Posts Tagged ‘Karl Barth’

Zwischen den Zeiten

May 28, 2020

Good day, blogging friends. It was a long drive home yesterday and I was wiped out when I hit the sack last night. Waking early this morning, I immediately went about a number of tasks that needed to be done in the house, but Hank and Randy were on my mind, and the following story played out as I worked. Finally sitting down to the computer I spilled it out, so here’s how it’s looking at this time. Thanks always for reading, and thank you so much, all of you who have been posting comments. I’m thrilled that people are actually reading this. I managed a little time today to work on the accompanying watercolor as well, so here it is, still in progress . . .

8 x 10″ watercolor in progress

The night seemed to grow quieter in response to Randy’s remark on having plenty to chew as he sounded the religious depths of his life. The coffee was doing its work, soothing his tired spirit as he gazed into the fire, watching the yellow-orange sparks drift and disappear into the night sky. Pulling an index card from his field pack, he read to Hank what he had written on it:

The understanding of history is an uninterrupted conversation between the wisdom of yesterday and the wisdom of tomorrow.

“This is from the preface of the first edition of Barth’s commentary on Romans. I wrote it on an index card and kept it in my study carrel at the seminary where I could look up at it every day while studying. Finally, I decided to memorize it and keep it as a sort of mantra. Once I quit seminary, I decided to begin keeping a journal, and the card is now a bookmark. I’m forced to confront it every time I open the journal to write something. More than ever, I’m feeling a connection with the past—past writers anyway—and I’m trying to join my ideas to theirs to see if I can come to some kind of understanding of what’s going on in my life.”

As he listened, Hank felt an inner stirring of something unresolved. “You know—I think I’m going to start keeping a journal. I’ve never met anyone before you who actually did this, though I’m always reading about writers from the past who kept journals as a lifestyle—Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Twain. Nobody I know does that today, except now you. Soon as we get back to town, I’m gonna pick up a spiral or something and start volume one. I really believe we’re gonna find plenty to write about on this little adventure of ours.”

Randy reached for the urn and poured a second cup of the cowboy coffee, tasting better as the night unfolded. “Sometimes I wish I had started the journal earlier in life, but frankly I don’t really think I had anything worth recording till the stuff of the past year ruptured my plans. I’ve been struggling lately for something to read that makes me feel there is some kind of hope. On the bus yesterday, I found this from Barth’s Romans:

He is the hidden abyss; but He is also the hidden home at the beginning and end of all our journeyings.

“You know, Hank, I had this fairytale image of God planted in my consciousness from the time I was five years old when my folks made me go to church. The image really didn’t change much from those years till last year, even though my intellect allegedly grew in all other areas of life. When things started falling apart last year, I found myself questioning everything including whether God actually was there. I really feel this quote from Barth nails it—God is like an abyss, hidden. But I’m actually feeling like I’ve found a home in this life, some kind of refuge, though I am now on the road and without an address.”

Hank sat up straight. “Randy, the two of us are on parallel tracks. For both of us, a past life has crumbled and something new is trying to emerge.”

Randy nodded with enthusiasm. “Hank, I believe we’re living between two worlds, between two eras, Zwischen den Zeiten as Brother Barth would have said. The Jews between the Testaments conceived a rupture between the present evil age and the age to come, the ‘olam ha-ze and the ‘olam ha-ba. We now dwell in a Zeitgeist that I have no use for. I want to know the Arcadia I believe Thoreau found at Walden. The Indians that roamed these plains must have felt this about the land before the Europeans came and took possession of it. Every time I encounter a barbed wire fence, I want to cut it with wire cutters. You know, from Mexico to Canada, cowboys used to run cattle without barriers save for gorges and rivers and of course the Indians.”

Hank nodded in agreement. “I like the sound of that.”

“Hank my friend, your collect call may as well have been John the Baptist crying out like a voice in the wilderness. I was so ready for a new direction. Thanks for reaching out and bringing me here.”

Ten more minutes passed with neither of the two speaking. The coffee’s buzz had worn off and lethargy was taking over.

Randi pulled his sleeping bag from the straps that held it to the field pack, unrolled it, pulled off his boots and crawled inside. Hank did the same.

“Good night old Friend.”

“Good night Pal.”


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.


Over-the-Road Pondering

May 25, 2020

The pounding of the Greyhound diesel vibrated the interior, nudging Randy toward sleep as he sunk back into the softness of his seat. Once again he was charging across the Texas plains eagerly anticipating his rendezvous with his childhood friend, but this second day of over-the-road travel was beginning to wear him down. Writing in his journal was somewhat difficult with the bounce of the tires on the seams of the pavement, but something urged the drowsy Randy to keep writing . . .

Finally met the Reverend today. He exceeded all my expectations though Hank had really played him up over this past year. When someone insists I make an acquaintance, I am always skeptical. But this man Elton certainly strummed some profound musical chords deep within my psyche. And I’m grateful for today’s encounter.

The conversation was coming back now. Randy was back in the minister’s study, in genuine conversation with Elton Bauerkemper . . .

“How is it you and Hank became friends?”

“That’s an easy question. Hank Shelton, Randy Singleton. Since second grade, our class seating charts were arranged alphabetically. Hank was always in front of me. Lots of years to make mischief together during and after school.”

A smirk lightened the minister’s countenance as he eased back in his chair. He was looking less like a Man of the Cloth now. “Hank came in here about a year ago as I recall. He was on some sort of vision quest. How’s that working out?”

“I really don’t know much. He sure doesn’t want to come home to Turvey’s Corner. And I reached a point where I no longer wanted to stay. I guess I’ll know more in a day or two when I see him again.”

“How about you? Hank wrote me right after our visit and told me he had a friend who was a Lutheran minister he hoped I would one day meet. Though it’s been a year, I’ve pulled that letter from the files and re-read it several times and thought about this possibility. As soon as I saw you step off that city bus down the street with the backpack and walk this way, I knew it was either a homeless chap looking for a church handout or it might be you.”

“Well . . .” Randy was amused at the thought, “Homeless is how I’m feeling right about now. But it’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“But you’re a Lutheran minister?”

“I was. Now I don’t really know what I am. I quit seminary a couple of months ago, went back home and found a room to rent. Worked a meaningless job, and now have cut all of it loose, even a marriage.”

“Seminary. Concordia?”

“Yeah. You too, from what Hank told me.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I guess I just tried too hard to force on a shoe that never fit. I felt lost when I went away to college. The Jesus People embraced me, made me feel like I had an identity and a real family. The ministry came over me before I really knew what was happening. Seminary came next. Then marriage. I was swept away by all the changes. And then Karl Barth happened.”

“Oh my.” The minister paused in silence, hoping he hadn’t ruptured the bond of communication and trust with his involuntary response, followed by this silence. Randy didn’t seem inclined to continue. Elton hoped he hadn’t broken in too soon or inserted a measure of disdain with his remark.

“I’m sorry I broke in. Your mention of Barth set off deep feelings in me. I couldn’t keep silent. Barth has been a real mentor to my inner life for over thirty years now. Do you want to talk about what he did to you?”

Randy just sat in silence, his expression not really downcast, just distant and pensive. Elton let it ride.

Finally, Randy looked up again, the light returning to his eyes as he began to speak. “All my life, others have told me what to do. My parents brought me up. My school told me what to read and think. My church told me how to live right. Once off to college, five hours away, I had no one directing me. But the Jesus People swept in, and they seemed so confident, so ebullient in their life’s direction, and again I let others tell me which way to go. Before I knew it, I was entering the ministry, entering the seminary and even getting married. Looking back now, it seems I just continued doing what everyone expected of me. And it wasn’t bad. I wasn’t complaining. Seminary was hard, but I met every benchmark, passed every test, completed every course. Whatever was handed to me, I handled the responsibility.”

Randy’s expression took on again that haze of bewilderment. “And then in theology class I read Karl Barth. His commentary on Romans.”

“The one that exploded like a bomb in the theologians’ playground,” interjected Elton.

“Yeah. The bomb.” Randy’s shoulders sagged at the memory. “This book didn’t read like anything I had ever read before. The language slashed like a razor. How could someone expound a book of the Bible and not sound like all the others I’d read before? Beneath his words pounded a heart of conviction, of genuine authenticity. And then . . . I read his metaphor of the crater left by a giant explosion and it suddenly happened to me. Everything I had embraced over the years suddenly was blown away as if a bomb had been dropped. And then, nothing remained. Before I realized it, my faith, my marriage, my profession, my identity—all gone. Incinerated. I suddenly felt this enormous crater, this unspeakable void that once was my life. It all sounds so bad, but I just don’t really miss it. I don’t feel that I lost anything of considerable value. I feel I am young enough that I can still start all over again and try to replace it all with something solid and real. Am I making any sense?”

“More than you think. I feel genuine pathos in what you’re saying. You’ve paid a hell of a price to get to where you are now, and contrary to your feelings of being homeless or unemployed or disenfranchised, in reality you are dizzy with a freedom that is priceless. I want you to feel confidence and adventure as you move forward, not defeat or despair. You say you lost your faith, but right now you are acting in faith. And that takes courage, my friend.”

Randy was suddenly heartened by what he was hearing. “I can’t thank you enough for what you just said. I don’t really think I’m falling into atheism. It’s just that my religious stirrings are primal and always have been. But in the church and seminary settings, I’ve felt the language and metaphors were always conventional and shallow. I’m still reading my Greek New Testament. And Barth. But the ecclesiastical language has crumbled away and I guess I’m heading west to the wilderness to see if I can find a more honest and direct way to address my beliefs.”

The Reverend offered something further: “You’ve been reading Barth’s Romans commentary. I spend most of my time in his Church Dogmatics. I read last night a passage where he pointed out Augustine’s perspective that recollection means inwardness, man’s return from the distractions of the outside world and re-entry into himself to find God there. Listening to you today convinces me that you are on that kind of track. I seem to recall Hank had a fondness for Thoreau. As you probably know, he went to Walden Pond to clean out all that conventional debris that tried to clog his understanding of life. He would never have achieved epiphany had he held down a job in Concord and avoided Walden Pond. And you, my friend, would most likely have never experienced enlightenment traveling your conventional paths.”

Elton rose and walked over to his shelves lined with volumes. Pulling down a new black hardbound book, he turned, walked over to Randy and placed it in his lap. “Here. I want you to have this. The first volume of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. It’s like new. I bought it because I so thoroughly marked up and annotated my tattered copy from seminary days. I thought I wanted a clean copy, but over the years I keep returning to the used copy to find the passages I had marked before. This one is just gathering dust on my shelf, and I’d really like someone Special to have it now. I think it’s cool that someone drawing nearer to the Native American ethos under the open skies takes Barth along with him for dialogue and perhaps rapprochement between the natural world and the scholarly. Keep me posted. I’m really interested to see how you and Hank come out on this Odyssey. Wouldn’t it be something if you found Ithaca after all.”

Westward on the Greyhound

May 16, 2020

Here is my latest installment of the Hank & Randy saga . . . (two stories precede this on my blog)

8 x 10″ watercolor

You moved out from the city?  I don’t blame you. In a world where they can split a tiny atom and blow up hundreds of thousands of people there’s no telling where it’s all going to lead. Best to find a quiet place and do what you have to do.

From the motion picture Pollock

Oklahoma. Randy gazed tiredly out the window of the moving Greyhound bus as it cleared the small town of Vinita. Squinting across the prairie under a bright sun, he tried to visualize Hank camped beneath the stars there eleven months ago.

He pulled from his pocket the postcard saved from the day he received it.


Oklahoma stars are winking at me tonight in Vinita. I found a stretch of wide open prairie to sleep on.

More later,


Smiling now, Randy decided it was time to read. He still had hours of travel rolling out in front of him. Taking his field pack down from the overhead rack, he drew out his tattered volume of Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. This along with his Greek New Testament was all he retained from his seminary years.

The barrier marks the frontier of a new country . . . Looking up from his book, Randy mused over the barriers that had hampered him. Until now. Turvey’s Corner was virtually a town hemmed in by a Medieval wall to keep out cultural invaders. Lutheran piety sheltered him from “the things of this world” his church leaders continually reminded him. College could have been an “opening up” for him, but he simply found the Jesus People wall a substitute for the Medieval one. Once out of college, he withdrew once again into the Lutheran fortress, in fact Luther’s Wartburg castle. Inside those walls, he studied his Greek New Testament, believing he had finally found genuine sanctuary.

And then, he read Karl Barth. In that second year of seminary study, Randy experienced the equivalent of Europe’s eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Die Aufklärung, the clearing. The scales fell from his eyes, and he felt he was looking at life squarely for the first time, like Matthew Arnold’s record of the ancient Greek “who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.”

With that Enlightenment came a heavy price: a young marriage and an established profession. Randy continued reading from Barth: But the activity of the community is related to the Gospel only in so far as it is no more than a crater formed by the explosion of a shell and seeks to be no more than a void in which the Gospel reveals itself.

Closing the book, Randy leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, recalling all Professor Kirkpatrick had shared in the theology seminar last year. Barth’s commentary, written during the first World War, “fell like a bomb on the playground of the theologians,” wrote Karl Adam. Randy sighed deeply, thinking over the ramifications of the crater left in his life by recent convictions and decisions. As he journeyed westward, he wondered, what would now fill this enormous cavity opened up in his life?

Randy recalled Hank’s final words as he was saying good-bye to Turvey’s Corner nearly a year ago. Continually citing Thoreau’s Walden, Hank shared with Randy on that final day that Thoreu walked away from his parents and friends who continually hounded him with questions such as “When are you going to make something of yourself? With your Harvard degree, why don’t you get a job? When are you ever going to grow up and take responsibility?” Hank’s words before he turned to walk toward the highway leading from town still whispered in Hank’s memory:

Thoreau moved to Walden Pond in order to clear the cobwebs that clogged the ductwork of his daily consciousness. This is the only way epiphany could happen, by entering the Great Silence. I’ll get back to you soon, my Friend.

Closing his book, Randy stretched in his seat and closed his eyes for a nap. He was entering the Great Silence, no longer afraid of the crater.


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.

Morning Coffee with thoughts concerning The Word

November 15, 2018


Excellent Morning Poring over Pages from Karl Barth

. . . as the gaps between my digital tasks disappeared, so did the opportunities for depth.

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry

Sometimes, when ideas are not clicking at home, I load the Jeep and drive away, looking for a friendly environment for reading and writing. Yesterday, I had an engagement to meet my dear friends in Keller, Texas at noon, so I decided to get there two hours early so I could have some time and space to reflect and write.  The activities and chores and responsibilities at home cluttered my morning, and I could not stop to reflect.

I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it. There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within.

Seneca, On Noise

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

When I force myself to write, even when I feel that I am writing junk, I often find that good ideas will eventually emerge. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that the water pump initially brings up the dirty water before the clean. I find that true in writing; I often have to flush the junk from my mind to cleanse it and hope for epiphany.

As I wrote, I returned to an idea I broached recently on the blog that often consumes my thinking–the power of the genuine Word. My mind reached back to the writings of Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian whom I studied during seminary years, in fact I took a one-year seminar on his work during my Ph.D. studies. Returning home, I pulled the first two volumes of his Church Dogmatics from my shelf, and opened them to texts I had annotated back in 1983.

The distinction between word and act is that mere word is the mere self-expression of a person, while act is the resultant relative alteration in the world around. Mere word is passive, act is an active participation in history. But this kind of distinction does not apply to the Word of God. As mere Word it is act.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Volume 1, The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 1

Studying the biblical writings, I recall that the creation of the world is described as a series of God’s spoken words: he spoke the world into existence. He spoke, and it was so. I recall also the Isaiah passage where God says his word will not return void. In the prophetic works, when the words are translated “the word of the LORD came”, a better rendering of the Hebrew is “the word of the LORD happened.” In the Semitic mind, it seems that the word was an event, not just a noise articulated or a mark on the parchment.

Why am I thinking of this? Because our culture is polluted with words that either mean little to nothing, or even worse, are used as weapons to wreak havoc on life. I shudder when I think of a child hearing words directed at him or her that say: “You will never amount to anything,” or “you are weak,” or “you lack intelligence.” Words contain the power to effect change. Words are actions, a most powerful resource.

I am writing a blog. Some people actually read these words. And often I second-guess whether I have made a contribution, or if my writing has any effect on a reader at all.

–What are you reading Hamlet?

–Words, words, words.

Our culture is media-driven and digitally-driven. That translates into billions of words pouring into our consciousness. We cannot stop the verbal deluge, but we can find a way to sift the mud from the pure, the hate from the love, the excess from the essential. And I will endeavor to write blogs that have value; I don’t want to waste readers’ time. Time is precious.


Karl Barth: Acrylic Collage on Canvas, 30 x 24″

During my years teaching high school, this collage hung in the back of my classroom, in my line of vision when I addressed my students. I recently sold a paper collage of Barth at an art festival, happy that a patron knew what she was purchasing. This morning, I found this larger canvas and hung it in my living room so I could spend more time in its presence. I hope that over the holidays I can create some space to make new art. I am feeling the urge to create.

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.


Art Festival Fever

April 15, 2015

Working on Inventory in Preparation for the Next Art Festival

Working on Inventory in Preparation for the Next Art Festival

The drilling machine for the Aargau lecture (“Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas”) is going at full strength and an unbroken pillar of smoke is rising from my pipe to the ceiling as in the best times of my life.

Karl Barth, letter to friend Eduard Thurneysen March 17, 1920

Throughout this afternoon of work, this remark from Karl Barth kept clattering around in my brain, and I decided to post it. I’m not smoking a pipe, but the aroma from my coffee cup has been rising throughout this afternoon and evening, and I am feeling, like Barth, that it reflects the best times of my life. He was referring to the composition of a lecture he was to deliver at an historic event, whereas I am simply trying to enlarge my inventory for an approaching festival.

I will participate in the Brickworks Art in the Park festival in the neighboring city of Kennedale, Friday through Sunday. Throughout this week, I’ve come home from school each day and hurled myself into the enterprise of printing, matting and sleeving my enlarging inventory of prints and greeting cards to accompany my watercolors in the booth. The photo above is a sample of what I’ve tackled for the duration of this afternoon. The slowest part of the process was the creation of new greeting cards. For each painting I reproduce on the front of the 5 x 7″ card, I compose a text for the back, leaving the inside blank. Always, I worry about doing “hack work” when I write for the cards, especially when I am creating a dozen of them in the same afternoon. And then, there is that added detail of diving into the trunk filled with well over a hundred different cards, looking for the ones that are becoming scarce, as well as missing the ones that have sold out. It takes a while, and I find the effort taxing, especially after I’ve already taught all day.

Sorry I have to cut this short, but I have a long list of tasks that still need tending, and the fesitval is drawing near.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Time to Reflect, to Compost, to Nurture and Grow

February 22, 2015

The drilling machine for the Aargau lecture (“Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas”) is going at full strength and an unbroken pillar of smoke is rising from my pipe to the ceiling as in the best times of my life. Until now the progress has been “at the face” but not yet of any magnitude, and it has yet to be seen whether or not the direction of the tunnel is right.

Karl Barth, letter to Eduard Thurneysen March 17, 1920

I am buried in my study with stacks of grading to do, and now face a possible shut-in situation as winter weather threatens my part of the country. There exists the possibility of my city icing over tonight and school being canceled tomorrow (darn). Taking advantage of the quiet, the dark and the cold, I have found ways to enjoy this Sunday, despite the grading. I opened a volume of my Karl Barth correspondences to his comrade in the early part of the past century, because I always remembered his satisfaction of working all day in his study with a continuous plume of smoke rising from his pipe. I don’t smoke, but I am pleased with the nonstop aroma of coffee that has charmed my study during this frigid, dark day. An added bonus is the conviction that this coffee is managing to keep me alert as I pore over pages and pages of scrawled words from my students.

The Philosophy journals are filling me with satisfaction today, as I note a number of students seizing on something I mentioned in a recent roundtable seminar. I told them that high school schedules are set up with seven-minute passing periods between the classes, with the expectation for students to push aside what they have just learned in one subject in order to focus on a new one. Knowledge and grades are compartmentalized by subject, with no connective tissue between them, despite educational buzz-words like “writing across the curriculum” or “integrated learning.” The schools do not provide for any of this, as far as I can determine. The bell rings and it is time to put away the stuff from one class and pass on to the next. Just exactly when are they expected to integrate all this material, while they’re working their evening jobs or doing their homework?

Last year, I atteded a national AVID conference in Orlando, Florida. It featured two days of packed schedules of sessions, with only a few minutes separating each, much like a typical high school bell schedule. In one of the ballroom sessions, I had the immense privilege of listening to Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of the  University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His words reached to my core, often bringing me to the point of tears. The moment he finished, the facilitator took the microphone and informed us we had five minutes to get to our next session. I knew I would not go. I found the hotel coffee bar, sat at a table, opened my journal, and wrote for ninety minutes, pondering and savoring every thought, every impulse I had experienced during this President’s address, a sacred moment in my life. It was then that I came across this idea I am now publishing–schools do not allow time to compost, to process, to water the seeds of inspiration planted from some subject, some encounter. We are expected to close our notebooks and file into the next session. Rollo May published in his tribute to Paul Tillich his own personal habit of walking in the park after a meaningful lecture:

I had had brilliant professors or colorful ones or ones who cared about communicating knowledge or were profound in their reflection on the human predicament.  But I had never had one who brought all these things together. Three words summarize [Paul Tillich’s] lectures for me: universality, depth, and caring. . . . In my solitary walks in Riverside Park after his class to let the ideas sink in, I was filled with a profound seriousness and joy, not only about the truths I had heard but also about my own life and the decisions I had to make.

Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

I am now reading Philosophy journal responses with great delight, as high school students share with me their thanks for my providing them that occasional space to “soak” what they are learning, and to integrate it with other subjects, and most importantly their personal life goals and aspirations. I guess sometimes they do hear and feel what we have to say to them.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Painting a Moving Target in Still Life

January 18, 2013

Completed 8 x 10" Still Life of Pepsi Carrier

Completed 8 x 10″ Still Life of Pepsi Carrier

“‘The truth, to be sure,’ [Nietzsche] once wittily put it, ‘can stand on one leg; but with two it will walk and get around.’  He was persuaded that there is no such thing as an absolute Truth, and that even in dealing with limited ‘truths’ the philosopher’s first task is to lift each one up and turn it around, like a stone, to see what might be lurking underneath.  And it was what lay below, in the inner depths of each spoken or written ‘truth’, that interested Nietzsche far more than the patent, superficial, often deceptive surface.”

Curtis Cate

Last night I wrote about my recent dual interest in focusing on one subject in a composition and in exploring the quality of the zone that lies between the highlights and the shadows.  I read with amusement the quote posted above, about Nietzsche’s conviction that Truth was something on the move, rather than static.  It reminded me of graduate school days, when I read with considerable interest the theological contributions of Karl Barth, who said that speaking of God was like painting a bird in flight.  You can only follow the movement with your eye, but you cannot arrest it.  And so, this afternoon as I finished up another small (8 x 10″) still life in watercolor, I immediately turned my attention to my next subject, and how I could work on these two new areas involving accents and half-lights.

I enjoyed the past two evenings, working on the watercolor posted above, and am anxious to learn new things with the next endeavor. I’m thankful that school is out now for a three-day weekend.  I need some time to explore

Thanks for reading.

Final Art Studio Posting of 2012–Watercolor Still Life Still Growing

December 31, 2012

Watercolor Still Life in the Man Cave

Watercolor Still Life in the Man Cave

The drilling machine for the Aargau lecture (“Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas”) is going at full strength and an unbroken pillar of smoke is rising from my pipe to the ceiling as in the best times of my life. 

Karl Barth, letter to friend Edouard Thurneysen dated March 17, 1920

What an amazing age in which we thrive today!  The above fragment is from a letter sent by one Swiss pastor to another.  They lived on opposite sides of the mountain and traveled once or twice a week to see one another for hours of conversation.  Between visits, they sent letters almost daily back and forth.  In this letter, Barth paints in words the picture of a day in his study where he worked furiously on a lecture and the smoke from his pipe never ceased.

Well, today, the water and pigment in my watercolor brush never ceased or dried up.  And as I painted alone in my Cave, I was inundated with phone calls, emails, text messages, Facebook messages and Blog comments from dear, dear friends and associates, all of them kindred spirits.  Thank you, I love you all.  You made this day very, very meaningful.  I can close out 2012 and move with confidence into 2013.  You’ll never know what a Gift you gave this day.

I have posted my last picture for this year.  I spent most of this afternoon and evening tinkering with the Maxwell House coffee tin, the stove top percolator, the Texaco oil can and the kerosene lantern.  Of course, I continued to play all over the rest of the composition–the darkened background, chips in the paint on the doors, the locking plate, the Mobilgas sign, the frying pan.  I work all over the composition, even while focusing on one key object.  And all of it was just as grand as the conversations I enjoyed with friends.  I can retire to bed happily tonight, thank you again.

Thanks for reading.  All of you have made me even more enthusiastic about blogging my painting experiences.


Saturday Morning in the Painter’s Studio, with Coffee

March 17, 2012

Saint Ignatius Academy Saturday Morning, in Progress

My graduate work (long ago) was in theology, and now that I’m up to my elbows in this study of an ecclesiastical structure, parallels keep running through my head between the life I once lived clustered in a scholar’s den and the one I live now in my painting studio.  The hours I’ve kept this week during Spring Break have been just as erratic as the ones I lived while working on a Ph.D.  I retired to bed at 3 a.m., and then rose a little after 8:00 this morning to return to the garage.

I pulled a volume from my shelf that has been a comfort since the early 1980’s: Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence 1914-1925.  When the theologian Karl Barth was a young pastor in the Swiss mining town of Safenwil, his sole sustenance in spiritual companionship came from another young pastor, Edouard Thurneysen, who lived on the other side of the mountain.  They kept up a brisk correspondence, updating one another on their scholarly and pastoral pursuits as they laid the foundations for Neo-Orthodoxy, a revolutionary theology that arrived with the First World War.

This excerpt from Barth made me laugh: ” . . . this hot summer will ever be unforgettable for me.  I amble like a drunk man back and forth between writing desk, dining table, and bed, traveling each kilometer with my eye already on the next one.”  I knew that sentiment while writing papers and sermons during the course of my graduate program, and have known it recently during this holiday when the obsession to work on larger watercolors seized me.

Today is a delicious Saturday morning, and yes, I am going to pick up the brush the moment I finish this blog.  The suburban sounds are pleasing, the light is clear, and the scent from last night’s rain is a sweet one rising from the lawn just outside my open garage door.  The neighbor is mowing (I’m so glad the guy we hired did our lawn yesterday, before the rain), and I’ve always liked the sounds of lawnmowers on the weekends across suburbia–never an annoying sound to me.

I’m going to enclose another passage from one of Barth’s letters: “[The writing of the lecture] is going at full strength and an unbroken pillar of smoke is rising from my pipe to the ceiling as in the best times of my life.”  I don’t smoke a pipe, but I do have a full pot of Starbuck’s coffee brewed, and my cup will remain full as Barth’s pipe bowl did on his best days in the study.

O.K., the Saint Ignatius painting posted.  A watercolorist colleague whom I greatly admire has just sent me encouragement to jump right in to the intimidating details of this structure.  And I shall.  While writing this blog, it dawned on me that I should try a complementary juxtaposition of violets and ochres as I work on the texturing of this rusticated stone exterior, and get serious about the shadows.  It’s time to make this composition “pop” and that is only going to happen when the contrast gets loaded in.  So, that’s my next step.

What a delicious Saturday morning!  Thanks for sharing this moment with me (all of you readers, and the lingering muse/spirit of Barth).