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So went the title of an e-mail a man in the church sent me a few days ago, and to my delight it included these photos of a tree he and his wife saw in King’s Canyon National Park, which, he said, reminded them of the patterns in some of the images here.  Beautiful!  Thank you both!

(All photos by Paul Albertus.)

They liked “thinking about what this tree was up to through many cold and snowy Sierra winters and hot and dry Sierra summers to come up with such patterns.”  And that is what I love about things like strata in rock, the patterns the tide leaves on the sand, the marks that remain on agave leaves after the outer leaves have opened, the insect-munched trail on the oak leaf I found at Bass Lake last week:  the way they hint of a history that is mostly unknown to the observer who comes along later.  Each of us bears those signs too, some on our bodies and many more on our personalities.


More or less done.  I might tinker with it; I’ve been thinking of adding a border, maybe of the same plastic that makes up the skin, but I need to stare at it for a few more days.


I’m happy with it.  Tomorrow morning is my dedicated art time and I’m not sure what the project will be–maybe just drawing.

I’m working on a piece that I think of as my “little green men.” Joy calls it my “little molting men.” They are, or rather he is, molting; it consists of many virtually-identical figures, each with a skin of plastic, and each skin in some degree or another of being shed.

Detail of work in progress (tentative title "Shedding")

I started work on it probably two months ago, with many hours of painting the papers, cutting out figures and then again cutting parts of them out of plastic, gluing the plastic on, outlining each figure . . . All a lot of fun. I worked on it only in short bursts over the last month while I was occupied with Spanish class and a little stumped about what to do next with this shedding person. For a long time, I’d planned on putting the figures in a spiral form, which kept me occupied with interesting technical problems; I had thought I wanted a Fibonacci spiral, which required a compass, so I’d bought one, leading to a fun afternoon of me and the munchkin drawing with the compass, but not much else, as the compass wasn’t really up to the task. What do you want for seventeen pesos. Besides, after looking at all the Fibonacci spirals I was drawing, I decided I wanted a spiral more biological and less mathematical, shaped like a snail’s shell. That didn’t work any better, though (the figures are too big–the piece would have to be something like 5’x5′ to hold them), and I didn’t have any other satisfactory ideas. So I fretted, and to make it worse, I fretted far from the piece, avoiding it as if it were the cause of all the trouble. This seldom works, and it didn’t work this time. To overcome a bout of creative sterility, I usually need to have the piece before my eyes and the materials in my hands.  That’s why I’ve been doing art during this sabbatical; it was time to stop thinking about art and actually make it.

Finally, today, done with Spanish and free of parental responsibilities all morning, I sat down with the figures and within five minutes knew how they should go, which was not a spiral at all but an undulating path. Then I realized they needed to walk on something and I knew what form the ground should take too.

I love this part. I love it when the piece is starting to match the vision (with lots of surprises along the way, but pleasant ones) and I can just sit there contemplating the piece in progress as I cut paper into slivers and glue to my heart’s content. It occurred to me at one point to wonder whether rubber cement fumes can be fatal, but I thought, Well, I’ll die happy.

My friend Karen brought me the rubber cement (3 jars!) when she visited last month. I hadn’t thought to ask for any, but she’d read on here about how I couldn’t find it in San Miguel, and I’m so grateful for her thoughtfulness. I don’t see how I’d have made this piece without it. Now I’m in the home stretch and having so much fun it’s hard to stop and sleep, but I’m tired.

I’ve been doing less drawing and more collages over the past two weeks. I’m almost done with the tree drawing, but I’m waiting to be able to meet with my teacher, who has some advice on it but who has been out working on a mural every morning for the past few weeks. I’m glad for the impetus to spend more time on these abstract pieces, because their topic is important to me: the tensions and balance between continuity and change.

The one I’m working on now has a long way to go, but here are two from earlier this spring on the same theme (weak quality–the best I can do with my little camera). I looked up skin in the encyclopedia for the second one and loved what I found: “The basic function of our skin is to protect the organism from infection and the introduction of foreign materials, yet at the same time, it is an organ of respiration, secretion, the regulation of body temperature, sensation, and excretion.” In other words, our skin has the responsibility to be a barrier–quite an incredible one, flexible and impermeable to water–and also to allow exactly the right things out and in. It’s a model to emulate in the life of the soul, trying to maintain equilibrium while being open to the new and releasing the no-longer-necessary (which, as in the bodily metaphor, can quickly become toxic).

image 169

Continuity and change, #1

image 170


image 171

Continuity and change, #2

I thought of adult Unitarian Universalists and our congregations’ children when I read this passage by the anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson this morning:

In Israel I had repeated conversations with older members of kibbutzim bewailing the fact that their children do not want to “follow in their footsteps,” choosing to leave the kibbutz, even live abroad. “Did you grow up on a kibbutz?” I would ask. “Oh no, my father was a shopkeeper in the city and very religious.” The parents had left home to found the kibbutz, and now the children are following in their footsteps by leaving. (Peripheral Visions, New York: HarperCollins, 1994, 80)

Most adult Unitarian Universalists either grew up in another tradition or none at all. In either case, as much as we may wish our children to remain UUs, some of what we convey to the next generation is bound to be very different than “stay in the tradition of your upbringing.” This entire chapter of Bateson’s book is on continuity and change, and she counsels neither one or the other but a balance—and a recognition that what may look like change is in fact a deep continuity.

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