Be a Lion

Watch me paint this lion art in 2 minutes (time lapse)

Yesterday I posed the question “Are you a lion or a lamb?” We are meant to be both, but today let’s focus on lions. Most definitions for the word lion begin with a description of the animal, end with a reference to Leo (the constellation which I happen to have been born under) and somewhere in the middle includes phrases such as “a very brave person“, as per The Free Dictionary.

As we think of lions representing bravery, let’s establish what we must be brave about. I’d mentioned before that we must protect ourselves so that we may then protect others. Before we make a checklist, we need to define what is meant by “protection”.

  1. Health: As we humans are composed of mind, body and spirit, our physical self is important. Protection and defense seldom warrant physical battles, but is instead a reference to an ongoing struggle to create and maintain optimal health. This is made more difficult when entities are acting against our interests. Our strength and energy allows us to withstand hardships and endure long trials, to outlast an oppressive era, and make it through to better days. Therefore, we must make the protection and strengthening of our health a critical priority. Eat well, move, do things we love, be with people we love, sleep well. Refuse to comply with anything that endangers your health. Protect the rights of others.
  2. Education: Education is to the mind what nutrition is to the body. We must protect our access to information and defend against the distortion, bias, deletion, and manufacturing of the truth, as well as censorship of organic voices; and fight against powerfully financed and govern-mentally coordinated propaganda. Math doesn’t lie, but people do. Statistics must be free of manipulation, and the presentation of data must be held to the highest standards. The People must demand this.
  3. Freedom: The freedom to define our lives, values, and pursuit of happiness according to our own counsel is critical to the spirit. We must defend against all manner of persecution, and all pushes to create new forms of religion that are raised to be superior to all others through coercion. State religion is denied to exist, as it is nonetheless simultaneously installed, replacing all others. A cult of oppression is unable to co-exist with pre-existing religions and ideologies, including the right to be left alone; the choice to reject any allegiance to ideals or groups.

Lion of Judah” oil painting by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Bravery Checklist

  • See the truth.
  • Hear the truth.
  • Speak the truth.
  1. See: Be brave enough to look for answers, no matter how scary the truth may be. Seeing is the first step to defending oneself and others. We must name the problems.
  2. Hear: Be brave enough to listen to ideas and people that go against coordinated agendas.
  3. Speak: Be brave enough to voice our thoughts, opinions, concerns, fears, and hopes for the future.

Cowardice breeds more oppression. Consenting to what we know is wrong, will only embolden tyrants to demand more. Bravery is often the simple act of thinking for oneself; refusing to convert to what is being pushed. Few are called into stronger acts of profound sacrifices that define history. For most of us, we are only tasked with staying true to what we believe and refusing to comply with any acts that unlawfully persecute, oppress, or harm ourselves or others. This may simply mean avoidance of places or institutions who enforce tyrannical rules. But if we all make a commitment to stand, we outnumber the oppressors and we will win our battles. Every brave person makes a difference.

Are you a lion or a lamb?

Watch me paint this lion and lamb art in 2 minutes (time lapse)

A person of faith is meant to have the characteristics of both a lion and a lamb: mighty in spirit while also humble and merciful. But sometimes the balance is thrown. We may struggle to be strong, or struggle to be forgiving.

Character Checklist

  • Confident
  • Arrogant
  • Brave
  • Reckless
  • Merciful
  • Weak
  • Forgiving
  • Victimized
  • Mighty
  • Hostile
  • Peaceful
  • Timid

The quest for balance in our lives is an everyday struggle, but we can see it as a challenge rather than a hardship. Sometimes all it takes is an attitude adjustment. How we talk to ourselves matters.

Attitude Checklist

  • When I have low energy, am I lazy or am I tired? If I’m lazy, I need to push myself. If I’m tired, I need to give myself permission to rest.
  • When I am passive, is it because I am cowardly and apathetic, or is it because I am wisely staying clear? I need to be honest in my assessment and then act according to my conscience.
  • When I don’t stand up to people, is it because I’m graceful, or is it because I fear uncomfortable situations? Am I avoiding a confrontation? If so, perhaps that’s a wise decision. Perhaps it’s simply the easiest one.

When mired in self-examination, we may forget that we need to treat our neighbors as OURSELVES. Therefore, if we treat ourselves badly, we won’t be up to the challenge of treating others well. We must show ourselves mercy and grace. We must hold ourselves accountable in strong leadership. We must defend ourselves as a mighty warrior of character.

When we show goodness, kindness and mercy to ourselves, we learn how to express these things to others. When we protect ourselves, we train to protect others. Mercy begins at home.

When I’m unsure of what to do, I ask myself “is this an action of faith or fear?” If I’m aligned with the character and attitudes of a lion and a lamb, then my decision is based on faith. If I’m not adhering to those traits, then I’m likely responding in fear. 

Fear is a healthy and normal response, but our actions cannot be ruled by it. Fear is a close cousin to vanity, narcissism, selfishness, and sociopath leanings; as fear can be the foundation for behaviors that place self over others, breeding a lifestyle that is devoid of empathy. When we put our own fears and concerns over the well-being of others, it’s a fast and slippery slope to malice. Apathy and indifference lead to hatred, as it is easy to hate those for whom we care nothing for, and have dehumanized in our hearts. We no longer see each other as people when all we see is a potential threat to ourselves.

We choose faith over fear when we choose love over hate. While dehumanizing leads to apathy, indifference, and eventually hatred, the opposite is true as well. When we see humanity in each other, we feel responsibility and connection. Kindness and the traits of the lamb are more easily cultivated when we grow close to each other. While it is unrealistic to love everyone with the same kind of passion that we love our family and dearest friends, there is a type of love that shows mercy. This is the love we give when we are as lambs.

When the rights of the lambs to live gracefully in peace are threatened, the lions must defend them. All of us are pressed upon to be both a lion and a lamb in character, but not always in corresponding action. Decisions about actions require discernment. Put any concerns to meditation, prayer, and careful listening for answers. Compare your responses to the checklists in this post. Be bold like a lion: act decisively when you know what to do. Be merciful like a lamb: if you are mistaken, forgive yourself.

When we do our best, that’s good enough.

When we live our best, that’s good enough.

Hold yourself to high standards, but be merciful when you judge yourself.

Be as brave as a lion, but as gentle as a lamb- not only to others, but first to yourself.

Painting Lions

Art is a fluid language that flows from the artist, to the viewer, and back to the artist. Art adapts to the time and place of viewing- ever changing to meet people where they are. What we see and feel from a painting today may be different from how we thought of it yesterday, and how we’ll see it in the future. Therefore, we may have different answers to the questions in the headline above, depending on when we’re asked (What story do we want to tell, what emotions do we feel, what impact do we want to make?). We may also have different answers to those questions from the perspective of the viewer, including the artists themselves who become viewers as well (What story do we hear, what emotions do we feel, what impact is it making?).

Whatever our answers, art is personal, intimate, and we might change our hearts and minds seconds after we’ve settled on a direction. I can tell you what these paintings mean, but not what they mean to YOU. My perception about my art changes over time, so even though I’m the artist, I’m not an authority on art, not even my own. Once a painting is shared, art belongs to everyone.

Eyes can appear kind and wise. It’s all in what we see when we look into them. When painting eyes, it helps to imagine what we want the eyes to show and use our brush strokes to reflect that. Rounded shapes express gentleness, purity, innocence, and goodness; whereas sharp edgy strokes bring a sharp quality that expresses the opposite.

Layering with colors and highlights brings a flat painted eye to life.  A fleck of white in the pupil is a “life spot, according to my dad. He used to tell me to never forget that. Aiming for a small pin-point white dot works, but when the white fleck ends up as an organic, random “splotch” that doesn’t match exactly the life spot in the other eye, it has a more natural effect, so I try to resist making it too tidy. Light is generally not perfectly reflected or evenly cast.

Soft velvety texture on the lion’s face contrasts with the heavy paint strokes that become progressively more primitive as the mane extends to the canvas edge. What story, what emotion, what impact? Imagine running your fingertip down the bridge of that fuzzy nose, or a giving the lion a pat on that heavy golden mane. Is he gentle? Might he be dangerous? Would he hurt you? Would he protect you? What kind of lion is he, and what does he represent? Strength, wisdom, patience, victory over enemies? The story is up to the viewer, but an artist can steer the viewer toward asking questions. Contrasting elements give art a dynamic that is active, seeking, inquiring

This mythical winged lion was inspired by a resin Guardian Lion statue in Savannah, Georgia. I imagined the griffin as made of gold, and “alive” (yet still maintaining the qualities of a statue). Again, it’s all about the contrasting elements, as this second painting also begs inquiring minds to ponder what this art means to them. The rigidity of the lion, its fixed expression, stern lines, and monochromatic coloring contrasts- and almost opposes- the soft terrain, wispy fantasy landscape, streaky brush strokes and colorful palette. The only movement is water spray hitting the cliff edge where the lion stands watch. What is the story, emotion, and impact? Do we feel safe? Is this lion in control, even over the elements, the sea? 

Lion and the Lamb” was inspired by stained glass windows in the historic Cathedral of John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia. I wanted to paint religious art of my own, even though this isn’t in the style of the stained glass window art. My metaphorical intentions weren’t very deep (precious lamb, sacrifice and meekness; contrasting with mighty warrior lion and King). I guess we could bring that into a greater theological discussion about duality and the divine, but to be honest, I only imagined this art as a peaceful story, like the illustrations I have fond memories of from children’s Bibles when I was a little girl.

My Irish Gran used to dress up in her pink dress and sometimes she’d have a hat. If I was lucky to be at her home when she had a church event planned, I’d get to see her in her Sunday best. These memories are all caught up in my perception of Bible stories, which accounts for my peaceful and nurturing interpretation. However, I have received feedback from several viewers who have put quite a lot of thought into what they see in this metaphorical painting, and even took an entirely different path than I even knew existed. While I find their perspectives interesting, I still only see a gentle strong fatherly lion with an innocent meek lamb. Sometimes I paint on one level, while views take the art to much deeper levels. Art is a language that transcends, even if the artist is completely unaware.

“Lion of Judah”

Proverbs 28:1 “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.”

Stand your ground. Your individual sovereignty is God given. Your free will is your greatest strength. Fight for what you believe in. God bless you and your family.

“Lion of Judah” oil painting by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

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