An Artist’s Psalm

IMG_3532Challenged to rewrite the 23rd Psalm in the first person, Carlene Byron focused
on the beauty of God’s creation and God’s generous collaboration with all creators
who seek to embody God’s Spirit of creativity.

The Lord is my favorite artist;

I shall never cease to be amazed.

He surrounds me with beauty and splendor,

With treasures of intricate majesty and ineffable intent.

He leads me into opportunities beyond imagining;

He guides my hands as I create.

He gives wisdom to know the false from the true,

To discern the Spirit from the muse,

To shape what is pure and good and right and holy.

He has filled His world with riches beyond knowledge,

Created in every form to serve every being,

And like ripe fruit, I pluck what I need.

His creativity knows no end,

And I will rejoice in Him and His works forever.

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Dancing with a Mountain

mountainsI’ve just joined a writer’s community called Five Minute Friday, which provides a writing prompt every Friday morning for a quick free-write. Today’s prompt: Future.

Only one Person has a full view of the future. That’s not my tummy, which is sometimes anxious, or my brain, which is often racing through possibilities. (Devastating possibilities! Terrifying possibilities! Staggeringly fabulous possibilities!) God has the big picture, and God hasn’t shown me as much as I sometimes would like to see. I have to content myself with little bits I can glean:

  • At some time in the future, all of creation will be liberated from its chains (Rom. 8:20-21). When God says “all,” God means “all.” To me, this suggests that the Old Testament “poetic” images of trees that applaud and mountains that skip like goats are not just poetry, they’re visionary. I begin to look forward to the day when I will dance with a mountain while trees keep time around the gigantic outdoors “hall.”
  • At some time in the future, tears will cease to exist (Rev. 21:4). When you live with recurring depressions, this is an amazing idea. First my very God wipes away every tear, then my very God removes every reason to weep.
  • At some time in the future, I will see God in all of God’s glory and, in the words familiar from Handel’s Messiah, “all earth shall see it together” (Isa. 40:5). I marvel at the “glory” of a sunrise, a budding daffodil, a thundering waterfall. I can only start to imagine what the “glory” (“heaviness” or “weightiness”) of God might be. I find a hint in the Old Testament, when not even the people set apart to serve God could enter the place of worship, because God had filled that place with God’s glory (Ex. 40, 1 Kings 8, 2 Chron. 5, 2 Chron. 7).

In the future God hints at, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). That’s better than the most fabulous future my brain can concoct.

True confessions: I invested 15 minutes in today’s piece. Great prompt!

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What If You’re Always an ‘Unknown’?

Acclaimed photographer Vivian Maier, novelist Franz Kafka, and painter Vincent Van Gogh were all virtually unknown during their lives. All are today acknowledged as masters. To me, this shifts the debate about building the artist’s “platform” to an entirely different level. Continue reading

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This Cake Fights Hate

“I bake, therefore I am (who God made me).” The search for our true identity starts with discovering what gives us joy and also can be gifted to others. I enjoy baking.

This month, I’m baking for two charity events. I’m providing a cake to a prom for special needs adults who weren’t invited to attend their own. Then, I’m baking all kinds of goodies from my family’s organic wild Maine blueberry farm for a fundraiser that supports the local land trust, which could eventually hold our land as a Forever Farm.

The cake recipe I use is one my mother made time and time again. The recipe originates with Margaret Chase Smith, the Maine Republican senator who challenged Joe McCarthy’s demagoguery with her own Declaration of Conscience in 1950. Mom would have found it in Marjory Standish’s column in the Portland Press-Herald, which was later compiled in two volumes of “Cooking Down East.”

What I learned from this recipe is that nutmeg is the perfect spice for blueberries and that it is almost impossible to put too many blueberries in any baked good. What I learn from the life of Sen. Smith is that there can be hope even during very polarized times.


Singer songwriter Woody Guthrie, who would be blacklisted, declared on his instrument his confidence that music was a powerful weapon.

During Smith’s long term in DC, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt targeted legislative foes, government officials, popular film stars and musicians, among many others. More than 2,000 government employees lost their jobs as a result of his slander and innuendo. Celebrities who ended up on industry “blacklists” as suspected communists included singer Lena Horne, filmmaker Orson Welles, aging silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and populist songwriter Woody Guthrie.

Sen. Smith’s denunciation of McCarthy, her Declaration of Conscience, called for the nation to rediscover its strength and unity. The backlash against McCarthyism and a prior generation’s nativism would ultimately help fuel the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, our first Catholic president. 


A popular portrait of JFK

We find it hard to imagine today a country where we so feared the Pope’s guidance of his flock that we considered Catholics potentially disloyal to our own civil government and therefore improbable candidates for office. We had to stop and remember our own American selves for JFK’s election to be possible.

Perhaps we will similarly stop and reflect, in light of our current divisive atmosphere, on our core values as Americans. We have been a nation of diligence, community, and service. We have been a country that is formed from “the other” and therefore chooses to be fearless of difference. We have been a country that sees those in need among us and finds ways to serve them, just as God urged Israel to provide from the edges of the field to those without fields of their own (Lev. 9:9-10) and to lend with generous spirit, at no interest, whatever the poor might need to move forward in their lives (Dt. 15:4-11).

Today’s divisions are not the same as those of the 1940s and 1950s. But perhaps Smith’s cake can be a weapon in our women’s warfare against division and hatred. One editor’s commentary on the recipe suggested that the senator could “serve this cake to the Democratic side of the Senate and accomplish in a trice what Dale Carnegie’s book imparts: the winning of friends and influencing of people.” At the very least, this cake is a great excuse to “Go, eat your food with gladness … for it is now that God favors what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).

Who could you win with a cake that fights hate? Try this recipe and find out.

Sen. Margaret Chase Smith’s Blueberry Cake

1/2 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. milk
2 c. sifted flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 c. blueberries

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round or square baking tins.
  2. Cream shortening; add sugar and beat until creamy. Add eggs and beat until light and foamy.
  3. Mix together and sift all dry ingredients.
  4. Add alternately to creamed mixture with milk.
  5. Fold in blueberries. (Hint: If using thawed or drained berries, toss berries in a bit of flour so they won’t sink to the bottom of the pans.)
  6. Pour into pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes until toothpick or skewer inserted at center comes out dry (no batter; may have berry juice).
  7. Cool in tins.
  8. Put layers together with frosting. Sprinkle top with confectioner’s sugar.



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The Writer’s Life, the Farmer’s Day and the Migrant Christian Identity

Terrific Pig Charlottes Web

Garth Williams illustrated Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Above: Charlotte the spider provides lavish encomiums to protect Wilbur the pig from becoming bacon.

E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and a much-beloved writers’ guide, The Elements of Style, offers a wry summary of his day in an essay, “Memorandum.” Farmer and author Eliot Coleman references White in his own “Advice to a Young Farmer”, which was recently republished in The Portland (Maine) Press Herald:

White’s list begins with, “Today I should,” “I ought to finish,” “First, though, I would have to,” “I ought to get some,” or ‘It just occurred to me,” and ends with, “I see it is four o’clock already and almost dark, so I had better get going.”

We all laugh … reminded that the life we have chosen is complicated and multifunctional, with more features than most people can imagine. But there is no joy in doing anything poorly. We get our satisfaction out of doing it well.

Coleman refers specifically to the many details of running a small organic farm, just a few of which include:

  • planning a harvest that extends across Maine’s entire (short) growing season,
  • acquiring seed for perhaps 35 different vegetables, in multiple varieties that ripen at different times
  • having a plastic-clad greenhouse and heated flats ready to start seed before our weather cooperates with the farmer’s task, and finally
  • having identified the markets where everything can be sold and
  • ensuring there are sufficient crates to haul it all.

Farmers, like many of us, work jobs where the odds of good results can be improved, but guarantees are limited. Coleman and White together remind how essential our own effort is to the development of a good harvest — and how easy it is to find another reason to postpone the effort. As the Spanish proverb says:

Tomorrow Busiest

Or, as our God reminds us:

A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. (Proverbs 13:4)

Jenny McGill BookAt this season in my own life, I’m focused on making diligent efforts to transform my character. I have been reminded recently by Miroslav Volf (via Jenny McGill’s fascinating Religious Identity and Cultural NegotiationReligious Identity and Cultural Negotiation) that “self-denial” isn’t about denying who I am. “Self-denial” is about refusing to live out the ways that sin has deformed my character, my behavior, and my view of who God created me to be.

A time of transition is challenging me to become more clear about what is the core of my true self, what are just habits that have worked in some settings, and what are problematic habits that obstruct me from focusing on actions that bear fruit …. problematic habits that God is challenging me to overcome.

I welcome your prayers as I seek to clarify my own true Christian identity during this time of spiritual and personal migration in my life.

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