John James Audubon’s father wanted his son to be a navy guy, but luckily for us he flunked the officers’ qualification test and happily went back to studying birds, traipsing around America and drawing what he saw. Back then some birds were so unused to humans that they had no fear and sometimes would alight upon a person’s shoulder in curiosity. Enormous flocks of birds could cloud a sky for hours on their travels and John James was there to witness it.
He came to stay with the Blackwell family, fell in love with the daughter, fell into a river and came out with a fever–his future wife Lucy at his side. To please Lucy’s father he went into the import/export business and was married a few months later to the girl who shared his passion for the natural world. In fact Lucy so admired John’s work she supported him by working as a teacher when times were lean. I wonder now if she ever felt annoyed at not getting enough credit. As humans we’re quite obsessed with getting credit, aren’t we?
I like it when people without advanced degrees set up their own museums and conduct experiments just because they want to–what joy! John banded Eastern Phoebes and proved they returned to the same nesting spots year after year. What a nice thing to prove and how many of us like to investigate things and wait a year for answers?
School makes us ask permission. May I draw? Can I go to the bathroom? Of course you can–hahaha–yawn. Teachers are so amusing. Can I–I mean may I think my own thoughts, investigate things teachers don’t care about, correct the teacher? No. Not now, it’s time for another assembly about turning in your friends for bullying.
The theme this week seems to be that you don’t need money or permission to do stuff. Band your birds, investigate your options, thumb your nose at the culture and the counter culture and every other social grouping that clips your wings.
Henry O Tanner, the son of a slave transcended race through his art and through his Christianity. Back then educated people didn’t just assume that Christians were reactionary bigots (of course some did). Christian themed art wasn’t seen as offensive but part of the long and spectacular tradition of Western civilization.
Tanner was the first African American artist to gain international recognition and one of the few favorite students of Thomas Eakins to be honored with a portrait.
After moving to Paris he painted Daniel and the Lions’ Den which gained acceptance into the Salon and brought an exceptional opportunity to travel to the Holy Land.
He didn’t hide his Christianity.
He found his hope and comfort in God where “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Racism hurt him. He admitted to being a rather timid, shy soul and the episodes of prejudice in his life pained him deeply. I wonder how Christianity which at one time was such a comfort to the weak, the poor, the outcast and the sinful has become in some circles a sign of stupidity and delusion.
It seems impossible not to accept that miracles are a part of life–intellectually impossible– as I sit here breathing perfectly made air with a moon controlling waves that crash in just such a way and water perfectly pitched to allow for fish and whales. God announces Himself all around.
If everything was made from nothing then that’s a miracle. If miracles exist then annunciations and created things may come from a creator of the miraculous. A painting is created. It’s also a miracle. If our brains are random molecules there is no purpose for creating. The odd ability to create and for others to create makes the notion that there is no original creator seem ridiculous to me.
If you read the Bible end to end there’s a miraculous story–not just the Jesus Christ part, but the way the whole thing ties together, the way things written hint at bigger things . . .
and littler things like the moments of intimacy that fill our lives with satisfaction and a strange yearning to go deeper, to make connections and to love one another.
Here’s hoping your new year is blessed with the miraculous.