Rev. 22 vs 1-2 The angel also showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal, and coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing down the middle of the city’s street. On each side of the river was the tree of life, which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
In turbulent times such as ours, with pandemic conditions, political divide, social unrest and unexpected devastating storms, it is easy for me to fall into despair. But I am finding that when I truly quiet myself especially in prayer and also when I make art I find an enduring optimism that refuses to be extinguished, despite it all. I’ve examined this positivity for “Pollyanna-ism,” a form of denying reality. I have come to believe that this deep optimism is instead a seed of undying hope planted by the Holy Spirit. It is a hope in the healing force of our God, a promise of resurrection, and a springtime of greening and growth when I feel like I’m in a dry desert.
I’ve found company in the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine abbess of the 12th century. She coined the word “viriditas” to mean the greening force of the Holy Spirit. Hildegard says that the “Holy Spirit is greening power in motion, making all things grow, expand, celebrate.” And that salvation or healing is the “returning of the greening power and moistness.”
We see this greening force in nature all around us. After every winter there is a spring. After every forest fire there is a resurrection of ferns and fireweed and aspen, leading the way for the larger forest to recover. If the Holy Spirit is in, with, and through us, present even in the tiniest leaf (Martin Luther) then no wonder I cannot extinguish this force deep within me that plants the promise of growth and abundance and fullness of life.
During this long season of Pentecost we use the color green in our worship space to reflect this long season of growth. In nature through the growing season we see an abundance of different greens; from springtime yellow greens, to vibrant true greens and deeper blue greens of summer trees, to greens tinged with golds, reds, oranges and browns of the harvest season. I have tried to include many of these variations in the Green Season paraments to reflect these color changes. Just as these greens change through the season, so does the season of our own healing.
The photo to the left is a decorative parament 14 feet tall by 28 inches wide, silk dye on silk, depicting a fruitful tree of life “nurished by the crystal waters of the river of life, flowing from the throne of God.” This is what the tenacious positivity feels like inside of me.
Above: “Iowa Tree of Life”, silk dye on silk, 14′ x 28″, ©Kristen Gilje
These pieces were commissioned by First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, IA.
Each of the three paraments (a decorative niche parament, an altar parament and an ambo parament) have ripe fruit in them and a reference to water as a symbol for the verdant nurturing power of the Holy Spirit. In the tall niche parament the tree of life has grown ripe fruit because it is nurtured by the crystal waters of the river of life, flowing from the throne of God. The altar parament depicts golden wheat and purple grapes, expanded and ripened by the “greening power of the Holy Spirit in motion,” for making the bread of wine of our communion. Behind these altar fruits the water of life can be seen gathered as a still deep pond, a place at which to rest.
In the Ambo piece below there is evidence of the moist nurturance of the Holy Spirit in the various ripe fruits growing from the same vine. This is a celebration of the complex and varied fruits of Christ the Vine, who is active today in our lives. May we all be nurtured by the Spirit to produce good fruit for the health of our families, for life of our communities, and for the healing of our world.
I’ve been commissioned to design a new stole for Joanne Engquist’s 30th anniversary of her ordination. It’s an exciting one, pulling in Pr. Joanne’s favorite animals from several places she has served, including Maine and Washington State. Exciting because it lifts up animals of God’s sacred creation, without any other symbolism. The animals in their environments, alone, are symbols of God present “in, with, and through all things”.
Commissioned by Faith Lutheran Church, Redmond, WA as a memorial to member Del Stalwick
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”.Rev. 22:1-2
Maybe it’s because I grew up on the Mississippi River. Maybe because of all the canoe trips on Midwest rivers and the Minnesota Boundary Waters. And surely because of living in the North Cascades next to rushing and tempermental mountain streams with their many waterfalls, feeding the great Lake Chelan….Moving water has figured prominently in my paintings as a life-giving and holy image.
Many biblical texts draw from river imagery and provide inspirations for this silk painting. One is from Psalm 46:4 “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the most high” . Furthering the image of the sacred river is the beautiful text from Revelation 22:1-2 of the river of the water of life flowing from the thrown of God. In this text a sacred river runs through the city and nourishes the tree of life, which in turn provides sustenance for all. Both these texts provide a great image of hope, strengthening my faith that God is indeed present and active in the world. I imagine God’s presence like a river actively coursing through our lives, and through the life of all history and of all creation.
Another source of inspiration for “There is a River” is the stained-glass work by Mark Gulsrud that graces the windows at Faith Lutheran in Redmond, where the banner hangs today. .Mark has often used the image of a dove in his work. As part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is sometimes pictured as a dove, as it is here in this painting, and its presence often shakes things up. An octogenarian friend of mine used to pass the peace by saying “May the Spirit of God disturb you” which always shook me up a bit, as was her intention. The colorful ribbons and streamers coming from its wings represent the shock waves and disturbances the Holy Spirit causes as it enlivens the will of God in the world.
If you look carefully you will see a golden line lyrically coming forth from the mouth of the dove. This is the bird’s joyous song as it remakes the world in the way God intends and reminds us to be joyful in our faith. I hope also, that as a memorial to Del Stalwick, it will bring to mind Del’s love of music. I hope this banner brings joy and depth to worship at Faith Lutheran for many years.
Commissioned to celebrate her 25th Ordination Anniversary, Pastor Mary’s husband ordered a stole to be designed and made incorporating the Prayer of St. Francis, one of Mary’s favorite prayers. The prayer is wound through the design in gold, amongst a visual celebration of animals, insects and plants, and of course St. Francis. This design has turned out to be one of my favorites.
And since my commission schedule was full, we first sent her a framed sketch of the stole to come:
Just finished painting this silk stole top for a pastor in British Columbia, Canada. It’s an older design of mine, the Northwest Green Season Stole, but I get to refine each time I make a new one. I do like this version. Still to do: steam, wash, cut, hand-sew. Fun part is over!
I had fun using the book cover graphics as guides to record some of my favorite theological explorations over the past several years onto a silk scarf.
By no means an exclusive list, they include
The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, Ilia Delio; Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault; The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr;
The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, Cynthia Bourgeault; Super, Natural Christians, Sallie McFague, From Teinhard to Omega, ed. Ilia Delio;
The Divine Milieu, and Hymn of the Universe, both by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; Making All Things New, Ilio Delia.
Some of these books I’ve read and re-read, underlined, defaced with comments and notes, and tabbed. Others have influenced me by osmosis: being around people who immersed themselves and consequently me in these authors’ thoughts. The latter include Sally McFague and Cynthia Bourgeault, whose books are on my reading list.
Now all the pieces in the 13-piece set Kennewick Christmas are finished. It took me a lot longer to sew each piece, some by hand, than I thought it would!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Syrian refugees as paint this set, and how, to a refugee in a stranger’s land, any space that is warm and dry can seem fit for a king. Even a manger meant for a place to hold food for farm animals is desirable if it’s the best place available. And that was the best place Mary could find to set her King of Kings, the baby Jesus, the night he was born.
Joseph and Mary must have been worried, anxious, tired and dirty from their travels and from the emotionally exhausting process of bringing a baby into the world. Yet I’ve depicted them both as shining with halos, basking in the sacred Light of God.
I Iwonder if you and I can see the sacred Light of God reflected from the homeless strangers we encounter in our daily lives today?
It was fun to work with the idea of light shining onto the manger, and illuminating the straw. And to carry the theme of sacred golden light throughout the banners and paraments. And to depict the Light of God shining on all of us through the halos on the stoles.
I thought I’d get a few pictures of how the stoles look when worn. Unfortunately the only model available was me. So here they are:
Getting Ready for Christmas
I’ve been working on a commission for Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Kennewick WA. It is a set of banners, paraments and stoles to celebrate the Christmas Season. The colors of the season are gold and white…I chose to use varying golds from darker to almost white, to represent light streaming down from the Star of David onto the Christ Child, Mary and Joseph.
Here you will see pictures of the finished paintings on silk. The fabric to decorate the font and the lectern have not been cut and hemmed yet, but they’re on their way.
First the stoles:
Following are two wall banners, to be placed at either side of the altar:
And two longer narrow banners to hang from the rafters, symbolizing the light of God within the sanctuary:
Material for the Lectern parament and Baptismal Font paraments, yet to be cut and hemmed:
The focal piece of the whole set is a simple manger upon which the golden Light of God is shining. I am unhappy with how this painting turned out and am in the process of re-painting it. I will add it to this post when it is finished.
Here are some other photos to give you a sense of the set and of them being created in my studio.
I am grateful and honored to have been asked to design and make these banners, paraments and stoles for Lord of Life. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I will do more writing on this post when I am finished with the whole project, so stay tuned until I finish all the sewing involved!