Monday, September 21, 2009

St. Anthony of Padua, again

St Anthony of Padua Comes By Boat
9x11 Acrylic on Paper, 2009

St. Anthony Of Padua is the patron saint of lost things, whether it is a person, or faith, or an object. Loss is experienced in many different ways, and the most powerful losses involve the people we love, either through death, estrangement, or disappearance. Loss can also occur because of the passage of time, erosion, and change. We ourselves can become lost if we are overcome with feelings of sadness over loss or regret, or are unable to let go of the past.

I have found a certain weirdness in being forty, and I think that it may explain why some people go off of the deep end and experience a mid-life crisis, because it's pretty freaky and sad. A sort of looking backwards has been happening, an assessment of my life so far, and all of the people I've known and events that have occurred. I think that the weirdness comes from having spent, at forty, just as much time as an adult as I had as a child. The frame of reference through which I perceived the world, my memories, and my interactions has shifted. The finality of certain changes has come into very sharp focus. The past is a lot more distant. Primary relationships have changed as I have matured. I see people a lot differently than I used to. I am detaching from old notions of myself, they fall behind like discarded paper dolls. Mostly all of this is good, it's just...different.

During a period when these feelings were particularly sharp I happened to come across the photographs of Eugene Richards and Kevin Bauman.
Their photographic portraits of abandoned houses on the prairie of North Dakota and the city of Detroit, Michigan resonated with how I was feeling. Every one of these photographs is a picture of loss. You can imagine the people and the lives that were lived in these places, but you will never know them. No one is coming back, ever. The dramatic landscape of the North Dakota photographs underscores a human absence so profound it is a presence, in and of itself. These homes are a black hole of peoples' hopes, loves, losses and disappointments, condensed, wrapped in questions, turned in on itself under a vast sky. The abandoned homes in Detroit are especially painful to look at, signaling the vanishing of whole neighborhoods and a community way of life. I could relate to them on a personal level, and they really helped me to gain some perspective and inspired me to examine St. Anthony and the nature of loss in a different way. "Saint Anthony of Padua Comes By Boat" is one painting so far in this exploration.

The person peering into the window is not able to let go of the past. Perhaps she really misses someone. Maybe she longs to recapture a happier time. Maybe she is haunted by questions about what happened here. She is so caught up that she does not see the beauty all around her, nor does she understand that her loss is part of the wholeness of the universe and that change is the only constant in life. Help is coming, though—Saint Anthony is out on the ocean, heading for the shore, carrying his light so that he can find her.
The sapling, growing from the ruin and decay, looks as though it is signaling to him across the distance. This new growth is hope, and the good that can come from change, if she allows herself to see it.

The hope and growth we can find because of loss was put into words beautifully by Roberta Hiday , who wrote to me about "St. Anthony of Padua at the Guard Rail" :

St Anthony of Padua at the Guard Rail
9x11 Acrylic on Paper, 2008

"my spiritual journey has brought me from catholicism, to evangelicalism to the episcopalian church - where i am now. i enjoy living in the mystery. i'm in my late 50's so i have a sense of the value of just going for it! in my eyes your saint anthony is a happy, round monk wearing a brown robe - he looks approachable, and the way he is holding the light as he looks over the abyss is hopeful to me.

i live on the olympic peninsula...i drive on a road like the one in your picture and the trees look like the ones that line our 2 lane roads - so i indentify with it....loss comes in so many forms - my mom focused on items like keys, bills, money, etc. your painting helped me to see st. anthony in a new light - as one who can assist in the looking for lost relationships, & for people who have lost their ways, or for those who have lost their drive (pun intended), or their sense of hope....

as a spiritual director i know my clients will appreciate this painting as a metaphor of their "journey"....they have stopped on the road of life to look for what they have lost.......and as a spiritual director i see myself as st. anthony in the picture - looking into the darkness of people's stories...helping them to make peace with their shadow side and shining light on it...."

Roberta's words remind me of my favorite lyric by Ani DiFranco-

up up up up up up points the
spire of the steeple
but god's work isn't done by god
it's done by people


I think that St. Anthony is working in mysterious ways and that he keeps coming up for a reason. I'm so glad that he is there when I need him.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Saint Agatha and Health Care

St. Agatha Mixed Media Shrine

St. Agatha is the patron saint of nurses and bakers, and is invoked against fire and diseases of the breast. She is also the patron saint of people who have or have survived breast cancer. I have her on my mind a lot lately as the debate over health care reform in the United States rages on. A really good friend of mine was just diagnosed with a malignant lump in her breast. One of my first thoughts was, "Shit. I hope her insurance company doesn't try to screw her out of her coverage."

The fact that that there are wealthy companies lobbying elected officials (who are supposed to be looking out for our best interests) has filled me with cynicism. I have, quite frankly, a complete lack of faith in the honesty of our senators and congress people, and in a system of government that has allowed this state of affairs to even exist. We are at the mercy of the health insurance companies who employ practices like rescission, purposefully cutting sick people off from their insurance and denying them health care, often at the time they need it the most. Why? To save money. In June the LA Times covered a congressional hearing on the practice or rescission. Rep. Bart Stupak said, "...some insurance companies use a technicality to justify breaking its promise, at a time when most patients are too weak to fight back."

Act 3 of Episode 386 of This American Life is dedicated to rescission. One of the most heartbreaking stories comes from a woman who was denied coverage at a time when she needed an immediate double mastectomy to combat the aggressive cancer growing inside of her. Blue Cross notified her the Friday before she was to have her surgery that her chart had been red flagged due to an unrelated past dermatologist visit. The insurance company insinuated that she had hidden her past visit from them. Her dermatologist assured them that the skin condition was unrelated to her cancer and pleaded with Blue Cross to allow her to have her surgery, but they denied her. Why? They did this all to save some money. Sadly stories like her are all to common in our country.

We are being terrorized by big business piracy and many elected officials are being bought and sold. Their greed has wormed its way into our relationships with our doctors, has turned our most personal situations into a corporate balance sheet, has violated our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and has given strangers the decision over whether we live, die, or face financial ruin.

Access to quality health care for everyone should be first amongst our priorities, along with food and shelter. Isn't human life too precious to put a price tag on? Do we really want to live in a society where who lives and who dies is based on what is in your bank account?

The United States finally has a president who speaks frankly about the problems our country faces. I would have preferred to see universal health care on the table, but I am pleased that the president is even willing to undertake the arduous process of taking steps to keep the health insurance industry honest.
"I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."
– President Barack Obama, February 24, 2009

I am deeply disgusted by the partisan bickering and reactionary carrying on over the president's proposed changes. Shame on any elected official who is not supporting reform and regulation of the health insurance industry. This is a humanitarian issue, this has to do with compassion, ultimately. This is a class issue as well. The rich—politician and CEO alike—are jockeying desperately to protect their financial interests, employing scare tactics and lies. In the meantime there are sick people waiting, their conditions are worsening, people are dying, because of the greed and self interest of these few-all of whom can afford quality health care.

Check out act 3 of this episode of This American Life, about the health care industry's practice of rescission:

Michael Moore's Sicko website:

President Obama's Health Care web page: