Sketching as Prayer Retreat October 30, 2021

Join me for a day of retreat, rest, and renewal as we open our eyes, our sketchbooks or journals, and our hearts to God’s presence in his creation. This is an invitation to give yourself a day to slow down and renew your focus on our steadfast God through silence and prayer before the busyness of the holiday season is upon us. We will have times to encourage one another with the thoughts, insights, and sketches or written words that have come from our observation and meditation. Artistic experience is not necessary; you can sketch with any kind of simple art supplies or you can “sketch” with words.

Saturday, October 30, 2021
9:45 AM to 3:00 PM
Wappingers Falls, NY
Email me ( for more details or to let me know you’d like to participate.

Sketching People at Classis

I was away the past two days at Classis, our denomination’s biannual regional meeting for pastors, elders, and deacons to discuss church business, planning, and policy. This was my first time as a delegate to an actual Classis meeting, as our spring meeting was by Zoom, due to Covid. I am not ordinarily a fan of business meetings and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about sitting through an evening meeting followed by much of the next day in meetings, but I loved being at Classis.

Of course it helped that Classis was held Camp Connri, a beautiful location in the quiet Northeastern corner of Connecticut, where I could sketch outside before it all started Wednesday and then early yesterday morning.

There was such an atmosphere of love for God and of a desire to honor him by serving and loving people, both those in the church and in the community at large, that the deliberations were inspiring to me on multiple levels. I especially enjoyed connecting with other delegates and hearing their thoughts and experiences of prayer and of ways of encouraging spiritual growth in ourselves and others. It was a privilege to meet with these very inspiring pastors, elders, and deacons in our region! I also was very inspired by sharing sketches and ideas with a fellow deacon from our church who’s also an artist and with an artist we met who is a leader in an Indonesian church in New Hampshire.

Of course I sketched people throughout the meetings, and as I look at my sketches now, I am reminded of those people and of some of what they said during the meetings and in conversations I had with them; in that sense my sketches function as notes, and also as prompts for prayer.

Catskills Retreat

Pratt Rock View

Mountains framed against cloud-mottled blue sky; orange monarch butterflies dancing over fields of goldenrod bright yellow in the sun; thunder rolling and echoing between mountains; silence broken only by the rushing and gurgling of a tumbling creek; warblers flitting among wildflowers; star-besprent sky resplendent with Milky Way and shooting stars; naps in a sun-warmed hammock; breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the deck overlooking forest and mountains; and days of rich silence…

I spent three days this past week on retreat in the Catskills. A personal retreat, to spend time with myself and God, and of course Ramble, who goes most places with me. I checked in with Stephen each evening, but otherwise spoke with no one the whole time, other than the woman at a farm stand where I bought deliciously fresh kale and new potatoes and also colorful chrysanthemums to plant back here at home. The Airbnb cabin I stayed in was refreshingly quiet and private, with a wonderful deck where I spent most of the past three days, except when out hiking. And except for during a thrilling thunderstorm the last evening and the peaceful pattering of rain the next morning. During those times I pulled a comfortable chair right in front of an open sliding glass door and simply sat enjoying the sights and sounds of the weather.

I’ve been longing for a time of solitude like this, and it more than met my expectations. I took a variety of books and sketching supplies, and I meandered between them and times of silent meditation and prayer.

I started out loosely working through Note to Self, by Charles LaFond, also referring to Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms, as I pondered and worked on a basic outline for writing my Rule of Life– personalized reminders for how grow into the life I wish for myself and that God desires for me, the process of spiritual transformation and growth. As Barton puts it, a Rule of Life seeks to respond to the questions, “Who do I want to be?” and “How do I want to live?” or “How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be?” I came up with seven broad categories I want to address, with each category broken down into more specific sections, on which I’ll write briefly, so I can then review one section each day, kind of like a daily Post-It Note to myself. I plan to work on fleshing out those chapters with encouraging, motivating, and challenging words over the next few weeks.

I then turned to The Gift of Being Yourself, by David Benner, which I’d read a while back and was ready to reread, and Christine Labrum’s Journey to Become. Throughout my retreat I punctuated reading and pondering with a few hikes, a couple of naps, some sketching of wondrous views, and times of simply sitting in silence. Both Journey to Become and The Gift of Being Yourself gave me much to think about as they helped me look at my life to better see where I am now spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and even physically. Journey to Become is laid out in short chapters combining artwork with insightful questions, so was perfect for a retreat, and I would often read a section, then ponder it as I hiked or sketched.

It will take me while to process all that came up during those times of reading, journaling, pondering, and praying, but the nutshell version is that I came away with a greater understanding of how weary I have been in body and soul. And I realized that much of that weariness is due to the many ways that I have been living according to other people’s expectations of me or, more accurately, my perception of other people’s expectations.

As I sat with that realization and allowed myself to feel the weariness, I sensed God’s invitation to rest from expectations, other people’s and my own, and enter a fallow time, when I may not be as externally productive as I like to be. I’m sure that will be hard for me at times, and I will have to resist the temptation to evaluate myself based on my productivity, but I am confident that as I rest in that way, my inner being will heal and expand more into who God has made me to be.

Of course, I have regular life to keep on living, with various responsibilities that are still here, so the challenge in those areas is to do them without slipping into feeling like I need to be better or stronger or in any way more than I am. I am planning to continue reading and pondering and also discussing some of these thoughts with Stephen and some close friends, and am hopeful that that will help me not simply return to my former patterns of being.

Another realization I came away with was that my weariness and weakness is exactly where Jesus can best meet me. As long as I am trying to be someone other than who he made me to be or to do all sorts of things to meet other people’s expectations, I am relying on myself and not on him. As the Apostle Paul said, “But  [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)

Vinegar Hill State Game Refuge


Sketching as Prayer Retreat– Saturday, August 28

Sketching as Prayer Retreat
August 28, 2021
AM to 3:00 PM

Immanuel Church
Wappingers Falls, NY

Join us for a day of retreat, rest, and renewal as we open our sketchbooks or journals, eyes, and hearts to God’s presence in his creation and look to discover his fingerprints all around us. This is an opportunity to slow down and renew our focus on God through silence and prayer. We will also have times to encourage one another with the thoughts, insights, and sketches or written words that have come from our observation and meditation. Artistic experience not necessary; you can sketch with any kind of simple art supplies or with written words.

Saturday, August 28, 2021
9:45 AM to 3:00 PM
Immanuel Church (Wappingers Falls, NY)

Email Melissa Fischer ( for more details or to let her know you’ll participate.

The Insanity of God– Book Review

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken & Gregg Lewis

The Insanity of God is one of the most inspiring and challenging books I have read. Inspiring because of the many stories of believers who are steadfast in their passion for Christ, even while experiencing extreme persecution for their faith. And challenging as I contemplate the strong prayer lives of those Christians and realize how fickle my own prayer life is by comparison.

Nik Ripken (not his real name, in order to protect those whose stories he relates) starts out by describing the overwhelming and discouraging years when he and his wife were doing relief work and ministering in the devastation of Somalia in the 1990’s. His commitment to serve in obedience to Jesus’ call to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28: 19-20) in an extremely dangerous environment was challenging and has caused me to evaluate my own response to Jesus’ words.

After their son Timothy suddenly died of an asthma attack, the Ripkens returned to the States for a furlough in order to rest, recover, and deal with their discouragement, grief, and questions. Nik then embarked on a series of lengthy trips to regions of the world where Christians have been or still are severely persecuted for their faith. He relates details of many interviews with believers in former Soviet bloc countries, China, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and more. There were many stories that stood out to me, and what impressed me the most were the prayer lives of these persecuted believers. They depended on God and were guided by him in ways beyond my experience, but which rang true in how they glorified God. It was amazing to read about how these believers didn’t seek primarily to avoid persecution, which they could have done by remaining silent about their faith. Instead, they sought to share the good news of the Gospel in whatever ways they could. They were cautious and tried to avoid drawing the attention of authorities, but they didn’t let fear of persecution control or silence them.

This book has left me with a prayer (that I prayed often while reading the book) that my passion for God would grow and would lead to an ever-deepening prayer life. I want to know Christ more intimately and I want to love nothing in this world more than I love God. I have long considered Christ to be my greatest love, and I have hoped that if push came to shove, I would abandon anything else if challenged to declare my love for Christ. On a daily basis, though, I know that I am distracted by many things, and God often does not have the priority he should in my days. Reading The Insanity of God has given me a deep desire to more fully experience the work of the Holy Spirit in me, and through me to those with whom I interact.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…”
Philippians 3:7-8

Zoo Sketches

Much as I enjoy landscape painting, my favorite subjects are animals, especially wildlife, and, more than anything else, I love sketching them from life, when I can observe their behavior as I capture them in my sketchbook. It’s not easy to sketch live animals unless they’re sleeping, but that’s a challenge I enjoy. I tend to have many partially done sketches on a page and may or may not complete any, but those are some of my favorite sketchbook pages to look back at. Even looking at sketches from years ago, I can almost always remember the specific animals and their actions.

While I prefer to sketch wildlife in the wild, I appreciate the variety of species I can observe, learn about, and sketch at a well-run zoo. Here is a sampling of my Zoo sketches, most from the Bronx Zoo, some from the Trevor Zoo that’s run by the Millbrook School here in Dutchess County, and some from the St. Louis Zoo. These are all sketches done from life, sometimes in freezing or raining conditions. Generally I leave them as I’ve done them at the zoo, but sometimes I add watercolor later. I don’t consider these great art, but they were great fun to do, and I look forward to more sketching at the Trevor Zoo and the Bronz Zoo now that Covid restrictions are easing.

The hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful” by Cecil Francis Alexander is a favorite of mine that I think about often as I enjoy many aspects of God’s creation, and it seems a fitting conclusion to my A to Z Blogging posts.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all. 

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

The purple headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Author: Ce­cil F. Al­ex­an­der, Hymns for Lit­tle Child­ren, 1848

A to Z April Blogging Z


Who are you? I’m sure you can readily answer that, especially if I were to meet you and ask who you are. You’d say your name and perhaps where you’re from, what you do for a living or for enjoyment. And I’d be glad to meet you and would thank you for reading my blog.

But who are You? I wouldn’t yet know the real You after a brief introduction. In yesterday’s post I wrote about xanthophylls, the beautiful yellow pigment of autumn foliage, hidden beneath the green of chlorophyll in leaves all summer, that we can’t see until the chlorophyll fades. Who are You beneath the vibrant, visible exterior? The inner You who will still be there when all else fades, as it eventually will for all of us?

If I were to lose all of my abilities and even the roles that are part of my identity (wife, mother, friend), I would struggle tremendously with the loss of all that, but there would still be the core or essence of who I am that can never be taken from me. The real Me that’s been there all along, not always visible, but nonetheless active and alive. I suppose I will be growing in the knowledge of who I am my whole life; so far, the more I know my inner self, the more I am thankful for the life I have been given.

Who is the real You, the essence of who you are, and how do you think of yourself? I find it encouraging to meditate on how God thinks of You and of Me:

God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

For we are God’s handiwork… Ephesians 2:10

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17

A to Z April Blogging Y


I’m always happy to draw an X in Scrabble, but so far this has been the most challenging letter for this A to Z challenge. I considered writing about the obvious– X-rays, but don’t have any cool X-rays I could use, and besides, what would I say about X-rays? Hmmm…what if I could have X-ray vision? Maybe not so exciting if all I could see were bones, fascinating though they might be for a science nerd like me, but what if I could see not just bones, but all that is hidden inside all sorts of things…

But, lacking X-ray vision, I decided on Xanthophylls, a group of yellow and orange pigments found in many plants and animals. Lutein is a xanthophyll pigment that makes egg yolks yellow and that we have in our eyes that protects our eyes from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. It’s also found in dark leafy green vegetables like kale, turnip greens, and collards, which is one of many reasons they’re good for us. Salmon and shrimp get their pinkish-orange color from astaxanthin, another xanthophyll, that has anti-inflammatory and other healthful effects.

More interesting to me as an artist, xanthophylls are the pigments responsible for the beautiful yellow and golden colors we see in fall leaves. What I find fascinating is that they are there in the leaves all through the summer, but there’s so much green chlorophyll that the yellow pigments (as well as red pigments) are masked, until the chlorophyll begins to degrade in the fall. But even though we can’t see the xanthophylls all summer, they are performing valuable functions for the leaf.

One function is to capture light of wavelengths that the chlorophyll can’t absorb. After converting that light to energy, the xanophyll passes the energy along to the chlorophyll, which uses it to make sugars. I really like the idea that the xanthophylls quietly perform this important support function for the more visible chlorophyll. Another function the xanthophylls perform is to protect the leaf from excess sunlight which could damage it. They do this by converting the light into heat and dissipating it.

Along with many other landscape painters, by the end of the summer I am tired of painting green. It can be difficult to mix greens to realistic foliage colors, and too much green in a painting can be monotonous. I’m always eager for the kaleidoscope of autumn colors to appear and transform the landscape. It fascinates me to think of those colors that I so eagerly anticipate being there all along, working quietly behind the scenes.

Thinking about that now, as green is emerging everywhere, makes me wonder how much beauty there is in all the world, and even in people, that is currently hidden from my sight. If I just had X-ray vision that would enable me to see beyond the ordinary to the beauty beneath the surface!

A to Z April Blogging X


I am not really into collecting things. I used to have a brass collection, but gave it away after it spent several years in a box collecting dust, which is the only collection I have around the house these days. (I just came across a couple cans of brass cleaner, so if anyone has a brass collection in need of polishing, I am happy to give you some cleaner.) But I do collect waterfalls. Not in their wet form, of course, but in my memory and in my sketchbook, which helps my memory of them.

I find waterfalls challenging to paint or sketch, but it’s a challenge I enjoy, and, whether or not I am sketching, I am always entranced by waterfalls. I remember standing above Niagara Falls many years ago, transfixed by the water pouring by below me as it rushed toward the falls. I could have stood for hours, awed by the immensity of the power. And then two years ago a lifelong dream came true, as Stephen and I stood across from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I had read about Victoria Falls and often said I wanted to see it someday, but I knew that would never happen. And then it did! I will never forget the wonder of seeing that incredible wall of rock and water with a rainbow glowing in the mist rising from the rocky gorge.

As exciting as those immense waterfalls are, I still find even tiny waterfalls that I can easily hop over eye-catching and worth watching, as I am filled with wonder at the ever-changing flow of the water.

My brother Alexis is a photographer who loves to search out and photograph waterfalls, some in exciting places far from home, but many in hidden spots right near where he lives not far from Washington, D.C. You can see and read about some of the beautiful waterfalls he has visited on his website: Alexis Thompson

Here is a sampling of my collection of waterfalls, some very simple, some more detailed, all holding memories of rocks, tumbling water, and wonder.

Niagara Falls-Sept. 2000
Fishkill Ridge Trail along Dry Brook (which isn’t dry)- 2015
Fishkill Ridge Trail along Dry Brook– 2015
Fishkill Overlook Falls- 2018
Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park- 2011
Rainbow Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park– 2011
Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest, NC- 2019
Indian Brook Falls- 2018
Riga Falls– 2012
Kaaterskill Falls– 2015
Bash Bish Falls in watercolor — 2013
Bash Bish Falls gouache- 2020
Victoria Falls–2019– a place of wonder!

A to Z April Blogging W

Vincent Van Gogh

I’ve always loved Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and admired his mastery of color and texture, so was thrilled when my father took me to a Van Gogh exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was fabulous seeing so many of his paintings, drawings, and sketches, and I felt I gained a more intimate knowledge of him through studying his drawings and sketches.

When I read Vincent Van Gogh: His Spiritual Vision in Life and Art, by Carol Berry, I found much that inspired me about his art and his life. Early on Vincent became a pastor/evangelist because of his love of and compassion for the poorest people he could find—miners living in darkness and misery. He determined to live with them and as they did, in abject poverty and identifying with them as he ministered to their bodies and souls, caring for the sick and sharing the love of Christ with them, to the great consternation of his family and the religious establishment of the day. From his letters to his brother Theo:

I wish I could get a position there as an evangelist, just as we talked about it, preaching the Gospel to the poor—those who need it most and for whom it is so well meant                                                                                                                              (Laken, on or about November 13 and 15, or 16, 1878; Quoted in Berry, p. 41)

Life has become very dear to me, and I am very glad that I love. My life and my love are one. I tell you that I think it absolutely necessary to believe in God in order to be able to love. What I mean is, to believe in God is to feel that there is a God, not dead or on display, but a God who is alive, who with irresistible force urges us toward an “aimer encore.” (Etten, November 23, 1881; Quoted in Berry, p. 69)

Vincent’s drawings and paintings often feature poor miners and peasants, as he sought to serve them by emphasizing their worth and the value of their labor. He felt that by drawing the poor and destitute in the harsh reality of their existence, rather than by romanticizing their lives, those who were more fortunate would come to love and care for them, loving their neighbor as themselves.

Peasant life is something serious, and I, for one, would blame myself if I didn’t try to make paintings that would give serious things to think about to people who think seriously about art and about life… One must paint the peasants as being himself one of them, as feeling, thinking as they do themselves.
(Nuenen, April 30, 1885; Quoted in Berry, p. 119)

Another aspect of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters and paintings that strikes a chord with me are his thoughts about and depiction of nature.

But in the meantime I’m always fed by nature. I exaggerate, I sometimes make changes in the theme, but in the end I don’t invent the whole content of the painting; on the contrary, I find it all completely there in nature—but it has to be disentangled.  (Arles, on or about October 5, 1888 ; Quoted in Berry, p. 151)

There is at times something indescribable in those aspects—it is as if the whole of nature is speaking—and when one goes home one has the feeling as if one has read a book by Victor Hugo, for example. As for me, I cannot understand that not everybody sees it and feels it. Doesn’t nature or God do it for everyone who has eyes and ears and a heart to understand? It seems to me that a painter is happy, because he lives in harmony with nature, as soon as he can express, to some extent, what he sees. (The Hague, November 26 and 27, 1882; Quoted in Berry, p. 176)

An artist friend of mine who has copied well over 300 of Van Gogh’s paintings plans to paint replicas of all of Van Gogh’s almost 900 paintings, and he has given many as gifts to friends and coworkers. Seeing his work has inspired me to try copying some Van Gogh paintings in order to learn from his style. Here is my copy in gouache of Van Gogh’s “Old Yew Tree”

My goal in studying any artist’s style is not to change my style to be just like theirs, but to learn from them and incorporate into my own style what fits with who I am. This is similar to how I learn from and incorporate lessons from people I respect, whether in the realm of art, or their approach to daily life, or how they live out their faith. As the Apostle Paul said, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Philippians 3: 17

Here are a few paintings I have done as I try to figure out what I want to incorporate into my painting style from Van Gogh’s example:

Vassar Farm White Oak- gouache

A to Z April Blogging V