8 months ago

Things!

There she goes with that click-bait title again.  

I have been dying to share a number of things that’ve been going on over here- and coming from an oversharer, you’ve got to know it’s taken a lot of self control.  

Guys, my family and I got to participate in a short film, created by some very gifted individuals, with a beautiful vision.

Here is the link to that film, at long last: http://thecatholicwoman.co/letterstowomen/2017/3/8/from-carolyn


(All images courtesy of The Catholic Woman)

Here’s a bit more about my story, if you’re interested:
Late last summer, Corynne Staresinic from The Catholic Woman contacted me about a project she was working on; which is to show the world the many diverse faces of the modern catholic woman.  From her website, she says, “Good or bad, right or wrong, many of us have a very vivid idea of who the Catholic woman is.”

If you’d had asked me when I was 20 years old what pops into my head when I hear someone say “the Catholic woman”, I would have probably described a scrupulous, lifeless Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe.

When I was 20, I was struggling with my faith and with what I felt called to do as my vocation.  I didn’t want to get married and absolutely swore never, ever to have even one child.   ….har, har, har, har.

From my experience, when you get married and have kids, you basically throw away your time and talents so that you can wipe bums and feed people all day.  At that time, I did not see how my own mother had turned her gifts into a tool to use to raise my sister, brother, and I. I did not see how she’d handed her skills and talents, time and treasures over to us; how she and my dad raised three more people up in the world with love and goodness, as best as they could, with the prayer that we would leave the world a better place.
  All I could see is that taking care of selfish little kids was a lot of work, a lot of worry, a lot of sacrifice, and no payoff. I didn’t fully understand the Catholic belief of being open to life, and the view of how far reaching a single human life resounds globally and eternally.  

I also struggled with art as my vocation. I knew it was something I’d always do, but as a college student, I didn’t like what I was seeing. 

First of all, I struggled with artistic vanity: the desire for praise and applause.  I saw that my peers had it too, in varying degrees.  Some of us were more skilled and arrogant, some of us were not as skilled, and jealous, others of us were very skilled and still jealous. I didn’t like that part because an unskilled artist is just as human as the skilled one. I’ve seen life like drawings completed out of a perverse ambition to disturb a viewer, and I’ve seen work that while given valiant effort, did not produce the artist’s original and beautiful intent.  I’ve seen how people react– and it always produced a strange worship of the artist.  I see that amplified in culture so deeply today.  Hollywood stars are basically the secular world’s gods and goddesses.  They create something, perform something, maybe shocking, maybe beautiful, and we are obsessed with them.  They’re artists, not gods.


In art school, there was a lot of separation of art from why an artist feels called to beauty– a lot of separation from beauty in general, and instead, a reverence for using art to shock viewers with the artist’s personal prejudices about certain subjects.  In short, I encountered a lot of prejudice against Catholicism.  I remember having a heated discussion during studio in which the person I was talking to only had his own perceptions of what Catholicism is, and from those perceptions, Catholicism seemed truly awful.  But they were so misguided, and misguided by the very people who were educating us that I felt totally defeated.  How can art school engrain perceptions of Catholicism into its students? Aren’t they teaching art? What does art have to do with religion? 

All good questions!  Institutions have thought of these questions and decided to teach us varying historically cherry-picked versions, or at least the worst parts, all skewed in the manner that while many of history’s masterpieces were created out of a “need for” religion, it’s time to shake those old, antiquated chains, now isn’t it?  Let’s dip that Crucifix into a jar of urine and sit back and watch how all the world gazes at the ethereal golden image in awe. 
Additionally, as a woman who was struggling to see her place in the world, I did not see how unless I was going to be painting grand masterpieces on church ceilings, I would ever be able to contribute my fractional talents to any ideal of beauty in the world.  I struggled with thinking that the desire for affirmation attached to creating might be a sinful thing, and therefore my artistic abilities might have to be one of those things where I was supposed to “go to my inner room and close the door, not to boast.” 


In that year a lot happened. 

 John Paul the Great died. I didn’t really know much about the guy, other than he was an old priest who must have been so far removed from real life, living in that shining Vatican City surrounded by those costumed guards that he could not possibly identify with a young female artist. 

WRONG. Ah! So wrong!

The day he died, my Dad called me.  I’d finished my wild freshman year of college, opted to live my second year in an all-girls dorm on the designated “quiet floor.”

“Did you know anything about Karol Wojtyla?” He asked me.  “Not really…” I mumbled, looking out my window at the stormy spring sky.  

My dad, who could have been a history teacher, proceeded to enlighten me about John Paul II’s life previous to becoming a Pope.  I was blown away. 

After the conversation, I sat down in front of my laptop.  The lights were off, and it was raining heavy outside. I found myself reading through various papal encyclicals written by John Paul II on the Vatican website.  My heart stopped as my eyes landed on something:

“LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS 

POPE JOHN PAUL II 

TO ARTISTS”
The opening of his letter broke my heart open. He knew that creative yearning only an artist experiences.  He knew it, and he was a Pope.  I read the entire thing in waves of tears as he took me through biblical and historical reasons for the significance of art in the world, and in the church.  The spiritual spark was lit in me that day.  I suddenly knew that the theories they were teaching me in school didn’t matter, and the teacher’s opinions didn’t matter, and the struggle with vanity and seeking affirmation might always be present, but with a constant offering of glory to God, the first artist, that will be quelled, and filled instead with love and humility. 

He also helped me to see that life itself is a work of art, which we are each called to craft a masterpiece.

I stepped away for a while, from art. I met that insufferable Craig Svellinger, and you know the story. 

After giving birth to Lexington, our first baby, I began a prayer that I will always say as long as I live. It goes like this: 

Lord, show me ways to use my gifts, to do what I love to do, to create art, according to Your will for the world, and for Your ultimate glory.

In many ways, I feel that having the opportunity to participate in The Catholic Woman has been an answer to that prayer I began saying nearly 8 years ago. An answer which I could not have possibly foreseen would have been given to me intertwined with being a wife to a wonderful man, and a mother of four darling boys.
I am so grateful to Corynne for this gift, and hope you will all follow along in her beautiful project


5 comments

  1. Can I just say that the video (which I saw a few days ago) and now your post has really touched something on my heart and keeps bringing me to tears? I always felt discouragement from identifying as an artist growing up, at least in any real way, to the point I almost felt like it was sinful to entertain such a thought. I’m slowly working my way out of this, and all that you’ve shared here and in the video is helping me consider this aspect of myself once again. Especially when you touch on its conjunction with motherhood — two things I thought impossibly incompatible — but, truly, is one of the best places to be artistic. Thank you for sharing your heart about this, Carolyn. <3

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  2. Girl. I cannot wait to see this. Your JPII story made me weep, as one does when he comes up. I love how he rescued so many of us.

    (Anecdotal vv Catholic story from an Italian exorcist who is reported to have asked a demon during an exorcism “why is the name of John Paul II so powerful? (he is an ass-kicking saint to call upon during the Rite) Why do you fear him? And the demon responded “Because he stole so many little ones from us!”)

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