Archive for Birth
Verse for the Virgin
burst from your untouched
womb like a flower
on the farther side
of death. The world-tree
is blossoming. Two
realms become one.
–Hildegard of Bingen
(Trans. Barbara Newman from Women in Praise of the Sacred)
When I make art, I am seeking the Void or the womb of God, a place Hildegard describes so beautifully as the nexus where “two realms become one”. The last several years have brought me a much needed emptying process creating space in my life for this sacred nexus to flourish. I have been laid open and unclogged by making art. Making art cleared me and making art connects me with the Void. It is a form of deep, committed prayer.
This is the story of my opening told through my sculptures. I started as an artist sculpting in clay at the age of four, but left the medium for 20 years. Upon my return a few years back, I made very controlled sculptures like this one:
Like an egg, I was slowly cracking open- excavating a space for the Divine to enter. But as I created, I felt stuck. I didn’t feel that deep freedom which connecting to the Divine creative flow brings. I was controlling the process too much.
To loosen my grip, I began a series called the “The Act of Creation”. These pieces are about surrendering to the moment of creation without judgment. It was important for me to create without expectation of the outcome, to surrender product for process. I entered into the Void and mingled with the Divine creative energies there. Thus I acted on this clay only by instinct and stopped in the moment I felt this internal flow of creativity recede. As a vessel, I felt the creative energies within me merge into matter and I felt it as a physical sensation deep within my body. These pieces are a captured instant of the creative process made concrete and a record of, perhaps, my most intimates moments in the arms of the Artist.
Here are just a few from this series for more check here.
Act of Creation #2
Act of Creation #3
Act of Creation #7
Act of Creation #8
Act of Creation #9
Act of Creation Group Shot
Making these pieces completely opened me up. Suddenly I had ears, finally the Artist had come and gently slipped me on like a glove. My current “Mystical Vessel” series, sculptures of mystics who profoundly influenced my spiritual development, could not have happened without this experience of letting go. Here are the first three pieces from this series:
For video of this sculpture check here.
Hildgard of Bingen
For video of this sculpture check here.
He needs arms before I make a video…
Making art in this way, deeply connected to Divine flow of creativity, is an adventure, a riotous ride into the unknown. Like a whirling dervish, I spin into hidden realms and it is sweet compensation for a body confined by illness. Which is why, despite everything I have been through, I am profoundly grateful for the infinite kindness of God.
I am speechless with excitement because I just discovered that one of my favorite poets, Dorothy Walters, has her own blog: Kundalini Splendor. It is filled with beauty and wisdom just like her poetry. Walter’s work inspires and feeds me on a deep level. Take for instance this poem, which tells the story of my life:
A Cloth of Fine Gold
You may think
that first lit flame
was the ultimate blaze,
the holy fire revealed.
What do you know
This is a sun that returns
again and again, refining, igniting,
pouring your spirit
through a cloth of delicate gold
until all dross is taken
and you are sweet as
in god/the goddess’ mouth.
She intimately understands the relationship between Creator and creator. This next poem pinpoints my experience of my own vision of the Virgin Mary,my Annunciation, and my ensuing illness:
Preparing to Meet the Goddess
Do not think of her
unless you are prepared
to be driven to your limits,
to rush forth from yourself
like a ritual bowl overflowing
with sacramental wine.
Do not summon her image
unless you are ready to be blinded,
to stand in the flash
of a center exploding,
yourself shattering into the landscape,
wavering bits of bark and water.
Do not speak her name
until you have said good-bye
to all your familiar trinkets —
your mirrors, your bracelets,
your childhood adorations —
From now on you are nothing,
a ghost sighing at the window,
a voice singing under water.
These poems make clear the paradox of the terrible rending of life that is at the same time a beautiful gift, like the healing wounds of the stigmata.
Our job is, like alchemists, to heal and rarify matter. We are made for that nexus point where Creator & creator merge into One. Where Spirit infuses matter, where Light penetrates dark, and where we embrace our status as scared wombs born to give birth to the Divine.
I saw Copying Beethoven this weekend. I highly recommend it as a movie that really explores the spiritual path of making art. Here is an excerpt which sums up what I have been saying here. I couldn’t find a shorter cut, but check at about the 3 minute mark where Beethoven explains the spiritual purpose behind making music:
Here is the direct link for email subscribers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PSyxwaTICs&feature=related
Christine over at Abby of the Arts (one of my favorite blogs) posted this Meister Eckhart quote last week, and I can’t stop thinking about it:
are words of God,
His music, His
Sacred books we are, for the infinite camps
Every act reveals God and expands His being.
I know that may be hard
All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;
I need to be silent
for a while,
worlds are forming
in my heart.
An artist needs to be silent to create, but how to find this elusive silence?
It’s clear that the Divine Creator wants me to find silence because my life in recent years has been stripped down to bare bones, the noise and chaos cleared out. Using my health as an agent, God has sent me into exile. First from work and late-night socializing, then from volunteering and now even from my friends and family. I’ve written about this before, but last year my family and I were forced to move from the northeast, south in search of warmer winters. So here I sit with a large share of the doing purged from my life, but what of silence?
I assumed that in my exile I would find nothing but space to unfold and work. Instead I found everything that the doing was designed to suppress. I found fear and anxiety, anger and sadness- a lifetime of regrets I never had time to feel. Now after years of learning to sit with these feelings, many have processed through. I am emptier than I have ever been. But still I have resistance to entering into that sacred space. Why?
It is the same reason that has always caused artists to drink and spiral into depression and fear. It’s not that life is so dark, it is that it is so beautiful and dear. I am only beginning to be able to tolerate the tiniest drop of the joy and pleasure that God offers us. An artist brushes that pleasure each time we create.
I have emptied myself to such a degree that there is no barrier left to that deep connection with my maker, that deep intimacy and joy. I find it difficult to proceed. But for me there is nothing else left, there is my connection to God which is expressed in two ways alone: my relationships to the people I interact with (most particularly my friends & family) and my creative process.
I am terrified to pick up my brush, to mold my clay. But there is nothing else for me to do. I will take baby steps and breath, just as I learned to tolerate my fear and still function, I will learn to tolerate and embrace my joy. This is what I was born for, to be one of God’s wombs. Rilke’s advice to an aspiring poet says it all:
Go into yourself. Search for that reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest place of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all- ask yourself in the silent hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even in its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it. Rilke, Letters to a young Poet, Trans. Herter Norton
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.
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.”
If 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.
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. Humanity 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…
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.
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.
Sometimes when I get in my head too much (which is often!) I have trouble working. I get disconnected from my materials and the physical world. When this happens, I like to read the poet Theodore Roethke. His poems are so grounded in the beauty and processes of the natural word. Everything about them is connecting from their imagery to their rhythmic pulse. One of my favorite Roethke poems is the root cellar. Try reading it out loud.
The Root Cellar
Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.
I believe this is a depiction of a womb, the hidden process of creation. The manure & etc. are the blocks we must transform into fertile ground to produce healthy work. I just adore this poem.
Today is Meister Eckhart appreciation day! Meister Eckhart is a 14th century German mystic. A Domincan Friar, who was extremely controversial in his time even being tried for heresy. He is a true Neo-Platonist, who see God as fundamentally creative, overflowing ceaselessly with life. Much of Eckhart’s work focuses on the via negativa- finding the Divine in absence. He points us always to the state of pre-being, of Nothingness, which births forth Being.
Sometimes I have spoken of a light that is uncreated and not capable of creation and that is in the soul. I always mention this light in my sermons; and this same light comprehends God without medium, uncovered, naked, as he is in himself; and this comprehension is understood as happening when birth takes place. (pg. 198)
This “uncreated light” is the womb of God. Eckhart tells us that it is within each of our soul’s. If, as artists, we can connect with this deepest place within us, our creative process will resonate with the Divine. For more click here.
Warning not for the shy or faint of heart or modest. A bit late, but I just found this AMAZING Halloween costume on Unfogged.
This is so radical:
When I stood in my first cause, I then had no “God,” and then I was my own cause. I wanted nothing, I longed for nothing, for I was an empty being, and the only truth in which I rejoiced was in the knowledge of myself. Then it was myself I wanted and nothing else. What I wanted I was, and what I was I wanted; and so I stood, empty of God and everything. But when I went out from my own free will and received my created being, then I had a “God,” for before there were any creatures, God was not “God,” but he was what he was. But when creatures came to be and received their created being, then God was not “God” in Himself, but he was “God” in the creatures. (p. 200) Meister Eckhart (13th century German Christian Mystic)
Eckhart is telling us that the idea of “God” blocks God. Words, ideas, even knowing itself is another veil between the soul and God. He wants us to go deeper into God, to release everything- ourselves, God, even the will to do God’s will. In doing so, he directs us to the womb of God, to Pre-Being. The womb of God eternally births God as Being, Reason, etc. all the active attributes of God. It is everything in potentiality. Eckhart’s idea echoes Plotnius’ concept of the One that emanates the Intelligence.
So where is the artist in this? Eckhart is giving us a road map to tap the creative well of the Divine. In releasing everything, language, wants, attachments, we will ultimately connect to that place within us that birthed us. This is the Womb of God, a state of Pre-Being which births forth the Universe eternally. It is the ground, the basis, cause of all form and of existence itself. To contact that ground within ourselves causes an immediate creative birth or emanation. If an artist finds this place, their creative output is assured. Eckhart describes this state thus:
If it could be that a fly had reason and could with its reason seek out eternal depths of the divine being from which it issued, I say God, with all that he has as he is “God,” could not fulfill or satisfy the fly. So therefore let us pray to God to be free of “God,” and that we may apprehend and rejoice in the everlasting truth in which the highest angel and the fly and the soul are equal- there where I was established, where I wanted what I was what I wanted. (p. 200)
Of the Divine Word
Pregnant with the holy
Word will come the Virgin
Walking down the road
If you will take her in.
(The original Spanish is so much better…)
Del Verbo divino
La Virgen prenada
viene de carmino
si le dias posado.
St. John of the Cross
This beautiful poem is a road map for what a spiritual artist must do to hook into the flow of Divine creativity. The fundamentally creative nature of the Universe is represented here as the pregnant Virgin. Her pregnancy is physical creativity in potentiality. Her virginity is the state of her mind and soul; it has nothing to do with her sexuality. The pregnant Mary instructs us on how to make ourselves ready to receive the creative spirit. We must make ourselves as virgin ground, unstamped by the traumas & desires of life. We must be open and hold ourselves empty in order to be filled. St John reminds us that this is all that is necessary for the Divine to enter into us. It is the nature of the Divine to create, or as Plotinus would say, to emanate form. If we allow the Divine in, our own creative output is assured and, more importantly, sacred. It is the moment of creation, the intimacy an artist can feel with God that is the object. It is that union, which without effort, spontaneously produces the form which will be come a physical work of art. What’s more, art that is produced in this way captures the resonance of that experience and can, on some level, transmit some of that energy to its viewer. This is the ideal that the spiritual artist must continually strive for.