Rev. Kari Lindholm-Johnson
Swedish Covenant Hospital, Chicago, Illinois, United States (Winter 2011)
As a chaplain at Swedish Covenant Hospital, I am continually humbled in experiencing the force of people’s desire for healing. Patients willingly subject themselves to rigorous treatments in the pursuit of life, entrusting themselves to healthcare workers. This strong yearning for healing was explored in the Dreams of Healing art show, which was sponsored by the Pastoral Care department of Swedish Covenant Hospital from April 16 through May 2, 2010. The show invited patients, families of patients, and healthcare providers to visually express what it meant to them to dream in the face of illness. Giving people a chance to relate their stories to each other in the midst of illness is especially important because it is often a time of sensed alienation from the body or separation from loved ones. The very act of telling one’s own story can become an integral part of the healing process.The movement of the show was designed to intentionally reflect patients’ experiences. The exhibit began in the Patient Admitting/Testing waiting area, continued in the hallway by the Cancer Treatment Center and Central Services, and opened up into the Healing Garden. We chose to display the art this way so that the visitors who came to view the exhibit would walk the same path as those who were receiving treatment at the hospital, thus further integrating the art into the healing experience. The hallway was transformed from a space that is primarily used for transport into an avenue where people could linger, stop, and reflect. The Cancer Treatment Center staff would often encourage patients to view the exhibit as they waited for tests, and then occasionally the staff would have to wait for the patients to come back because they became so engaged with the show.
It was a privilege to serve as the director of this storytelling project. I felt as though God had blessed this show and intended for people’s stories to be heard. I was amazed at the amount of entries that poured in; we received far more art submissions than we could possibly display. It was as though we had tapped into a river of expression that needed a bay in which to harbor.
Dreams of Healing was made possible through the culture and connections of the hospital. Swedish Covenant Hospital is a non-profit and independent, licensed, 323-bed hospital located in Chicago, Illinois. It is a ministry of the Covenant Ministries of Benevolence and owned by the Evangelical Covenant Church. The show came to life through the hard work of the Pastoral Care, Development and Engineering departments, the art show committee, and the support of the administration. The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation underwrote the show through a grant obtained by the Development department. This grant also allowed us to self-publish a catalog, designed by David Westerfield, with color reproduction of all the artwork and artist’s statements. We were also especially grateful for our two gifted and hardworking interns, Kate Burzynski and Liz Ahlem, who were students from North Park University, an institution also owned by the Evangelical Covenant Church. North Park University’s Art department professors were also integral to the show. Local artist Gordon Stromberg designed the layout and hanging of the show. Without the work of all these individuals, this show would not have come to fruition.
After the show concluded, we continued to receive feedback because it resonated with so many people in different ways. Some individuals have commented about how it gave them new perspectives and insights into the healing process. Others gave the exhibition catalog to loved ones in the middle of cancer treatments. One doctor shared how touched he was with Meredith Kooi’s piece The Letters I Remember because it transformed a legal and medical document into a work of art. It showed a patient’s point of view from a document primarily read by medical practitioners. It was amazing to see how people connected during the actual exhibit and how these bonds lasted even after the show was over. For example, two of the artists who met through Dreams of Healing later had a show together that expanded on the healing theme in their own lives.
Below is a sampling of Dreams of Healing, including the artists who won first, second, and third place prizes.
|What We Become
Digital image of encaustic on canvas, 20” x 28”
Natalie’s image, What We Become, was chosen to illustrate the call for submission for the Dreams of Healing art show. We chose this piece because the sentiments expressed by words printed in the painting, what we become . . . storied, unfeigned, conveyed the meaning of the show for us. Illness brings different results for all of us, but it also makes each person it touches storied. In the depths of sickness, masks are removed; we become unfeigned. This piece lifts us up in flight. Even though we may enter into the depths of despair, there is hope. What we shall become is borne on the wings of grace.
Pen and pencil on paper, 27” x 20”
This piece is part of a larger series that is partly a reflection of my dreams. It depicts two women on a pilgrimage to a holy site, which they believe will bring about a healing of some sort for the crippled woman lying in the sleigh/bed. She is being pulled by her sister, who is riding the horse. Four years ago my sister and I went to Lourdes, France to assist the sick pilgrims who came to bathe in the holy water at the shrine of Our Lady, which is believed by Catholics to possess healing powers. It was a difficult trip for me, as I was myself sick. My sister pulled me through it though, and I drew this piece two years after our voyage when I had a chance to ruminate over the whole experience.
Ink, gouache, watercolor, paper, 17” x 32”
“chemo”: an insider’s word, diminutive, familiar. “Chemotherapy”… the root, chem, has the same Greek source as the word “alchemy”: the search for a means of prolonging life, a universal cure for disease. The search for transmutation. —Sallie Tisdale
My head is non-stop revolving around too many things. Iraq, fathers, brain surgery, money, always money, medical bills, Celso Fonseca’s voice, turning older, why the bottom’s of my feet are always numb, how many more tests I will have, when will they remove the Port-A-Cath from my chest, Irene’s November birthday, my friend Kent in NYC, my friend Shari in Bloomington in my mind looking out at her backyard with a cup of coffee thinking, tomato juice, wondering if my poetry is crap, wondering where all my anger comes from, knowing where all my anger comes from, Gabrielle in the backseat singing at different times to both Rufus Wainwright’s and Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah but not liking Leonard Cohen’s at all, Lisa’s birthday during which I failed to get a hold of her, what exactly is so normal about a 6 cm cyst on the posterior of my brain, money, our falling apart apartment, my secret crush on Javier Bardem, there are snow puddles everywhere, Dave Gardner where are you? too much TV, teething, kindergarten. Everything I think about when I look at the top of my son’s head. Dreams.
Some days feel like falling, some days feel like roller-skating down the halls of the hospital. Maybe I need to get another iron injection.
|Mother and Daughter
Oil on board, 12” x 12”
My painting, Mother and Daughter, honors my grandmother—my earliest maternal inspiration—as well as her daughter, my beloved mother. This work of art symbolizes the profound bond my grandmother and mother had all of their lives, something many women share and need. My grandmother, a twin, was born on a farm in southern Sweden in 1889. Arriving first and unexpectedly, she was very tiny. Swaddled and placed in a cigar box at the entrance of a stone bread oven in an attempt to keep her warm, she was not expected to live. The next day her sister was born. My beautiful Valkyrie grandmother arrived in New York City in 1903 at the age of 14 after a brutally hard trans-Atlantic journey down in steerage from Sweden. One of eleven children, she and her twin were sent to America—times were hard and there were just too many hungry children to feed. Over the years she often talked of seeing the lights of Copenhagen from the farm.
Cancer took my grandmother, as well as my mother, two weeks apart in 1972, each dying in separate bedrooms at the same time. They were inseparable in death as they were in life. Over the course of the twenty-three years I had my grandmother and mother, they were never apart. They embodied loving companionship, through joy and mourning. They appear to me now in dreams as one, so entwined are they in my memory and heart.
|At Resurrection (after Christian Krough)
Acrylic on board, 10” x 10”
This past summer, I experienced what it felt like to be truly ill for the first time in my life. I woke up one morning with a strange swell on my neck, and, one week later, I found myself in the hospital emergency room with a very serious abscess infection on top of my jugular vein—from a poisonous spider bite. I spent three days in the hospital that first visit, but I found myself back again three days later (after a near-deadly allergic reaction to my medication), and for the rest of the summer, up until Thanksgiving, I returned to the hospital again and again with reoccurring and painful infections. I was in the hospital no less than ten times in the short span of four months. I have no family here. It was the most terrifying experience in my life, and I had to endure it alone.
In my life, I have always endured hardship by channeling it into my painting. I have always been interested in making work that is very honest and very personal. I made several paintings, one of which, At Resurrection, was painted while I still had a bandaged face, and was unable to work. I made it a contemplative image. In the painting, dark remains, but the light creeps in through the cracks beneath doors and windows. I turn my face to it, and I bask in its glow. I recall that while in life we will have to endure pain and terror alone, I am strong with hope for what lies ahead.
|Adventures in Gluten-land
Acrylic on canvas, 3 panels, 6” x 6” each
A year ago, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. This disease makes it impossible for my body to digest gluten, a protein found in most baked goods and cereals. While there are plenty of substitutes for some of the foods that I miss, I have yet to find replacements for some of the things I used to eat. In this series of paintings, a child, secured by her intestines to a giant living muffin, travels through a world made of donuts and raisin bran. My dream is to one day be able to eat these again, not just for the pleasure of eating, but for the peace of mind of being well and not having to worry about food.
|Holy Cow! AP5 Is Busy Today!
Ink and watercolor on paper, 11” x 17”
As an artist, I believe everything that I create should come from some sort of personal experience or relationship. As a patient transporter at Swedish Covenant Hospital, my experiences have been many, and it seems like the only way to fully show my everyday working environment is to draw it. In this piece, I hope to convey an average day on a floor of this hospital. Every person has their own story and their own destination, whether that be to a surgery room, their home, or an office. When a hospital becomes busy it can be stressful, but at the same time, it’s a wonderful way to view a place where people come together from every facet of life for one purpose: to heal.
|I Dreamed I was Flying
Mixed media painting on wood, 33” x 42”
I Dreamed I was Flying was created to reflect the way dreams are sewn together, with odd bits of memories mixed and strewn, all floating in the same moment. The boy in the painting is my son Daniel, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. We have been on a healing path for the subsequent 14 years (he’s now 17). My artwork has always reflected this very personal experience of raising such a remarkable child, who is capable of inspiring even an artist to think further out of the box.
|Birdhouse with Ribbons
Wood, metal, and enamels, 16” x 24.5”
Beauty, harmony and balance are important components to my work. I want to bring the viewer to a happy state of mind. I believe that beauty has great power to heal people. It can be a common denominator across many cultures. I chose to create art about hummingbirds because of their colorful feathers and their physical strength. In spite of their small size, some species are able to fly from Mexico to Canada. Humankind, throughout the ages, has often looked at birds with admiration because of their ability to fly. For me, they represent heightened ability and transcendence above physical, worldly cares.
Acrylic and oil on masonite, 24” x 48”
Three of the four people in our family have been diagnosed with ADHD. I originally had intended for this painting to show the internal struggle of pushing down, shutting out, and trying to push away the energy of impulses, insights, connections, and disparate, wandering thoughts. Since painting it, however, greater insight has come through talking about the painting with friends and family. Often people have commented about the large “ear,” which I originally did not intend to represent. I wanted to signify swirling energies encapsulated and held within. In contrast, one friend said that it looks as though the figure is running away from what it needs to listen to . . . The insight from that comment continues to inform me and remind me of God’s healing grace that invites us and is present with us as we are.
Back in 2005, Mr. Duncan had a right hip replacement surgery. A nerve was damaged during the procedure. Because of that, he continues in pain and his foot drops. The painting Pain expresses his despair after the surgery.
REV. KARI LINDHOLM-JOHNSON has served as a Chaplain at Swedish Covenant Hospital since February of 2008 and is delighted to work at a place and in a department where creativity is encouraged in patient care. She is married and has two children. May you also be blessed by the artist’s work.
The exhibition catalog can be ordered for $15.00 by contacting Rev. Kari Lindholm-Johnson.
Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2011 – Volume 3, Issue 1