Thursday, January 18, 2018

Unsung Hero of Durer's "Praying Hands"

On my wall hangs a carved wooden plaque of Durer's famed "Praying Hands." The ink and pencil sketch on which it is modeled was originally drawn by Albrecht Durer, the greatest German artist of his day. During his life, from 1471 to 1528, he brought a new realism to painting and engraving.

Durer's self-portrait and his "Praying Hands"
A little known story (whether fable or true is debated) behind Durer's "Praying Hands" tells of the sacrifice of another young man. About 1490, Durer was a struggling painter, working hard to attend classes, but his artistic progress was impeded by having to earn a living for himself.

The other man, an aspiring engraver, came up with a plan. They would toss a coin. The loser would go to work to support both of them so the other could concentrate on his studies. When the winner became successful, he would support the other in his artistic studies. Albrecht won the coin toss.

Albrecht Durer studied under the major artists in the great cities of Europe. His talent soon became apparent in his depictions of the religious scenes he painted. Soon his work was in great demand by churches and monarchs across Europe.

When after four years Albrecht returned to Germany to afford the other man the same opportunity, he discovered that his benefactor had paid dearly for his support. Having worked at hard labor in the mines, his hands were no longer able to hold the delicate instruments for engraving and woodcuts.

Later, while working on the figure of a disciple in prayer for a larger project, Durer used the other man's hands as his model. Of the hundreds of Durer's beautiful masterpieces, this simple image of praying hands is the best known.

Without the love, labor, and sacrifice of the other young man, Durer could not have succeeded.

Likewise, it takes all of us doing our part in the Kingdom of God for God's work to succeed. Some of us are called to do the creative parts; others are called to labor to be able to give to support it. Some preach the gospel. Others work to support their efforts financially and prayerfully. Both are essential. Together, we can do more for Christ than any of us can do alone.

"The Songs of the Reaper," words and lyrics by William A. Spencer (1886), a hymn I learned years ago, depicts Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9:

The seeds I have scattered in springtime with weeping,
And watered with tears and with dews from on high;
Another may shout when the harvester's reaping
Shall gathered my grain in the "sweet by  and by."

Over and over, yes, deeper and deeper
My heart is pierced through with life's sorrowing cry,
But the tears of the sower and songs of the reaper 
Shall mingle together in joy by and by.

Another may reap what in springtime I've planted,
Another rejoice in the fruit of my pain,
Not knowing my tears when in summer I fainted
While toiling sad-hearted in the sunshine and rain.

The thorns will have choked and the summers' suns blasted
The most of the seed which in springtime I've sown;
But the Lord who has watched while my weary toil lasted
Will give me a harvest for what I have done.

Many a pastor and missionary could sing this song. I could not write books were it not for the support and sacrifice of my husband.

Who has worked or sacrificed so you could succeed? What can you do to enable another to succeed?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

To Judge or Not to Judge

Some years ago, a young boy walked into a drug store and asked to use the telephone. He asked the operator to give him a certain number.

"Hello, Dr. Anderson?" the boy said. "Do you want to hire a boy to shovel snow, cut the grass, and run errands for you?...

"Oh, you already have a boy? Are you completely satisfied with the boy you have?...

"Okay, then, goodbye, doctor."

As the boy thanked the druggist for the use of the phone, the druggist said, "Just a minute, son. If you are looking for work, I could use a boy like you."

"Thank you, sir, but I have a job," the boy replied.

"But didn't I just hear you trying to get a job from Dr. Anderson?"

"No, sir. You see, I'm the boy who is working for Dr. Anderson. I was just checking up on myself."

When Jesus told us not to judge, He meant we are not to judge others. But He also told us that we would be known by our fruit, saying, "A tree is known by its fruit" (Matthew 12:33b). That means that we are to be fruit inspectors. We need to judge ourselves just as conscientiously as this young boy did.

I've always loved the poem by Robert Burns, "To a Louse," which contains a very important truth.

In the poem, Burns is sitting in church behind a woman wearing a very large, fancy hat. She is posturing proudly, not knowing that a louse is crawling all over her bonnet. Burns concludes with these words:

O would some Power the gift be given us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us...
(the translation is mine)

How true!

The only way we can check up on our spiritual image is to look into the mirror of God's Word and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our strengths and weaknesses to us, as this quote points out:

Did you take some time to examine yourself today?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Lessons from Snowflakes

It is snowing today. Not just a gentle, quiet snow, but a blustery, cold wind is swirling it wildly. In fact, meteorologists are calling it a "bombogenesis" due to the explosive drop in atmospheric pressure that has dropped more than 24 millibars in the past 24 hours just off the eastern seaboard. Boston expects hurricane force winds. At least, it's not that bad here.
Grayson Blizzard a "bombogenesis" Courtesy
I had plans for today. My granddaughter is flying back to San Diego tomorrow. Today was our last chance to get together. Because of the snow, I had to settle for a phone conversation. Who knows when I'll see her face-to-face again.

But isn't that life? Many things interrupt our best-laid plans. I was tempted to ask, "Why, God?" There may be no answer to that question. This side of eternity, our duty is to trust that God does all things well.

Having grown up in Alaska, I have many fond (and not so fond!) memories of snow: bundling up in snowsuits to play in the snow, building snowmen and snow forts, making snow angels, tromping through deep snow to search for just the right Christmas tree. 

I remember one Christmas Day while we lived in Juneau, the capital and largest city in Southeast Alaska, that the snow-covered mountains looked like strawberry ice cream cones. The sun rose mid-morning and set by mid-afternoon that time of year. The days were short, but the twilight lingered before the long night fell. (The sun made up for its brief winter appearances later. In the summer it rose in the wee hours of the morning and didn't set until after bedtime.)
Mt. Juneau Courtesy
Lots of snow fell during those years in Juneau. But school was never cancelled. We pulled on pants under our dresses, bundled up in coats and scarves, and walked on sidewalks that often weren't shoveled. It was great fun--usually. 

One time, hurricane-force Taku winds that blew off the Taku Glacier picked me up and set me down in waist-deep snow in a driveway that slanted down from the street to the garage door. Getting out was quite a struggle for this third-grader.

Another time instead of walking down many flights of stairs over a big hill to the school building below, we slid over the hill on cardboard. Great fun--until the time I landed at the bottom on a rusty nail sticking out of a board. It punctured my thigh and bloodied my clothes. My teacher had to apply first aid. After that, I was more cautious.

I also remember disrupted trips when mountain passes were closed due to heavy snowfall, many falls on ice and snow that I am paying for the older I get, and my grandfather and father shoveling snow.
Grandpa Personeus shoveling snow in Valdez

My first year of college I attended Seattle Pacific College (now University) in Seattle, Washington. All it did that year was rain. I missed the snow so much that my grandma sent me a large framed photograph of a snowy scene to hang on my wall. 

The mid-May day I graduated with my BA degree from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, however, it snowed as we lined up in our caps and gowns outside to enter the gymnasium where the ceremonies were held. It didn't last long, though.

So what can we learn from snowflakes?

Wilson A Bentley photographs of snowflakes under a microscope.
He photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes.
A snowflake begins when a tiny dust or pollen particle comes into contact with water vapor high in Earth's atmosphere. Water vapor coats the tiny particle and freezes into a tiny ice crystal from which a snowflake will grow. Dust is not one of my favorite things. It makes me sneeze. I have spent a lot of time trying to keep my house dust free. Snowflakes remind me that even irritants can be God's means of creating something beautiful of my life if I allow Him to.

Since the tiny crystal is heavier than air, it begins to fall toward Earth. As it plunges through humid air, more water vapor freezes onto its surface. The snowflake grows larger and larger. Although all snowflakes have a hexagonal shape, different temperatures and humidity through which each one falls makes each snowflake different. Likewise, God can use all the experiences and trials I go through in my life to further transform me into a unique person He can use for His purposes.

Whether the snowflake will arrive at Earth's surface as snow, sleet, or freezing rain is determined by the temperatures at various levels and at the surface. The snowflake has no control over its response to the temperatures. That is controlled by the laws of nature. But I have a choice how I respond to the hardships that come my way. I can become better or bitter. 

If a lone snowflake falls to the ground, it quickly melts. If the conditions are right, though, the snowflake joins others to pile up into a measurable snowfall. That reminds me that more can be accomplished together than anyone can do alone. Just as we need each other, snow is necessary for agriculture. It prepares the fields for spring planting. Out West, mountain snow is essential for irrigation. If they don't get enough snow during the winter, there will be shortages of water for irrigation and high danger of forest fires in summer. 
To me, one of the most beautiful sights is winter's dazzling snowy dress. The silence of falling snow reminds me of Christmas, when we celebrate "how silently the wondrous gift" of God's Son was given to a world in darkness. 

The way newly fallen snow covers up the barren, grimy landscape devoid of greenery and leaves recalls to my mind God's words through Isaiah, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (1:18). It reminds me that when I confess my sins, God washes me "whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7).

In spite of all the snow this winter, I hope you will not be overwhelmed with the work and inconvenience of it but will appreciate the lessons from a snowflake. While the snow may seem unending, we know that spring will come.

What lesson does snow teach you?