Blank Tiles

+ Monday, November 14, 2016

Six tiles on my kitchen counter, gessoed at bedtime, and ready to paint, this morning. Painter’s mind is as blank as the white surfaces, so I put on my writer’s hat. I wish I actually had a little hat to put on, and it was as simple as that. Mental constraints: I am trying to be efficient, and to enact an idea—not just “waste” the tiles, and the precious time. Second constraint: limited time. I have one totally free hour this morning, and that is all. I thought about a three tile set, using parts of a photograph isolated from one another, but held together by the elements which made them cohere in the photo: setting, time, subject matter? I thought about a set held together by a theme: birds, or Christmas ornaments, or color? I imagined the process of creating the set—all its steps—but right now I am not motivated, or at least, there is a mental obstacle to explore! A little stone in the road that wants my attention. Sigh!



The tile shown is one of a set of blank baby name tiles. Right now there are five of similar deliberately understated pastel designs, which were just five ideas I had on another such bright and new morning (now passed forever into the mists of my personal history and the history of the universe and God’s creation…)

Maybe on another bright day a little baby girl will awaken in her pastel and snuggly-tossled crib, and this tile will belong on her familiar morning wall, and her lovely name will be on it. She will hear sounds of her family stirring in adjacent rooms, while breakfast is being prepared in the kitchen. Her name might be Isabel, or Ann, or Naomi… I will never know her, but my morning will touch her morning in some fantasy story yet to be written. Hmmm… just a little mental stone in the road. Should I kick it aside, or pick it up and take it home?

“Peace Comes Dropping Slow”

There is the quiet of a Virginia wild place that neatly organizes a multitude of life forms and gives evidence of a Great Mind and a Heart. The sun of an October afternoon bathes leaves to yellow and orange, and some drift downward in slow spirals. Ripples expand silently, as they touch the river. The great river. The mighty Potomac. Boats arrive at odd points during the morning, disembark from trailers, and float.  Assisted by the energy of human hand or motor, they glide away on the green water which laps against the landing, grow smaller, then disappear in the distance, along the blue water highway. Ancient, hollowed trunks of sycamore trees grip the earth with gnarled roots and soar upward in a leaning prayer that reaches almost to the blue sky, and drop strange hard brain-like fruit the size of a yellow-green grapefruit. Dirt paths along the bank bring friends, family, couples for strolls, in gentleness and comraderie.  It is early afternoon in the middle of the work week, so there is leisure only for some. Squirrels, chipmunks, deer, bugs, cranes, egrets and chittering small birds make good companions. Beneath the water another kingdom reveals only its little minnows at the water’s rocky edge, but the river teems with life. The swooping of a large white bird to the water’s surface and its sudden rising gives a glint of silver in the beak.

Vignettes: 1) “Regina”

Rich mahogany hair has been carefully brushed and arranged. Three tight ringlets fall from a large blue satin ribbon, to frame the side of her beautiful , 12 year old face.  A lavender wisteria vine adorns a white trellis behind the large lawn chair on which Regina and her little sister Claire sit together, posing. Claire squints, because the sun is bright, but Mama wants her to turn this way, so that the photographer can get every detail. Regina ironed the white dresses this morning, after making them damp by flinging starch water all over them, and then wringing them out in little balls, and shaking them free.  For the last hour she has positioned herself on the chair so as not to cause rumples, but now she is tired, and hardly cares.  The girls are getting their portraits done this morning. It will be the boys’ turn, this afternoon, after a nice picnic lunch. Impish Claire is wiggling and making funny faces. She sits in front of Regina, who smiles in patience and total love. The photograph captures that beautiful, loving smile.  Little Claire is not squinting, but wide-eyed: transfixed by a swallowtail butterfly flitting above the photographer’s head. He does not know the butterfly is there, as he is bent over, intently peering into the lens. The whole camera, along with the man’s head, is covered by a large, dark cloth.

(That was many bright sunrays, ago, and many annual growths of the wisteria vine ago. That vine was replaced by a spreading pink rose bush, now of very ancient flowering, itself. Claire’s daughter, a mother of her own grown daughter, shows the picture to her little golden-haired granddaughter, and together they imagine that day.)351

Joseph’s Christmas Story


“Do you ever wonder why there is a star on that Christmas tree?” Mrs. C asked the room full of children, who were sitting crisscross applesauce in a circle on the living room rug. They were passing around a plate that had all kinds of delicious cookies, for it was their parents’ yearly Christmas cookie exchange party. The room had colorful twinkling lights in every corner, and in the background “Jingle Bells” was playing. Outside, a light snow had started to fall, and Santa was on the children’s minds, as tomorrow was Christmas Eve. One little girl named Haley answered Mrs. C’s question, “I know. It is the star in the sky on the night Jesus was born.” “Good, Haley! That is right!” Mrs. C said. “For hundreds of years, people have placed a star on their trees for Jesus, and have retold His story, sometimes called the greatest story ever told.” “Would you tell us that story, Mrs. C?” “Well—the greatest story ever told is really the whole story of Jesus’ life—but let me tell you the Christmas part of it, tonight! There are so many ways the story has been told… Here is how Joseph, who was really there on that night, might remember it.” So Mrs. C began telling Joseph’s Christmas story:

It was a really cold night. You could see your breath come out in little clouds, and there were still miles to go before we reached Bethlehem, the town where I had been born. My wife Mary was trying to be patient and brave, but she needed a place to rest. The law said we had to travel the very long distance to my parents’ town, to be counted in the census. It was in days long before computers, cell phones, TV, hospitals, or even cars, were invented. I could walk the distance, but my wife Mary needed to ride on our donkey. Not because she was weak (she was very strong!), but because she was pregnant. You see, in her body, there was a little baby growing: our son—and He was also, in a way I couldn’t even understand—the Son of God. Brrrr…It was such a cold night–I just wanted to get her to a warm inn (like a hotel) with a comfortable bed, before the time came for the baby to be born. It was close to happening, she told me.

Oh, I was so cold and tired, and getting cranky, but I was more worried for Mary. Every place we stopped was full, because so many people were traveling to their home towns to be counted in the census, and there were no rooms for us. We had been looking for hours, and the sun had already gone down, when Mary finally said, quietly “We have to stop, Joseph, I am so weary—I really can’t go any further—it is time.” I looked up the road and at the top of a hill far ahead there seemed to be a large inn! Above it there was a bright and beautiful star, and I took this as a joyful sign that we had finally found a place to stop for the night! I gently led Mary on the donkey up the long hill, and when we got to the top, I left Mary in the yard and knocked loudly on the door of the inn. The innkeeper was friendly enough, but he said, firmly, that every single room was already taken. “We simply must stop” I told him, with equal firmness “My wife is with child, and it is impossible for her to travel any further without resting. Isn’t there some small corner of your inn where we can stay?”

He looked out at Mary with sympathy, and offered what he could, kind man! “The stable out back is very warm, with all the animals sheltered there. I just filled it this morning with fresh, clean hay. You are absolutely welcome to stay there for the night.” I thanked him, and led the donkey, with Mary sitting on it, around to the back, and up a little, sloping hill to the stable. It was in the middle of a cleared field, some distance from the main house; a beautiful place, really. From it you could see for miles, in all directions. That bright, strange, glittering star was shining directly over us, and it cast a cool, silver light onto everything. We did not even have to use our lamps, to see. “Thank You, God” I whispered, and made a comfortable resting place for Mary and myself. The kind innkeeper had given us bread and a pitcher of water. I unwrapped a package of olives, dried fruit and cheeses that we had brought with us. We ate, and relaxed in the warmth of the place, but I could tell that Mary was so tired and uncomfortable, although she didn’t complain. The animals did not seem to mind us being there, sharing their quiet, peaceful space, and before long, we both fell fast asleep.

After a few hours, Mary awakened me, and that night, in that stable, with that glorious star shining over us, our precious baby Jesus was born. Our son, Who by a great mystery and miracle, was also the Son of God! We wrapped him securely in our extra clothes and laid him in the manger, which the innkeeper had filled with new straw for the animals to eat. Jesus was beautiful, and healthy, and Mary and I were filled with awe and great happiness to see Him sleeping there, a little baby, perfect and sweet!

I learned through all the years Mary and I raised Jesus to manhood, that He was born that night to do something very special for God, His Father in Heaven. You see, Jesus even taught me, Joseph, and His mother, Mary, about God. We learned more deeply than we ever knew before, how much God loves us, and is always with us! Because of Jesus, we are alive with Him in Heaven even now…and our life with Him will never end! Jesus coming to us from Heaven to become a human child has been called “The Good News”. Mary and I were so blessed to see it in that stable, beneath that beautiful star, but it is the “Good News” for all people, everywhere—especially for you, little children! When Jesus grew up, He said that people must become like little children (like you!) to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. He saw something wonderful and important in the way you see things!

When you little children celebrate Christmas this year, with the star (or angel) above the tree inside your warm homes, remember that Jesus was born outside in a warm stable on a cold night long, long ago, beneath a shining star. Angels appeared in the sky that night singing gloriously beautiful songs– so sing your joyful Christmas songs, and join your sweet voices with the angels! Poor shepherds and wealthy kings came to rejoice with Mary and me, and each gave us their heartfelt gifts. Remember these, little children, as you give your gifts and happily unwrap your presents! Remember, sweet children, that in Jesus, you are God’s children, too. You are here on earth for a special reason! If you live carrying Jesus and His teachings in your heart, you will also be part of His story; the greatest story ever told!

Merry Christmas!


“Venerable Joseph, on your way to Bethlehem, prepare the manger of our hearts!” From a Byzantine Rite monastic chant, sung the week before Christmas.