>Picking Grapes and Sorting Laundry

>I was having coffee with a dear friend one day last week, when she expressed a kind of restlessness, a boredom with her life. She said she wished she had something she felt passionate about, the way I feel about my writing, and painting. She’s a beautiful woman. An excellent cook. Her voice adds beauty to the music at church when she chants and sings with the choir. She’s raising talented children. She’s a faithful friend. I’ve been thinking about her words this week, and looking for something wise and encouraging to share with her. My gleanings are from diverse sources.

First, from the March issue of Real Simple Magazine…. Their “thought” for the month:

“We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.” – E. B. White, Letters of E. B. White

And this picture accompanied the quote.

Of course E. B. White didn’t just pick grapes and sort laundry. He wrote best-selling children’s books, like Charlotte’s Web. But he also did menial chores on his farm, so he understood about the ordinary stuff of life. And finding joy.

Next I was reading a tiny little book my friend Madeleine gave me for my birthday called Women’s Wit and Wisdom. Here are a few gems that speak to this joy:

How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but to be someone. – Coco-Chanel (1883-1971) French couturiere

That’s a good one for me, as I can easily fall into the trap of defining myself by what I want to be or become–like a published author–rather than by who I am.
And this one, by one of my favorite (and very successful) actresses, Meg Ryan:

Oh, I am so inadequate–and I love myself!

Last week and this, my friend and fellow iconographer, Kerry, has been helping me prepare for the icon workshop I’m teaching next week. We worked on making a sketch of the prototype and transferring the image to the gessoed board.

Then we painted the bole (clay with glue mixed in) where the halo will go. Then sanded and burnished the bole and applied the gold leaf.

Next we mixed the egg tempera paints (egg yolk emulsion with dry pigments) for the roskrish or base colors and applied them. We also organized paint brushes, ordered more pigments, and began to write up the class schedule and make copies of materials the students will need. Next we’ll paint the lines and highlights and details on the icons, and pack up all the supplies to take to St. John Orthodox Church where the workshop will be held.

The icon the students will be painting is this one, “The Angel of the Lord.” I saw the icon at a monastery on the island of Patmos, Greece, this past October. The iconographer, Mother Olympia, was trained by Photios Kontoglou, my favorite Greek iconographer. (One of Kontoglou’s students was El Greco.) So, we’ve got a good model to imitate.

Each step of preparation for the workshop, and the work of actually writing (painting) an icon, for that matter, can be a work of joy, of passion, of excitement and fulfillment. Or it can just be a job, like picking grapes and sorting laundry. I think the key to our joy lies in these words of wisdom from Saint Peter of Damascus:

If you are making something, you must call to mind the Creator of all things; if you see the light, remember the Giver of it. If you put on your clothes, recall whose gift they are and thank Him who provides for your life. In short, let every action be a cause of your remembering and praising God, and lo! You will be praying without ceasing and therein your soul will always rejoice.

I love that Saint Peter doesn’t separate the spiritual from the secular aspects of our lives. That just as “making something”—writing a book, painting an icon, cooking a meal, knitting a sweater—is an opportunity to be mindful of God, so is “putting on clothes.” I don’t knit, but I love shopping and putting on clothes. So today I’m thankful for the blessing of painting icons and writing books… and wearing my new J Jill sweater. All good gifts are truly from God! Makes me think of this beautiful song , “All Good Gifts,” from the musical, “Godspell.” Enjoy!

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