Archive for Earth
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!
Clays are extraordinary, layered, crystal structures which have, built into them, what amounts almost to an innate tendency to evolve…Clay has plans.
-Lyall Watson, from An Introduction to Clay Colloid Chemistry
I started as an artist at the age of 6 in clay. The altars I built from clay I dug directly out of the earth are some of the most satisfying pieces of my career. There is an innate connection between God and earth. Clay is a meeting place, a doorway to Heaven.
I have been an avid gardener for years. I began to garden for the fragrance and color of flowers but now I garden for soil. It is easy to miss the Divine is the humble trappings of dirt. There is something about soil that is just afire with the light of God. It is the lowliest of things, we tread on it, ignore it, sweep it away, and yet it sustains us all. The soil pulses with life that we cannot or will not see. There is no more satisfying feeling than seeing what appears to be a barren, wormless plot of land transform into a teaming mecca of life.
Working with clay gives me the same satisfaction. Clay itself is very dense, like the material word itself. It takes effort to move it and to see in it the true reflection of the Divine. And yet it is responsive. There is something in clay that wants to grow and transform and which responds to that same impulse within the artist. Clay is a partner in the creative act, not a submissive servant.
In the biblical story of the creation of man, God chooses to blow the breath of life into clay to create Adam. I have discussed this from the perspective of the gilder who must use breath, but the clay’s perspective is just as interesting.
That God chose clay to receive his direct kiss, should illuminate the central importance of Earth. By gardening or working with clay we engage the Earth. And if we empty ourselves and enter fully into the present moment something amazing happens. The artist becomes the physical vessel for Divine creative energy, holding it, that it may be translated into, fused with matter. The particular way in which an artist engages matter allows for greater concentrations of Macrocosmic energy to enter the world.
But that is not all. All matter, to a greater or lesser degree has consciousness of its Source. Clay is like a sponge that actively seeks to draw in Divine fecund energy. It and Earth itself has its own active spirituality and deep connection to God.
Contemporary theologian Thomas Berry argues this persuasively.
There is a spiritual capacity in carbon as there is a carbon component functioning in our highest spiritual experience. If some scientists consider that all this is merely a material process, then what they call matter, I call mind, soul, spirit, or consciousness. Possibly it is a question of terminology, since scientists too on occasion use terms that express awe and mystery. Most often, perhaps, they use the expression that some of the natural forms they encounter seem to be “telling them something”.- Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, Page: 25
He also says:
“Gardening is an active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe.”
Medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that
All things love God. All things are united according to friendship to each other and to God.
Crimson gleams of Matter, gliding imperceptibly into the
gold of Spirit, ultimately to become transformed into the
incandescence of a universe that is person- and through all of this there blows, animating it and spreading over it a fragrant balm, a zephyr of union- and of the Feminine.
The diaphany of the Divine at the heart of a glowing universe, as I have experienced it through contact with the earth- the divine radiating from depths of blazing matter.
-Teilhard de Chardin
Hildegard of Bingen says:
God’s Word is in all creation, visible and invisible. The WORD is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. All creation is awakened, called, by the resounding melody, God’s invocation of the WORD. This WORD manifests in every creature. Now this is how the spirit is in the flesh–the WORD is indivisible from God.
So let us not discount the importance of our physicality and out Earth in a reckless attempt to find a higher spirituality. Spirit is not up there, it here in every atom and molecule, every glowing and vibrant speck of dust. Let us be present and embrace the bounty God has offered us by entering into the unceasing flow of Divine Creativity on Earth. By embracing the Earth we embrace the Divine.
Within this earthen vessel are bowers and groves, and within it is the Creator:
Within this vessel are the seven oceans and the unnumbered stars.
The touchstone and the jewel-appraiser are within;
And within this vessel the Eternal soundeth, and the spring wells up.
Kabir says: “Listen to me, my Friend! My beloved Lord is within.”
I just joined an interesting group, a kind of a Facebook for Creation Spirituality. Creation Spirituality is something I’ve become increasingly interested in as I explore my artistic process through this blog. I don’t agree with Matthew Fox, the founder of CS on everything, but he usually hits the nail right on the head when it comes to the creative process.
I wholeheartedly agree that art is a form of meditation and process is more important that product. It’s great that he talks about making art as entering into relationship with the Earth. It is also about entering into relationship with Spirit. The artist, consciously or not, seeks to merge Spirit and matter to create a greater whole.
Fox says the artist will have no peace until they express their creativity. I have absolutely found this to be true in my own life. I love the line “If your creativity is not busy about healthy things, it’s going to be busy about making you neurotic.” He quotes Otto Rank*, after a failed suicide attempt saying, “I must give birth everyday or die.” This is an amazing statement, but one I think is true for artists. Fox takes it a step further by telling us that everyone is an artist and everything we do can be an art if it is done with heart. If we connect to our soul and not just our minds we connect to the protective and healing properties of making art. I recently spoke about how art protects one from descent into fear. Fox understands that art is balm against many forms of disabling mental distress.
* Updated with name of Otto Rank. Thanks Matt!
It has been quite a while since I posted. My life has been in such an uproar and this is the first time I have found enough clarity to share my journey with you.
Here’s the background: I uprooted my whole life, moved thousands of miles, left my community, my garden, and my routine behind.
The reason: I am learning to listen rather than to dictate and control.
My heart episode taught me that it is better to put myself in Divine hands that my own. So I committed myself to following the energetic path laid for me, and not fighting with the world to get my way. I followed where I was being guided even though I didn’t want to go. I’ve heard this called the ‘path of least resistance’ and this is my first time on it. Wow, what was I doing fighting all these years? Everything fell into place so easily that it was impossible not to see the hand of the Divine in it.
This move was the first time I have ever experienced a major life event that went perfectly smoothly. In the past, I would have set a goal and forced it to happen. It would have been complicated and there would have been tremendous stress and difficulty. It was almost shocking, how simple this seemingly complicated move was. We sold our house, most of our junk, packed everything, found a new home, drove for 3 days and for an entire 3 months, everything went like clock work.
Now that I am here in my new home, I have found the simplicity and silence I have been searching for many years, but the silence is defining- a howling roar. It is the complete absence of everything I valued, structure, friends, purpose. It is tremendously painful, but it is what convinces me that the Divine hand is in this. The great mystics teach us that God is to be found in silence. I believe I was sent here to be laid open, to unclog my well and be scraped clean of any resistance to God so that I maybe more fully devoted to making art.
My purpose and the purpose of most artists, is to be a conduit for creative energy from Above to enter into below. Like adding compost to soil, enriching the earth we live in and preparing the ground for beautiful things to grow. In my old life, a thousand things interfered with my work: endless volunteer projects, friends, a massive garden, a Victorian house. Here, there is nothing to interfere except myself. God has exposed me as the source of my own blockages. And yet my well is still clogged. This is part of the pain. There is nowhere to run or hide, finally I can make no excuses. This is between me and my Creator and my Creator requires me to create. Now as I wait for an energetic path to reveal my next move, I do battle with my own darkness, those places, I have willfully declined to let the fecund stream of Divine creativity flow.
I will post some new work soon.
Yesterday I spoke about holding the space open for the Divine to enter. It’s interesting, more happens when I wait and things that were unclear become clear. My family & I have thought for sometime of being away for part of the winter. Nothing was coming together so I sat back and waited. Now something wonderful has entered into that open space. It is a one month trip to sunny St. Thomas which I am going to use as an artist’s retreat. I’ll be packing a small bag of clothes, a large trunk of art supplies and my laptop.
Where I live just outside of New York City, I often feel disconnected from nature. Illness works on many levels it is most definitely spiritual direction on a personal level. But I have often wondered if it is something more too. Our bodies are the Earth. Creation stories from many peoples Apache , China, Aboriginal , African and of course the biblical story of Adam to name a few describe humanity as being created out of Earth. I have always felt that on some level my illness reflects the illness and decay of our planet. I firmly believe in the alchemical principle “As above, so below”. If we are pale reflections, echoes of our Creator, as physical creatures we must also be the echo of creation itself. Our blatant disregard for our own flesh must be on some level both manifestation and cause of the current plight of our dear planet.
So I will take my time in the lush tropical greenery of St. Thomas to enter into the act of creation through my art and writing, but also to envelope my body in its physical source, nature. Like a child estranged from its parent, my body will find healing in the Earth’s loving arms.
I have learned that I cannot control the illness in my body, greater forces than I can understand have plans for me for which I gladly wait. But I take heart. I believe physical healing is possible. I have always believed it and will continue my belief whether or not physical healing becomes part of my own path. What small steps I can take like resting, using my energy wisely, eating well or nurturing myself do have an effect. I must treat myself as if I were my own garden and this in turn must effect the Earth. My flesh is the land, it is Earth and the two cannot be separated except as an illusion in the human mind. My flesh is but a small grain of sand, but as I have said before, sand does have a way of piling up. The small ways in which we heal ourselves will begin the process of healing our planet.
enter my hands
Full of Grace
Blessed art thou among women
flesh joined with spirit, Earth
oh endless Divine Womb
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus
perfected jewel of creation present in every moment
Holy Mary mother of God
ancient well, connect me to Your eternal stream
Pray for us sinners now
let us heal the connection that has been sundered
and at the time
circle upon circle
of our death.
bring us lasting rebirth: flesh at with one spirit
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.
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 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.
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.
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.