Archive for Prayer

Mary Oliver, Today’s Poem Inspiration

I usually read some poetry everyday to help me enter a meditative state of mind for making artwork. Today I read this:

Mozart, for Example
All the quick notes
Mozart didn’t have time to use
before he entered the cloud boat

are falling now from the beaks
of the finches
that have gathered from the joyous summer

into the hard winter
and, like Mozart, they speak of nothing
but light and delight,

though it is true, the heavy blades of the world
are still pounding underneath.
And this is what you can do too, maybe,
if you live simply and with a lyrical heart
in the cumbered neighborhoods or even,
as Mozart sometimes managed to, in a palace,

offering tune after tune after tune,
making some hard-hearted prince
prudent and kind, just by being happy.
-Mary, from Thirst

Artists often work in isolation and sometimes it can feel like your work has no purpose or meaning. This poem makes me remember that the subtle effects of art on a viewer can be very important.

On Prayer & Making Art

My Silence
My silence bridges the gulf between my life’s success
and my life’s failure.
My silence does not magnify my defects.
Nor does it connive at them.
My silence transforms my defects into strength indomitable.

My silence is a climbing flame that warms my world of despair.
My silence is my inner light.
No problem of mine can defy solution.
My silence is a selfless distributor of joy to ever-widening horizons.

In my silence I become a man of sterling character,
a prolific writer, a voracious reader, a divine lover,
a profound inspirer and a triumphant liberator.

In my deep silence I never become a victim to ignorance,
the greatest calamity that can befall any human being.
In my growing silence I am convinced that even as a man on this earth I shall be able to reach heights, transcendental, divine.
My glowing silence alone can accelerate my
Godward march.

My spreading silence makes me see, feel and possess satisfaction,
unalloyed satisfaction.
No more have I to let loose a tirade of tenebrous dissatisfaction.

In activity and vitality I proudly and wrongly feel that
I shall have to take care of the whole world.
In the heart of silence I humbly and unmistakably realise
That it is the Divinity within the world that took care,
takes care and shall for ever take care of the entire world.

Silence is my unceasing petition.
Silence is my unreserved preparation.
Silence is my unlimited realisation.
Silence is the unfathomable fount of my life here on earth, there in Heaven.

What God’s Silence is . . .
is the Eternal Truth.
What God’s Silence serves is the Eternal Purpose.
What God’s Silence becomes is the inevitable Fulfilment.
-Sri Chinmoy

My as I said in my last post, my entire trip was about plugging into the present moment. I experienced the freedom and energy that gives. This first began to happen when I was drawing. I would begin a drawing with energy. My hand flowed easily in its work but at a certain point the ease would be gone. It wasn’t clear to me what to do next. Typically I would have pushed through this sensation to complete my drawing. Instead I listened to what my energy was telling me. I honored my internal clock and set the drawing aside until I was moved again to work. When I picked up the drawing again, my energy restored, it felt as if the drawing completed itself. All my struggle in the process of creation evaporated with my surrender to following the energy.

I believe that internal rhythm, the ebb and flow of energy, is the direct voice of the Divine. The Divine voice is too often drowned out by the external pressures of our everyday obligations, our busyness, and the internal pressures of our self imposed expectations. This is why silence is sacred. It allows us the space to hear and engage the One.

As I began to honor this Divine rhythm within during drawing, I began to understand viscerally something I have known intellectually for a very long time. Time does not exist anywhere but on Earth. The Divine world is not impacted by time and thus to really pray effectively to the Divine I knew I needed to remove time from the equation. Now instead of praying for things to come, for example, “Dear God, please give me the patience I need” I now pray, “Dear God/All That Is, I am patient.” The first prayer brings me situations in which to become more patient, the second calls the Divine into present time, connects me with God without future or past as God is, pure Being, without future or past, beginning or end. That’s when I realized that everything that I do in present time is a prayer: my art, my time with my family, even sitting in traffic or expressing anger.

Prayer is the interface between the Self-Knowing Divine, what we would call “God,” and humanity, the unconscious Divine. Since, as mystics tell us, there is nothing which is not God, it is merely our lack of consciousness which denies Divine presence in every moment and in everything. To experience the present moment is to strengthen our consciousness of the beloved One. When we listen in that moment, we hear the Divine and we are at prayer. Every moment of this type of prayer floods the world with more Light. I believe this is the real reason for creating art whatever anyone’s intellectual ideas about it may be. Making art is the soul’s way of reaching out and connecting with the Divine, it is the artist’s prayer.

3 things I’m grateful for today:
1) Being able to go grocery shopping
2) Writing this blog entry
3) Finding scarlet runner bean seeds

New Look, New Find & Mary

I thought the new year could do with some color. I am an artist after all! So I’ve updated my blog’s look. I welcome any comments you have & ideas on how to improve it.

I have discovered (actually she discovered me first…) an amazing new blogger Epiphany Girl. You’ve got to check her out. She writes so beautifully about spirituality!

Epiphany girl pointed out to me that the poem about Mary in my post about the feminine and the Divine has a dig at women in it. Hildegard gives it to Eve pretty strongly. I have a lot to say about Eve, but I’m still working up a full post. In the meantime I decided that there must be some Christian poetry somewhere that captures the beauty of the feminine nature of the Divine in a way that really speaks to me without putting women down. I was lucky to happen across Steve who told me about the Liturgy of St Basil which is used twelve times a year in Orthodox Churches:

All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace, the assembly of angels and the race of men. O Sanctified Temple and Spiritual Paradise, the Glory of Virgins, from whom God was incarnate and became a child, our God before the ages. He made your body into a throne, and your womb He made more spacious than the heavens. All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace. Glory to you!

This is so amazing!

Sister Wendy, Plotinus & Beauty in Art

Yesterday there was a fascinating interview with Sister Wendy on The Huffington Post. I want to highlight two things she said. The first relates to praying in the tradition of the via negativa. When asked how she prays, Sister Wendy says:

I go about it as I think everyone should go about it. I look to God and let him love me. Prayer is God’s business, not everyone’s business. That’s where mistakes are made: people think they’re responsible. Just be quiet and let God draw you into his peace.

Beautiful! The second interesting quote regards finding the Divine in art:

When I realized that one could talk about the beauty of art and so show people the beauty of God without using a word that might frighten them…People that don’t believe in God are in contact with him when they are looking at him, at beauty. God is found in all art. Ballet dancing, hunting scenes, Carraveggios. Wherever you’ve got this great power of beauty, you’ve got God.

That’s an interesting way of looking at it. The mystical tradition would say that there is nothing which is not God. God is present everywhere (see my post on this here) even in a scrap of discarded trash. But I think Sister Wendy is getting at something deeper here, things that are “traditionally” beautiful can open a closed soul in a gentle way. There is value in gentleness.

This is not to say all art should fit traditional norms of beauty (if such a thing exists).There can be great beauty in pain and sorrow as St. Francis teaches us with his rose scented stigmata. If my goal is to bring a greater experience of the Divine into world, it must by necessity be done with beauty because the Divine is Absolute Beauty. All beauty reflect Beauty. As Plotinus says:

When one discerns in the bodily, the Idea that binds and masters matter of itself formless and indeed recalcitrant to formation, and when also detects an uncommon form stamped upon those that are common, then at a stroke one grasps the scattered multiplicity, gathers it together, and draws it within oneself to present it there to one’s interior and indivisible ones as concordant, congenial, a friend….
Plotinus, Enneads I, 6{1} Beauty

Here, the “Idea” is form that gives existence to physical matter. For Plotinus form is emanated directly from the Divine and therefore the entire material world is united, bound together by true and absolute Beauty. The trick for artists is how deeply
we move toward uncovering absolute Beauty, how much can we polish the mirror of the world.

My Annunciation

I have been inspired by so many who have shared their own mystical experiences, Hildegard of Bingen, Alex Grey, Meinrad Craighead, & Gartenfische to name a few, to share my own. I share this experience because it has everything to do with why and how I make my art and live my life.

Bernardo Daddi MadonnaIn college, I had the good fortune to study in Florence. I was inundated, saturated with the energy of the Divine which is captured in those works of art & churches. I had never experienced such intensity before. I became particularly enamored of a Madonna & Child painting in a small shrine made in a former grain market, called Orsanmichele. The building was constructed around an open-air grain market where several healings had taken place which were attributed to the Virgin Mary. I visited this painting of Mary almost everyday for months and when I returned home I continued to pray to her.

One day when I was visiting my family, I had pulled the binds down in my old room and lain down on the bed to pray. I was holding a Mary medal which I used to wear around my neck and facing my old bookcase. I prayed for a long time running my fingers across the medal’s ridged surface when suddenly felt I was being watched. I opened my eyes and there was Mary’s head suspended over my stomach (my womb). I knew I was her without doubt. She was dark skinned and mysterious, the earth mother. I gasped and heard a loud pop. Mary disappeared and at the same moment I was filled utterly with a flash of blue light.

When the flash passed, my eyes were swimming like they do when exposed to something too bright. I noticed floating in my field of vision, a short dark column. It was the same experience as staring into a light bulb and upon looking away seeing dark dots float before you. I thought it was strange, such a distinct shape. So I got up and went to where the light had seemed to come from & where the shape also seemed to be coming from in my old bookcase which I hadn’t really looked through in years. There, wedged between two larger books and pushed slightly back so it was out of sight was a small (about 4”x 2.5”) black leather New Testament with gilt edges. Its spine was the exact shape and size of the dark mark floating around in front of my eyes. I knew with complete certainty this was where Light had come from. I had had no religious training at all. The only time I had every opened this Bible was when my Dad gave it to me at least 10 years earlier. At that time, I had opened it randomly and read just St. Luke’s description of the Annunciation.

It took me a long time to put together the fact that I had experience an annunciation of sorts although I only painted annunciation scenes for years after that. In my paintings, I always showed Mary as experiencing incredible fear. (See my early wood cut above. Sorry for the poor quality picture!) On the day I received the Light, the blue Light of creativity, I was given the job of being a vessel for this Light to enter into the world. This is a fearful task and I wasn’t up to it. I believe that is why I have been gifted with my illness, scleroderma- to prepare me for this sacred task. Having scleroderma has cleansed me of anger, bitterness & depression. Having scleroderma has taught me to be empty and surrender, although there is still much more to learn on that front! I pray to my Source everyday that I might be able to be a true vessel for the Light. Now my depictions of annunciations are no longer filled with fear.

This blue Light within is like a baby, it needs to be nurtured and cared for, protected and fed. This is the job of artists. Perhaps some might think artists are selfish or self-centered. Really they have turned inward to nurture this Light so that it may be infused into the world.

Icon Writing & Contemporary Artists

Iconographers say that icons are written, not painted. They are believed to embody the Word, God, in physical form. Icons act as physical windows into Heaven and icon writing is a direct experience of the Divine.

Gabriel IconIn life, we have the illusion that we are in control, that we pick our jobs, our mates, etc. It’s not true, but it feels that way (See Gartenfische for more on this). In the process of icon writing, that illusion is stripped away. Every form, every color, every technique is strictly prescribed. This is very hard on the ego believe me! See my attempt at an icon above. I studied under Vladislav Vladislav Andrejev at the School of the Sacred Art, but my ego was too strong at that time to enter fully into the process. In forcing the ego to submit, the artist is healed and brought closer to God. It is this healing moment which is captured in the icon. This moment resonates purely with Source and transforms a block of wood, egg yolk and pigment into a doorway to the Divine.

Before writing an icon, it is customary to pray. Here are some excerpts from a traditional prayer. It is extremely interesting how much of this prayer has to do with healing and cleansing the artist.

Glory to Thee O God, Glory to Thee.
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One. …
Master, pardon our iniquities.
Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy Name’s sake.
Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Enlighten and direct our souls, our hearts, and our spirits. Guide the hands of your unworthy servant so that we may worthily and perfectly portray Your Icon, that of Your Holy Mother, and of all the saints, for the glory, joy, and adornment of Your Holy Church.
Forgive our sins and the sins of those who will venerate these icons, and who, standing devoutly before them, give homage to those they represent. Protect them from all evil and instruct them with good counsel.

For the whole prayer click here. This is very traditional religious language, but we can look deeply and see a universal message.

Let’s go back to intention. The icon writer intends to meet God. Such a lofty goal necessitates transformation. If, as in much contemporary art, the artist’s goal is to shock, or argue a point, self-aggrandize, then really why bother. We all get that every second of everyday anyway!

Each of us has this one life, this one moment to shine and add luminosity to the world. Why would we choose anything other than fearless, unrelenting opening to God?
I have chosen different spiritual path from icon writing in my art. Icon writing requires the will to will God’s will. This a beautiful and rich spiritual path, amazing. But my aim is different. I seek to tread what is called the via negativa. I wish to release my will completely, not even to will God’s will. I wish to be an empty vessel, a womb, open to be filled by the Divine. Every thing, thought, and idea I can release makes more space for the Divine creative flow to fill and perhaps birth forth as something completely new.