Archive for fear
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
Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore;
It is mine forevermore,
It ebbs not back like the sea.
I am the pool of blue
That worships the vivid sky;
My hopes were heaven-high,
They are all fulfilled in you.
I am the pool of gold
When sunset burns and dies, —
You are my deepening skies,
Give me your stars to hold.
My theme for this year is creating peace. In my last post, I wrote about my belief that we can release some of the pressure building up in the wider world by addressing that chaos and pressure in our own little garden. By changing our interior selves we powerfully effect those around us for the good. With this in mind, I have been ferreting out all the sources of pressure and turmoil in my own life. To my surprise, I find they are all internal. It’s not the breaking of a glass in the kitchen that brings turmoil, it’s my response. The more I resist a situation, the more upset is created.
I recently became aware of just how much I resist everything. My greatest resistance turns out to be to my own feelings. I resist feeling angry, sad, or experiencing uncomfortable memories; I even resist feelings of love and connection which are too intense. When I am resisting, I have to throw myself into doing something, anything so I won’t have time to feel. This unconscious need to do, causes more turmoil than anything else in my life. I end up forcing things to happen in ways are destructive instead of allow things to unfold in their own time. And because art cannot be forced (it must be allow to unfold), this behavior also kills the creative impulse and the artist’s connection to the divine flow. It clogs the divine well and gums up its receiving vessel.
Since Thanksgiving, I have worked tirelessly to not resist my feelings. As a result, I experienced about a month of intense, overpowering anxiety- an anxiety so strong I almost felt I wouldn’t make it through. It woke me at night and stalked me during the day. But I stuck with it. When anxiety bubbled up, I would stop and be still, embracing the fear as long as I could hold it. Then I’d take a break and enter back in. Eventually, I passed through this intense cloud. It was breathing that got me through, huffing and panting, almost like I was in a month long labor.
Amazingly, this has experience has shifted my whole being. I know real quiet and peace for the first time in my life. My connection to my family is deeper because I can tolerate and hold more feelings of love. Now when something comes up, whether it’s anger, anxiety or pleasure, I’m there to I feel it instead of running away. For the first time ever, I have a physical sense of being here on this planet and a consciousness of my “vesselhood” and the value that that holds. I’m tossing out the clutter from my vessel left, right and center. I am an open jar waiting for Divine creativity to fill me.
In closing, here is a picture of my newest sculpture of St. Francis and a link an old post containing his writing on what is perfect joy. I’m going to put together a video of him, but this week it’s so cold I just have to stay in bed with a heating blanket! Peace- Sybil
It’s been a rough week. I haven’t posted because I have been in darkness. But, as always, darkness has it’s uses in pointing out the Light.
For the past 10 years or so since my face has really started change, I have hidden. I don’t post pictures of myself and I have avoided seeing people from my past. I’ve been trying to control something that is uncontrollable and it’s exhausting.
So, I’ve decided it’s time to show myself. My body is not what I hoped for, but I can’t hide for the rest of my life. I have to accept what I am. Next week Abby of the Arts is publishing an interview with me and a photo will be published. It’s funny that I have shared many intimate spiritual experiences here but this is what gives me pause. I don’t mean to be narcissistic, I am grateful for you bearing with me on this one! It’s a big deal for me to share this, deep breath…
Here is a picture of me in Paris at Notre Dame before I became ill in 1987:
Here is a picture of me now. Not a great picture, but I took it myself with a timer:
Here is my right hand fully extended:
That’s me, but only part of me. Maybe now I will be freer. Thank you for indulging me and being here to share this with.
Onto the next challenge…
The Cracked Vessel
Here I am
that any knock
a gong in my ancient ear
Overpowering sound of the world
you demand entrance
but your demands are
slowly fracturing me
A fragile vessel
worn by time
oh fill me up with Your Light
so that at least
from my fractured self
some honeyed Light may
Update:Comments enabled. Sorry! I don’t know how I keep shutting them off!
Post Updated: I’ve bumped up this post from last month because I added photos of the sculpture it inspired at the end.
This poem by Thomas Merton is, perhaps, the most beautiful and moving Mary poem I have ever read:
The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to a Window
Because my will is simple as a window
And knows no pride of original birth,
It is my life to die, like glass, by light:
Slain in the strong rays of the bridegroom sun.
Because my love is simple as a window
And knows no shame of original dust,
I longed all night, (when I was visible) for dawn my death:
When I would marry day, my Holy Spirit:
And die by transubstantiation into light.
For light, my lover, steals my life in secret.
I vanish into day, and leave no shadow
But the geometry of my cross,
Whose frame and structure are the strength
By which I die, but only to the earth,
And am uplifted to the sky my life.
When I became the substance of my lover,
(Being obedient, sinless glass)
I love all things that need my lover’s life,
And live to give my newborn Morning to your quiet rooms,
-Your rooms, that would be tombs,
Or vaults of night, and death, and terror,
Fill with the clarity of living Heaven,
Shine with the rays of God’s Jerusalem:
O shine, bright Sions!
Because I die by brightness and the Holy Spirit,
The sun rejoices in your jail, my kneeling Christian,
(Where even now you weep and grin
To learn, from my simplicity, the strength of faith).
Therefore do not be troubled at the judgments of the thunder,
Stay still and pray, still stay, my other son,
And do not fear the armies and black ramparts
Of the advancing and retreating rains:
I’ll let no lightning kill your room’s white order.
Although it is the day’s last hour,
Look with no fear:
For the torn storm lets in, at the world’s rim,
Three streaming rays as straight as Jacob’s ladder:
And you shall see the sun, my Son, my Substance,
Come to convince the world of the day’s end, and of the night,
Smile to the lovers of the day in smiles of blood;
For though my love, He’ll be their Brother,
My light – the Lamb of their Apocalypse.
–Thomas Merton- 1944
I feel this poem physically. It engages my spirit, my mind and my body. I can not put words to the way this moves me.
I am devoted the Virgin Mary on many levels, but today I will talk about Mary as Womb, the physical location of creation. As pure Vessel for God’s Light, she is the ultimate exemplar for the artist. Just as Franciscan monks in the Middle Ages sought to imitate Christ as a spiritual path, so the artist must seek to emulate, in however imperfect a way, the path illuminated by Mother Mary. Merton describes her state:
“It is my life to die, like glass, by light:”
“When I became the substance of my lover,
(Being obedient, sinless glass)
I love all things that need my lover’s life,
And live to give my newborn Morning to your quiet rooms, “
The artist must strive to be empty, to be clear of “self”, to become wholly filled with the fecund stream of Divine Creativity. Then this endless wellspring is constantly seeking to pour through the artist so that it may be joined with matter in the act of making art. This is the artist’s sacred duty, channeling Above into below. (I written a lot about this see the “Making Art Category” of this blog for more.)
This poem also tells us that true union and emptiness come without fear. Translated for the artist: true creation, without trying control Creative energy but in partnership with it, provides a release from creation anxiety and fear. It is the process of trying to control that creates fear. The artist must become, as Merton so beautifully describes “like glass”. This is something I am beginning to know again after many years of intense creation anxiety.
Therefore do not be troubled at the judgments of the thunder,
Stay still and pray, still stay, my other son,
And do not fear the armies and black ramparts
Of the advancing and retreating rains:
I’ll let no lightning kill your room’s white order.
I am so grateful for this poem. Any poets out there, keep writing and take heart. Poems can transform lives.
This sculpture was inspired by this post and visa versa. These are photos of it in process. I’ll post more after it has been fired and glazed.
Thanks for looking!
I saw an angel close by me, on my left side in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful – his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call Cherubim I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of his goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. -St. Theresa of Avila
This piece of sculpture and St. Theresa’s vision had a profound effect on me when I visited Rome in my early twenties. When you see the piece, it is as if it is floating on air, the marble is to thin in places that it seem transfused with light. Both the sculpture and the vision are a paradox. The sculpture is both heavy stone and ethereal light, the vision is joy and pain captured in the same moment.
I have been wondering about pain and joy over the last several days. I’m beginning to feel I too serious. I think maybe the Divine does not expect us to be so solemn. As usual, I’m thinking about making art and about the emptiness and silence it requires, the pain and suffering it can bring up. I discussed fear and pain on numerous occasions, but never joy and I have to ask myself why.
St. Theresa’s vision shows us that pain and joy can coexist. The pain implicit in having a physical form need not stamp out the joy of our connection to the Divine. In fact, in St. Theresa’s vision, her joy is felt physically as well as spiritually. She describe pleasure, the vision is almost sexual in nature. When I discuss and think about Divine creativity, I always feel very serious and solemn. I’m sure I take myself much too seriously! I’ve been rereading Wendy Beckett’s The Mystical Now, Art and the Sacred and I came upon this quote:
If we confuse ‘the sacred’ and ‘the solemn’, we are only allowing God to come to us from one direction. (p. 34)
What if I allowed that the possibility of joy while creating is equal to the possibility of pain? What if I embrace art as play with the Divine? Could I capture the abandon of a child at play as well as the meditative silence of a monk at prayer? I think I do when I work. Making art is definitely a form of play, but my mind is more sensitized to the suffering and difficulties. Would a small shift in perception change my whole experience of creating?
In his book Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions, Lex Hixon has an essay entitled The Landscape that laughs: Jewish Soul Masters of the Hassidic Way. This essay is all about the experience of joy and laughter as a direct experience of the Divine. It’s an amazing essay with so much to quote, but this passage really struck me:
Awakening to our own Divine Nature is not achieved automatically by going through certain steps in a sacred system, by prayers or meditations or rituals, no matter how sincere we may be. Ecstasy must first burn away these efforts of grasping God, leaving us with only apparent nonsense…Whatever bizarre or sublime form the holy presence may choose to assume and speak through, It redirects us to our original home, to the priceless spark of our intrinsic nature.
…Elie Wiesel writes about these stories of Rebe Nachman: “Laughter occupies an astonishingly important place in his work. Here and there, one meets a man who laughs and does nothing else. Also a landscape that laughs.” We encounter the same holy laughter in an account of kensho, or Enlightenment by a contemporary Japanese [Zen] practitioner: “At midnight I abruptly awakened. At first my mind was foggy, then suddenly that quotation flashed into my consciousness: “I came to realize clearly that Mind is no other than mountains, rivers, and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.’ …Instantaneously, like surging waves, a tremendous delight welled up in me, a veritable hurricane of delight, as I laughed loudly and wildly: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! The empty sky split in two, then opened it’s enormous mouth and began to laugh uproariously: Ha, ha, ha!'” Rebbe Nochman and this contemporary Japanese Buddhist both encounter a landscape that laughs. There is no fundamental cultural separation: ecstasy is ecstasy, fire is fire. (p. 121-122)
I have had two experiences with Divine Laughter, both around death. The first was with Lex Hixon himself. I was blessed to spend some time with him during college. Many years later I was told that he had died of cancer a number of years earlier. I was very sad and immediately said a prayer for him. Suddenly I heard him laughing and laughing with his distinctive voice as if he were in the room. There was such joy in his voice. My second experience was during the death of friends husband. I received a call from my friend that her husband had been taken to the hospital. She lived an hour away and I jumped in the car and drove to meet her. The whole way I was busy worrying and praying for her. When I was just about there, I suddenly realized I should be praying for him as well. It was as if the thought had been inserted into my head. Instantly I heard him laughing and laughing as if he were in the room. His laughter filled he car, there was such freedom and abandon in it. He suffered from severe depression so it was quite shocking to hear. When I arrived at the hospital I found that he had died at the exact time I had heard his laughter. I always felt that his laughter was a message for my friend, but now I see it was a message for me too. There is joy to be had here in this physical form.
I feel liberated, as if I am starting out on a new journey. I will keep you posted on my progress!
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.
Since I posted yesterday it has really sunk in, the only thing stopping me from making art is myself. I feel totally liberated. How exhausting it has been to lay blame everywhere. It’s not my schedule or my health, my family or my house, it’s me. Or perhaps it would be better to say it’s something in me. That something is fear.
The act of creation is so overwhelming and terrifying that sometimes I cannot physically bear it. I have to run away, turn on the TV or read email just to escape. True creation is one of the most intimate acts a person can experience. It is a direct connection with the Divine, like plugging in to an electrical socket. One could easily liken the fear of making art to the fear of death. It is the profound fear of loss of self, of annihilation in the Godhead.
While making art, an artist opens themselves completely to God. The creative energies of Above wash through them, merging and mingling with the artist’s heart. The resulting work is the fusion of created matter with Spirit. This is the job of the artist: to bring Spirit into the material world. An artist cannot help but be transformed by the process and the prospect of such a profound transformation is terrifying because it is not directed by the self but by God.
Yesterday and today I waded in to fear so deep that I thought I wouldn’t find my way back out. I wanted to jump out of my skin. I almost ceased to function because I was so overpowered with anxiety. So I dialogued with my fear, drawing it every couple hours. As I drew, I entered deeper into relationship with this fear and began slowly to understand it. I began to feel affection for it in an odd sort of way. I could see how this fear has literally shaped my life by controlling my actions. It now feels like a benevolent, but misguided friend trying to protect me. By understanding it, I have gained freedom. Freedom of movement and more freedom to engage with the Divine. I am ready once again for that full bodied devotion with which I practiced art 20 years ago (when I was too young to know fear) where every waking moment is met as a chance to create. I feel that hunger again to drink from the spring of Eternally creativity and to fill a cup to pass along.
Here are my sketches engaging my fear.
My beach in St. Thomas
Happy first day of spring! I am back! My trip was amazing. I learned so much and have so much to say that I’m really not sure where to start. Perhaps I will start with my plane ride home from St. Thomas and work backwards from there.
I believe that plane ride was one of the most important times in my life. My entire time on the island was about disconnecting from mundane time and entering into Divine time. Because I was completely removed from all my daily concerns, I learned to feel my internal rhythms and to trust them. I felt true Divine guidance in these cherished private rhythms, true charity and love. A knew a degree of safety in their embrace which I have rarely felt.
Armed with these new experiences, I boarded a plane home. After the door closed for our 4 hour flight, before we even took off, the pilot came on the warn us that he was expecting severe to moderate turbulence during the flight and would at times be asking the flight attendants to sit down.
This is the sort of thing that would have in the past caused me great anxiety. But I felt- “here in this moment everything is fine”. I experienced the moment as now, not the possible fearful future. About an hour and ½ into the flight the pilot turned on the fasten seat belt sign and said it would be rough for the rest of the trip. Still, I felt my internal self, I felt in the “nowness” of the moment that I was fine and did not worry.
I felt connected with the power and pulse of life and the present moment engulfed me. I felt that power shift something deep within me. I cannot say if it was a shedding of old skin, a polishing of a dirty mirror or perhaps more an expansion to be able to hold more consciousness of the pulse of life on every level.
The fasten seat belt light went off to everyone’s surprise and relief. Before I knew it, we were descending. The pilot came on and said, again, that for the last ½ hour of the flight it would be extremely rough, especially the landing, but that we would land one hour early! The flight attendants were seated.
Miraculously, there was not a bump, not one, the entire last ½ of the flight. What started out as a scary, rough flight had turned into a quick smooth ride home. I physically understood that power of unhooking from the future. I emerged from that flight feeling great. If I had worried and would have poured my energy out, wasted it like spilled milk. It would have changed nothing to worry except my ability to be present and serve the Light. It is not possible to serve in this physical world without energy.
My job now is to enter back into my life, reserving my energy where unneeded and allowing it to flow and blossom according to the Divine guidance of my internal clock. That flight created stronger, palpable connection to my Source. I am so grateful for that flight.
It’s good to be back! My trip put my health back on track. I painted and drew everyday. (I will post some work soon.)Thank for your messaging checking in on me while I was gone. I’m looking forward to sharing more of my trip and catching up on reading everyone else’s blogs.
Three things I’m grateful for today:
1) The first day of spring
2) My Iris reticulata is blooming
3) I enjoyed my day
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.
A man should shine with the divine Presence without having to work at it. One must be permeated with divine Presence, informed with the form of beloved God who is within him, so he may radiate that Presence without working at it.
– Meister Eckhart
If you can believe this, Facebook has a Meister Eckhart group! There are only 20 members, but still! Anyway I found this wonderful quote there from Eckhart’s Talks of Instruction. I love it because I think we spend, at least I do, an awful lot of time resisting the Divine. By trying to control everything we waste enormous amounts of energy. What would life look like if we didn’t resist it? How much natural creativity would flow out of us if we just opened completely to the One?
I touch God in my song
as the hill touches the far-away sea
with its waterfall.
The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.
Let my love, like sunlight, surround you
and yet give you illumined freedom.
Love remains a secret even when spoken,
for only a lover truly knows that he is loved.
Emancipation from the bondage of the soil
is no freedom for thee.
In love I pay my endless debt to thee
for what thou art.
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.
my life is mirrored in
a morning Glory.
–Arakida Moritake (1473-1549, member of the Shinto priesthood)
Making art is such an adventure. Yesterday at the etching studio I thought my plates were complete but when I printed I was surprised that the images needed so much more work (see draft print below). It’s hard to know until you print, like a mystery unfolding.
Today at the ceramics studio one of my pieces was out of the kiln and ready for glazing. Once you fire your glazed piece there is very little you can do to change it. It’s scary & I’ve heard many people say they always ruin their pieces in the glazing. Glazing requires a blind leap of faith. So much can happen over which artist has no control: Dripping, interesting or unpleasant interactions of color or texture.
This illustrates one of the ways in which art is a spiritual path. In glazing, the artist must face fear. If this is done with consciousness and the intention to grow, the act of glazing is an act of spiritual transformation. By facing fear, it is released and then there is more space within the artist to hold and transmit the Light.