Archive for Meister Eckhart

Artist Tour & Interview

St. Teresa by Sybil Archibald
St. Teresa of Avila

Don’t Make Lists
Every day a new flower rises
from your body’s fresh soil.
Don’t go around looking
for fallen petals
in a fairy tale, when you’ve
got the golden plant
right here, now,
shooting forth in light from your eyes,
your awakening crown.

Don’t make lists,
or explore ancient accounts.
Forget everything you know
and open.
-by Dorothy Walters

For many years, I have resisted showing my artwork and being public. I know I write this blog and the world can see it, but to me it seems more like a journal or a private conversation with friends. Somehow meeting people face to face, having to explain each time that I can’t shake hands and seeing their reaction seemed too much. But now it doesn’t.

My latest heart issues, stripped all that away. Now it’s hard to imagine why I crawled into myself like that for so many years. That time was like being in a monk’s cell. A time to face down my inner demons and connect to the sacred fountain of creativity, to find my artistic voice.

But now I am leaving the monastery and stepping out by showing my Earthen Vessel Series in process at the South Orange Maplewood Studio Tour on Sunday June 3rd. I also gave and interview to Patch:

Meet the Artist Sybil Archibald

Here are the details of the Studio Tour:

The Baird Center
5 Mead Street
South Orange, NJ 07079

11am to 5pm
Sunday June 3rd

If you are in the area, I’d love to meet you.

Sybil

The Kabbalist by Sybil Archibald
The Kabbalist

Meister Eckhart by Sybil Archibald
Meister Eckhart

On Birthing, Artwork and Finding Joy

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:

All beings
are words of God,
His music, His
art.

Sacred books we are, for the infinite camps
in our
souls.

Every act reveals God and expands His being.
I know that may be hard
to comprehend.

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.
-Meister Eckhart

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

On Not Filling the Vacuum

Vessel
Ancient clay vessel

I am the one You created from dust,
A handful of dust moving at Your wish.
You planted this seed,
This growth is obeying that command.
-Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir

I haven’t posted for a few days, but not for health reasons. I’m recovering well. The reason is, I’m holding my life open, trying to remain empty. A major cycle in my life has ended and this creates a vacuum. What I am doing now is stepping aside to let that space be filled by God and not by my own habits or ideas about what I should be doing.

This is very different for me. I’m used to charging forward with plan and making it happen. If there is one thing the last few years have taught me, my plan is nothing more than a worthless scrap of paper. I’ve been like a wild horse that has been broken. I am ready to serve so I am quietly waiting for the Divine to fill my vacuum. Holding that space open is drawing most of my energy right now. Operations are easy. This is more of a task!

Eckhart says:

If people find themselves in this way in pure nothingness, is it not better for them to do something to drive away the darkness and the abandonment? Should such people not somehow pray, read, listen to a sermon, or carry out other works that are virtuous so as to help themselves? No! Understand this truly that remaining quite still and for as long at a time as possible is the best thing you can do.

I guess again, I am seeking to be a vessel, but this time by surrendering in my life and not just during the process of creating art.

Thanks everyone who has though of me and kept me their prayers. It’s beautiful to remember how connected everyone on earth is and how we can help each other without ever leaving our homes.

Resistance

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.
-Tagore

Matthew Fox Explains Eckhart and the Artist

With all the excitement of the holidays, I haven’t had much time to make art. I haven’t been sleeping well- a sure sign that I’ve abandoned my body for my head. I’ve been working hard on putting together my “Earth” page, which will hopefully be up by the weekend. It’s taking me so long because it is endlessly fascinating. One theme that seems to run though most of the writers, that people are disconnected from their bodies and one path to true connection with God is through connection to the Earth, creation.

It really is hard to maintain that connection between body and spirit in our culture. I grew up in LA, a soulless city if there ever was one! But LA had the ocean which I visited at least 3 or 4 times a week. I didn’t swim or play volleyball or get tanned; I just sat and stared at the ocean. The beauty of those moments would fill me and allow me to be still. Being still allowed my mind to quiet and my spirit to enter back into my body. Contemporary life is so busy. There is no time for stillness unless that time is made either by being sick or by choice. My illness has many complex spiritual reasons, but I’m sure keeping me still is no small part of it.

It took me a long time to learn to listen to the Divine. But now I understand that if I don’t do it now, the Divine will force me to do it later and it will be harder. So there is really no point in fighting. Yesterday & today I’ve made time to be still so I can reconnect my body and spirit. Oh the resistance! But when I finally was still, I felt myself come back. I felt more present and more centered. I was connected again and I felt the Divine enter into me because I made space. In that moment everything shifted for me. You cannot connect with the Divine without experiencing change. Hildegard of Bingen calls it “greening”. She says that “the word is all verdant greening, all creativity.”

This place of stillness which allows change is the same place I connect with when I create art. I discovered this amazing youtube video about this exact thing. In it, Matthew Fox explains Meister Eckhart’s views on artists:

He said a few things that really struck me:

    1) I copied this while he was speaking:

    Eckhart compares the work of the artist with the Annunciation scene. The spirit that comes over Mary and begets the Christ in Mary. He says this is the same spirit that comes over the artist and begets the Christ. So this is the Cosmic Christ being born in you. And of course it’s Eckhart who says, “What good is it if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1400 years ago and I don’t give birth to the son of God in my own person in my own work,” that’s art. What you give birth to is the Christ, or the Shekinah the wisdom, or the Buddha nature. You are giving birth to it just like Mary.

    He is basically saying by creating we are bringing the Divine more fully into the world. Fox is talking about the Macrocosm/microcosm, as above so below, when he talks about the artist giving birth to Jesus in their soul. The artist’s work is but a pale shadow of the Creator’s work, pale but significant. Just as Jesus shows us the perfection of matter, so the artist seeks to perfect matter, to infuse it with Spirit during the act of creation.

    2) Eckhart believed that sins of omission are greater that sins of pride. If you hide your joy, Eckhart says you are not spiritual…. Wow is that amazing. By hiding our joy, we dam up the fecund river of Divinity. We stop the Divine from entering the world. Artists are experts at hiding their work! Fox talks about art though out this video, but he does mean just painting. He means whatever is your joy, your job, caring for your family, hiking, etc.

    3) Fox feels that the creative nature of the Divine has been ignored in much of Christian theology, that there is too much emphasis on sin and redemption. Because we have forgotten God’s creative nature, we have lost our connection to creation itself. This is, in Fox’s opinion the cause of the destruction of our planet. (Interestingly, Fox doesn’t believe in original sin. He believes in original creativity. I’ll have a post about this interesting concept coming up.)

    4) Fox asks, “How can you know god the creator except by loving creation?” A poignant question.

    5) Jesus was an artist, a story teller.

I love most of what Fox says, but his use of the term “co-creator” makes me a little uncomfortable. As an artist, I don’t feel I am a co-creator with God exactly. Certainly I am there. I show up but I feel my job is to be present but empty so that the Divine can flow through me. The term co-creator gives the impression of control. Certainly it is true that that my work reflects me and each artist’s work bears their own distinct mark. The artist is like a filter through which the Divine stream flows. The more I am present in the act of creation, the more space there is for the Divine to fill. The less I control the creative process, the less I filter out of Divine presence.

I recently came across the artist statement of Canadian Heidi Thompson. She describes it like this:

While painting, I become immersed in the experience of the image changing, dissolving, reappearing, solidifying, then separating again. The emerging images often have characteristics which I had never imagined. I apply transparent layers of colour trying to create illusions of atmosphere – gas, liquid, smoke, dust, steam or changing surfaces of water, corrosion, ice and chemicals. Right before my eyes, the heavy solid nature of paint and paper seem to dissolve into impressions of finer substances. These finer substances then become subtler as they stimulate my sensations and provoke my imagination. The painting inspires thoughts, impressions, memories, and feelings – all finer qualities of the mind. What was once solid matter has now transformed into mind-energy. If painting is indeed such a vehicle, which can transform matter into fine substances and, then, into even subtler mind-substances, then it may be possible for the mind-experiences to transcend into something even finer – a sense of spirituality.

If I have succeeded even a small step toward my artistic goal, my paintings would show these levels of our nature – matter, energy, mind, and help the viewer feel something of his or her own spirit-soul. I know that painting aids the experience of these levels of my being. It allows me to experience how matter, energy, mind and spirit play together, guided by some invisible intelligence. And somehow, all these manifestations of existence seem to emanate from a greater intelligence – perhaps God or the Absolute. Sometimes when one of my paintings resonates a beautiful harmony and energy, I feel that a tiny part of the mystery of who I am is being unveiled and I am filled with great pleasure and love.

The Spiritual Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illumination from the Scivias by Hildegard of Bingen

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

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

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

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

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

dirt

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

Eckhart & Douglas Adams

I seem to have Meister Eckhart on the brain lately. I came across this quote from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams & I’m sure Eckhart would love it.

The Babel fish,” said The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quietly, “is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe… if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language … “Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindboggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

“The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’ “‘But,’ says Man, ‘The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’ “‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.

This is Eckhart’s call to release “God” to find God, the Via Negativa. I love it because writers on spirituality often forget about fun. We tend to get serious very quickly!

Actually, as strange as it sounds, reading Adams as a kid was my first introduction to spirituality. Even though I am descended from a long line of spiritual ancestors, on one side Elder William Brewster and a slew of Baptist ministers & missionaries and on the other some solid Catholic stock, I was raised with no religious or spiritual guidance at all. When I read Adams’ idea of “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things,” it blew my mind because I instantly knew it was true. I didn’t have a name for it yet but I felt the connection. It was only later I discovered that connection is God.

Meister Eckhart Day

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.

The Womb of God & the Artist

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)