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wearing merriment more red than Santa's suit we sing joy with our eyes and hug tight with our hearts this season . . . who said that rainbows don't dance in December? Season's Greetings!

IF YOU RECEIVED a holiday card with a message similar to this one, keep it. Because like a painting or a piece of sculpture that card is a work of art.

"My cards aren't the typical run-in-the-drugstore-and-grab-one type," said Susan M. Spadinger, a local poet, artist and member of the Stella Niagara Franciscan Sisters, who recently started a greeting-card company.

"They (cards) aren't funny or sarcastic . . . they're more reflective and thoughtful," she said. For example, Sister Spadinger's best-selling greeting card carries this thank you message: "the language of the forest is peace, the language of the heart is gratitude."

All the phrases included in Sister Spadinger's line of 120 cards are taken from the 600 poems she has written in the last 26 years. And the abstract, watercolor images surrounding the messages also are her creations.

So when you buy a greeting card from Buffalo-based Statements by Susan you're really purchasing a work of art -- a multimedia presentation from a thoughtful and creative individual.

Sister Spadinger often compares herself to a painter showing his or her work for the first time. When the 42-year-old nun turned entrepreneur sees someone buying one of her cards, she says she feels a mixture joy and pride.

"Until recently, I always looked at my painting and writing as a hobby," Sister Spadinger recalled. "But many of my friends urged me to go public with my ideas."

So last spring, with about $8,000 in contributions from 3,000 friends, Sister Spadinger started her own business. With the help of the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College, she wrote a business plan, developed marketing strategies and printed a catalog.

Greeting cards from Statements by Susan are currently sold by 17 bookstores throughout Western New York, including East-West Books, Village Green Bookstore, Countryside Gifts of East Aurora and Artisan Alley in Niagara Falls. Sister Spadinger also recently signed an agreement to have her cards included in vending machines from a Colorado company.

Statements by Susan has sold over $5,000 worth of cards and note paper since July. Each greeting card sells for $1.25, while note cards are $1.

"I didn't get into this to make money. I see this as a vocation," Sister Spadinger said. "I would like the values in my writings to get out there."

She added: "It (the company) also is an attempt to encourage people to make connections with one another and to express themselves."

While Sister Spadinger hasn't yet made her first million, she is well on the way to achieving the ideals outlined in her company's mission statement. The eight objectives behind Statements by Susan include:

Protecting the environment. (All the cards are printed by Downtown Graphics on 100 percent recycled paper and the packaging is made from wood fiber cellulose.)

Help local students complete their education. (Two Buffalo State students currently work part-time for Sister Spadinger to earn tuition money.)

Foster a sense of community among people who share a similar vision. (Statements by Susan may be a one-woman operation, but Sister Spadinger's friends and supporters gather regularly to help her stuff envelopes and plan for the future.)

Promote the cause of social justice in economically deprived areas. (Some of the greeting-card company's profits will go to the Rev. A. Joseph Bissonette Foundation, a group devoted to continuing the work of a Buffalo priest who was murdered in February 1987.

Sister Spadinger, a Buffalo native, works full-time as a counselor and campus minister at the Buffalo State College Newman Center, a division of the Roman Catholic Church.

"Starting a business has been very challenging," Sister Spadinger said. "I feel a little like Sherlock Holmes . . . every time I think I know where I'm going, the business turns in a different direction."

She concluded: "I enjoy all the surprises which are part of starting a business."

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