, and openness to dialogue and prayer by holding up four Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Many of his listeners may not have heard of Dorothy Day or Thomas Merton. Their lives and writings were integral to the development of my own values and spirituality in my late teens and early twenties. Thomas Merton’s books have a place in my study, and his quote from his theophany at Walnut and 42nd in Louisville, Kentucky hangs on my wall.

Pope Francis highlighted the need to address poverty and climate change. To welcome refugees and those seeking a better life. He warned against reducing complex issues of violence done in the name of religion to labels of “righteous” and “sinners.”  When speaking of the need to  respect life in all its stages, he called for an international ban on the death penalty. Throughout the fifty-some minutes that he spoke, he emphasized the imperative of working not for wealth or personal power, but for the good of all.

And, in a place where it has been tragically lacking, he called for cooperation:  “We must move forward

together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good. The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States.”

Pope Francis in front of assembled US Congress.

Pope Francis addressing US Congress 9 24 2015

Life the man himself, Pope Francis’s speech was also full of hope and optimisim. Of joy and love.

And then, when he finished, he left the halls of Congress and the assembly of rich and powerful to share lunch with homeless of Washington.