A blessed and happy Holy Week to you all! And welcome to my newsletter
for April, 2007. Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think
would be interested in keeping up with me! To receive these
newsletters regularly, drop me a note or subscribe online at:
http://groups.google.com/group/Mystical_Realms . Notices of new
paintings and events are at the bottom of this email.
As a junior in High School, I went on a week-long program that was an
offshoot of Outward Bound International. Called "Operation Survival"
(OS), it included lectures, discussions, and physical drills, and
culminated in a two night group hiking and camping trip in the
wilderness of the north Georgia mountains.
This was the spring after I had first read "The Lord of the Rings". I
doubt whether I understood the deeper lessons of that book, but I knew
that something about OS reminded me of the ordeal of the Ring. I
craved adventure, not yet having learned the lessons of Bilbo Baggins,
that adventures never turn out quite as one expects.
We jogged and did calisthenics early in the week to build stamina. And
after four days, we were ready for our first big challenge: repelling
down the side of the bell tower of our High School's chapel.
Imagine the summit of a four-story tower. Imagine, then, that someone
fastens a strand of rope to a "Swiss seat" around your legs and waist,
then tells you you're going to launch yourself off the side of the
building and "bounce" down to terra firma, below.
I was an "A" student. I always knew what I needed to do to succeed.
So, despite the grinding in my stomach, and despite the fact that I
was overweight and anything but athletic, I went over the side and
made it down safely. "No big deal," I thought. I already knew this
that strength and resolve could see you through the tough stuff.
Our next challenges came with the formal wilderness trip. We zipped
down trip lines over canyons; we hiked for hours in the woods and
along trails; we took turns keeping watch at the fires each night. But
in the middle of our first night, we were taken, one by one, out of
camp, to a large oak tree. There, we climbed a rope ladder up to the
forest canopy, pulled ourselves over a branch, then climbed back down
again, all in pitch darkness.
Again, I managed this. But on the way back to camp, I tripped on
brambles in the dark and tumbled into a ditch, catching myself with my
left hand. Something snapped.
At camp, it was clear that I had a very bad sprain, or worse. But the
next morning we were expected to face our biggest challenge: we were
each going to repel down the face of a 250-foot cliff overhang.
And now, with my left hand bandaged so tightly that I couldn't use it,
I was taught a new and strangely luminous lesson.
Hiking up to the cliff, I saw looks of concern on the part of all the
other participants. My wrist was so painful I could not use my
dominant left hand, so I was told to use my right hand instead. I was
terrified, but for the first time, I also saw a look of worry on the
faces of others in the group. There was something about my new
vulnerability that had changed everything
something I couldn't at
I wasn't able to climb the trail up the cliff one-handed, so Jerry
Doss, a gentle giant of a man, lifted me up the slope on his
shoulders. At the top, everyone double and triple checked my gear, and
I saw that the program directors were making sure the belayers knew
that I might need help.
That descent was watched more closely, and with more anxiety, than any
other. Even those whom I had not counted as friends were exuberant
when I reached the bottom safely.
The lesson of this encounter was a strange one. With the snapping of
my wrist, Operation Survival was no longer just about me. It was about
my weakness bringing out the best in those around me. It was about the
helplessness of one person acting to strengthen the faith and resolve
of a dozen others.
The world will not teach you this lesson. The world will teach you
self-sufficiency, power, mastery. The world helps those who help
But on that cliff in the north Georgia mountains, I glimpsed a truth
known to Lao Tzu, a reality understood by Frodo and Sam Gamgee. This
same truth was taught to us by the One with whom we walk this week on
the road to Golgotha.
And that truth is this; that God chooses the humble, the weak, the
insignificant to accomplish all of the greatest things in life. Our
finest moments, in this paradoxical economy, are when we recognize our
own unworthiness, yet trust that the One who broke the gates of Hell
can always turn our weakness into His strength, our failure into His
The world is full of adventures, but the wise traveler will always
proceed with humility. And the journey itself may be far more
important than our intended destination.
- I am deeply grateful to the Tolkien Library and Tolkien Gateway for
having asked me to be a guest of honor at the upcoming online release
party for J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Children of Hurin". This book, which
was edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee, goes on
sale April 17th. The online release party runs from 4/15 through 4/18.
I will be answering questions about my Tolkien paintings and sketches
online on 4/16 at 5pm Eastern Daylight time. If you'd like to find out
more and participate, please see http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/ .
- Related to the above, I'm contributing three signed prints, "The
Gates of Menegroth", "The Bridge Over Narog", and "The Seduction of
Nienor" as prizes to participants in the online party. These three
images depict landscapes and scenes from the tale of the Children of
- The March/April issue of the St. Austin Review (StAR)
(http://www.staustinreview.com/ ) is out and features a number of my
sketches and paintings (including the cover!) in celebration of The
Celts and their contributions to literature and western culture.
Please take a look! It's a great issue (perhaps _despite_ my
- My latest show, "Rivers, Reefs, and Reading Rooms", is at the UUCA
gallery through the end of April. The show includes some 44 paintings,
38 of which are oil-on-wood cutouts. For a brochure and more
information, please see my website at http://www.JefMurray.com .
- Gilbert Magazine (http://www.gilbertmagazine.com) features, in its
current issue, a sketch of James Joyce I contributed for Mike Foster's
review of "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". Also, online,
Lorraine has one of her articles featured in the downloadable sample
issue. The article is entitled "Call Me Mrs.: A Journey from Feminism
to Common Sense."
Nai Eru laitalyë (may God bless you),