Saturday, November 19, 2011

What do you want to be doing when you die?

In the first few months of cancer, I was led to believe that this was not going to be a huge, permanent, life-changing thing. It was presented to me by several doctors as something that could be easily and quickly dealt with, with minimal long-term effects. I was told that "the tumour is small and localised" that it could be "removed easily with a small surgery," that I will be past it by mid-summer, that I would not have to have chemo, that permanently life-changing surgery would not be necessary.

One by one these assertions and assumptions have turned out to have been false. No one lied to me, exactly, but of course everyone wanted to put the best possible face on things. But in the last few months, each of these assurances have fallen by the wayside, opening up worse long-term prognoses, more radical interventions and fewer choices.

When it started, I was led to believe that I could leave it behind, that at some point I would be able to say, "It's over," and that life could carry on as it had before. But the core of the information we had from the doctors last week was that this is never going to be over. It is going to create a deeply altered life for me and my life will now never return to what it was.

For some years, of course, I have been looking at the things I am doing and thinking about how to live the second half of my life. This was just because I'm 45. But since the walls of cancer have closed slowly around me, narrowing my choices, my thoughts have become more acute, more immediate. There seems to be no doubt that the cancer and its treatment have greatly shortened my life expectancy.

So, now a new kind of question, a new set of questions, has been taking up my attention. No longer, "Is this what I should be doing?" but "What do I want to be doing when I die?" because whatever that is, I'd better be getting on with it right away. I think there is no more "some day" for me.

Medically, the more I learn, the worse it sounds. First, I will also have to undergo monitoring tests for many years, if not for the rest of my life to watch for the cancer coming back. The surgery (that I'll probably be having in the next couple of weeks) will greatly reduce the risk that the cancer I have now will recur, but not eliminate it. Nothing can do that. They can reduce the chances by removing all the organs that could now be affected, but there is no way to know if micrometasteses have spread into the surrounding organs and tissues. For that, we can only wait and watch carefully.

What they told me, in effect, was that there is no way to know, no way at all, to be certain, that cancer will not kill me some time in the next five years. All of the possible choices for treatment will render me permanently dependent on medical interventions and at significantly increased risk of a wide array of health threats.

Then, the surgery will render me sterile and induce premature menopause, symptoms of which are more sudden and more severe than it would be if it were natural. My Dorian Gray moment is at hand. The ovaries and uterus continue producing low levels of hormones throughout a woman's lifespan. Removing them all will produce a much more severe and abrupt cessation of normal functions and set of symptoms than anyone normally experiences. It seems that hormone replacement therapy can mitigate some but not all of these.

Further, the treatments to reduce these side effects, that I will have to undertake immediately and for at least ten to fifteen years, come themselves with a set of side effects and increased risks that, ironically, include cancer as well as nasty stuff like thrombosis, stroke and heart disease.

Put simply, I really cannot expect my life to be a long one. And between the new medical realities and the general circumstances of my life and background, I can't help but think that a short life would not entirely be a bad thing. I will leave behind a great many friends, but almost no family, and no one at all who is dependent on me.

I am a believing Catholic and that means that I look forward to the next life to be the better one. And as the medical condition worsens, I have no qualms about admitting that having less and less to lose as we go along is maybe also no bad thing. Releasing and relinquishing life and the things in it, including things long hoped-for but now unlikely ever to materialise, is something we all have to do eventually, and it's better to have less baggage to carry. John Muggeridge taught me that as I watched him let go of things in the last weeks of his life.

But that question, "What do I want to be doing when I die?" has begun to loom very large in my mind since they told me the news last week. It is obvious that I am not now doing it. Whatever I need to be doing when my life is over, I'm not doing now.

To be blunt, I am now extremely unlikely ever to be married. And I am incapable of ever being a mother. No religious order will take me, even if I still had the slightest spark of an idea I would want to be taken by them, which I don't. One of the things that cancer has finally put an end to, therefore, is the vocation question. I don't have one. And whether I ever did is now moot.

The "single life," never desired, always a repellent thought, is what I've got and will have. I have never believed this NewChurch drivel about the "single life" being a vocation in itself. The multiple catastrophes of universal divorce, the "sexual revolution," the ruin of the family and the abortion and contraceptive cultures have simply demolished the possibility of marriage for a huge number of us. I would venture to say that these things have ruined the hopes of marriage or the religious life for most of the people of my generation. We are simply so damaged as to be incapable of fulfilling the married or religious life. This kind of happiness and hope is something many of us simply cannot have, and all the blither about the glories of "the single life" falls upon our ears like a cruel jeer. I hope the fad dies out in the Church quickly.

If you can't choose it, if it is something that can be forced unwanted upon you by circumstances you can't control, it is not a state in life, but a mistake. I suffer from no delusions that a life lived without any sort of ontological connections can be inherently sanctifying, which is what a vocation to a particular state in life is for. If unmarried, unvowed people want to be holy, they have to do something else.

So the question remains, what, therefore, can be the next step down? No sanctifying state of life. No ontological context. Only me, and an "occupation," the doing of some thing that will not rule out a holy life. Of course, it could simply be that I can just carry on doing what I'm doing. I am set up now to live a fairly happy life, as long as it is likely to be short anyway. But it has become clear that I'm not now doing what I want to be doing when I die.

Lately I have been asking some priest friends, who I think have not really understood why the question is important, whether art can be taken as a sufficient substitute for a failed vocation. My question has mostly been dismissed with a terse answer. But I've been thinking about it a great deal.

What can I do with the second half of my life (or perhaps last third or fifth) that will give glory to God, that will occupy me and that is suited to a life that will largely be lived alone?

The only thing that makes me hesitate (apart from financial constraints) is time. I am looking very hard at the admissions page of the website of the Florence Academy of Art, which is the centre of the renewal of the arts of drawing, painting and sculpture. It is probably the best art school in the world. My current instructor, Andrea Smith, trained and taught there for several years. Nearly all of the leading classical realists studied there or studied with people who studied there. Most of the schools that are involved in the restoration of these traditions were founded as offshoots.

But it takes three years to complete the programme, and of course, years more to grow into maturity in this work. When I started studying nearly two years ago now, I thought I had time. Now I think I probably don't.

But that question is still in there: "What do I want to be doing when I die?"

Is the mere pursuit of this, without any guarantee I'll reach the goal, a worthy thing to die doing? I might very well die in the middle of the course. What would be the value in starting something I likely haven't the time to finish? Can I indulge in this pursuit, knowing I will likely not finish it, while the world comes crashing down around us? Is it selfish?

But there comes at time when you no longer have any room to fool about with life.

I'm thinking about it.



Veronica said...

I very much doubt that you remember me - we corresponded briefly when you still lived in Canada, and I had first become a Catholic and was considering the religious life, before my sudden apostasy.

In a rather more different, and quite less meaningful way, my life fell apart after that. Still, since then, I know a tiny bit about what it means to feel you've lost all hope of a vocation - either to marriage or the religious life. Regardless, I've continued to follow your blog, and pray for you often.

"What do I want to be doing when I die?"

Is ever and always a good question to ask. I hope, though, that you continue with your art. As far as I can see, bringing beauty into the world is never really a matter of fooling around.

BillyHW said...

What's so bad about what you're doing now? It's more meaningful than 99% of the other jobs out there. And you are actually a really good writer, which is so lacking in your field.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear. What a disappointment! I feel terrible, reading this.

I am not sure what usually passes for contemporary talk about "vocation" is really all that helpful. It's too much like career-planning, as in the "post-secondary education, employment, military" choices that greet the American high school student upon graduation.

Once upon a time, we didn't talk about marriage being a "vocation" either. For over a millennium vocation was simply being called out of the state of single-life-hoping-for-marriage to priesthood and/or religious life.

It is hard to talk about "failed vocation" in the abstract. Unless someone correctly believes herself to be called to marriage (if we call that a vocation) to a concrete person, or to a concrete religious life, then she can't be said to have failed in it if she doesn't take it up. God is free to call or not call as He lists. He's not a tame lion.

In some cases, the sin of others--not herself--is the reason why someone does not take up the vocation she correctly felt called to: her fiance is murdered or killed in battle, or a repressive regime scatters her religious community.

I think the Church--especially the young and unmarried--need to break free of the Priest/Religious/Married/Single vocation straitjacket and concentrate on what God is calling them specifically to do, using state-of-life as more of a background than as the goal itself. Because the new "Marriage and Single Life are also Calls" theology is on shaky ground, the idea that Single Life is a "Call" equal to the Priesthood doesn't provide much comfort to a lonely Single person.

Jean Vanier feels called to spend the rest of his life in community with disabled adults and their carers. As a man who is neither married nor a priest nor a male religious, he is completely free to do that.

All kinds of Christian men and women have followed a Christian calling without getting married, being ordained or taking vows as religious. Before Vatican II, they didn't think about whether being Single (or married) was a "call" or not; they just got on with what they felt God was calling them to DO.

Dorothy Day was divorced, but nobody thinks in terms of her "failed vocation", but only in terms of her response to the poor and pacifism. And people often think Catherine of Siena was a nun, but she wasn't. Nor was Julian of Norwich. Cardinal Consalvi had a long church career without ever being ordained to the priesthood. Hardly anyone remembers that Franz Liszt was in minor orders.
Blessed Fra Angelico is not famous for his prayers but for his paintings. In a hundred years no-one will remember if Hilary White was married or not, but they might enjoy looking at one of her paintings and feeling closer to God because of it.

KYpapist said...

Please continue your path to art and beauty which is for you the path to God who is the source and summit of all beauty, that your talent will be multiplied when called to give an accounting.

TH2 said...

I agree - the "single life" as a "vocation" is a Nu-Church canard.

The multiple catastrophes of universal divorce, the "sexual revolution," the ruin of the family and the abortion and contraceptive cultures have simply demolished the possibility of marriage for a huge number of us.

Right on the money.


Anonymous said...

Have you read Act of God by Margaret Kennedy? IT'S NOT ALL PIOUS DESPITE THE NAME I PROMISE. She's famous for The Constant Nymph but her later novels are all about this conundrum here you're having. I will send you a copy if you like. - Karen

Michel M said...

What about a secular institute such as the Community of St. John? Seems to me that your profession as a writer and your desire for beauty would be a fit. Just a suggestion.

Anonymous said...

I spent so many years trying to "discern my vocation" that I ended up second-guessing myself into a state of near-permanent paralysis.

I was having this very discussion with my husband, who happens to be a convert from the Orthodox church. He said that you never hear talk about "vocation" among eastern Christians. Of course, priesthood and monastic life are highly esteemed among them, but these are reserved for a small number of people. The rest of us are left to make our own personal choices and just get on with the business of living life to the best of our ability, whether married or single. I think in the west we have the tendency to spend too long thinking about things and this obsession with "discerning one's vocation" can be quite damaging for some people. God gives us certain gifts and if we do the best we can with them, to the glory of God, then I think we have done our job.

God's mercy and grace are not constrained by whatever vocational categories we construct and holiness is open to all.


Anonymous said...

Understanding that one's vocation is what God chooses because God needs THAT person to serve Him in a particular way, in a way no one else is able, I would venture to say that you have been living your vocation, Hilary.

Your writing has helped more people than you will know this side of Heaven and your talent for art, while you may not yet be satisfied with your work, is another reflection of God because it brings beauty into others' lives.

What any of us should want to be doing when we die is serving God as faithfully as we are able. Most of us who have come to know you through your gifted writing would vouch for the fact that you have been doing that all along.


Maureen said...

Would you consider getting in contact with a cancer survivor's or a cancer support group?

DJ Great White Way said...

Also, you could post more pictures of your outfits. - Karen

Anonymous said...

oops, you got my DJ name! - Karen

AMW said...

The main thing is that you say YES to whatever God wants - and unless you're saying that the whole of your past life has been pointless - you have been doing God's will. That's a vocation.

Prayers are with you Hilary.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


I think the simplistic new way the Church, or some churchmen and many self-appointed Catholic apologists, talk about vocation has this effect. I did much the same thing for years and a lot of other people I know did too, working ourselves into tizzies trying desperately to "figure out the will of God for me," and doing it in time to meet the deadlines set by religious orders (one said they didn't take anyone after 23!) and the subculture that says you have to have it all figured out and be on your way by 30 at the absolute latest. There are actually groups that consciously exploited this anxiety to push people into their various programmes and societies. The Legionaries were notorious for it. I had to calm a lot of young women down when the Regnum Christie girls descended on Halifax and starting oh so politely issuing dire threats to them about how they would be held accountable by God if they didn't do the right thing.

It was St. Francis de Sales and Fr. Faber, with their insistence on the call to holiness for everyone, who released me from this horrible round of guilt and anxiety.

Maureen: why would I want to do that? I would think that a group of secular people would have no clue whatever how to help me with these somewhat specialised Catholic issues.

Karen, as it happens, one of the things I've been intending to do, and doing a little bit, is making some new clothes. Vicky has found the fabric store to end all fabric stores. It's the most amazing place in the centro of Rome where buyers for Armani and Valentino shop. There. Will. Be. New. Clothes!

Thank you, AMW, for giving us this perfect example of exactly the problem. It all sounds quite proper and the thing... but the core of the difficulty is finding out What. That. Is.

It is, in fact, precisely this kind of sunny, simplistic, rose-tinted talk about "saying yes" to the "will of God" that sends sincere people into this grand spiral of self-doubt, second-guessing and anxiety.

And it's absurd to imply that I should have nothing to regret. Only sociopaths go through life with no regrets for their past. If I had been doing God's will, I would not now have cervical cancer.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


I'm afraid you're right and at the moment, I don't remember. But would you like to talk again? Why don't you send me an email?

Mark said...

Do you believe you don't have a vocation, or that you've failed to realize one that you were meant to have? Cause there are a couple of saints out there who are neither religious nor married, and it seemed to have worked out quite swell for them (spiritually speaking)...

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


how should I know? God's not telling.

Martial Artist said...

Dear Miss White,

I will now not only be praying for your healing, but also that Our Lord will give you an unmistakably clear indication of what He would have you do. It probably wouldn't hurt for you to include the same request in your own prayers. My personal experience is that praying in that way and asking for God's grace to help make one alert, aware and patient whilst awaiting an answer, while not guaranteed, can be fruitful.

I pray that God will bless you with His answer to your question.

Keith Töpfer

Anonymous said...

Just came across this post & blog. The question you raise is an important one for us all.
I found your questioning lively & inspiring.
I'm now 49 & I do think mid-life poses particular thoughts..
None of us knows the time nor the hour.. I've had serious life threatening events but am somehow still here.
I expect it's to grow in holiness & the love of Our Lord ..
I will add your blog to my links when I can get on my main computer ..With prayers

Anonymous said...

I really question the idea that God is the Great Micro-manager. Has he really created us for a specific time, to do a specific work that no one else could do? In most cases, I doubt it. God does not need us, we need him. And I think we were created for one purpose only: to enjoy him in heaven forever. Ultimately our lives need to be guided by that. Some people were created to be great saints of the Church, but most of us obviously don't fit into that category (and by that I don't mean we shouldn't strive for holiness).

In relation to secular "vocations" I believe that God has given us more personal choice in the matter than many of us want to accept (me included). As long as something is not sinful, and has some inherent value, I believe we are free to pursue it if we have the gifts and inclination for it. If God does want us to undertake A Great Work, he will make it abundantly clear.

The idea that we will arrive at a Eureka moment if we pray hard enough is not helpful in many cases. Some people spend years asking for vocational guidance only to hear nothing but an overwhelming, resounding silence. Again, this leads me back to the idea of personal choice: at some point we must make one. Many times it will only become clear that we are doing the right thing after we have begun to do it.

Perhaps the best way to proceed is to keep doing what you are doing and to ask God to close the door on your choices if they are not right and then to re-direct you to something else.

Regrets and remorse are useful and necessary when they lead to repentance but ultimately we must hand all of our regrets over to God and ask for his mercy. He is not limited by our sins and mistakes and will bring to completion that which he started.

Scripture and the Church have given us clear mandates for what we need to do: pray, partake of the sacraments, assist our neighbour in his need. What we need to do most of all is to grow in the love of God. All things flow from this.


AMW said...

"If I had been doing God's will, I would not now have cervical cancer."

My goodness Hilary, do you think that cancer is some sort of punishment for not doing God's will? Isn't that what karma is? That's not Catholic!

My summary of what a vocation is might be simplistic, but it's true! It's saved me from the spiral of anxiety - in just the ways you mention. But how about looking at it from a 'unlabeled' mind set and start seeing it as a vocation to life - starting from baptism and renewed at Confirmation? You've already been ontologically changed.

I have to agree with Seraphic - she is spot on.

How about seeing cancer as a way to holiness - you know the theology behind suffering. I don't have to tell you that.

What saddens me is the thought of a woman who has done her absolute best to defend the defenseless after being dealt a really crappy hand in life, continue this through an even more crappy illness and then think that her life has been worthless and without merit and incapable somehow of being holy because it can't be 'boxed' and packaged into a vocation shown on a poster somewhere - or worse, that you've deserved it all.

Well I (and thankfully the Church agrees with me) thinks that is utter bullcrap.

The last thing I want to do is lecture and assume and I'm incredibly sorry to be so blunt, but sometimes it has to be said.

Anonymous said...

Second Opinion- Guelph University, Canada

Spirit daily

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


It is a medical fact that cervical cancer only develops after one has contracted HPV, Human Papiloma Virus, a sexually transmitted infection. Cervical cancer is, indirectly, a sexually transmitted disease. If I had been doing the will of God throughout my life, I would not now be in this situation. That is also a fact.

It is a sign of moral health to have regrets. This does not mean that I think my life has been worthless. Where did you get that idea? Not from anything I've said. I'd be happier if my readers would not make assumptions about the things I've written.

When Catholics talk about "vocation" they are talking about a specific thing, a vowed state in life to which one is called in person by God. There is nothing to be gained by watering down the idea to mean some airy-fairy motivational-poster idea like "called to life". It is not helpful to start using language in this mushy way.

I like reality just the way it is, and don't need or want assurances based on deflection from the actual concrete facts of the matter.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Also, I think the discussion has been derailed since my "vocation" or lack thereof was not the point of the post.

Anonymous said...

Hey, this conversation just took a surprisingly interesting turn. So who needs to be horsewhipped? - Karen

Steve said...

A friend of mine once wrote, "Beauty is a salve." Only four words, but it's one of my favorite sayings. A succinct manifestation of truth.

Do art. Don't question it. Follow the muse, be a maker, a "homo faber" and find the peace of God through beauty.

And know that you have friends who care deeply about not only your well being, but your happiness.

Teresa B. said...

Miss. White,
When I married my husband we planned on having lots of children.
I had a huge fibroid on my uterus and almost died a few weeks after my daughter was born.
The day after her baptism was my surgery to remove my womb.
It has taken many years for me to say "God blessed us with 2 children" as I would say that "God JUST blessed us with ONLY 2 children."
Sometimes I would look back on my life and think that God did this to me because of my past. I was a party girl of the 80's.
I was pregnant at 17 and gave my child up for adoption at 18. The doctor told me about the IUD and I was back to partying.

I had a friend who I went to church with (not going to mass was a sin you know) and she had a good family. I hung out with her & her family and started embracing the church more.

My return to the faith was highlighted by a trip to Madonna House where I would watch my friend who was planning on joining this religious community, go up to this life size statue of Our Lady of Comberemere and pray each night.
One time I went on my own to the statue and asked Mary to be my mother as I had felt neglected by my own mother.
It was the beginning of a new life for me - one that would include prayer.

Being open to any state in life was a difficult thing for me. I was hitting 30 and had no desire for a man.
I would visit my friend, JA at Madonna House and thought maybe that was where God was telling me to go - especially since I really disliked the place. It was in the wilderness and far from civilization and it had outhouses. But the faith was real and the people seemed so at peace even if they walked around on dirt paths.

After one visit, while at home, I met this man who became my husband. Never saw it coming.
My prayers didn't seem to ask for a man. But that's what happened.

Miss. White, I may die tomorrow or the next or in 25 years. I pray that the time I have on earth is spent productively and giving the greatest glory to God. Sometimes I fail at this and sometimes I surpass my own expectations.

You have a mighty strong pen I hope you are able to continue to wield it.But maybe your time for something else has come.

I will pray for you as you ponder what it is that you are feeling drawn to.
Be strong in your decision if you are to change.

You are blessed to have priests to talk to and so many people who have read your writings who pray for you.

Today is the Presentation of Our The Blessed Virgin Mary.
I have been tellig my family about you and your articles and desire to paint and your struggle with cancer.
On this feastday, our prayers will be especially presented at the altar of God for your intentions.

Pax Christi,
Teresa B.

Gary said...

At the risk of sounding "preachy", please know that in the midst of your present suffering, opportunities for grace abound.

I cannot begin to know what you're dealing with, as I have (so far) been healthy, but will pray that Our Lord will guide you safely to heaven.

I hope you beat this thing and live for many more years so you can be the artist you yearn to be (your list of Things to Live For).

Steve T. said...

"It is a sign of moral health to have regrets." Brava! Brava! Only sociopaths have no regrets.

Attempting to get back on topic: I fail to understand why attempting to hone your innate God-given talents and abilities to

1. help rescue whatever stray remnants of Western civilization out of the sewer that it has been continuously thrust into since the Sixties

2. attempt to expose an unbelieving age to the True and the Beautiful †ad majorem Dei gloriam†

3. dedicate your life to a more excellent way

can be anything other than something to be striven for.

My "vocation," as it were, was to be a Catholic husband and father. I have been kicked to the curb by my (presumptive, pending the outcome of the annulment inquiry)wife, and my fathering has been reduced to two days every other weekend. I do not worry about whether I'm living up to my vocation. I instead focus my attention on doing everything in my limited power to raise my children as actual practical Roman Catholics.

Engaging in a moment's thought about "vocations" is navel-gazing narcissistic Novo Ordus horses***, all about looking within (the NuCat parallel to New Age "the Goddess-is-within-you" horses***). It is utterly distracting from your duty as a believing Catholic to go out and do. The Beatitudes do not make any reference to the blessed introspectives. Hey, we bead squeezers and mackerel snappers are bound by our "works theology," remember?

And please dismiss any thoughts that your pursuit of art shouldn't be commenced because it might end earlier than hoped for.

Anonymous said...


hyoomik said...

The question is, what do you want to be doing when you are dying. I have seen three human deaths. In two cases, dying was a full time business for about a week. No time for anything else. In one case, it was a matter of minutes, and everyone was having a good time up til then. My friend has to put down his dog, and my thought is that in that situation the master has to play God, no way out of the decision. As for us humans, God is the one who plays God. If we want to dictate terms about how and when, I think it doesn't work that way. God is God, and we are us, and we muddle through.

John said...

I think the words of this song would apply to you, especially the chorus :-)

jimf said...

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

God really has a way of clearing things up, doesn't He?

I think that following the path of art, whether you finish it or not, is a noble thing and if shared, unselfish. Just like your blog: you share and bring clarity to others. Do so with your art. The finishing point doesn't matter anyway does it? Art, like life, continually evolves and changes so it's never really finished.

John Paul Sonnen said...

hi! and nice drawing! we miss you. visit sometime for hot apple cider (mulling spice blend!) with cinnamon stirrers...mmmm...on the stove...and waiting for you!

a friend has this on her wall:

"happiness is found along the way...not at the end of the road."

John Paul Sonnen said...

p.s. you write beautifully!

Anonymous said...

"It is a sign of moral health to have regrets." Brava! Brava!


I believe you ought to pursue the art. It's just my opinion, but I believe it would be good for you and for others. Christians do need to be productive.

Meanwhile (or instead) there are your writing and domestic arts.

As I was going through a severe trial recently (and still am, really) it was a good time to find the Lord in all my troubles. The Heavenly Father is my closest confidant.

God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Steve, fwiw, I believe God can and does restore marriages.

I will be praying for yours.

I feel terrible about marriage break-ups. No doubt your wife has treated you abysmally (as is normally the case where one spouse leaves/kicks out the other), but if you will continue to honour your vows and pray for her full conversion and the restoration of your marriage, I am certain you will be greatly blessed. I don't wish to interfere, but I feel a lot happier knowing that there are good resources on the 'net which really can help.

Mary Rose said...

Hilary Jane, you are a spitfire and always make me smile! You have been in my prayers and will continue to be regarding your challenging journey.

First, you are a gifted writer. I wanted to acknowledge that. I especially enjoy your posts where you nail the hellish repercussions from feminism.

But here's my real focus: art.

You brought up an excellent question about art and as an artist, I can attest that I've struggled with the very same questions as you. When I decided to "get serious" about God when I was twenty (and consequently, ended up leaving the Catholic Church), I remembered asking, "And what of my art?" I wasn't sure what to do with it. Ever since I was a little girl, whenever anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd instantly respond, "An artist."

Then I grew up and learned that society seemed to value a businessman more than an artist.

When I started to pursue God, I also studied the Bible, trying to figure out the whole art question. My major in college was first graphic design but in hindsight, I wish I had gone for Fine Arts. Still, even after I switched majors to a Liberal Arts degree, my art was still important to me, although I kept trying to force it into a "how valuable is this to society" box.

Eventually, I found Exodus 31, where God instructed Moses to build a place of worship, and specifically named Bezaleel to do the design work. Bezaleel’s name has a beautiful Hebrew meaning. It means, “in the shadow (i.e. protection) of God.” (Also a cool word search: workmanship. It’s a very broad word in Hebrew: melakah, meaning occupation, work, business, service, use, something done or made.)

There are a few things that struck me about these verses in Ex. 31. First, there was a need for worshipping God. Second, that worship was to be accompanied and inspired by works of art. And third, perhaps my own perception, God created us to hunger for created works of meaning.

Long ago, I used to lead an arts group in a non-denominational church. We had all sorts of philosophical discussions about whether Christian art had to have as its object Christian imagery in order to be of value. Most of us agreed that art is art and as Christians, we were to simply respond to the call God made upon our lives to create in this way and yes, desire to do His will in the midst of it.

This comment is super-lengthy, and my apologies, but I wanted to let you know you are not alone with such questions regarding art. At least the Catholic Church has a rich history of appreciating art. I spent almost twenty years in the “desert” of hideous beige walls, warehouses masquerading as “sanctuaries,” and church-goers who thought art began and ended with Thomas Kincaid.

I think your heart is pulled toward attending the Florence Academy of Art. I say run the race as far as you're able. I think much rich fruit is in store for you.

Feel free to write me if you’d like to discuss it more. zinkpoe gmail

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Dear Karen,

Alas, being not a chevalier, I do not own a horsewhip. I also can't see how it would help our artist get to heaven.

... Christopher.

Anonymous said...

excuses, excuses - Karen

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Oh Karen, *of course* we can horsewhip anyone you want.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


Yeah, I've had those discussions with my Catholic-nerd friends. I think I mentioned it in a post about craptastic Christian art. I think I said that I get more spiritual solace out of a well-rendered still life of a peeled lemon than from bad representations of Christian themes.

berenike said...


I don't have your ability with words, so can't say what I mean otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I hear you loud and clear sister and am interested it how this is resolved for you because I'm a mere decadebehind you.
We've been soured on marriage and consecrated life not only by the proabort femminazis but also by our own TOB/NFP groupies.

I don't want my parent's marriage; I want my grandparents.

Marybeth J

HJW said...

My grandparents were married 63 years until Grandpa died at 91. If I beleive in marriage and family at all, or frankly, in anything at all, it's because of them. My parents were morally destructive people.

Anonymous said...

God gave you a gift as an artist and a great gift as a writer. Remember the parable of the talents? Carry on using them.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear that about your parents.
My grandparents must have been related to yours.
My parents are still Chris West/Janet Smith/Greg Popcak fans.



Anonymous said...

I'm only 28, BTW, and feel scared less by the blantantly immoral culture than novusordoism attempt to respond to it.


Anonymous said...

I would caution against piling on to the radtrad freight train of anti-TOB bitterness. It's a one way ticket toward sullen spinsterhood.

The sooner you accept that the church has had more relevant things to say about human sexuality in the past 40 years than in the 1950 that preceded it, the better off you'll be. Theology of the Body is one of the greatest gifts to humanity the church has ever given and it will only continue to grow in power as theologians unpack it.


Anonymous said...

Now here's some sound theology of the body, I think drawn from Ezekiel. "Dem Bones"


Anonymous said...

The sooner you accept that the church has had more relevant things to say about human sexuality in the past 40 years than in the 1950 that preceded it, the better off you'll be.


- Karen

Anonymous said...

The questions you are confronting in such an intense way are really just the essential human questions.

Anyone who thinks, anyone who has experienced loss - lives with those questions.

They must.

Do not be so hard on yourself regarding your past actions and your present health crisis.

I have a "past" which you would probably judge quite harshly.

But my "present" is rooted in five beautiful children who *would not exist" but for that past so many would judge as terrible.

Hilary, the point of the Passion and Resurrection is that God brings good - the greatest good - out of evil - the greatest evil.

You may live five more years, you may live twenty.

I might get hit by a bus tomorrow. Many people will, in fact, die suddenly and unexpectantly tomorrow, many younger than you are now.

Serve God where you are. Art is serving God - of course it is.

To obsess about anything else but serving God is vanity.

Anonymous said...

TOB greatest gift?


Anonymous said...