Archive for December, 2007

Happy New Year from Art of the Spirit

Fountain

The Fountain
How well I know that flowing spring
in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen.
How well I know where she has been
in black of night.

I do not know her origin.
None. Yet in her all things begin
in black of night.

I know that nothing is so fair
and earth and firmament drink there
in black of night.

I know that none can wade inside
to find her bright bottomless tide
in black of night.

Her shining never has a blur;
I know that all light comes from her
in black of night.

I know her streams converge and swell
and nourish people, skies and hell
in black of night.

The stream whose birth is in this source
I know has a gigantic force
in black of night.

The stream from but these two proceeds
yet neither one, I know, precedes
in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen
in living bread that gives us being
in black of night.

She calls on all mankind to start
to drink her water, though in dark,
for black is night.

O living fountain that I crave,
in bread of life I see her flame
in black of night.
-St. John of the Cross

Wow!
I leave you with the beautiful poem describing the fecund stream of Divine Creativity. (And he describes it in feminine terms!)

My wish for you for the New Year: May you be blessed with deep connection to this stream, may your life and work abound with creativity, growth and love.

Thanks for reading this year. See you in 2008!
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I don’t believe in luck, but I’m going with this anyway! 8 is considered an extremely lucky number in China so this is going to be a very lucky year. (Every little bit helps, right?)

The Feminine Aspect of the Divine

Goddess of Willendorf

Since yesterday I quoted a mystic who has such a strong sense of the masculine aspect of God, I thought a little balance was in order:

God is a Woman,
I am Her doll.
She is my Love,
She is my All.
-Sri Chinmoy

I have often talked here about my sense of the creative nature of God in feminine terms. I have spoken of the artist’s need to enter into the Womb of God, in order to access Divine creativity. This Womb is a state of pre-Being and is described by Plotinus as “the One”. His use of the term “the One” is wonderful because it is gender neutral. The ultimate act of creativity is when the One emanates or births, Being, everything that is. If an artist can tap into this eternal process, it will add untold power and healing potential to their works.

Often as I write here, I question my use of the word “God” as excessively limiting. I love Eckhart’s admonishment to discard “God” as an idea to allow something greater than we can conceive to connect with us. There is an interesting post on Tim Victor’s blog discussing this very problem. He suggests a term “Godde” as a combination of God and Goddess. I am considering adopting it but it still feels too limiting to me. When I pray, I always say God/Goddess/All That Is, but this may be too cumbersome for writing purposes.

All human definitions and description of the Divine are so very limited, but it concerns me that we limit ourselves unnecessarily by giving God a gender attribute. Of course the Divine has a glorious masculine aspect, this is Being, the active principle. But let us not cut ourselves off from the Womb and stillness.

I’d love your thoughts on the terms you use for the Divine.

Behold, Mary,
you who increase life,
who rebuilds the path,
You who confused death
and wore down the serpent,
To you Eve raised herself up,
her neck rigid with inflated arrogance.

You strode upon this arrogance
while bearing God’s Son of Heaven,
through whom the spirit of God breaths.

O gentle and loving Mother,
I behold you.
For Heaven released into the world
that which you brought forth.

This one,
through whom the spirit of God breaths.

Glory to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And to this one,
through whom the spirit of God breaths.
-Hildegard of Bingen

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A bit of good news: Heather’s Poor Excuse is back up and running.

Art of the Spirit Site Revisions & New Mystic

Hildegard's Angel by Sybil Archibald A bit of business and then some beauty.
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This week, I added a tag cloud to my sidebar. Over the next few days I’m going to be working on tagging and recategorizing my posts to optimize searching and to hopeful make them more useful. This shouldn’t effect my web readers, but my feed subscribers may get some reposts. Sorry for any inconvenience, but I think it will make the the overall site much stronger!

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I discovered a new mystic this week: Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi, a 13th century Sufi from Persia. His book is called Divine Flashes. I love this name because this how making art occurs for me, as a Divine flash. I’ll have much more once I finish reading. But let me share this, a beautiful quote on the idea that there is nothing but God (I know I need to find more mystics who recognize the feminine aspect of the Divine!):

Pardon me this innovation, revealing such secrets. Remember:

He Himself spoke Truth
He Himself listened.
He Himself showed Himself
He Himself saw.

Junyard said once, “For thirty years now I’ve been conversing with God, yet people seem to think I’m talking to them!” Through the ears of Moses, He heard Himself speak with the flame-tongue of the Bush:

He speaks
He listens
you and I
but a pretext.

Art of the Spirit Recieves Roaring Lion Award

A beautiful thing has happened. Gartenfische, whose blog is so extraordinary and moving, has awarded me “A Roar for Powerful Writing” award! I am so honored because I respect and admire Gartenfische’s work so much. She understands the mystical side of life and helps to guide me closer to the Divine. Thank you Gartenfische!
Roaring Lion Award
There is so much beauty in this world! Now I get to pass this award on to another blogger. I have to tell you it is next to impossible to choose. There are so many blogs with wonderful writing. But my choice has to be Princess Haiku. Her blog is beautiful and whimsical. But, also, she was one of the first to discover my blog and gave me so much encouragement through writing me my first comments.

I only have one award to give but I’d like to mention two other blogs whose writing I love: on spirituality, Jan & on life in general Mary Kaufman.

Illness & the Divine

You are in love with me,
I shall make you perplexed.

Do not build much, for I intend to have you in ruins.

If you build two hundred houses in a manner that the bees do;
I shall make you as homeless as a fly.

If you are the mount Qaf in stability.
I shall make you whirl like a millstone.
-Rumi

I spend a lot of time with kids. It’s wonderful and difficult at the same time. Children are brutally honest. As I’ve mentioned before, I have scleroderma. This condition has caused my hands & face to contract. It has also caused my jaw to come out of alignment so that my teeth do not meet up properly. In short, I look strange. This doesn’t usually bother me because I don’t think about it. That fact that my hands don’t open doesn’t really affect my life much except for a few things I’ve had to give up: piano, knitting & a few miscellaneous activities. Sometimes when I see a picture of myself from long ago I’m sad,
Anyway my point is, I am who am I regardless of my what I look like. There are some people who are perfectly gorgeous in everyway and are miserable. But that’s not me, I’m deformed but happy. But when I get around kids and they ask me why I look funny it does upset me because it’s a shock. I don’t remember I’m strange because I never think about it. I think this is God’s way of tempering me like a sword, throwing me into the fire to make me stronger.

To truly reflect the Divine in this world, we must learn to be present in every moment. We must be totally in the physical world without controlling it. It’s amazing how much I want to control the world. I want my face back, I want my hands. But I know that is just me controlling the flow of Divinity in this word. I won’t be a dam, I wish to be an open well, a channel between the ocean & the land. Clearing this channel takes letting go of everything I think I am.

Thank you hands that contract so I may expand
Thank you jaw that hangs open so I must speak
Thank you feet that ache so I must stay still
Thank you heart that weathers the storm so I may be washed clean
Thank You again and again
Thank You
-Sybil Archibald

Happy Holidays from Art of the Spirit

Mountain
I have been neglecting my blog a bit this week in all the holiday madness. Thank you all for reading and I wish you the most wonderful holiday season. I’ll be back full force after Christmas. Until then I leave you with this optimistic thought from Dante:

This mountain of release is such that the
Ascent’s most painful at the start, below:
The more you rise, the milder it will be.
And when the slope feels gentle to the point that
Climbing up sheer rock is effortless
As though you were gilding downstream in a boat,
Then you will have arrived where this path ends.

I have certainly found Dante’s words to be true. I began my life in great difficultly and although my circumstances seem more trying now, traveling my path has trained me and made each step forward easier than the last.

May this season bring you deep connection to those you love.

Rumi Again

My last 3 posts have been about the relationship between spirituality & physicality/Earth. Rumi, of course captures it all in this poem:

Say I am You
I am dust particles in sunlight.
I am the round sun.

To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
To the sun, Keep moving.

I am morning mist,
and the breathing of evening.

I am wind in the top of a grove,
and surf on the cliff.

Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on.

I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
Silence, thought, and voice.

The musical air coming through a flute,
a spark of stone, a flickering in metal.

Both candle and the moth crazy around it.
Rose, and the nightingale lost in the fragrance.

I am all orders of being,
the circling galaxy,

the evolutionary intelligence,
the lift, and the falling away.

What is, and what isn’t. You
who know, Jelaluddin, You

the One in all, say who
I am. Say I am You.
Jelaluddin Rumi (trans. Barks)

The Spiritual Earth

Earth from Moon
The greatest spiritual crisis facing humanity today is rectifying our relationship to the Earth. Sadly, our culture has taught us that physicality and spirituality are incompatible. Thomas Berry, an amazing contemporary theologian, describes our collective state like this:

The earth process has been generally ignored by the religious-spiritual currents of the West. Our alienation goes so deep that it is beyond our conscious mode of awareness. While there are tributes to the earth in the scriptures and in Christian liturgy, there is a tendency to see the earth as a seductive reality, which brought about alienation from God in the agricultural peoples of the Near East. Earth worship was the ultimate idolatry, the cause of the Fall, and thereby the cause of sacrificial redemption by divine personality. Thus, too, the Christian sense of being crucified to the world and living only for the savior. This personal savior orientation has led to an interpersonal devotionalism that quite easily dispenses with earth except as a convenient support for life.

My interest in spirituality and mysticism lies primarily in the via negativa. I’m here to tell you that the via negativa and physicality, the Earth, are compatible. In fact they are integral to one another.

The mystic who embraces the via negativa tells us that God is unknowable, greater than anything our mind can conceive. We must therefor remove our mind from the equation, releasing all our ‘ideas’ of God and surrender our need to control. We must surrender any limits that our small minds might place on the unlimited Divine. We must not even will to will ‘God’s’ will.

Because this path often requires a withdrawal in silence, it is falsely thought of as an escape from the world. It is not an escape from material reality; rather, it is a complete surrender into it. God and material reality, our Earth, are inseparable. Naturalist John Muir, though not a practitioner of the via negativa can still help us begin to understand the fundamental link between Earth and God. John Muir

These blessed mountains are so compactly filled with God’s beauty,
no petty personal hope or experience has room to be . . . . the whole
body seems to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire
or sunshine, entering not by the eyes alone, but equally through all
one’s flesh like radiant heat, making a passionate ecstatic pleasure
glow not explainable. One’s body then seems homogeneous
throughout, sound as a crystal.
– John Muir

The Franciscan mystic Bonaventure (13th century) described all of creation as a vestige, a footprint, of God. Plotinus (3rd century CE) tells us that God emanates form, creation, without ceasing. Eckhart (14th century) describes God as self-generating, creating without cease. He believes that there was a sort of womb of God which he calls “the Abyss of God” which “… remains forever unique, uniform, and self-generating.” The practitioner of the via negativa seeks entrance to this womb, but it is with the understanding that they will not stay there in the place of no thing, they cannot. This womb is a place of constant birthing, of constant creation. By returning to this place, the mystic is “decreated” (see Tauler) and created at once. There is nothing that is created that is not the Divine. Sufi mystic Sheikh Nur Al Jerrahi (Lex Hixon) of blessed memory, puts this beautifully:

The heart is the spring at the center of a clearing within the uncharted forest of creation. Here, what is human, irradiated by Divine Love, transforms into what is Divine. There is nothing other than perfect humanity-which is simply the conscious realization that God alone exits. (p.372)

God alone exists, thus Earth, rain, illness, grass, everything is God. Eckhart also confirms this view: “Ego, the word ‘I’ is proper to no one but God alone in his uniqueness.”

TreeIf God alone exists, that means that everything that is is God, Being. Thus we do a deep disservice to ourselves and to God by denying our relationship to the Earth. As Thomas Berry says,” Not to recognize the spirituality of the earth is to indicate a radical lack of spiritual perception in ourselves.” Berry goes on the say that:

We need to understand that the earth acts in all that acts upon the earth. The earth is acting in us whenever we act. In and through the earth spiritual energy is present. This spiritual energy emerges in the total complex of earth functions. Each form of life is integrated with every other life form.

Illumination from the Scivias by Hildegard of Bingen

Our very spiritual nature is dependant on our embrace of the Earth. By denying it, we deny ourselves and the Divine. Hildegard of Bingen tells us that creation is linked to viriditas, a term which Matthew Fox translates roughly as greening power. Hildegard says that “the word is all verdant greening, all creativity.” Hildegard understands that God is fundamentally creative and the material and the Divine are fused because of the act of creation.

There is no creation that does not have a radiance. Be it greenness or seed, blossom or beauty, it could not be creation without it.

As an artist, the act of creation is especially present for me. But it is there in every moment of every life, not just the artist’s, if we allow it. Moon from EarthHumanity has but to step out of the way and let the unceasing creativity of the Divine flow though us. Stepping out of the way means letting go of control. Period. We cannot say ‘I’ll let God direct my life” while still draining and destroying the Earth, because God is the Earth. God is alone, there is nothing which is not God. While we fight for control of our planet, we dam up the joyous flow of Light and Creativity into the world. For us to become “all verdant and greening” we need do nothing but accept what is, our physicality and deep spiritual connection to the Earth. I leave you with the words of biologist Elisabet Sahtouris who has worked to heal the divide between science and religion:

Our human task now is to wake up and recognize ourselves as parts or aspects of God-as-Nature and behave accordingly. All are One, all harm harms each of us, all blessings bless each of us.

[Speaking to a congregation] I urged them to occasionally see themselves as the creative edge of God (a phrase I learned from a dear friend) — as God looking out through their eyes, acting through their hands, walking on their feet, and to observe how that changed things for them…

dirt

Note: Over the next few weeks I will be adding a page to this site entitled Earth, with more views and resources on this line of thinking.

Healing the Earth: The Calling of the Spiritual Artist?

Earth from Space
Yesterday I spoke at length about the importance of a spiritual artist merging the physical and spiritual worlds in the act of creation. All art springs from the fecund stream of Divine creativity. I also spoke of the sacred principle “as above, so below.” This principle basically means that everything is an echo of the Divine.
Jesus IconIn the figure of Jesus, God as revealed many things, not the least that Divinity and physicality can be merged. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, the symbol is a potent one. I am not suggesting that an artist can bring full Divinity into their work, but I am suggesting that Jesus is the macrocosm and art is the paler, yet important, microcosm, the echo for integrating the physical & spiritual.

This is why the Earth becomes so important. As long as we fool ourselves into thinking that anything we do is separate from the Earth, was cannot bring God here. If artists see the ideas in their work as more important than their physical execution, God is lost. This is why, in my opinion conceptual art fails so radically.

DirtIn our society we have forgotten that everything we use is a fruit of the Earth. Perhaps it is easy to grasp that eggs come from chickens, but what of paint in tubes, plastic boots, or children’s toys? Let’s stay with the artist. How many artists know the source of their own paint? Does anyone realize that watercolor paint sticks to the page because of tree sap or that true ultramarine blue come from crushed stones? (More on this here.)

An artist must fully accept and embrace physicality. This is almost an impossibly hard task because by doing so we become confronted with the brokenness of our planet. To bring God into physicality through the act of creation is an act of healing. It is no more or less significant than any act of healing. It is only our egos which put a value judgment on it: “It’s only a painting, what can it possibly matter?” Each piece of art is but a grain of healed sand, but sand can pile up as anyone who lives near the beach can tell you. An artist must be content to labor at thier Divinely given task. To be an agent of healing requires nothing less than complete abandonment of self will and trust in the Divine steam of creativity which flows through us. As artists, we are called to heal the Earth.

My next post will be about how some mystics view of the earth and healing. In the meantime checkout these amazing posts on Earth & Spirituality:
Gartenfische (of course!)
Sound and Silence(This starts out about Halloween, but keep reading, it’s worth it)

Art & The Physical

Making art is a physical act with physical outcomes. The crux of the problem is how to join the physical and spiritual worlds. How do we bring the sacred into physical form and why?

I am deeply influenced by the ideas of early alchemists who sought to purify matter. Most people have heard of how alchemists looked for the philosopher’s stone, an elixir, which would transform base impure metals such as lead into gold. They described their quest as perfecting or healing matter. Gold, the purest metal, a symbol of the Divine on earth was not the true goal of an alchemist. Alchemists believed in the sacred principle “as above, so below” as written in the Emerald Tablet. As the alchemist purified matter externally, they believed they were making corresponding internal changes to the own souls. Their true goal was spiritual perfection & union with God.

The same principle is at work when an artist creates. Artwork manifests the spiritual changes occurring within the artist as they create. All creativity is ignited from the same flame, tapped from the same eternal well. By creating, artists contact & connect with their source and that fundamentally changes them. Why do you think so many artists turn to drink and flirt with madness? This connection with our source is awesome and can be overpowering and painful. Artists don’t need pain and suffering to create, but most of us are so closed off from our Divine source that when we access it, the pain of our separation crashes down on us in a crushing blow. It’s not the pain an artist needs to create, it’s the pain that comes with the act of creation.

However, if an artist or mystic continues to seek God eventually they become tempered like a sword in the fire and can bear more closeness with less pain. When the artist learns to allow the fecund stream of Divine creativity to flow through them with out expectation or control, the artwork which is created resonates with God. This artwork becomes a pivoting point from this world to the next. But the goal is not to escape the physical and return to God, it is to join the two worlds as one. Art can provide a powerful experience of the Divine in a way few other things can.

Sister Wendy has a really interesting passage in her book The Mystical Now: Art and the Sacred (Thanks John for pointing it out to me!):

GK Chesterton, mourning our state as fallen creatures, ego-lovers…explained: ”We have forgotten who we and what we are.” And art, he said, ”makes us remember that we have forgotten.” This is painful. It is also our best means apart from direct contact with God, of rediscovering that interior integrity. All great art, being spiritual, both grieves over and celebrates “what we are.” It needs no religious iconography for this…(p. 9)

She goes on to say that this is why “so many people unconsciously fear and resist art.” It is not the fear of art, it is the fear of God.

I think it is clear from what I have said, that artists have a responsibility for the physical nature of what they create. Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the artist’s responsibility to the Light, to choose to be a vessel for light and good in this world. But this is slightly different. Artists also have a responsibility to the material world. As the alchemists did with metals, the artist purifies matter in the act of creation. Our responsibility is nothing less than to be active participants in healing the earth. My next post will clarify this in further.

St. John of the Cross & Stomach Flu

I’ve been down with the flu for a couple days. I have a post brewing about the connection between sacred art & the earth. In the meantime, I submit this beautiful via negativa poem for your enjoyment…

I came into the unknown
I came into the unknown
and stayed there unknowing
rising beyond all science.

I did not know the door
but when I found the way,
unknowing where I was,
I learned enormous things,
but what I felt I cannot say,
for I remained unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

It was the perfect realm
of holiness and peace.
In deepest solitude
I found the narrow way:
a secret giving such release
that I was stunned and stammering,
rising beyond all science.

I was so far inside,
so dazed and far away
my senses were released
from feelings of my own.
My mind had found a surer way:
a knowledge of unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

And he who does arrive
collapses as in sleep,
for all he knew before
now seems a lowly thing,
and so his knowledge grows so deep
that he remains unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

The higher he ascends
the darker is the wood;
it is the shadowy cloud
that clarified the night,
and so the one who understood
remains always unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge by unknowing
is such a soaring force
that scholars argue long
but never leave the ground.
Their knowledge always fails the source:
to understand unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge is supreme
crossing a blazing height;
though formal reason tries
it crumbles in the dark,
but one who would control the night
by knowledge of unknowing
will rise beyond all science.

And if you wish to hear:
the highest science leads
to an ecstatic feeling
of the most holy Being;
and from his mercy comes his deed:
to let us stay unknowing,
rising beyond all science.
-St John of the Cross (trans. Willis Barnstone)

Ice

I got a lot done in ceramics today. I glazed the second in my series of woman cracked open like eggs and finished the sculpting on the third. It felt great. The teacher in the class asked me what my plan was. I answered her with complete honesty that I had no plan. I am letting the work flow through me. I’m working on letting go of control. I think she thought I was a bit cracked… maybe like my sculptures! (See here for the first finished piece.)

As I was leaving for the ceramics studio, everything was covered in ice. It was tremendous. Here are some pictures of my front garden:
Garden covered in ice
Drooping tree
Garden covered in ice
Ice-Coated Tree Berries

Garden covered in ice
Red Twig Dogwood

Garden covered in ice
Sunflower

Spiritual Guidance

I missed etching again today because I wasn’t feeling well. Sometimes it’s really hard to accept the fact that I’m not in charge of my own life. I know I never was- control is just an illusion. I am receiving extensive spiritual training in how to follow God’s will. It’s my own version of a convent but instead of a Mother Superior I have scleroderma to guide and teach me.

The Song of Bareness

A cantilena formerly ascribed to Johannes Tauler 14th century German Mystic:

I will sing of bareness a new song,
for true purity is without thought.
Thoughts may not be there,
so I have lost the Mine:
I am decreated.
He who is unminded has no cares.
My unevenness no longer causes me to err:
I am as gladly poor as rich.
I want nothing to do with images,
I must stand free of myself:
I am decreated.
He who is unminded has no cares.

Would you know how I escaped the images?
I perceived the right unity in myself.
That is right unity
when neither weal nor woe displaced me:
I am decreated.
He who is unminded has no cares.

Would you know how I escaped the mind?
When I perceived neither this nor that in myself,
save bare divinity unfounded.
then I could not longer keep silent, I had to tell it:
I am decreated.
He who is unminded has no cares.

Since I am thus lost in the abyss
I no longer wish to speak, I am mute.
The Godhead clear has swallowed me into itself.
I am displaced.
Therefore the darkness delighted me greatly.

Since I have thus come through to the origin,
I may no longer age, but grow young.
So all my powers have disappeared
and have died.
He who is unminded has no cares.

Then whosoever has disappeared
and has found a darkness
is so rich without sorrow.
Thus the dear fire
has consumed me,
and I have died.
He is thus unminded has no cares.
-trans. Martin Buber

I love this concept: “I am decreated”. Such a beautiful way of expressing the via negativa. We come into this world with all kinds of expectations and feelings, so many ideas about the way we want things to turn out or what we want to create. “I am decreated”. I surrender myself back into the womb of God to a place before expectations existed so that those expectations cannot define or control the act of creation. This is the place of Pre-Existence, of Nothing which gives birth to everything. “Since I am thus lost in the abyss I no longer wish to speak, I am mute.” I am mute so God can speak. This is sensational.

“He who is unminded has no cares”.

This is poem charts the process the spiritual artist must undergo to truly become a doorway for fecund stream Divine creativity to enter into this physical world. We must be “decreated,” emptied of self so that we may be filled with something much greater than our small selves could ever envision.

Buying Paper: A Blast from the Past

Yesterday I went to NY Central Art Supply to buy paper. It was a weird, weird experience for me. I used to practically live there in the paper section. They have the most amazing paper selection- like you died and went to heaven! But around 15 years ago, I gave up paper and store-bought art supplies. I worked almost entirely on animal skin parchment and made my own paints & inks from scratch. I even made a lot of the pigments from vegetable and mineral sources. See my book Lapis & Gold for more on this. NY Central paper samplesUsing these techniques meant that I didn’t set foot in NY Central for 15 years.

Going there again was almost like going back to a childhood home and seeing someone else’s furniture. One of the sales people called me ma’am. I had my 7 year old in tow. I thought people were looking at me like I was an alien. And yet it was sweet to be there again. God I love paper! I love artists.

In all probability people weren’t looking at me like I was an alien. I just felt that way because nothing had really changed there except me. Even some of the sales people were the same. I felt I should be walking around the corner to have a beer at the Village Idiot (long since closed) with my friends and not return home till 3am. I suddenly felt I had no responsibilities at all and then my son grabbed my hand. I don’t have the body I had, I don’t have the mind I had, or the pain & suffering I had. It was beautiful and sad at the same time. A paradox- the truest indicator of Divine presence.