Stirring the Embers

Sunday Morning, reading Karl Barth

This tranquil Sunday lovingly embraced my mind as I enjoyed coffee in the early morning light and pored over several texts. Oftentimes when I turn the pages of several books, the discussions tumble round like a kaleidoscope, presenting a brilliant stained glass arrangement of ideas. This turned out to be one of those mornings.

The discussion began with Saint Paul in Romans 12:2, and as I chewed on the Greek text, along with a German translation, the words took on new life: “Be not conformed (schematized) by this age (I prefer Zeitgeist), but be transformed (metamorphosed) by the renewing (stirring the embers) of your mind.

From the Greek New Testament, I turned to a biography of Karl Barth (I’ve been reading lately his commentary on Romans), and felt memories of my earlier life washing up on the shores as I read of his first faculty assignment.

“Now I was studying night and day, going to and fro with books old and new until I had at least some skill in mounting the academic donkey (I could hardly call it a horse) and riding it to the university.” Barth devoted himself to the preparation of his lectures with unprecedented zeal–“almost always on night shift”. “More than once, the lecture which I gave at seven o’clock in the morning had only been finished between three and five.” He always had to work “rather faster than my natural tempo . . . And our ‘complicating’ points of view, which turn everything upside down, do not simplify matters: there is an everlasting battle between these ‘viewpoints’ and the material, which keeps wanting to snap back into its old familiar commonplace form.”

Eberthard Busch, Karl Barth: His life from letters and autobiographical texts

Naturally, this reading took me back over three decades of sweating out research, writing and re-writing, frequently late into the nights, in order to put fresh bread out for students the following morning. The memory now is far more pleasant than the reality of those years. But the end of that text, referencing “material, which keeps wanting to snap back into its old familiar commonplace form,” reminded me of the battle I fought most of yesterday (and lost!) in the studio.

The subject I have chosen to teach in next Thursday’s watercolor class involves the painting of wildflowers and grasses. I would like to bring back very special moments I experienced in 2015 while serving as Artist-in-Residence on an island in the Laguna Madre. Those moments involved breakthroughs as I painted firewheels blazing in the weeds, and cordgrasses as they separated from the undergrowth behind the building where I resided.

My struggle on the island was the same as what I endured yesterday–the tension between painting things the way I do by habit and rendering things thoughtfully and analytically, the way I see the subjects now. Yesterday started well, because I was scrutinizing my subjects and thoughtfully arranging colors and contrasts the way they appeared before me. The beginnings of the work were very promising. But then, later in the day, when fatigue settled in, I began finishing up the paintings the way I always do, and the results were very unsatisfying. I know better than this, but habits are difficult to slay. So today offers another chance . . . When I paint something worth posting, I’ll put it up on the blog for viewing.

As I continued rotating the reading kaleidoscope, another set of ideas emerged, these from Karl Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans:

To be sincere, our thought must share in the tension of human life, in its criss-cross lines, and in its kaledoscopic movements. And life is neither simple, nor straightforward, not obvious. Things are simple and straightforward and obvious only when they are detached from their context and then treated superficially. The reality to which life bears witness must be disclosed in the deep things of all observable phenomena, in their whole context–and in their KRISIS.

We live in a deeply troubling and complicated era. The coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across our land, and daily some public figure steps before the cameras and microphones somewhere to offer his/her simple solution. Are our state and national leaders that simple minded, or do they publicly voice their bromides because their constituents merely want simple answers? I do not know. Life is complicated. Society is complicated. We do not solve problems with simple solutions. There is always KRISIS, as Barth testified. There is always tension to navigate. There are always options to untangle and present. Meanwhile, we individuals know what steps to take to minimize danger. My hope for all of you is that you do whatever is necessary to stay safe.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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2 Responses to “Stirring the Embers”

  1. Dian DArr Says:

    Such an awful time right now when true leadership is so needed. I think back on the times I would re-write, change totally, research, and write again an important lesson for students especially when teaching some of my academic classes. Then, once in the classroom, the plan was often thrown out or re- built as students saw another way, another path that I might have missed. I always told new teachers in workshops I used to give, to listen to the students when they become engaged- to never feel intimidated by adapting to their questions, or by saying, “I don’t know. Let’s explore it.!”


    • davidtripp Says:

      For months now I’ve been down-sizing, throwing away heaps of papers & files from all those school years. I’m so glad I saved student notes, cards & letters. The most meaningful compliments I’ve received concerned my respect for their points of view during discussions, particularly when they disagreed with me.


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