Wednesday, October 29, 2014

St Spyridon and the Poor Farmer and the Snake

I finally finished the story whose title is the title of this blog post.  It is about St. Spyridon, a fourth century bishop of Cyprus, greatly beloved in the Eastern Orthodox church, a man both kind and down-to-earth, and a wonder worker.
The picture here is the last one of the story, and contains all three of the title characters.

According to the story (one of many told about St Spyridon), during a drought in Cyprus, the supplies of wheat dwindled so far that even the vendors, who bought wheat from the farmers and then sold it to others, ran out.  Only one vendor foresaw that scarcity meant high prices, and bought up all the supplies himself.  Eventually he was the only one with wheat to sell, and he raised his prices to the moon.  One poor farmer tried to borrow wheat from him, saying that he would pay it back with interest the following year, hoping for rainfall and a good year.
The vendor slammed the door in his face at that suggestion.  The poor farmer then went to see St. Spyridon, hoping at least for a kind word.  He received a kind word, and encouragement to hope in God.  The following day, St. Spyridon visited the poor farmer with a chunk of gold.  He told him to go to the vendor, and with the gold as collateral, to borrow wheat to plant and to feed his family. Spyridon told him to be sure to bring the gold back the following year when he had repaid the vendor.  The farmer did as he was told.  The greedy vendor gladly lent him the wheat in exchange for the gold, knowing that there was no way he would be able to repay it.  But the following year the rains were plentiful, and the poor farmer had a bumper crop of wheat.  He returned to the vendor with a large sack of wheat--enough to pay his loan with generous interest.  The vendor reluctantly returned the gold to him, and the farmer took the gold back to St. Spyridon.
The saint said to him, "Come, let us return the gold to the one who lent it to us," and he led him out to the back of his own garden where he set the gold on a rock, and prayed to God.  The gold turned into a yellow snake, which slithered away.  
The poor farmer then fell on the ground and covered his face, saying, "I am not worthy of such miracles!"  But Spyridon gently lifted him up and said that for those who are humble of heart and ask him, God is pleased to work all kinds of wonders.

Among the stories of saints and animals, I chose this one because it is an unusual story because the animal in question is a reptile, a snake redeeming his kind from the bad press generated by the snake in the Garden of Eden.  It is an unusual sort of miracle too, whereby an animal gives its life temporarily for use by a saint, a gesture that is kind without being warm and fuzzy.

This is the first story where I put the words into form on the pages and then made the pictures to go into the spaces I determined for them.  That is clearly the way to do it.  People who take classes in this sort of thing probably learn this on day one or two, but when you are doing it all by the seat of your pants, as I am, it takes much longer to figure out.  But that's OK.
I am ready to begin the next story.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Anniversary at the abbey

We spent our anniversary at St. Andrew's Abbey, an anniversary destination that has immediately become a tradition.  Why didn't we think of it before?  It is a place we both like to be, for the prayer, the quiet, the monks with their ordered, present, happy lives, the bookstore (for Bob), Seth's grave (for me), the dry, grey-green beauty of the high desert, and the chance to go striding about in the hills.  I can paint there undistractedly, small desert landscapes that have no purpose except as exercises in putting on paper what I see.
This little painting was done in one of those 5 1/2" square Moleskine knock-off books, with a tiny watercolor box, and a couple of paintbrushes that hold water in a reservoir in the handle. Lightweight and easy to carry about, and fast to get started and clean up.

I started the first afternoon and went back to finish the following morning.  Bad to do if you are an Impressionist, but I'm not, and I was quite satisfied with the colors.

As I sat in the sand, I was accompanied both times by a small creature rustling about in a cluster of dry bushes nearby. It could have been a family of quail, or possibly a squirrel, though usually both of those appear at some point as they dart about doing their housekeeping. Whatever it was, it scratched and scrunched in the brush the entire time I painted, with noises so regular that it seemed as though it must be building something: maybe a palace just the size and form to suit the builder and its family.  I kept hoping it would appear, but it was evidently as consumed with its work as I was with mine, and had no interest in meeting a large intruder from the world of humans.  So the small creature and I concentrated on our work, side by side, each perhaps dimly aware of the other, but each with our own project to complete before the time came when it had to be finished now or never.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

St. Seraphim, second round

St. Seraphim needed a better picture than the last one, and he needed another post.

Regardless of how this picture looks, he was more than a guy who had a bear for a buddy. The reason for the bear's interest and lack of normal animal-human antipathy was that St. Seraphim had immersed himself in prayer to such an extent that his soul had lost its odor of corruption, if I may put it that way.  He seems to have purified his soul so that he was able to live as in Eden, in harmony with the natural world.  The famous passage in Isaiah says that "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,...the cow and the bear shall graze,...and the lion shall eat straw like the ox."  Fierce creatures will be gentle, and they and humans will not fear each other.  These prophecies seem to come to fruition in the lives of people who devote themselves entirely to prayer.  And St. Seraphim was one of those.
A quotation from St. Seraphim:
"You cannot be too gentle, too kind.  Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other.  Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.  All condemnation is of the devil.  Never condemn each other."

Ah, that is the kind of world I would like to live in.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

St. Seraphim

We spent last weekend on retreat up at the monastery that we love: St. Andrew's Abbey.  While we were there, I told someone about my plan for a book about saints and animals, and she said, "Well, there's Saint Seraphim and the bear..."  So when I got home I looked him up.
Saint Seraphim was a Russian monk who lived in a monastery, but in order to spend more time alone in prayer, took to staying in a small hut in the forest near his monastery.   He died in 1833, so he began going to the forest about the same time that Russia was at war with Napoleon.  Now Bob and I are reading WAR AND PEACE, and the War in this case is that war with Napoleon.  The Peace in the novel is a story of the social comings and goings, loves and trials of some fictional  Russian aristocrats.  For me there is something of a cognitive dissonance in the realization that this peaceable, prayerful man is the historical person, and the scheming, hoping, worrying, planning, good and bad motives and activities of the Bolkonskis, Rostovs, and Bezukhovs is fiction.   Tsar Alexander (who makes several appearances in the novel) was one of the people who visited St. Seraphim at his forest retreat.
The account of the bear is not really a story; it is just that while St. Seraphim lived in his hut in the forest, he was visited by many forest creatures whom he welcomed, as he welcomed all beings created by God.  An abbess from a nearby convent came to visit him one time and was terrified to see a huge bear with him.  But Seraphim told her not to worry, the bear wouldn't hurt her.  The bear was seen with him on various occasions.  He fed the bear with his bread, and was brought gifts of honey from the bear as well.

This little picture is a 5"x 7" card that I painted to send to Tofu, to tell him about this lovely, holy man.  His feast day, it turns out, is today, January 2.