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A Healing Art View Comments
By Sue Stanton

BLESSED JOHN PAUL II, a poet, actor, and playwright, had a great appreciation for human artistry. In his 1999 Letter to Artists, he wrote: “The more conscious they are of their ‘gift,’ [artists] are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation, and their mission” (#1).

For Catholic visual artist and Franciscan associate Jo Myers-Walker, the late pope’s explanation of the difficult life of an artist has helped her understand the sorrows and joys of the only way of life she has ever known.

“When I was in the fifth grade,” Jo says, “my mother let me paint my bedroom, but little did we know that such a thing, fairly boring for most young girls, would forever change my life.” Paint opened for her the door to a world most of us only dream of, a life grounded in pursuing visual art.

“I began by painting trees that went around the room on two of the walls. I put flowers and vines along the floorboards. I felt I needed to have beauty around me. My parents realized right away that there was something inside me that needed to be expressed. I guess that was when I began to think of myself as an artist.”

Many years later, art and Franciscan spirituality are central for Jo. “For me, painting those walls was the beginning of finding beauty and a sense of peace,” Jo explains from her studio in Gilbert, Iowa, a town with fewer than 2,000 residents.

Using a great variety of media, she conducts classes there. From watercolor painting to woodworking, from “slumping” (molding plastic or clay) to bookmaking, from creating delicious meals to painting with food—yes, with food—Jo’s creative passions ignited as soon as she picked up that paintbrush many years ago.

“I loved to climb trees,” Jo remembers, “and I climbed them to get above the chaos. Because I needed to reflect, I could look at the world closely from up there. Artists are observers. They see the detail in everything. You can’t help it.”

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A world traveler, Sue Stanton worked for 30 years as an RN, including 10 years in the mental health field. She and her husband have two children. Besides her freelance writing, she has authored six faith-based books for children and adults.

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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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