Posts in Category: Chinese Culture

Goldfish Dreams

Chocolate RyukinThe last few days I have been seeing this idea in my head over and over again. In my imagingings, I see a large goldfish gracefully swimming, swirling, and eventually encircling a woman wearing a long Qing Dynasty robe. I heard this sermon this past weekend on suffering which really spoke to me. It was about God knowing our tears. In my dream, God is the fish, and I am the sinking woman. God is catching me, in spite of my tears. I want to be able to open myself up to God to be able to cry freely without becomming depressed. I want to be able to be completely transparent and vulnerable in the presence of God, but sometimes it just seems like I hold everything back just too much. I think this could be an amazing painting if I could just see the image more clearly in my mind. I love this daydream.  I have started to collect photos of Ryukin goldfish, and other double fantail goldfish as this is the kind of fish I am seeing in my mind.  The photo here shoes the kind of pose the fish is striking in my mind.  I only wish I had a goldfish I could watch so as to learn how to paint the slow, graceful sense of the fish more clearly.

Mei Yun (Beautiful Grace)


marybong[1]I have been truly touched by a fellow artist, Nicole France-Coe, whose work is presently in the Leep Art Gallery at the Postema Center on the Pine Rest campus where I work. Her work is about prayer, and has a sense of whimsical reverence to it. Bright colors, and mixes of photo clippings, beads, paint, stiching and fabric. It is like looking into a visual prayer journal. I love it.

It has been a place where I go daily for a sense of visual rest from the pressures of my inpatient psychiatric ward.

And I am resting.

As I have returned to my art studio, I feel a new sense of life returning to my work. It has been a heavy summer, and as the leaves are beginning to burst into vibrant color here in the woodland around my home, I am sensing God breathing life back into me.

I sense God’s graciousness to me. I have not been left in the darkness of my depression which has lingered off and on since January … He has lifted my head.

So I am painting again. I have been focussing on tiny, intimate canvasses recently, which I love doing. But I felt a yearning to paint large again. This past summer I purchased two wonderful books on the material culture of China, and have been pouring through the photos of one in particular: Chinese Dress by Valery Garrett. Whereas most books on the material culture of China focus heavily on the dress customs of the Imperial Court, she has a lengthy section on both the dress of women and working-class people. There are some wonderful reproductions of women’s clothing whose detail and coloring moved me profoundly. They remind me of visual graciousness that pair tastefully with my inner sense of God’s movement in my own heart. So I have begun painting a woman on a tall, narrow canvas. She is wearing a pale blue robe and reaching tenderly upward, her head tilted slighly back, reaching towards a dove which is flying above her head. The dove in my sketch is dropping a blossom from a flowering twig, but I have yet to see how God moves me to create this detail in the final painting. The background is gold, but a tarnished, and in places distressed. Yet what draws me into this painting is the face of the woman which to me captures a content and open quality that I so wish for myself. It excites me to create this piece … and I can’t wait to see how it comes out.

Happiness is a Drum


Every Thursday I lead a drum circle in the hospital where I work.  Participating in this form of guided spontaneous music-making is probably as theraputic for me as it is for my patients.  How often do you get to pound something for joy?  To take the tension of life and transform it into a dancable beat is a wonderful thing.

I think of drumming as the prelude to being quiet in the presence of God.  The silence seems so much more profound following a joyful sonic rumble.  It is only after this kind of full-body activity that I can hear the beating of my own internal drum.

So I found this symbol on the internet from the site “oracle bone characters” by artist Vikki Quill :…

The site read as follows:


Ancient Chinese character for Happiness, (Ch:Xi,Jap:yorokobu)showing a large drum on a stand with decorations reaching up. The lower element may represent either a singing/laughing mouth or a vessel for holding ritual prayers.

For me, this character captures my sentiments for drumming as a form of prayer exactly.

The Dragon

web-kids-dragon-dance-2.jpgI have received a request to show the actual dragon dance costume that I created which gobbled up so much of my time this weekend.  The actual costume is designed for 5 people of roughly the same height, but for the sake of taking a photo, Yee Lam and our three children tried to make it work for the camera.  web-kids-dragon-dance-3.jpgweb-kids-dragon-dance.jpg


an-elaborate-tomb.pngWe had a peaceful Christmas at our home this week, and today is another grey day.  This is my favorite time of the year – the period between Christmas and Easter when the Michigan weather creates an overcast that makes light dim and for me helps me settle into a reflective state of mind. 

I have an invitation to participate in an on-line art exhibition for the Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco on the theme of the “afterlife” which will be posted to coincide with Qing Ming.  So … in my daydreaming time, I have been thinking about traditional Chinese tombs. Kind of an odd thing to be thinking of in the days after Christmas when we just celebrated the birth of Christ … but this is where my imagination is leading me these days.

Old Chinese tombs are one of the things that I really appreciate for their aesthetics.  Carved of white stone and often set into a mountainside, these pearly structures dot the landscape around Hong Kong.  On this past trip, I was on the Ngong Ping 360 ride and was looking out the cable car for tombs.  Saw one that was near the run, but saw many others when we took ferry boats out to the outer islands of the territory.  So, I am thinking about starting out with the idea of the traditional Chinese tomb as a starting point for these musings.  We will see what transpires.


210px-hongkongspiritseat.jpgI love the smell of incense.  I often burn it in my studio when I want to remember Hong Kong, or when I pray.  I know that incense was used in the temple in the Bible, though I imagine it wasn’t sandalwood!  As a Protestant boy, I wasn’t raised on smells associated with God like my friends of Catholic and Orthodox tribes.  So for me, the smell of incense reminds me of Hong Kong, particularly Buddhist temples.

 While in Hong Kong this last trip, we visited Man Mo Temple which was not far from the hotel where we stayed.  There people burn giant incense coils that hang from the ceiling as a way to pray.  People burning incense in a Buddhist temple is a pretty common thing … and as exotic to my Western sensabilities as these activities are, what strikes me often is the little ways that people worship in Hong Kong.

Particularly, I am quite taken by the little, humble doorway altars which people set up to burn incense sticks in front of their storefront shops.  You see them everywhere you go, and if you aren’t a Midwestern American, you probably wouldn’t give these altars a second thought.  But they strike me as something beautiful, in their common, humble way.  They are something that Christians could learn from.

In my imagination, I am always trying to think up ways that Christianity could be expressed through a Chinese aesthetic … and I really don’t know how much of these kinds of things could be altered to be used in a Christian way.  Let me explain.

I would love to envision Christians making their own doorway altars, which they tend as thoughtfully as the Buddhists.  These altars could be red as well, the color of happiness, and be reminders of praying to God.  Those that have text could express a scripture, a name of God, or a short prayer.  Those with images could do similar things.  But to be small, beautiful, humble remiders of God are what I think each of us are.

My questions, however, are many.  Are these altar forms expressly thought of by Chinese people as being only associated with Buddhism?  Similarly, are incense sticks something that Chinese Christians would burn to pray, or are these things thought of as Buddhist as well?  If incense does have a strong association with Buddhism for Chinese Christians, would incense that looks or smells differently be thought of differently?  Would candles or flowers be more acceptable?

These are the kinds of conversations I would love to have with Chinese Christians … and hopefully some day I will.  I think an exhibit of Chinese/Christian altars that explored these ideas would be something fascinating to view.  Maybe I will do that some time.

Suffering, Beauty, and Bound Feet

It has been a few days since my last entry.  My kidney stones have not passed, my daughter needed to be taken to the Urgent Care Center, and we are still coping with the feelings after our friend’s son took his own life.  Our family is not in a horrible place, but we are having some moments of suffering.

Reflections on Qing Dynasty Women

As I have written about in earlier postings, my imagination is moved by images of old China.  Maybe it is because for me as an outsider there are so many things that I appreciate about the culture that are beautiful, and yet I do not understand them completely either.  There is a degree of mystery in these images for me.  And yet, there is something about these images from a 6000-year old culture that speak to the present moment as well.


I often get stylistic inspiration for my work from Buddhist sculpture.  Several years ago, I saw an exhibit in Hong Kong of a recent archeological find of centuries of ancient Buddhist sculptures which showed the way that Buddha came to lose his Indian features and become more Chinese-looking the longer Buddhism was in China.  This was a very beautiful exhibit, and one that got me thinking about my own art in the years to come.  Could an artist make art that had the face of Buddha and express the heart of Christ?