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Outside my study window, atop January’s hoary stubble, roiled menacing blacks, iridescent greens and blues, glinting in the morning sun. I shuddered. The scene resembled the threshold of Hades. Then, I remembered: grackles—I’d seen them before, scavenging overflowing dumpsters in upscale alleys, roosting in oak trees near turn-of the century residences in the Central West End.

As if snapped away by a magician’s cloak, the birds were gone. Still swamped by this intrusion, I blinked in disbelief, yet knew I had work to do.

With reluctance, I researched grackles with their yellow eyes and tiny black pupils, their large claws and scalpel-beaks and fan-shaped tails. Even the word grackle sounded guttural.

Other contributors, however, had differing impressions: colorful, intelligent, aggressive, resourceful, playful, adaptive, and at home within swarms. Like winds pommeling gates on rusted hinges, grackles’ cawing was unique to them. Again, I looked out the window at the backyard, long empty of the menace and reminded myself that grackles, too, are part of God’s creation.

That I still I felt uneasy plunged me into the cesspool of my prejudices: uninformed, spontaneous, unthinking reactions, activated by the morning’s grackles. Decades of unconscious living, with my eyes wide open, had harmed others and myself—had jaundiced my perception of life and kept me split off from Creator God.

So entrenched are these prejudices, though part of the human condition, they cry out for Mercy! I still need cleansing.

 

 

Reds-greens-yellows-oranges-blues gladdened my fir tree, set up in my glass-enclosed porch to keep at bay winter’s pitchy assault where nothing lives. Happily, my neighbors also enlarged this show with shimmering pinpricks outlining their homes, with pine ropes framing doorways, with candlelight warming windows, with inflatable Santas drawing wonder from young and old alike, with crèches quickening believers.

Weeks of almost unbearable darkness passed. Yet each evening, lights dazzled the fainthearted and mesmerized the seeker and nurtured the patient.

However, with the incremental whisper of daylight came the imperative to shake free from doldrums and stash away the lightshows for another year.

Nine Christmases have passed since I first dismantled this tree, each one filled with long thoughts of the mystery surrounding us. Light is never vanquished by darkness; it does return. Yet both simmer with deep lessons, moving us into the next twenty-four hours with its challenges. Staying vigilant, receptive, and grateful is critical. There’s always more to learn and we’ve plenty of help!

 

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Have you ever watched a child play with watercolors? Her brush sloshing paints upon paper affixed to an easel, her brown eyes alive with discovery, her brunette braids pirouetting upon shoulders covered by a smock? How a low hum enlivens her classroom?

 

Such was my experience at Glenridge Elementary School. However, more education distanced me from that child enlivened by riotous colors splotching butcher-block paper. Over the years she disturbed my visits to art studios, museums, galleries; she itched to pick up a brush and again create messes of color.

 

A breakthrough occurred during a recent workshop facilitated by a seasoned artist with tapered fingers. In the middle of her studio ran a long table covered with painter-cloth. Across from our six chairs were sable brushes, tins of Prang semi-moist watercolors, sheets of 140 pound weight, tubs of water, paper towels, and small sponges and salt shakers, all neatly set before us, as if invited to a banquet.

 

“Let’s consider two basic techniques used in water coloring, wet on wet and wet on dry,” the artist said, smoothing her wavy hair from her forehead. “A good place to start. I’ll demonstrate.” It looked so simple.

 

My brush limp in my hand, I sprinkled drops of water into each color in my tin, then saturated my sheet in front of me, then stroked it with red as if it were my lover. Suddenly that little child at Glenridge Elementary School grinned at me. It had been too long. Other riotous colors emerged from the tip of my brush, blending and bleeding with each other.

 

Next came the technique, wet on dry. I listened for the inner prompting. It would be a spring garden; tulips, delphinium, and narcissus emerged upon my white sheet. It felt like the first morning of creation.

 

I had been visited.

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