Advent in Art 13: Michelle Parkinson

Who: 
Michelle Parkinson
When: 
Sunday, 22 December 2013

My name is Michelle and I have done this painting on the advent theme of Welcoming.

I used to love painting. I painted all the way through school and then in my early twenties. However having kids put a stop to that. For the last few years I have felt a niggling desire to start painting again, and an equal reluctance to risk oil paints in my house and on my kids. I always loved using oil paints. I really enjoy the vibrant colours and the slick, oily finish. I like layering them up, pushing the paint around on the canvas and seeing what surprising tones and textures emerge. Brenda asking me to do an advent in art piece was just the motivation I needed to get me back into it. So it was with nervous excitement that I went to buy a canvas and began to prepare my art. When I started painting again in early November it felt really good and exciting- it was like stuffing my face with a chocolate mousse cake after being on a diet. It was therapeutic and relaxing, I was just laying colours down on top of each other with soothing horizontal strokes. It connected me with my pre-mum self, and reminded me of my youth.

The advent theme for this last week of advent is WELCOMING, but I would say that my art encompasses the theme of WAITING and EXPECTING as well. Advent is a time of the year that I love. Having been brought up in NZ I have a strong association between advent and the start of summer, family, holidays, fun and relaxation. For us in the South Christmas means long warm evenings, BBQs and plenty of socialising. I was raised in a Christian household and remember being told the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus throughout my childhood. We never really did Santa Claus- for me Christmas has always been about waiting for the baby Jesus to be born so he could bring redemption and hope to the world. Because of the Christian focus in my family, the carol singing, the ukulele playing and the gathering together to give and receive gifts and share food was often a time of happiness and unity. This is a time of the year when I feel an undercurrent of strong connection with my family and with my church. My TALK now is partly about my faith journey, partly about my art work, and partly what the bible says about Jesus’s birth.

I have been thinking a lot of Mary in the last days of her pregnancy, and remembering what that was like for me. Being uncomfortable, heavy, and impatient to meet the child growing inside me. What would Mary have been thinking, about to have her first baby, having to travel to Bethlehem for the census, wondering what this God child would be like. It must have been a scary time for her. I imagine I would have been really put out by it all if I had been in her shoes. I know she was honoured and chosen by God to carry God’s son, but what a huge challenge. People would have thought she was deranged – impregnated by the Holy Spirit. The bible tells us she accepted her task graciously, and I am in awe of her for that. What a rocky start to Mary and Joseph’s marriage! And here they were waiting for the Christ child to arrive who would be called Immanuel ‘God with Us’.

And Jesus, the newborn baby born in such an understated way would turn out to be a Man who changed the world and turned everything upside down. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t had my questions or doubts about the Virgin Birth, or Jesus as the son of God, but these things are still central to me, and I choose to continue to believe these fundamentals that I grew up believing. I loved what Brenda said a few weeks ago, it was something like that God provided through Jesus a path to transformation and enlightenment. At advent we remember how Jesus came to change the world, and we celebrate that, and we welcome the Messiah again into our hearts. For me Jesus is the person who stands for social justice, love, generosity, not just following religious traditions, but loving people and living out of that place of love with all of your being. I love this passage in The Message where Jesus says in Luke 6 27-30 “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

For me Jesus is the central part of my faith and the Christian story. He is the Hero- he goes against the arrogant, rich, bigoted big wigs and challenges them. And this part of advent is about welcoming him, and preparing to celebrate his arrival.

My painting is based on the concept of the time just before the dawn. Just as day is about to break. It is based on the symbolism of waiting for the sun. The sun as the life giving energy that sustains us, and the source of light for our world. At this time in advent we are waiting for the birth of our messiah, and the light he will shed on the world and in our hearts. I tried to capture the depth of the sky blue and majestic, with the hint of sunshine coming up from the horizon.

I have this notion, that somehow the whole of creation was waiting in these last moments, holding their breath, looking to the heavens, yearning for the appearance of the saviour who had been promised. And Jesus, being the son of God, was there at the beginning of the world when the spirit of God hovered over the waters and here is about to appear in the form of an infant. I like it that the blue sky, the Koru, and even the ‘land’ in my painting could also be water/waves and ocean. It reminds me that Jesus the man is also one with God the creator and designer.

The old testament world was flawed, dark, selfish and sinful, and that Jesus was coming to make a new start- to offer a new start. A redemption. A saviour to save us from ourselves. Isaiah 60:2,3 In Handel’s Messiah the lines go..

2. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. 3. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

There are hints in the painting of the light overcoming the darkness. The sun is on its way. It is supposed to look hopeful, even though the land is still dark and sombre.

Then the sky is of course Blue, which is often used in association with the Virgin Mary.

The land and the whole painting for me has a very New Zealand flavour. I had hoped the land would look vaguely mountainous like McCahon’s famous paintings - but I didn’t quite achieve that. I also wanted the curve of the hill to be reminiscent of a pregnant women’s belly.

You may have guessed that Gordon Walters was the inspiration for my prominent symbolic Koru. I decided to use this symbol to represent the new birth and new growth that the baby Jesus offers the world. The Koru, according to Wikipedia, is (Māori for "loop"[1]) is a spiral shape based on a new unfurling silver fern frond and symbolizing new life, growth, strength and peace.[2] It is an integral symbol in Māori art, carving and tattoos. The circular shape of the koru helps to convey the idea of perpetual movement while the inner coil suggests a return to the point of origin.

I really like these words and ideas in relation to the coming of the messiah.

The Koru in my painting also refers to the prophecy in Isaiah 11

1-5 A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump,
    from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him,
    the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength,
    the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.
Fear-of-God
    will be all his joy and delight.
He won’t judge by appearances,
    won’t decide on the basis of hearsay.
He’ll judge the needy by what is right,
    render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.
His words will bring everyone to awed attention.
    A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.
Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots,
    and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

I notice that Nigel’s advent in art also focused on the idea of Jesus being a fresh and true root. When I started looking at the scriptures about Jesus I was pleased to see that many of them referred to Jesus as a light which was a key element in my painting. Here are some of the words of Zachariah in Luke, after his tongue was loosened at the birth of John and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied

“Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,

God’s sunrise will break in upon us,

Shining on those in the darkness,

Those sitting in the shadow of death,

Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,

Down the path of peace.”

You might need to use your imagination a little but if you can look at my painting and try to get a sense of the coming dawn, the hope of all creation about to arrive in the flesh, the stillness, the chill in the air, a shiver down your spine. Waiting expectantly.

 

I was pondering on the idea of Welcoming, and linking it to the maori concept of Manaakitanga which is about respect, esteem, welcoming and caring for a guest. Ensuring a guest is treated with consideration- that they are comfortable physically and emotionally. The oxford dictionary says that welcome means “a word of kindly greeting, as to one whose arrival gives pleasure”. This made me think of when I am preparing for a party and rushing around tidying the house before visitors arrive. I wondered what I could do this Christmas to prepare for Jesus, and to welcome him into my life and heart. What could I do to make Jesus feel comfortable at my place? I think for me this year I want to focus on holding a generous attitude in my heart- I think Jesus would feel welcome in my life if I was to hold onto material things lightly, and be generous with myself – listening and being present to others over Christmas.

 

I was quite nervous about doing this advent in art piece, and I was talking to Jeanie about that. She recommended that I read Brene Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’. Luckily I happened to have this in my present box in the cupboard as I had bought it for my sister to give to her for her birthday so I was able to get it down from the cupboard and have little read. I was struggling with the idea of putting my art and my thoughts out there in the church arena, wondering whether I was good enough, smart enough, motivated enough to do it. I was concerned that people would be critical, or that I might offend someone somehow. I expressed my nerves to Brenda who challenged me by saying “ I hope that at Cityside you might find more opportunities to flex your strengths and discover them warmly welcomed.” And then as I began to read ‘Daring Greatly’ the following statement jumped out at me - “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our back on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make… We must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.” So here I am letting myself be seen, offering my unique contribution.

So that’s pretty much everything about my painting, although I’m open to hear what other people see in it. For me producing the painting was a lovely journey back into painting and also a time for re-affirming within myself what meaning advent held for me. So I’m grateful for the chance to have done an advent in art work.

 

REFLECTIVE SPACE

I want to do something meditative in response to the theme of welcoming today. I am a counsellor by profession and I was reading a lovely little picture book on mindfulness that gave me the idea of doing a mindfulness type exercise with you all. Of course this is an optional activity, and you are welcome to sit back and relax if you don’t want to participate. I want us to create a welcoming space in our minds at this time of advent. To prepare ourselves to welcome God. Our minds that are probably full of all the things to be done before Christmas and the other thought traffic that constantly travels through our consciousness. Here is a brainstorm I did on some of the things that Jesus means to me. There are probably other things that Jesus means to you, but these are some of my ideas. You might like to pick one of the ideas to dwell on or choose one of your own.

I invite you to close your eyes/ or not, as you feel comfortable. I imagine my mind with all the metaphorical cobwebs hanging in that space. Your cobwebs may be; your doubts, struggles and stresses with family, church, colleageus…negative feelings and memories about Christmases gone before. Imagine a fan in front of your face gently blowing the cobwebs from your mind.

Sit with that word for a moment- just breath in and out and sit with your word or concept. What does that word mean for you right now? What might God be wanting you to know about that? How can you embody that word this Chirstmas?