Friday, November 16, 2012

Blessed are you...

“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Luke 1:42

Her hands were covered in flour as she kneaded the dough back and forth, up and down. She pushed the dough to evenly mix the moisture through the flour and yeast. The rhythm gave her mind a chance to wonder as her body worked. A smile bloomed on her face as she recalled the tenderness of her husband over the past six months. Though mute, he had expressed his love for her and his awe at the workings of God.
She put her hand to her back as she straightened it. A small look of concern passed her eyes as she wondered yet again why she hadn't felt her child move, though she had carried him for six months. Perhaps here was her test to believe what Zechariah had been told. That even at her age, she would bear a son. While stroking her side, she pondered what joy and gladness this promise gave.
She sat on a bench in the courtyard and leaned against the wall to let the warmth of the sun soak the tension from her face. “Ah, just for a moment to enjoy the quiet.”
Elizabeth – Elizabeth...”
Her hands flew to hold her stomach as her mouth laughed out loud. She got to her feet as quickly as she could as her dear young kinswoman entered the courtyard. They reached to embrace each other and laughed as their faces touched but their bodies were interrupted by her stomach swollen with child. Mary's eyes widened as she felt movement against her during their embrace. She backed away enough to place her hand on her cousin's side and marveled at this movement she was yet to feel in her own body.
Once again they pressed cheeks, pulled back, and, as their eyes met, they shared their joy, their blessing. In that look, Elizabeth saw with her heart more than her mind could conceive.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, she cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy!” 

The following was published in the Texarkana Parent Magazine in the November/December 2012 issue.  It is on page 25 of the following:

Corby Eisbacher's artwork depicts the meeting between two pregnant women: Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Advent season is a time to ponder Christ's coming to our world, a story the New Testament records for us beginning with his conception and early in his teen-aged mother's pregnancy.
I remember a time when I felt like their older kinswoman, Elizabeth. At age 36, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. My first two pregnancies had no morning sickness. With this one, I was miserable from waking in the morning until finally falling asleep at night. I just wanted my mom, who happened to be backpacking across Europe without today's convenient internet connections! As I started to feel better, my doctor diagnosed placenta previa that placed me at even higher risk. Soon thereafter, my husband's job, our sole source of income, was terminated.
Somehow in the midst of the poverty, weakness, and fear, God's love broke through. He taught us the truth of his words in 2 Cor 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” The power of Christ's love was proven in so many ways: a baby shower from strangers, a job for David, money coming from unexpected avenues, generous and skilled doctors. Most of all, his loving strength broke through in the joy we found in each other and in the safe delivery of our healthy baby girl.
The afternoon following her birth, her pediatrician came to my room. He laid his hand on her, smiled, and said, “She is one of God's miracles.” I was delighted by his description and pondered how she is a miracle of God's love. It was years later before I realized that he probably said this about every infant he examined. What a wonderful way to affirm that each child is a gift of God's loving creation.
Though it was an unplanned pregnancy, Catherine was never an unwanted child. I couldn't imagine why it was so painful, but God knew well the plans he had for us. He reminded us that, “when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, and I will change your lot.” Jer 29:13-14
He not only changed our lot, but the lives of so many who know and love Catherine.
During this Thanksgiving season, I pray for pregnant women, especially those at high risk. May God the Father provide for their needs through the loving actions of others. May Jesus, our brother, strengthen them, breaking into their world with joy. And may their fears be soothed with a sure awareness of the Holy Spirit's plan for their lives.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Diary of a Prayer Jar: Jars of Sorrow

Art or Craft?  I have always thought of myself as more a craftsman than an artist.  My love of pottery is for its function.   My cups and bowls have very obvious jobs - holding cereal or coffee or popcorn.  The craft of pottery is a skill that starts with mud and ends in function.

But Art?  That word has always rather intimidated me.  I can't draw stick figures or "carry a tune in a bucket".  In mandatory classes at school, I have even had teachers rather "scorn" my projects.  It is funny how someone's opinion given decades ago can color one's self perception.
Our son, Andrew, can look at an object and draw it beautifully.  Our middle son, Mark, has just been  accepted into grad school for opera performance for his wonderful voice and passion for music.  Catherine loves Shakespeare and acting.  My hubby, David, can pick up a piece of wood and carve a saint.  Me, well, I do functional pottery! 

But what exactly is art?  There is the question.  In study, I find that art is defined as "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others."  Art is something that stimulates an individual's thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or ideas through the senses.  It conveys an idea or emotion. Perhaps, finally, with these prayer jars, I have created a piece of art.

The prayer jars are a marriage between craft and art...between function and beauty.  My hope is that they became a touchstone for their owner, a reminder to pray.  Some use the jars to hold the names of loved ones or acquaintances in need of intercessory prayer.  Others write their own needs and place them inside the jar.

 As the past few blogs have described, these jars have been inspired by the beauty of Italy, the love of friends, gifts from loved ones and passages from the Bible.   Carving the crown of thorns was the most time consuming, but the cause for much reflection for me.  They remind me over and over that Christ knows our sorrows, our sufferings.   A slender strand of leather has been added to the jars to hold symbols of his suffering...leather for the whip, a thorn for his crown, and a nail for his crucifixion.   For a reason that we still do not fully understand, he chose to become man and take suffering on himself.  In so doing, he redeemed us...he saved us. 

The thorns twisted in agony and pain break through into hope.  Yes, he was beaten, mocked, crucified and died.  But that is not the end of his story.  He broke through and resurrected.  He ascended to heaven and sent his Holy Spirit.  He remains with his people to the ends of the earth and through out all time.  Where is God in the midst of our suffering and loss?  In the midst of us.  By our side.

May Lent 2012 bring you hope and a renewed awareness of God's presence in your life.  May you be strengthened and receive joy.  Pax et bonum, cjt

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Diary of a Prayer Jar: A Crown of thorns

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.  Mt 27:27-31

I have long thought of this blog.  How to explain?  How to describe?  When considering how to decorate these prayer jars, the thought of the crown of thorns came to me.  Aesthetically, there is movement and simplicity in this symbol.  Intellectually, there is great symbolism.  Spiritually, deepest of all, there is a touchstone with this man of sorrows through his crown.

Thorns are found in the Bible as early as the opening chapters of Genesis. 
     In toil you shall eat its yield
     all the days of your life.
     Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you...   (3:17-18)
A symbol of cursing, thorns are undesirable from the beginning.  They are the opposite of the fruitfulness that God the Creator intended for earth.  If you have ever found yourself walking through briers or working with thorny blackberry bushes, you know how they cling to you, tear at your flesh, and entangle themselves in your clothing.  They are something to be avoided.

As I have always told my kids, God can make great good come from even evil.  At our son's senior recital, Mark, along with his mentor, Rob Strusinski, offered a beautiful rendition of Britten's Canticle II:  Abraham and Isaac.  The haunting lyrics include the young Isaac asking his old father where the sheep is for the burnt offering?  In Genesis 22, Abraham assures his son that God will provide an offering.  This father is willing to offer his beloved son because he believes that is what God is asking of him.  But God sends an angel to stay his hand.  A thicket of thorns is used to catch and hold a ram that is used in place of Isaac as a sacrifice.

Fifteen hundred years later, God the Father offered his beloved son, Jesus, to us and for us.  The thorns placed on his head are meant as a mockery.  To the cohort of Romans, a crown was either for a king or was a reward to a soldier who had saved the lives of his brother soldiers.  In Matthew, a soldier weaved a crown of thorns in mockery, but, oh, what symbolism he unknowingly gave us to be contemplated through the ages.  For truly, this beloved son is an offering, a savior and a king.   

This crown that Christ bore reminds me that he knows our suffering, he has carried our sorrows.  There are so many who are in need of prayer.  A friend going through chemo, a niece with horrible migraines, a loved one battling depression.  Each bearing her own burden.  But not alone.  Jesus not only wears these thorns, he twists them into redemption, into saving and wears them as a crown to remind us we are never alone and he knows our sorrows.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Diary of a Prayer Jar: A Present

Christmas gifts for the family last year usually came from my pottery studio. I love giving (and receiving) things that are handcrafted. As a culture, we tend to forget that purchases represent the exchange of a person's time to an employer for money. Often a gift is purchased or received without much thought of the time spent in earning that particular amount of money. The connection between a handcrafted gift and a person's precious time is, for me, more apparent. 

In December, coffee mugs, bowls and ring holders in greens, reds and blues were created for family members. For my mom, I wanted to make something extra special so I decided to make a tea set. Teapots are a challenge because of the many steps of adding spouts, handles, and feet at just the right time and at the right dryness of the different pieces. Then, of course, a lid must be that fits! Lids are one of my 2012 challenges that I hope to spend more time developing.

While creating this one, I decided to check into some alternative closures. I've seen olive oil bottles with cork stoppers and that looked interesting to me. Knowing that Mark was coming home for Christmas I asked him to stop at my pottery supply store and pick some bottle stoppers up for me. As a dutiful son, he checked it out and let me know they didn't have any cork bottle stoppers available. Hmmm, well, in the busyness of Christmas I decided to look into it later.

I loved giving and everyone said they loved receiving their ceramic Christmas gifts. It was a great season in my pottery and overall, sales from my pieces exceeded my goals. A very good December! For my birthday, a week later, Mark surprised me with these gorgeous 6 natural bark cork pieces.

The large ones are five and a half inches across. They are absolutely gorgeous in their primitive bark state with so much texture. They are lightweight and you can even see the tree rings in their edge.  I just love them. I was already considering a prayer jar and knew right away that I wanted to incorporate some of these. Mark explained that my supply company does not have these in stock, but when he asked for a cork stopper someone remembered that they had something in the warehouse. A search was on and they sold these to Mark but had to make up some stock numbers because they weren't in the computer's inventory.

I spoke with the owner of the store in January. He explained that because of the natural character of these cork pieces, the Agricultural Department no longer allows them to be imported. These particular ones were brought from Spain over thirty years ago. (Cork is harvested every ten to fifteen years from cork oak trees that live around 200 years.) The store hasn't sold them in many, many years and they were just pushed to the side in the warehouse. I was welcome to make a one more purchase of them, but that was all they had. So, being so in love with them, I ordered fifteen more. 

The process to making these fit is to put the caliper on the outside of the lid, then it lets me know the inside diameter of the pot I am making. The art and challenge is that at the clay dries, it shrinks. So, I still have a learning curve! Of the seven prayer jars I have created, four of them have cork tops that fit...and two of those are going to St. Edward's. 

I love learning new things and am so thankful for my home studio that challenges me to investigate and learn as well as to take time to soak in beauty in unexpected places.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Diary of a Prayer Jar: Anointing

The day was cloudy but still bright. Mel and I pushed through the doors of Trinita dei Monti and stepped into the hushed and subdued light of the church. In an effort to economize, many of the cavernous churches in Italy are not lit up with electric lights during a typical day. Rather sunlight from the windows illuminate the interior. As soon as we walked through the doors, we were greeted by this tableau.

I urged Melinda to take pictures of it with her better camera than my iphone, which she graciously did.
This story told in marble was very familiar and dear to me. One I had pondered many times.

In each of the four Gospels there is a story of a woman anointing Jesus. Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-38 and John 12:1-8 Details of the stories have been interchanged. It is thought that the story in Luke is a different incident which teaches about penitence, forgiveness and a loving response. The other three take place during the last week of Jesus' life, in John we are told that it is six days before Passover, the day before he entered Jerusalem. Mark is the oldest of the Gospels, written within twenty years of so of Jesus' death. In reading this story, it changed my outlook on my life.

When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon, the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. “Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days' wages and the money given to the poor.” They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mk 14:3-9 NAB

About ten years ago, I was going through a phase in my life when I was very hard on myself. Nothing I did was good enough. My harshest critic and judge was in my own head. That critic found what ever I did to be lacking and assured me that everyone else found me a failure and good for nothing.

St. Ignatius promoted a way of prayer that encourages you to imagine yourself in the Bible story. And so, I placed myself in the midst of this story, imagining what the weather was, how it felt to wear a long robe, the fragrance of the spikenard. And hearing Jesus say the words, “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me....She has done what she could.” I felt such a release. For me it wasn't the others at table, but the voices in my own head that kept tearing at me. I realized I could let them go, if I honestly can say, I have done what I could.

In the midst of hard times in my life, I will stop and ask myself and God, am I doing what I can? Sometimes the answer is to realize there is something I can be doing differently and sometimes the answer is yes, I am doing what I can. Then I release any burden of guilt for whether it is enough or not, it is what I can.

It is in the book of John that we find Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus of Bethany, with a liter of costly perfumed oil. She “anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair”. (12:3) How intimate and loving an act, to bend over another's feet and wipe them with one's hair. The artist, Daniele da Volterra, in the sixteenth century (during the same era of St. Ignatius' life) fused this story with the act of taking Christ from the cross. He imagined that Mary of Bethany would be here at his feet again. She is doing what she can, wiping his bloody feet with her hair.

In December, I started scanning through the some four thousand pictures of our trip for inspiration for making pottery for Lent. Coming upon these pictures, I stopped and spent time in the warmth of this memory. It wasn't until then that I really saw the jar at Mary's knees. A jar to carry precious oil to be used in anointing Christ, the sorrowful, the crucified. 

Could I use this as a model?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Diary of a Prayer Jar: Inspirations

Finishing up in my studio are some prayer jars. The process of creating them is a long one. From learning to throw pottery on the wheel, setting up a studio, ordering supplies, throwing, carving, drying, glazing, firing...the process is truly a long one! But with these particular items there is something perhaps a little different. I want to share some of my thoughts so that those who might have them in their homes can know a little of their history as they add their own.

Lent is a time of quiet and reflection. A time to remember the sorrows that Jesus endured for us and the blessings he has given us. During these forty days, our church reminds us of this in many ways including through the art and environment.
My dear friend, Melinda Brown, has a true gift of decoration and design. At Christmas, she oversaw the placing of dozens of poinsettias, wreaths, garlands and strings of lights to remind us of the joy of the season. Last Easter saw beautiful and fragrant lilies overflowing the altar to reflect the abundance of love open to us through Christ's resurrection.
The past few years Mel has used large empty ceramic containers to teach about emptying ourselves to the quiet and desert of Lent. In looking at them, I felt a nudge...a create something that would be worthy of display and would in some small way inspire others to prayer and reflection. It was one of the reasons I finally signed up for a pottery class the fall of 2009.
Last October, I had the great pleasure of going to Italy with Melinda. Actually, we graduated from Arkansas High together, how shall I say, several years ago. The past four years we have attended the Little Rock Institute of Theology together and graduated with that degree this past fall. Being her “sister friend” is a gift from God! 

In Italy, we traveled throughout Rome and Tuscany. Attended a papal mass, a tour of St. Peter's tomb, prayed together at St. Paul's tomb, she drove us through Tuscany to Sienna and Florence. So many wonderful memories. One morning, we found ourselves at the foot of the Spanish Steps. I can walk for miles and miles on level ground, but stairs are hard for me. But with Mel at my side, up we went. And I was right, it was the toughest thing I physically did during our trip.

The reason we wanted to walk up them was to reach the Santissima Trinita dei Monti Pinco (Most Holy Trinity at Monte Pinco). Why this church? If you look carefully in the picture you might see a resemblance to somewhere in Texarkana! Our home church of St. Edward's was designed after this one in Rome. Our families have long histories at St. Ed's – Mel and I were both baptized here, married here and our children have had their weddings here. So to reach this summit was like coming home when we were far away.

Once we stepped inside the hush of the church, the first thing we saw was this...

Of so many wonderful, wonderful things in Italy, this is the piece of art that spoke the most deeply to me. In my next blog, I'll share some of the why...

Saturday, October 22, 2011


After almost 18 months of plannIng, praying, and dreaming, we are safely and wonderfully here. Right off I apologize for typos and grammatical errors. We arrived in Rome after 17 hours of flying. We are six women, three of us are sister in laws, five of us attended little rock institute of theology together. Two of us graduated from high school together. Four were baptized as infants at st. Edward's. Three of us have parents that graduated high school together in 1945. We kinda know each other!
Saturday in Roma was spent wandering the streets. Usually that would sound weird. Here it was a perfect afternoon. Campo d'fiori, piazza Navonna, piazza Farnese, and finally, gloriously, the pantheon. Sigh.
The other thing is that time is short! I will blog when I can. But now, at five a. M. Roma time, I must get ready. We are off to pick up our tickets to a papal mass which is a canonization for three people. Thank you, Abby-mark's friend, for getting them for us!!! There is so much to say!!! I will try to figure out how to add pics!
I give thanks and praise to God, the father-God, the Son and God, the Holy Spirit- for all our many blessings. Be at my side, Lord. Andiamo!!!