Archive for Mystics

Facebook, Connections & Boundaries

Tasting the Light

It will arrive suddenly,
when you are unaware.

It will come over you swiftly,
lightning flash
across a large surface of stone.

After everything has melted,
there will be the taste
of bronze and honeyed fruit,
burnt cinnamon,
something blue and electric in the air.
-Dorothy Walters

This poem is about the Annunciatory Light, that deep connection to the Divine that fills you in an instant and changes your whole life. With it comes untold sweetness and Light but through great pain and destruction, or perhaps deconstruction, of your life.

Not everyone wants their life torn in two by a dense flash of Divine creativity which takes years to unfold. So, there is another, gentler form of connection to the Divine found in our relationships to other people. The intimacy issues that come up with loved ones are a doorway to our relationship with the Divine.

I grew up in a house with no boundaries. So not surprisingly, setting boundaries has always been a challenge for me. My life is devoted to being a vessel for the Divine Artist, but you can’t be a vessel if you don’t have walls. You become filled with other people’s mishegas, so stopped up that your own light is obscured. It’s like throwing mud on a mirror. The mirror of the soul must be polished and protected to let Divine Light reflect into the world. We must learn to build dams for the world’s ceases flow of mud and muck.

Facebook has been a good place for me to try and learn for this. When I first joined, I did it to promote my work. Using my personal account, I placed photos in art groups, joined things willy nilly, and accepted anyone who friended me. I assumed they were good hearted and interested in my work. Probably most of them were. Some were in it, I’m sure, to bulk up their friend numbers and other who knows? But I became subjected to a constant stream of junk posts, emails, politics and mental trash that was just not healthy. This is the essence of poor boundaries. So I deleted everyone I didn’t know and started from scratch seeking out people who were meaningful to me in my life. Not everyone on my list is a close friend, but everyone has touched me a in a way that has enriched me. I created good boundaries which give me more space to be a vessel for the Divine Artist. I am seeking to make a wall that is porous enough to allow in the beauty and connection in but strong enough to keep the muck out.

I have developed really wonderful connections with people I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person through this blog. These connections have been incredibly meaningful to me. They are, as is every human connection, steeped in the Divine. We are so blessed to live in a time where there are so many different ways to be in relationship.

To make more connections possible, I just set up a Facebook page for my art If you are a Facebook user, I invite you to join my page. I’ll be posting links to this blog, new work, poetry and other links to interest about the connection between art & spirituality. I hope people will find me through Facebook and then travel here so that we can create a deeper connection and share with one another our experiences of our own spiritual journeys so please recommend me to your friends if you are so moved.

Many blessings.

Sybil
Facebook page for my art

Dorothy Walters, Poet

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
of furnaces?
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
clarified butter
in god/the goddess’ mouth.
Dorothy Walters

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.
Dorothy Walters

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

Blessings.

Sybil

Happy Birthday Thomas Merton

Oh Sweet Irrational Worship
Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,

Bird and wind.

My leaves sing.

I am earth, earth

All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your silence:
O sweet, irrational worship!

I am earth, earth

My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.
I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
Stand reflected.

I am earth, earth

Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.
Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who believed deeply in contemplation and interfaith dialogue. The Website of Unknowing has a great overview of his life.

The video below is of the dedication of Thomas Merton Square in Louisville Kentucky. It made me tear up around the 4 minute mark when they had representatives from about 8 different religions taking turns reading Merton’s Shining Like the Sun Vision. He was a great man. I am really looking forward to sculpting him as part of my Mystic Vessel series.

Here is the direct link for my email subscribers.

On The Ocean, Sculptures & Videos

Oceans
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing…Silence…Waves…

–Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

-Juan Ramon Jimenez (Trans. Robert Bly)

Hello everyone! It’s been a while and I’ve missed you. My deep thanks to everyone who reached out to me in my absence, especially Jan & Karen.

I’ve been on a deep journey inside, a sort of excavation to make more space in my rough earth vessel for Light to enter. When I posted my picture here, it was such an overwhelming experience for me that I needed to withdraw to assimilate the massive spiritual change that act caused. I have lain silent and still, like the ocean, between waves gathering my energy, basking in the Light, in so it may rush forth again into the world.

That energy is now rushing into a series of sculptures of mystics from diverse religious traditions. I feel alive with new purpose in this work, as if I have touched something very deep within myself. Hildegard of Bingen & the pregnant Virgin Mary are complete while St. Francis is 95% of the way done and St Theresa of Avila is at about the halfway point. I plan Moses de Leon, Thomas Merton, John Muir, St. John of the Cross, Black Elk, & Meister Eckhart among others. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Photos do these sculptures justice, so I have put together some videos. These are my first try with videos and I hope you like them! (Constructive criticism welcome…)

The second video is of the pregnant Virgin Mary. To me, she represents the ideal we can only strive to reach, the artist as a perfect vessel for Divine Creativity.

Thanks for viewing. Talk to you again soon.

My best to you.

Some via negativa poetry

I haven’t posted in a couple days, I have a number of irons in the fire and been doing a lot of art which I will share soon. But I’m thinking of you and thought you might enjoy these via negativa poems:

God is pure no-thing,
concealed in now and here:
The less you reach for him,
the more he will appear
-Angelus Silesius

If in your heart you make
a manger for his birth,
then God will once again
become a child on earth.
-Angelus Silesius

Beloved, show me the way out of this prison.
Make me needless of both worlds.
Pray erase from this mind all
that is not you.
-Abu Saeed Abil Kheir

Thank the flame for its light,
but do not forget the lampholder
standing in the shade with constancy of patience.
-Tagore (Little Birds 64)

Where is the fountain
that throws up these flowers
in a ceaseless outbreak of ecstasy?
-Tagore (Little Birds 70)

Hildegard of Bingen: Illness and Creative Purpose

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.

Mother (c) Sybil Archibald

Meinrad Craighead

Meinrad Craighead Goddess Painting
Meinrad Craighead is an amazing spiritual artist and mystic who articulates a brilliant vision of the artist’s work in this world. Here is her first mystical experience:

Years before the Goddess movement got underway, artist Meinrad Craighead first encountered “God the Mother” as a child. Lying with her dog beneath blue hydrangea bushes in her grandmother’s garden in North Little Rock, Arkansas, she had heard “a rush of water” deep within her. “I listened to the sound of the water inside and I understood; ‘this is God.’ “Thus, it is no surprise that she now lives and paints near the Rio Grande River, the watery guide she describes as the “natural, metaphysical, archetypal symbol which has ruled my life.” from Soul Sisters, The Five Sacred Qualities of a Woman’s Soul by Pythia Peay

Her first mystical connection to God was through the Earth. Artists have an implicit connection to the material world because it is our task to join matter and spirit in a work of art. Artists must have a fundamental respect for the raw stuff of matter and the Earth which supports and connects us. Craighead understand this fully. Here is how she describes the creative process:

As an artist, I’m the first to see the treasure which has never existed before. But the treasure is never for yourself. You are just the agent to receive it and bring it back.” The creative process, she says, is endlessly regenerative…. an artist is a transformer; transformation is what our work is about. It’s the work in the cauldron; you throw in anything and it all comes together as something delicious. It’s like there’s centrifugal force in us, and everything that comes in each day is spun around. Most is flung off, but the rich stuff drops right down to the bottom. You know what a compost heap is like; it seethes, makes noises, stinks, bubbles, and emits gasses. All of that is transformation. So when your imagination gets in there, it’s growing in the most incredible, rich earth. No wonder the images come out; they’ve been trapped in there. The work of the spirit is in each of us. All we’ve got to do is just do it. That is the incarnation, that is making the invisible visible.- Meinrad Craighead

It makes you want to run out and create, right? The video below is a preview of a documentary about her life. She is amazing.

I’ll only touch on a couple things that struck me because there is just too much here. I love how she describes “the Divine gaze” which holds us in existence. We exist because the Divine perceives us. How validating is that? The Divine chooses us to be filled with Creative energy, to be used us as channel to transform the material world. I am also moved by her portrayal of the feminine aspect of the Divine. There is great courage in her work. She gently expands our conception of what is possible and creates more space for the Divine in this world. In our minds, the Divine is no longer just the narrow definition of “God”, the Divine now has a “Goddess” face as well. God becomes as Tim Victor, a blogger I follow, says “Godde”. By doing so, Craighead brings more balance into the world. Her work heals and transforms our world. She is a true artist and a true partner with the Divine Artist.

On Filling the Vacuum a Bit More

I leave next week for St. Thomas. I thought I would be staying with a friend, but someone just offered us a free apartment. The power of waiting is amazing! In the passed, I would have pushed to get this all set up months ago. We would have paid more than was wise for a much shorter time. My body really can’t tolerate the cold as it once did, so knew that I something would happen to help me and I waited. Really it can together at the very last moment. Part of me still can’t believe my good fortune! I am extremely grateful!

Picture of the Sun
What I love about St. Thomas is the intensity of the light. It fills you like glass is filled with water. You become infused with the sun. When mystics speak of seeing the light of God, they are not speaking of the light of the sun. And yet, in St. Thomas it becomes clearer that the two lights are one and it is only our eyes and minds which divide them.

I have not felt the desire to paint for quite a while. I have focused on drawing, etching & sculpture. Color is nothing more than reflected light and perhaps knowing the intensity of light I shall soon encounter, I begin to feel the colors of my painting again. Its a bit like seeing something out of the corner of your eye. You sense it’s there but you can’t understand it fully. I won’t think of what I will paint; that I will let flow through me when the time arrives. But it seems clear that I will be painting.

Yes, I know, this is nothing but thy love, O beloved of
my heart- this golden light that dances upon the leaves, these
idle clouds sailing across the sky, this passing breeze leaving its
coolness upon my forehead.
This morning light has flooded my eyes- this is thy
message to my heart. Thy face is bent above, they eyes look
doen on my eyes, and my heart has touched thy feet.
-Tagore (Gitanjali #59)

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.

Happy New Year from Art of the Spirit

Fountain

The Fountain
How well I know that flowing spring
in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen.
How well I know where she has been
in black of night.

I do not know her origin.
None. Yet in her all things begin
in black of night.

I know that nothing is so fair
and earth and firmament drink there
in black of night.

I know that none can wade inside
to find her bright bottomless tide
in black of night.

Her shining never has a blur;
I know that all light comes from her
in black of night.

I know her streams converge and swell
and nourish people, skies and hell
in black of night.

The stream whose birth is in this source
I know has a gigantic force
in black of night.

The stream from but these two proceeds
yet neither one, I know, precedes
in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen
in living bread that gives us being
in black of night.

She calls on all mankind to start
to drink her water, though in dark,
for black is night.

O living fountain that I crave,
in bread of life I see her flame
in black of night.
-St. John of the Cross

Wow!
I leave you with the beautiful poem describing the fecund stream of Divine Creativity. (And he describes it in feminine terms!)

My wish for you for the New Year: May you be blessed with deep connection to this stream, may your life and work abound with creativity, growth and love.

Thanks for reading this year. See you in 2008!
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I don’t believe in luck, but I’m going with this anyway! 8 is considered an extremely lucky number in China so this is going to be a very lucky year. (Every little bit helps, right?)

Art of the Spirit Site Revisions & New Mystic

Hildegard's Angel by Sybil Archibald A bit of business and then some beauty.
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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!

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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:

He speaks
He listens
you and I
but a pretext.

Rumi Again

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 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.

St. John of the Cross & Stomach Flu

I’ve been down with the flu for a couple days. I have a post brewing about the connection between sacred art & the earth. In the meantime, I submit this beautiful via negativa poem for your enjoyment…

I came into the unknown
I came into the unknown
and stayed there unknowing
rising beyond all science.

I did not know the door
but when I found the way,
unknowing where I was,
I learned enormous things,
but what I felt I cannot say,
for I remained unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

It was the perfect realm
of holiness and peace.
In deepest solitude
I found the narrow way:
a secret giving such release
that I was stunned and stammering,
rising beyond all science.

I was so far inside,
so dazed and far away
my senses were released
from feelings of my own.
My mind had found a surer way:
a knowledge of unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

And he who does arrive
collapses as in sleep,
for all he knew before
now seems a lowly thing,
and so his knowledge grows so deep
that he remains unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

The higher he ascends
the darker is the wood;
it is the shadowy cloud
that clarified the night,
and so the one who understood
remains always unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge by unknowing
is such a soaring force
that scholars argue long
but never leave the ground.
Their knowledge always fails the source:
to understand unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge is supreme
crossing a blazing height;
though formal reason tries
it crumbles in the dark,
but one who would control the night
by knowledge of unknowing
will rise beyond all science.

And if you wish to hear:
the highest science leads
to an ecstatic feeling
of the most holy Being;
and from his mercy comes his deed:
to let us stay unknowing,
rising beyond all science.
-St John of the Cross (trans. Willis Barnstone)