Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Somewhere, Beyond the Sea

Somewhere, Beyond the Sea

Vermeer went deep in debt to pay for the blue paint in this painting.  Rare and expensive and difficult to make, this pigment was called “ultramarine,” not because it is so “ultra” a color blue, but because it was imported by Italian traders from mines in Afghanistan, “beyond the sea,” not until the 13th century.

New product, new paintings.  First in the Middle Ages we start seeing all these detailed Annunciation scenes with the Virgin Mary wearing deep “ultra” blue robes, like this Botticelli gem.  But even 200 years later, in Vermeer’s day, this blue color was rare in art – the blue powder, arduously ground from this tough Asian rock, cost more than gold.  Artists with patrons itemized what they expected to spend “beyond the sea” and asked for payment in advance.

Mary’s medieval blue symbolized holiness and humility and royalty.  But for Pearl Girl– what does that blue turban say to you?

In these weekly devotionals on “Blue” Theology, ocean spirituality and stewardship, I am devoting some weeks to the history of the color blue in art and culture, inspired by my new favorite art book, “Blue: Cobalt to Cerulean in Art and Culture.”  Look back to my last week’s post about the small elegant ancient Egyptian blue faience bowl with fish symbolizing new life. 

Blue can be a “cool” color.  Mary and Pearl Girl are constrained, dignified.  But why are more women than men dressed in blue?  Does blue signify birth?

In my “Blue” theology it does – we all evolved from the blue ocean, our planet is (75%) blue, 3 of 4 breaths we take come from oxygen created by ocean plants, our own bodies are 75% water, we are blue men and women.  When I see blue art I am drawn in and deep - like these women I become still and yet I am transformed.  

Somewhere, beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me, my lover stands on golden sands and watches the ships that go sailing.  Blue and still, dignified and deep, waiting for me, my blue lover, beyond the sea.
I write these ocean devotionals every Wednesday morning here and on Facebook.  At our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove we’ve spent a great week hosting 15 high school youth from a Disciples of Christ and a United Methodist church in Ft. Worth TX.  We celebrate God’s gift of blue.  Come walk with us, for a service trip or pilgrimage by the sea, any age, group or individual.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Bowl is a Pool

The Bowl is a Pool

Ancient Egyptians loved the color blue.   Before 3000 BC they were importing lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and had already created faience, a non-clay ceramic that may be the earliest engineered material, by crushing quartz and adding a silica glaze tinted with blue copper.

This little faience bowl, 1.5 by 6 inches, is from an Egyptian woman’s tomb.  She didn’t use it for cereal but rather offered it as a “tomb gift” to the gods to encourage rebirth.  Now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, it is featured in my new favorite book “Blue: Cobalt to Cerulean in Art and Culture,” a lovely coffee table book of blue art ancient and modern. I plan to spend the next few weeks of these Wednesday “Blue Theology” postings celebrating the color blue.

From the Museum’s writeup about this bowl: “The marsh scene painted on the interior surface of this shallow bowl is perfectly adapted to its shape. The bowl is a pool: six curving stems with lotus buds radiate pinwheel-like from a central square, with four tilapia passing over and partly overlapping them to create a sense of depth. Three of the fish have other lotus stems issuing forth from their mouths; these also terminate in buds that float up to the vessel’s rim to join the others.
“In ancient Egyptian art no motif is too modest to be innocent of ritual symbolism. And so it is with this shallow bowl, for in Egyptian mythology, the marsh was the seething hotbed of creation. The blue lotus, whose flowers open from sunrise through midday and close at night, was closely associated with the sun’s rebirth each morning.
“The tilapia was a symbol of fertility and rebirth since Predynastic times, based no doubt on the creature’s remarkable habit of taking its newly hatched young into its mouth for shelter. The young fish appear to emerge from the parent’s mouth as though newly born, a phenomenon the Egyptians interpreted as spontaneous generation.
“This recalled the god Atum, whose own act of spontaneous generation initiated the creation of the Egyptian universe. The waters in which the fish swim are those of the boundless, life-giving Nun, the primeval ocean, while the central square motif is the primeval mound that rose above these waters.”
Blue is life and sky and ocean, primeval and fertile, seething, boundless.  Be Blue!!
I post these “Blue Theology Tide-ings” every Wednesday here and on Facebook.  Come visit us in Pacific Grove at the Blue Theology Mission Station for a blue service trip or pilgrimage by the blue bay.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Star Spangled Beach Cleanups

Star Spangled Beach Cleanups

July 4 is no holiday of freedom for marine animals.  Like colonial subjects, they have no representation, and are overtaxed that day by even more human trash and disturbance than usual.  Those happy holiday beach crowds leave behind tons of garbage, and it quickly clogs up their ocean waters.

Save Our Shores, a fantastic Monterey Bay conservation organization, runs two big beach events around here each Independence Day holiday.  On July 4 hundreds of volunteers hand out cool recyclable bags and talk to the crowds, in an effort they call “Pollution Prevention is Patriotic.”  Very early the next morning, July 5, over 300 volunteers are back on the beaches of Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties to clean up the inevitable damage.  Last year they collected over a ton of trash, mostly cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, other plastic and glass, plus another 900 pounds of recyclables.  They call this work “Star Spangled Beach Cleanups.”

Here in California we shoot off fireworks out over the water.  Seems safer.  For us.  But all that rocket fuel and flares and heavy metals go somewhere; just ask the fish.  And you know how our dogs hate those explosions?  What about harbor seals and sea lions whose super fine ears help them avoid predators and communicate with mates?

(Sea World parks explode fireworks EVERY NIGHT, all summer long, not far atop their marine mammals. (2018 – now it’s “only” 10x a summer.)  Sure, they’ve gotten accredited for animal welfare and safety by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums.  But anyone who has seen the movie “Blackfish” about what life is like for captive orcas might wonder if these intelligent animals ever experience an Independence Day.) 

Sorry to rain on your 4th of July parade, picnic and fireworks.  But on this Independence Day, please consider your holiday impact on ocean critters.  Some people say we Americans are too much about independence; we should celebrate “Interdependence Day.”  I’m sure our underwater cousins like the sound of that.
(I first posted this 4 years ago, but the issues are the same every 4th – plastics and other trash on the beach, land and sea animals deafened and terrorized by explosives.  Thankfully Save Our Shores will be out there on the beaches today and tomorrow doing prevention and cleanup.  At our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove we have a youth group visiting this weekend to learn about ocean stewardship and spirituality, and to visit local colleges, and we’ll do a beach clean-up also – it’s an everyday need.
I post these ocean devotionals every Wednesday here and on Facebook.  
Check out to book your own service trip or pilgrimage by the sea.
Photo: Save Our Shores)