Monday, May 23, 2011

Doodles of Light


When Michelangelo began work on the Sistine Chapel, his first drawings were not on a ceiling but on scraps of paper called “primo pensieri”, or "first thoughts". Art historians estimate he drew over one thousand of these scribbles, doodles, sketches and cartoons. Fewer than seventy of them survive. Then again, who keeps napkin art? Seen any framed legal pad doodles recently? Ever kept your loose sheets of scribble drawings after playing an evening of Pictionary with friends? This type of drawings do not count as real art in most people’s books. Michelangelo even thought so it seems. Few were saved.

Michelangelo’s primo pensieri carried more value than anyone dreamed possible at the time. If people knew what they would be worth in five hundred years, they would have kept them in bank vaults. Their worth is a lot more than mere current value at Sotheby’s auction. As biographer Ross King writes in Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,
Fresco painting called for numerous preparatory stages, but among the most vital and indispensable were the drawings by which designs were worked out and then transferred to the wall. Before a single stroke of paint could be applied to the vault of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo needed to produce hundreds of sketches to establish both the intricate body language of the characters and the overall composition of the various scenes.(1)

There's something about King's phrase, "Before a single stroke of paint". The vital, even indispensable work behind the scenes of any great creative work involves first thoughts, those fleeting ideas we have regarding a new venture in life. We don’t think much of these loose scraps of paper, the bits and pieces of our grand plan. Yet, without our primo pensieri, there will be nothing but blank plaster over our heads when people come into our lives.

           Of course, Michelangelo’s first thoughts were no mere stick figures or doodles, but detailed studies of human anatomy with a tender pathos in their duotone simplicity. Thankfully, various assistants in his studio grabbed up a few of scrap papers from his studio floor, preserving some of his cartoon studies for posterity.

The question for us has nothing to do with how we will be remembered in five hundred years. We leave that to God. But here’s a great idea from the past. Dare to have first thoughts. Begin today. Scratch out a few lines on the back of an envelope. Doodle a grand concept on a napkin. Daily scratch out a few more first thoughts. Those stick figures marching across your legal pad just may show you the way into the world of your dreams, and into the plans that God has for you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

(1)Ross King, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, (New York, NY: Walker & Company, 2003), 81.

Art image: Study for Libyan Sibyl, by Michelangelo; red chalk drawing; 1510-11 

Doodle Light image above and photo of the week below are both by Stefan Robinson. 

Monday, May 16, 2011


"I vividly recall, my first visit to a monastery in October 1986, and the deep sense of peace which came upon me as I sat quietly in the cloister garden. I had come home. Monasteries offer a beautiful design that serves the needs and purposes of the monastic community as well as those who come as guests. You’ll almost always find an enclosed garden at the center of the monastery, surrounded by the sanctuary, dining hall, kitchen, and dormitory. Nearby, you’ll find the guest house, along with other rooms, including workshops, an infirmary, and the library.
Like the design of a monastery, blueprints for family spirituality are designed to serve the needs and purposes of families seeking to live together in love. My wife and I shared many conversations regarding patterns of parenting when we became pregnant with our firstborn. Choosing a family blueprint is not easy, but it is essential for the crafting of a well-built family. Benedict’s design for communal spiritual life has stood the test of time, and can offer busy families today wisdom and guidance for finding their way home.
            Benedict's family was a community of monks, living under the leadership of an abbot or “father”, and guided by a common “rule of life.” The word "rule" . . . comes from the Latin word regula, meaning a measuring tool or guidebook. From the foundation of Benedict’s Rule, written in the sixth century, there developed thousands of long-enduring spiritual communities across the landscape of Europe, and later around the world, providing stability and wisdom across generations. 
           Every family lives according to some type of design whether consciously or not.  But without a wise blueprint and a good foundation, a family may not endure the storms that lie ahead. Many parents that I know have combined family blueprints from their upbringings. Most parents also seek guidance in the ongoing challenge of raising children."(1)
(1) Excerpt from The Busy Family's Guide to Spirituality (New York; Crossroad Publishing Company, 2010), 9-10;  by David Robinson. Used with permission.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lux Aeterna


Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure 
of the divine substance!
And transform your whole being
into the image of the Godhead 
through contemplation!
So that you too may feel what His friends feel
as they taste the hidden sweetness
which God Himself has reserved
from the beginning
for those who love Him.

So wrote Clare of Assisi to Agnes of Prague in 1238. Blessed Agnes of Prague (1211--1282), youngest daughter of the king of Bohemia, was "engaged" at age eight to Henry, son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II.  As a teen, she gave up becoming queen, and instead became a sister of the Franciscan Order of Poor Clares, devoting her life to prayer and service to Christ. The founder of this order, Clare of Assisi, wrote a series of letters to Agnes to encourage her in her life of prayer and contemplation. According to Clare, the heart habit of contemplation is something like looking into "the mirror of eternity", placing our soul in the "brilliance of glory". In so doing, we allow our whole being to be transformed into "the image of the Godhead" and begin to "taste the hidden sweetness" which God has for all who look into this mirror. After looking into this mirror of eternity, our souls are renewed and strengthened to serve others with the hidden sweetness of God. In 1232, Agnes of Prague founded the Hospital of St. Francis to serve and care for the poor and the lepers of the city of Prague. Blessed Agnes of Prague is featured on the 50 Czech Crown bank note, and also is the patron saint of Bohemia.