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I am loving my new book Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women edited by Jane Hirshfield. It’s really amazingly beautiful. Today I was reading this poem by Pan Zhao, the only woman to hold the post of Imperial Historian during the Han Dynasty in China, and it made me think of DebraAnn my bloggy friend over at Tangled Stitch who inspires me with the beauty of her work:
Needle and Thread
Tempered, Annealed, the hard essence of autumn metals
finely forged, subtle, yet perdurable and straight,
By nature penetrating deep yet advancing by inches
to span all things yet stitch them up together,
Only needle-and thread’s delicate footsteps
are truly broad-ranging yet without beginning!
“Withdrawing elegantly” to mend a loose thread,
and restore to white silk a lamb’s-down purity…
How can those who count pennies calculate their worth?
They may carve monuments yet lack all understanding.
Pan Zhao (48-117?) Trans. Richard Mather & Rob Swigart
from Woman in Praise of the Sacred
And Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
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
A beautiful and blessed Earth Day to you. Today I am honoring the earth by working with clay. What are you up to?
I am also thinking about my garden up north and how I formed a deep connection to that soil and how much beauty and joy was offered in return. I cherished that land and it loved me back. I felt it and saw it. I wish that everyone could experience that sense of harmony and belonging to a place. I believe much of the mindless destruction of our planet would be reversed with this experience of mindfulness.
Here are some pictures from last summer. I’m sorry about the spill over into my sidebar, but I’m anxious to embrace my clay and don’t want to use this precious day on resizing pictures!
I’m sad to have left this garden that was nothing but a weedy patch of grass when I found it. I feel it waking and I am not there to tend it. So instead I’m turning to clay, temporarily my own patch of earth to tend, as it passes through my hands in transformation. I am entering into a conscious relationship with earth itself, a dialogue.
Here are 2 older posts on the relationship between the earth & spirit. This first is by Gartenfische (and is well worth a read for it beauty) and the second is mine.
Happy Earth Day!
One of my favorite blogs on art & spirituality, Abbey of the Arts, has an interview with me today. This is the interview that prompted me post a photo of myself last week.
Self Portrait: Annunciation (Etching)
There are number of other wonderful blogs out there on art & spirituality besides Abbey of the Arts. Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order:
The Contemplative Photographer (A christian viewpoint)
FEOTU (Sparse postings, but worth the wait)
Owl’s Wings (A pagan perspective)
The Tangled Stitch
Sacred Circle Mandalas
Heaven in my Foot
Creative Juices Arts & Painting from the Wild Heart
Just on spirituality, here is an amazing post on gratitude and illness from Havi. I think you will appreciate it!!
My newest pieces were finally fired so I will post some pictures soon. I’m really excited about the new series of sculptures I just began this week. They are of mystics I admire. I’m working on Hildegard of Bingen now. Meister Eckhart is next. The best part is I get to delve back into their texts to prepare!
Blessings to you on this beautiful day.
Over the past 6 months or so my hands have almost completely contracted into fists. I have limited movement in my two index fingers and a bit more in my thumbs and that’s it. I get along just fine, but from time to time I feel the loss of my ability to play the piano. Today I was a concert and I felt the twinge, just a seductive hint of self-pity. When I came home this video was in my email via Triumph of the Spirit.
I mean, do you think God is trying to tell me something? The joy and life in this woman is astounding for anyone, not just a person with disabilities. She embraces what she has, her gift, with gusto and joy. I loved playing the piano, truly, but I never had a gift for it. I am no musician, more like an amateur crafter filling a Saturday afternoon. I believe this video was sent to me to show me how to let go of suffering over my hands and embrace my gift. Each of us has a gift, perhaps not the one we would choose or perhaps we dislike the way it is given. But, wow, look what is possible if we embrace it.
“Come to the edge.”
“We can’t. We’re afraid.”
“Come to the edge.”
“We can’t. We will fall!”
“Come to the edge.”
And they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.
– Guillaume Apollinaire
I have been reading this amazing blog Beyond Words. Give yourself a treat and take a look. It’s a blog of Karin Bartimole’s painted journal. The images are suffused with spirituality. I feel my heart open every time I visit that site.
Debra Ann over at Tangled Stitch had a recent post about accepting yourself that really got me thinking. Here she is talking about Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul:
Well I am up to the chapter on Temporary Insanities and I think this is the chapter that best describes me at this time in my life. I have to decide whether I am willing to accept the eccentricities of myself or whether I am going to hide them. This one sentence made me cry” Without the zany persona, you might be condemned to darkness, and that would be a tragedy”. End quote first paragraph Page 259.
I got to thinking about how much I modify myself to please others and how it shuts down my creative process. Then a friend sent me the inspiring video below of Vanessa Hidary “The Hebrew Mamita”. I find that I can’t stop thinking about it. The video is a little off my main topic in subject matter (confronting prejudices), but bear with me. It’s more than just the importance of confronting prejudice. Hidary displays a radical acceptance of herself, an absolute and fearless facing of who she. And she defiantly displays it to the world. Her abandon is truly breath taking and courageous. It’s an inspiration. Watch this and imagine if you felt this way about yourself what kind of work you would allow yourself to make; what kind of nourishment you would provide the world.
During the first part of this video, I was close to tears. I’ve written about my deep connection to Hildegard’s life before. In college, I even made a pilgrimage to Bingen to visit Hildgard’s bones and the corner of earth where she lived. Fox starts with pictures of the places of her life, places I visited and then goes on to her illness and her awakening at the age of 41 or 42. I am close to turning 41 and have dealt with dramatic & debilitating illness for many years. There are obvious parallels and it hit me forcibly that Hildegard’s life is an exemplar for my own. Not that I could attain her genius and connection to the Divine, but I could attain her commitment to her creativity process, her respect and love of the physical world and possibly even a reprieve from illness although not necessarily how you may be imagining.
I have no expectation of my illness being lifted from me, but I do have hope. And this is, perhaps, why this video effected me so profoundly. I do have evidence that making art heals me. See here and here. But more than that, I have felt art remove the idea of illness from my system. When I work illness disappears. I’m just there. I enter a state where illness simply does not exist. It is state of freedom where I can embrace my physical nature bur not be burdened by it.
Most of my life, the physical world has seemed a burden to me. Once a long time ago, I met an amazing fellow, a pagan jewelry maker and musician of the highest caliber. He said something to me that was so shocking to my system that it shifted everything for me. He said:
I love this earth, I love the pleasure, the pain, the fight, the food, the suffering.
He said it with such relish. It was clear that he really did love being a physical being. It never occurred to me that anyone would want to do anything else but escape Earth and leave physicality behind. From that moment I considered for the first time ever, embracing my life on Earth. My illness which has bestowed so many gifts, helped force my down to Earth as well. By leaving me with little strength, I could not occupy my time with a million little distractions. It was just me and my body learning to dance for the first time.
Hildegard revived herself through her arts writing and painting, physical acts which channel Divine energy into the world. Throughout her work, she embraces nature and the Earth.
Oh greening branch.
O greening branch
O greening branch!
You stand in your nobility
Like the rising dawn.
Rejoice now and exult
And deign to free the fools we are.
From our long slavery to evil
And hold out your hand
To raise us up.
-Hildegard of Bingen
This is just one example of how she sees God in nature and nature as part of God. It was Hildegard’s job to express this. God rushed through her like Niagara Falls, pouring into this Earth. This is what Victor Frankl has to say about our purpose in life. (He is speaking about is time in a Nazi Concentration camp.)
We had to learn and we had to teach the despairing men that it did not really matter
what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop
asking about the meaning of life, and think instead of ourselves as those who were being
questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation,
but in right action and in right conduct. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of
life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.
Everyone has his own specific mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment, which
demands fulfillment. -Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Thanks Alive on All Channels)
I have my assignment. Hildegard is my example. Create, create, create.
Abbey of the Artist has an amazing post on photography as a sacred practice.
We are moved when we touch the eternal and timeless. There is a sense of spaciousness in moments. Art and spiritual practice are how we find this moment of eternity, or even better, how we allow the moment to find us. There are many moments waiting for us each day, prodding at our consciousness, inviting us to abandon our carefully constructed plans and defenses.
The task of the artist is to cultivate the ability to see these eternal moments again and again. In this way, we are all invited to become artists.
It’s a beautiful and moving piece of writing. Checkout the whole post here. What struck me most was the line “There is a sense of spaciousness in moments.” The conventional notion of time always seems lacking to me. The whole “tyranny of time marching forward” must be more elastic than we are lead to believe.
Our sense of time is constricted by our lack of connection to the present moment. We live in our judgments about how things are going and what we wanted to happen instead of in what is actually is. The heaviness of our judgments create a narrow canyon for time to pass through. Just as when a river is forced to narrow it rushes by at an alarming pace, so to does time. As we release our judgments and attachments, there is more space for us to breathe and act, and more connection to what is. Time spills out like a wide, meandering river on a summer’s day.
Image source: Ken Corbett (Thanks!)
Making art requires us to enter this present moment and that is why it is such a gift to be an artist. We cannot get away with ignoring the present and still allow our creativity to flood the world. We are blessed with awareness and cursed by resistance.
Update: The photo above turns out the be of Ken Corbett on the St. Francis River! Not a coincidence I think…
Max Beckmann is one of my favorite artists. I grew up a few blocks from the LA County Art Museum and there was an utterly stunning Beckmann show at some point during my childhood. Such a revelation! I sensed something in those paintings, a deep connectedness that I yearned for in my own life. As a child I felt these paintings were holding my hand leading me someplace I dearly wanted to go. Beckmann describes his work this way:
What I want to show in my work is the idea which hides itself behind so-called reality. I am seeking for the bridge which leads from the visible to the invisible, like the famous Cabbalist who once said:’If you wish to get hold of the invisible, you must penetrate as deeply as possible into the visible.” To penetrate is to go through. (p. 94)
This quote is from a wonderful book, Max Beckmann and the Self by Wendy Beckett. Another quote which struck me forcibly is:
[drawing] protects one against death and danger. (p.28)
Of course, and thankfully, there is no escape from physical death, but death by failure to live and danger are another matter. The idea that making art can protect the artist rings true to me. Certainly drawing helped be battle a fear which was over powering my life.
When an artist isn’t creating they loose their connection to the Divine and their connection to the physical word. They their life force and the resulting fear and /or depression deprive the artist of the their ability to act. For the artist, there is only a shadow life without art. Their life becomes about damming up the Divine creative wellspring instead being a channel for it to flow through. The artist loses their trust in the world, their ability to see and act for their own higher good. This ultimately drives them to make poor choices and poor choices bring danger.
If the artist does their work, they form as Beckmann puts it, a bridge, a deep connection between heaven and earth. This happens in the present moment, a mystical space which is always here for us to tap into:
O living always, always dying!
O the burials of me past and present,
O me while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever;
O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not, I am content;)
O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn and
look at where I cast them,
To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the corpses behind.
This is the state where art is created, sacred space and in which we are connected to our true Home. A sense of trust and goodness permeates us. All is right with the world. Connection to this state allows us to make clear decisions for our own highest good. It allow us to travel uncharted paths safely and this the artist true job: to chart the uncharted. Although it may feel more dangerous actually leads us out of danger.
Detail of one of my paintings
Tomorrow, January 9th, I’m going in for minor heart surgery. I will be discharged on January 10th. I know the Divine is involved here because on January 10th last year I went into the hospital with a serious heart issue. I will be leaving the hospital the very same day I entered it 1 year ago. No person could plan that.
This year has been an intense transformational journey for me. Last year I had an episode of ventricular tachycardia. It was very dramatic. I went into the hospital with a heart rate of 223 beats per minute. They called code blue, 10 people descended on me, just like ER.
Well, I have to tell you that it was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. In that moment, the first moment in my entire life, I surrendered completely to God. I had not one instant of fear. Every person treated me with beauty and I was carried through to safety. I believe my absolute calm and trust dramatically impacted this situation were I was mere seconds from death.
I spent 9 days in the cardiac ICU while they tested me in every way possible. In the end, they fitted me with an implanted cardiac defibrillator. When I left the hospital everything returned to normal except that the Divine hadn’t finished teaching me yet.
In March I got the stomach flu. The usual thing, I threw up for about 24 hours. When I got up the next day, I was walking down the stairs and I heard a pop. The only other time I had ever heard that sound was when I experienced a flash of Divine light. I realized my defibrillator had gone off. It continued to fire 11 more times in the next 5 minutes. If you don’t know what that means, I’m sure you’ve seen on TV doctor drama doctors administering a shock to a person with paddles. Well this is the same thing only delivered directly to your heart. It is excruciatingly painful.
The ambulance shuttled me off to the hospital where I found that my cardiologist had set my device too low. My heart rate was completely normal, fast because of the flu but normal. The machine went off because the programming was wrong.
I was completely traumatized by this. I jumped at every noise. I had nightmares of it going off again. I was afraid to walk down the stairs. Sometimes, I was so consumed with fear, I was literally afraid to move. I know it sounds terrible, but it turned out to be one of the most important experiences of my entire life. It is no mistake that I heard the same sound as in my vision.
Dealing with this has changed my relationship to fear. I never knew that most of my decisions were made out of fear. That fear regulated everything I did. This experience has liberated me from fear. I learned how to be with fear and still act, how sitting with fear instead of resisting it transforms it.
I learned to deal with my fear so well that when, I was faced with another truly fearful situation, I was ok. In September, I found out that part of my device had been recalled for delivering inappropriate shock (one woman had, I believe 58 shocks, in 1 hour) I did freak out for a day, but then I handled it. I took my time gathered all the appropriate information and 3 ½ months later I am acting. Not out of fear, but out of the knowledge that I am making the best decision for myself and my family.
People often think of fear in the context of what it stops us from doing, perhaps flying to an exotic local, changing or job, etc. But my experience is that we are so deeply unconscious of our fears that we actually think we like doing what we have always done. See Jan on this. I don’t do half of what I used to. It’s not because I’m sick. It’s because I won’t waste my energy on doing things just to please other people when they rob me of my life force. I never realized how terrified I was of disappointing someone or making them angry.
I could never have started this blog before because I would have fear what people would say. Why do we hold back and resist change? We only get our mirrors dusty so they can’t properly reflect the One.
This cycle is done. On the 10th I will leave the hospital and I’ll be on to bigger and better things. I hope it is more art, but that’s not up to me, that is in the hands of the One.
I send you blessings. Thank you for reading.
More from Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi
Many and disparate waves do not make the sea a multiplicity; no more do the Names make the Named more than One. When the sea breathes they call it mist; when mist piles up they call it clouds. It falls again, they name it rain; it gathers itself and rejoins the sea. And it is now the same sea it ever was.
So Ocean is Ocean
As it was in Eternity,
But its waves and currents.
Do not let the ripples
And mists of the worlds
Veil you from Him
Who takes form within these veils. (Jandi)
Beginninglessness is the depth unfathomed, Endlessness the shores of this Ocean.
Do you want to be ALL?
Go and become NOTHING (p.78)
Amazing via negativa poetry. Until yesterday, the via negativa was my dearest desire. But I have been watching a number of Matthew Fox videos on youtube and he has opened my eyes to a new idea: the via creativa. Fox sees the via creativa as a path to the One through creative acts, which, is the whole topic of this blog! He sees the via positiva (also sometimes called the affirmative way) and the via negativa as building blocks to the via creativa. It’s a fascinating idea and I do feel the beauty in the world and the emptiness both while making art.
I will sit with this and perhaps I may embark upon a new path? Or perhaps this is the path I am already on…
I thought the new year could do with some color. I am an artist after all! So I’ve updated my blog’s look. I welcome any comments you have & ideas on how to improve it.
I have discovered (actually she discovered me first…) an amazing new blogger Epiphany Girl. You’ve got to check her out. She writes so beautifully about spirituality!
Epiphany girl pointed out to me that the poem about Mary in my post about the feminine and the Divine has a dig at women in it. Hildegard gives it to Eve pretty strongly. I have a lot to say about Eve, but I’m still working up a full post. In the meantime I decided that there must be some Christian poetry somewhere that captures the beauty of the feminine nature of the Divine in a way that really speaks to me without putting women down. I was lucky to happen across Steve who told me about the Liturgy of St Basil which is used twelve times a year in Orthodox Churches:
All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace, the assembly of angels and the race of men. O Sanctified Temple and Spiritual Paradise, the Glory of Virgins, from whom God was incarnate and became a child, our God before the ages. He made your body into a throne, and your womb He made more spacious than the heavens. All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace. Glory to you!
This is so amazing!
A bit of business and then some beauty.
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!
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:
you and I
but a pretext.