I have always loved birds and been intrigued by their symbolism, but it has only been recently that they have found a prominent place in my work. Somehow the process of integrating the experience of Shane's illness calls for these images. Sparrows here represent the courage to face a world full of good and evil that is so much bigger than we are. Sparrows know their place in the order of things, and they don't try to look too far ahead. These tiny birds face that big ominous world with eyes wide and full of trust.
Sparrows figure into the folklore of a great many cultures. According to the ancient Egyptians, sparrows would catch the souls of the recently deceased and carry them to heaven. In Europe, there is a superstition that if a sparrow flies into your house, then it means someone will die. In some places, the person who catches the sparrow has to kill it or he will be the one who dies. In the Bible, sparrows were offered up by the very poor, and represent the concern of God for even the smallest and most insignificant beings.
Matthew 6:25-34: Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
The sky in this drawing is from a day when we learned that Shane had a rare mutation (ALK) for which cutting edge research has found a treatment. This news turned a very dire prognosis into a disease that could be managed for some time. This is the sky that we saw as we drove home that day, and the rays of light somehow carried hope with them.
Life is brutal, but we cannot be beaten down by it. The world lost one of its finest poets this week, one who spoke eloquently of courage in the face of hardship. Perhaps the sparrows carried the soul of Maya Angelou to heaven. I have shared a video here in which she recited "And Still I Rise."
What keeps you grounded and helps you find the courage to face life's hardships?
This painting saved me. My husband, Shane, a healthy, young, non-smoker, was recently diagnosed with advanced stage lung cancer. Of course, it was devastating to our family. How could we cope with the uncertainty that now plagued our future? None of us is ever guaranteed another minute, but now we were forced to face our mortality. How could we move forward with our lives and integrate this experience, forever changed, but not broken?
There was a brief hospitalization a few weeks ago, and during that stay it was discovered that there was quite a bit of progression to the brain... devastation anew.
Making Art is my way of coping when I am faced with difficulty. Somehow, I learned at a very young age that through the act of creation, one can feel the presence of a God so infinitely wise and powerful that our human concerns seem inconsequential. I remember the first time this happened for me, and coincidentally, I was drawing a bird then, too, a tufted tit-mouse, still my favorite.
This, however, is a hummingbird. The tradition in the Andes of South America teaches that the hummingbird is a symbol for resurrection. On cold nights, the tiny birds become lifeless and seem to die, but when the sun rises they miraculously come back to life! In our culture, hummingbirds symbolize living life to the fullest and making the most of every minute. Unless we are very fortunate, life will send us our share of troubles. These are the ink stains. We have to find a way to turn them into something more. The poem that follows is part of the painting:
From Ink Stains to Hummingbirds
Blue Black Stains have fallen on us
We will be forever changed
No more the pale, pristine, uncolored surface
In time, the Darkness will dissipate
broken by Rays of Light
magnified and brought into focus through our Tears
brought to order by our Prayers
Colors will find their way to the surface
They will transform the Blue Black Stain
and we will become the Vision of the Hummingbird
We will learn to fly forward and backward -to stop time
to kiss every flower and love life with every breath
We will no longer fear when our movement ceases at midnight
Quietly, peacefully, we will wait for the Resurrection of the Dawn
Birds are symbolic of a great many things. Does a bird mean something special to you?