Thursday, January 31, 2008

I once was lost but now am found...

Christian art is as old at Christianity itself. Art can be a powerful tool to communicate the truth of the Bible and of who God is. One of my favorite paintings is the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus, painted around 1600 by the Italian Baroque painter, Caravaggio. Caravaggio is such a rock star. He was the painter in Rome at the time and is one of my all-time favorite artists.

Here, Caravaggio has captured an amazing moment in history, which can be read about in the book of Acts. Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christ's followers and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. Acts 9:1 says that "Saul was uttering threats with every breath." That he was so zealous to destroy Christians and had such a hardened heart is significant to what happens next!

Acts 9: 3-4 says, "As he was nearing Damascus on this mission, a brilliant light from heaven suddenly beamed down upon him! He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?'" Saul asked who the voice was; there was no one around him but his groom and his horse. "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do." (Acts 9: 5-6) When Saul tried to get up, he realized that the light had blinded him. He couldn't see for three days until Ananias laid his hands on him. Now called "Paul," he was baptized and immediately began preaching the Good News.

Caravaggio has captured the moment that Saul’s heart was miraculously touched by God. Saul has just been thrown from his horse and is laying flat on his back with his arms thrown up to heaven, as if he’s trying to embrace the divine light that blinds him. Have you noticed how the composition of the painting is so concentrated? There’s hardly any empty space. The horse is massive and takes up most of the painting but creates a frame that locks us into a close-up, intimate view of the scene. The figures are life-size! Imagine the impact this painting has on its viewers! It’s like we’re witnessing this spiritual event ourselves. There aren’t any angels or halos or supernatural figures, either. Caravaggio made this experience look natural, like it could happen to any of us.

The light in the painting is remarkable. It’s coming from a source that is outside the painting. There are a few visible rays in the top right corner of the composition. Caravaggio’s use of light is dramatic and reflects the significance of the moment. The stark contrasts of light and dark was a signature style of Caravaggio’s that shocked and then fascinated his contemporaries. It’s a technique called tenebrism and became a prominent feature of Baroque painting—dramatic, deep shadows with intense illumination. Saul is emerging from the darkness, literally and figuratively.

Look at the serenity in Saul's face—it’s like Caravaggio is inviting us to be transformed along with him. He is stunned but not in agony. I don't know about you, but I would probably look a little more freaked out! Saul's calm expression invites us to participate in the mystery of the conversion.

This painting reminds me of how relational God is. Paul wrote of his desire to be in relation with Christ in Philippians 3:10—“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” The result of the event in this painting was knowledge of God—of what he has done and of the relationship between God and Paul. He spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus, but he speaks to us and he’s alive today too. God restores all of our souls and enlightens us the way that he did with Paul.

In Acts 22:10, Paul wrote that he responded to the voice of Jesus by asking, “What shall I do, Lord?” He was willing to do what Jesus commanded of him. Caravaggio’s painting is a reminder of the saving power of Christ and how his grace transforms us. Grace by faith through Jesus gives us hope that any sinner can be forgiven. Like Paul, we must be willing to let God transform us, acknowledging his authority, and respond to him with “What shall I do, Lord?”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'll be mission you...

My 2007 ended with a trip to beautiful Mission San Juan Capistrano with Mic and Jimbo. Mission San Juan Capistrano is called the "Jewel of the Missions" because it's generally considered the most beautiful of the 21 missions. I've only been to a couple of the others, but I'm inclined to agree. After a cold and dreary week in wintry Seattle, it was such a pleasure to experience a bright sunshiny day with friends in Southern California. We took hundreds of pictures! The amazing thing about this place is that you can totally suck at taking pictures, but the scenery is so gorgeous, your photos will still come out looking great!

This mission is the seventh of the 21 missions. It was founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. He founded nine of the 21 missions. The first church here was built in 1777 and it still used today. It is considered the oldest church in California.

The central courtyard feels like paradise. Time slows down. Worries vanish. Life is peaceful.

I really liked Jim's Laguna Woods T-shirt.

Jim and Mic were fascinated by all the bees on the poppies.

So spy...

One of my favorite things about the mission is the bells. All four of them are named and were cast in Chile and used to hang in the Great Stone Church.

When you leave the mission there is a sign that has the old expression of goodbye, "Vaya Con Dios," which means "Go with God."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Legendary Notebook

Last week, a friend told me all about Moleskine (pronounced mol-a-skeen'-a) notebooks and how amazing they are. After a good amount of talking the brand up, I expected the journals to be covered in jewels or for the paper to have gold specks in it; you know, something flashy and exciting, something that would warrant the raves. I was amused when I saw that they're basic, average little black journals. Upon first glance, there didn't seem to be anything special about them. What was all the fuss about?

After I bought one, I understood.

Moleskine notebooks are the perfect size to keep in a bag or purse and great for writing down those fleeting profound thoughts, sketching something beautiful, or capturing impressions. They’re all handmade, have an elastic outer band that keeps them closed, an inside pocket and ribbon bookmark. You can get them with or without lines, but black covers are the coolest.

Legend has it that Van Gogh, Picasso and Hemingway all used these unassuming journals. That’s reason enough for me to be a loyal Moleskine notebook purchaser. They’re now available at Barnes and Noble, but in the 19th Century they were only available at little stationary stores in Paris. In 1986, the last manufacturer of Moleskine stopped making the books. It wasn’t until twelve years later that they started being produced again, by a small Milanese publisher.

They’re a bit pricey (my little notebook cost sixteen bucks), but hey. I’m ready to write the next Great American Novel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


C.S. Lewis’s book, The Screwtape Letters, is a series of letters from a devil named Screwtape to his younger nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt the human he’s been assigned. The following is one of my favorite passages. Screwtape is explaining pleasure to Wormwood (the point is that pleasure needs to be twisted before it is of any use to the enemy):

"[God] is a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a fa├žade. Or only like a foam on the seashore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at his right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore.’…He has filled his world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without his minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working…"

This passage reminds me to take pleasure in the little things in life. God has created an indefatiguably fascinating world, and I really do think he wants us to find joy in everything, even seemingly small, quotidian things—learning a new word, getting a new journal, sunshine, eating a perfect apple, possibilities, poems, memories, a love note, a fragrant flower, a good book. Heck, even pet peeves. The world is bigger than we can even imagine, and it’s ours for the exploring and enjoying.

You have made known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in your presence,
With eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

Why, then the world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open. –Shakespeare

Friday, January 11, 2008

Pet Peeves

Yes, we all hate when we lean over the bathroom counter and the fronts of our shirts get soaking wet. None of us appreciates a loud talker at the movies. Those are not pet peeves. Here’s the thing about a truly good list of pet peeves—they’ve got to be personal and random.

That being said, here are some things that totally annoy me:

The meaningless extra four digits that are sometimes added to zip codes. Do we need to complicate life more, or what? To quote Riley, "they're, like, negative-useful."

When I lose the covers from my iPods' earbuds. Seriously annoying.


When people come up behind me, cover my eyes, and say, "Guess who?!" Ugh. Get your dirty germ hands off my face.

Wearing jeans to the theater. Totally unacceptable, even for matinees. (I'm talking about plays/musicals.)

Children recording answering machines.

When DVDs automatically have English!

Please take note!!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Just watching them made me tired...

Almost there!!

Definitely the best looking runners of the bunch.

This past weekend, two of my best pals, Megan and Riley, ran a half marathon! They ran about 13.5 miles in a little over two hours yesterday morning. Most of our small group was at the finish line cheering for them. We saw little kids and 80-year-olds, mentally-disabled runners, mothers and daughters, even a couple of arm cyclists. It was an amazing experience hanging out at the finish line. It was the first time I was exposed to the hardcore world of long-distance running. These people do not mess around! One guy had a belt of equipment on (Band-Aids? Power Gel? I'm not sure.), another wore a cape, and several looked like they were about to keel over and die.

13.5 miles! I don't think that I've run that much in my entire life! I'll run if I'm being chased by a dog or a psycho with a knife, but other than that, I'm pretty good with walking. Running 13.5 miles is completely beyond my realm of thought, but Megs and Ri have inspired me to give running another shot this year. (Please note that this enthusiasm is probably more related to being excited for my friends and not so much to start doing something not fun, that I suck at, that makes me sweat, and that I generally abhor. This enthusiasm is subject to change at any time, and probably will in a few days.)

Not to sound like a mom or anything, but I am so proud of my friends. It took an incredible amount of dedication to train for this race. They ran for over five months to get in shape for this thing! What an incredible accomplishment!! Love you guys!!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Kindred Spirits

Jeananne Metskas and I have been friends for three or four years now. We met at a Crave event after church one Sunday and talked about Europe the whole night! There was an instant connection between us. We had heard about each other for a while, but didn't meet for months! What happened was the Crave pastor at the time kept mixing us up. Every time he and I talked, he’d ask, “Didn’t we have this conversation already? You must have a twin at Crave!” Turned out, he thought I was Jeananne! Even now, we are often mistaken for sisters.
Jeananne worked so hard through college, transferred to NYU to finish her degree, and even lived in Florence for a semester! Since graduating from NYU, she's continued living in New York City so I don’t see her much these days. I was able to meet up with her on an east coast trip last March and it was so much fun hanging out in New York together. I only saw her three times last year, but whenever we reunite I’m reminded of how much fun she is to hang out with! I don’t think I laugh with anyone as much as I do with Jeananne. We have a way of nonverbally communicating to each other by giving each other weird looks. We both love Coldplay, Europe, art, and the Coach store! Jeananne is a friend who will challenge me and encourage me. Whether it’s getting lost in downtown Santa Ana at night, grabbing dinner at the Gypsy Den, eating Magnolia cupcakes in New York City, or sipping chai in Laguna, I always cherish time with my precious friend.

I miss you, Jeananne!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

525,600 Minutes

How do you measure a year? Here is my 2007 in numbers:

1 pair of high heels bought. First ever.

21 books read.

0 times thrown up (19-year streak is going strong).

6 states visited for the first time.

3 weddings. 1 bouquet caught.

25 days of birthday celebrating.

2 trips to Seattle.

9 Vermeer paintings seen (that’s a big deal; there’s like, 34 in the world).

1 funeral. First ever.

0 speeding tickets (lifetime streak is going strong.)

2 books received from a secret friend.

23 movies seen in the theater.

3 performances of Wicked seen.

8th Disneyland annual passport bought.

2 seminary classes.

1 co-led small group.

3 other small groups.

2 blogs started.

525,600 minutes.

How do you measure a year?