Archive for Spiritual Path

St. Francis Mid-Way, a Poem

St. Francis: The Healing Nature of Wounds by Sybil Archibald St. Francis the Healing Nature of Wounds back view by Sybil Archibald
The Healing Nature of Wounds by Sybil Archibald

This is a poem I wrote last year when recovering from losing so much blood. I felt great deal of despair and I found solace and hope in the example of St. Francis. I know I’ve posted a lot about St. Francis in recent months, but I promise this will be my last post on him for at least a few more!

St. Francis, Mid-Way, Speaks

On Stigmata
As the warmth spreads softly through your hands
You cannot realize how much it will burn
For years it will burn
Brighter and dimmer in rhythm with a secret cycle
but always aflame
always searing
bringing the spirit to boil
I am the pot for a sacred recipe I will never know.

My side cries the blood-red tears of a mother for her Son.
I will never forget.

My feet produce a holy smudge as I walk
Each step is a sacred stab
Painting soil, rooting me,
My palette: blood mixed with the trod upon earth,
Earth and man are one.

On Internal Boiling
I keep these ever bleeding wounds hidden as best I can
My secret shame that I should be singled out for God’s mark.

Many times I feel I cannot bear it.
Many times I wonder if I can go on.
But I do

There are moments when the pain and anguish subside, like the brief parting of clouds during a grey winter’s day
Then I am flooded with Your Light
I forget to wonder
I forget embarrassment
There is only You
My joy

Then the clouds close and blood fills my eyes.
I am here on earth again.
And the best I can do is bask deliciously in the echo of that moment.
Putting one wounded foot in front of the other,
Trusting that the pigmented marks I leave, my sacred painting, serves a purpose.

What the Ordinary Person Says of their Wounds
I am wounded to the core and my fever burns unceasingly.
I keep these ever-aching wounds hidden as best I can
My secret shame that I should be singled out, that I am different.
Is this God’s mark?

Lord, let my expectations and my mark be one.
Grant that my unfulfilled and broken plans
Dissolve in your sacred boiling pot.
I have endured all manor of physical pain.
But nothing compares to the suffering of lost dreams.
I throw myself on your mercy.

Let this small, circumscribed life have meaning.
Dear Francis, show me the way.
– Sybil Archibald 2012

St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

On An Artist’s Responsibility to the Light

Opening to Love by Sybil Archibald Opening to Love (back view) by Sybil Archibald
Opening to Love
by Sybil Archibald

Light

Light
devoured darkness.

I was alone
inside.

Shedding
the visible dark

I
was Your target

O Lord of Caves.

by Allama Prabhu
English version by A. K. Ramanujan
Original Language Kannada

My esophagus and I have had a lovers spat. But after 3 months on a liquid diet I am happily eating solid food again. What a trying time. Some days it took more than 2 hours to drink a single cup of fluid because it simply didn’t want to go down. Each time I go through a difficult spell with my health, I know that there is divine purpose. I always come through healed in mind and soul as well as body.

Though my esophageal quarrel was extremely difficult, I made it through because of painting. Painting allowed me to connect to the deep well of creativity that regenerated me even as I felt my body slipping away. Painting became my anchor to life and each time I lifted my brush I felt I was reeling myself into safe harbor. This time made crystal clear the personal value of making art and also made clear why art is so important to the world.

Anyone who has read this blog will know I believe art and healing are deeply connected. As an artist is healed by the process of their work, that energy is captured. This energy resonates within their piece where it has the potential to heal its viewer. This is my highest goal, to create work that heals. I also think that is what art does at it’s best. Art can do other things: educate, shock, bring beauty. But all these fall aside when measured against the sacred calling to heal and transform.

This may seem a lofty goal that is not often reached but it is important to set lofty goals as Henry Moore says:

The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.
-Henry Moore

I would change that quote slightly from something you cannot do to something it seems you cannot do. It is too easy to limit what we can do by dismissing goals as unattainable.

Art has the ability to change people on a very deep level and therefore artists have a great responsibility. Some might say they have a responsibility to themselves or to their vision, but I would disagree. Instead, artists have a responsibility to the Light / Creativity that they shepherd into the world. It is a flickering flame that must be cradled and cherished that it may heal and guide us forward.

Unfortunately, the art world and many artists have forgotten the sacred nature of their charge. Many are trapped and blinded by history’s model of the bohemian artist shocking the world. This model began in 1863 when Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet was first shown, it shocked audiences by placing a nude woman with a pair of clothed men in a landscape. At that time, the strict prescriptions of the 19th century salon were stagnating art and needed to be shattered. Younger artists liberated by Manet’s courage were inspired into a sort of 19th century “Fight the Power”. Manet’s model of shock eventually led to the great movements of 20th century art like cubism and abstract expressionism.
Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet
Each of these movements sought to shock the art world and bring something completely new. For example, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso, generally recognized as the first cubist painting, was incredibly controversial. At first it was considered immoral and scandalous and later revolutionary.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso

This became the pattern for success is the art world. Shock your audience by reacting to the art currently in vogue. Be the bohemian outsider attacking the collective notions of what is acceptable in our society. And this model worked well for a long time and gave us a lot of great art. However, now, this model is failing both the art world and society as a whole.

Today, it is almost impossible to shock anyone. We have all seen countless murders and even really war causalities on TV. We are even jaded to the point of numbness.

Yet artists still doggedly cling to this notion of shocking the establishment. No longer able to shock the public at large, artists have settled for shocking the artworld with increasingly self-reflexive works that are no longer accessible or meaningful to the average person. Works that paradoxically become more and more cerebral the less they mean. Works that deconstruct and criticize what has come before and call attention to everything that is wrong in this world.

It seems to me that as a society all we can see the darkness: the murder and crime, the wars, the destruction of our environment.

When I said artist’s have a responsibility to the Light it meant it. We need to start carving a path of Light out of the darkness we are mired in. Artists have a unique opportunity to praise what is good and beautiful in the world and to point the way to healing ourselves and our earth.

I don’t mean artists need to become Pollyannas. Showing only Light is just the other side of the coin showing only darkness. We must acknowledge the darkness and transform it, hold the world’s darkness on our canvases along with it’s Light, the pain and the joy in a way that allows the release of the pain and the movement toward joy. By praising rather than complaining we add to the Light in the world, we add to a movement of healing that will in time reach a tipping pointing where darkness and Light can rebalance in a healthier way.

Where does this leave artists who deal with dark subjects? I say that if an artist is authentically engaging their own pain and not just making an intellectual statement they are healing themselves and adding to the Light. It does not do to deny the dark, day needs night, as summer needs winter. What is important is the intention of finding the path of Light for it is there for those who search. And the world so desperately needs us to search. So artists, I say, be brave, be ever so brave and enter your own darkness to find your path to Light. The world is depending on us.

With love,

Sybil

St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

The stigmata of St. Francis altar by sybil archibald
The Healing Stigmata of St. Francis Altar by Sybil Archibald

On Beethoven

Beethoven by Sybil ArchibaldBeethoven by Sybil Archibald

Beethoven: Listening to God’s Heartbeat by Sybil Archibald

Sometimes I am so terribly tired of being sick, of laying in bed while other people take vacations and walks, while they go to shows and out to dinner. I feel like stone in a river while life rushes by me. I want to scream, to tear my hair out, to throw myself from a window and end this prisoner’s life. But then I think of my beautiful husband and son. I feel their deep and abiding love and I know I must soldier on. They make me remember what is good and why I am here. But there are some days I still wonder how am I supposed to go on.

That’s when I think of Beethoven. Beethoven who lost the world of sound so essential to a composer. Losing your hearing as a composer must be something like losing your sight as a painter: an unimaginable, potentially spirit killing loss. But it didn’t kill him. He endured his loss and many other ailments to produce music that is filled with Light, not clothed in the darkness of his illness. His music heals and lifts up its listeners. It surrounds, embraces, and fills us with love. But he had to transcend his pain to get there. In a letter to his brother, he wrote that his hearing loss:

… brought me to the verge of desperation, and well-nigh caused me to put an end to my life. Art! art alone deterred me. Ah! how could I possibly quit the world before bringing forth all that I felt it was my vocation to produce? And thus I spared this miserable life — so utterly miserable that any sudden change may reduce me at any moment from my best condition into the worst. It is decreed that I must now choose Patience for my guide! … This is no slight trial, and more severe on an artist than on any one else. God looks into my heart, He searches it, and knows that love for man and feelings of benevolence have their abode there! Oh! ye who may one day read this, … , and let any one similarly afflicted be consoled, by finding one like himself, who, in defiance of all the obstacles of Nature, has done all in his power to be included in the ranks of estimable artists and men. Beethoven’s Letters (1790-1826), translated by Lady Wallace, pp. 45

His art is what kept him going through all the darkness. I understand because art also keeps me going. Beethoven is an exemplar to all struggling artists. He inspires me to keep going. My sculpture, praises his great efforts and perseverance in the face of such enormous limitations. In my dark and desperate times I think, someone stayed the course and brought Light from darkness, maybe I can too.

Sometimes I wonder if Beethoven needed his illness to produce the work he did. He listened through unstoppable ear ringing blocking out the world and heard deep and true silence. In that silence, he heard God’s heartbeat and translated it for the human ear.

This accomplishment of Beethoven’s is my goal too. Art is my way of seeking the Divine. By journeying toward the source of all creativity, I hope to leave tracks for others to follow as Beethoven did. Any contact with the “Divine Artist”, touches the deep well of generative creativity that cannot help but be healing. My greatest desire is to create art that is healing for its viewers. To heal through art is a lofty goal that I may never reach, but Beethoven spurs me on in art and life. When I paint or sculpt, I find all my feelings of despair evaporate and there is only now, this present moment where everything is good and I am. Bless you Beethoven where ever you are.

—————
To see more photos and detail of Beethoven: Listening to God’s Heartbeat click here.
Beethoven by Sybil Archibald

St. Francis Broken, a Sculpture: The Healing Nature of Wounds

St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

This is the story of the sculpting, breaking and repair of my St. Francis of Assisi sculpture and how it parallels my own spiritual transformation.

———————————————————————————————————————————

St. Francis in process by Sybil Archibald Something in me responds deeply to St. Francis and his life. When I contemplate him, I immediately feel more myself because he was so completely himself. He did nothing out of obligation or appearances, only out of freely given service. When I open to him, I see who I am and my own struggles but I see them through the larger lens of love. My vision of what my own story means expands and I am healed.

Making this sculpture was a remarkable spiritual journey. Francis was the first piece I started in my Earthen Vessel Series and also the longest to come to completion. The first time I thought he was complete, he had no arms (See image to right).

At that time, I was quite ill and confined in body and spirit. I had not yet found the confidence to act in my art and fully express my vision. Hence the his lack of hands, a symbol for our ability to act in the world.

I next sculpted the Pregnant Virgin: A Creative Vessel:

The Pregnant Virgin Mary by Sybil Archibald The Pregnant Virgin Mary by Sybil Archibald

It was a liberating experience for me. As the Virgin Mary’s back is open to receive, so I opened and for the first time in many years and felt complete freedom and harmony in creating. Then when I looked back at St. Francis, I knew he needed arms though at the time I was not conscious of why.

I added arms and I also painted his pedestal. It was the first of the series to have a completed pedestal and I was so excited to see my vision fulfilled.
St. Francis by Sybil Archibald St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

Then my life changed dramatically. My family and I decided to move from Florida to the Northeast and in the tussle of the move, Francis fell over and was shattered.
The piece of St. Francis' face St. Francis broken bodySt. Francis' broken body When I saw him scattered across the floor, I was not immediately upset. My first thought was, this is me. I am scattered and broken just as Francis. On a deep level I knew that repairing this sculpture was a necessity, that it was integral to my spiritual development. Somehow I felt that once it was repaired something in me would have been repaired. So, I collected every piece like a treasure and saved them.

Several attempts to fix him shortly after the fall met with no success. Something always failed to work or got in the way. Finally in September of this last year I enrolled in a sculpture class so I could get some ideas on what to do. The teacher was able to suggest something, but almost the next day and before I could do anything, my heart went haywire. I went through 3 months of complete agony as my heart raced and danced unrhythmically in my chest. I could barely leave bed. It was this forced seclusion, like a desert sandstorm scouring the landscape clean, that left me a new more whole person. It stripped away the past and located me squarely in the here and now for the first time in my life.

Shortly after emerging from bed I began to work again. As I started painting, the flood gates opened and I knew it was time to return to Francis. This time, his shattered parts came together with ease and he was repaired.

When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.
Barbara Bloom

My sculpture is not the same as before it broke, but it is richer in meaning. I did not mend his cracks with gold like the Japanese, but I left the scars of his fall visible. This sculpture now caries a deeper message about the value of wounds in our lives. It also carries the charge of my own healing captured in the creative act of making this piece. Please forgive the terrible photos. The colors did not translate and I will get quality images taken soon but I hope they will give you an idea of his repair.

St. Francis repaired St. Francis repaired
St. Francis repaired

St. Francis rejects worldly good by Sybil Archibald The arc of this sculpture’s journey illuminates a deep truth: sometimes we must be broken because we are too small. And more importantly, that the act of breaking is an act of love because the breaking brings the possibility of true and deep healing. We are meant to be bearers of the Light but our beliefs and ways are often too small for our aspirations. Thus, we must be broken so we may be reformed as a greater more loving vessel, so we are able journey where our hearts desire.

This sculpture’s journey, also parallels St. Francis’ own life’s story. He was a nobleman with every advantage who went to war. But while away, he was imprisoned and became very ill. An early biographer, St. Bonaventure’s (1217-1274 CE) wrote in The Life of St. Francis :

Since affliction can enlighten our spiritual awareness (Isa. 28:19), the hand of the Lord came upon him (Ezech. 1:3), and the right hand of God effected a change in him (Ps. 76:11). God afflicted his body with a prolonged illness in order to prepare his soul for the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

His illness changed him. It broke him of his privileged life and when he returned to Assisi he could not continue as he had before. In the end, he stripped off his clothing in the center of town and, naked, left his wealth and family behind (See pedestal panel to the right: St. Francis Renounces Worldly Goods).

But it was his very brokenness from war and illness, a seeming tragedy, that allowed him to reform and be the amazing example of love he eventually became.

The Death of St. Francis by Sybil Archibald St. Francis Preaching to the Birds by Sybil Archibald St. Francis receives the stigmata by Sybil ArchibaldPedestal Panels: St. Francis Receives the Stigmata, St. Francis Preaches to the Birds & The Death of St. Francis

Later in his life, St. Francis received the stigmata, the sacred wound of Jesus’ crucifixion. At that time he became a physical symbol of the connection between brokenness and love. Bearing the stigmata softened him and deepened his compassion. It connected him to the Artist (my name for the divine) and to the unceasing flow of divine creativity. But at the same time it anchored him securely in the physical world and reminded him always that he had a body; that he was here to be and act in the physical world. That he bore that anchoring pain without suffering over it, is part of what made him extraordinary. For more on this see my post on St. Francis’ story of perfect joy.

Our own experiences of pain and brokenness are mirrored for us by St. Francis’ life and also by the stigmata that he bore. I planted aloe vera in his stigmata to illustrate the healing power our wounds can bring to our life. Our brokenness and wounds leave their mark but free us to become greater than we are. Making this sculpture and taking a parallel journey from brokenness to wounded wholeness has freed me. This sculpture was the key to unlocking an unconscious mental cage I was inhabiting. I am forever grateful to St. Francis and the shining example of his life.

With love, Sybil

Wandering the Desert

The Pregnant Virgin by Sybil Archibald The Pregnant Virgin by Sybil Archibald
The Pregnant Virgin Mary by Sybil Archibald
Click the images for closeups, more information & more work in the Earthen Vessel series.
Painted clay and wood, 2011
58″ x 16″ x 16″


My heart howled
Held me hostage
Be a t b y b ea ttttt

Heart of mine why
did you beat in absent rhythm
instead of with earth’s steady drum?

Was it God’s own secret beat?
The chaos that crumbles old form
into fertile new earth?

I was a frail and helpless cage,
rattled from my depths
by a heart singing Your secret song.

Yet in that excruciating fear
crushed into stillness by that iron grip,

I heard the silence and
found You again.
How can I be anything but grateful?

My heart beats for You
I am a shell, one empty, cracked vessel,
your quietly waiting alembic,

Please
fill me with honey
for I have had enough of pain.
-Sybil Archibald 2012

My last post, Emerging from the Desert, was a bit premature. Instead I have been wandering the desert seeking a way home. I found myself deeper in the cave these many months than ever before. Like the the Desert Fathers and Mothers who wrestled their own shadows, I was in such darkness that I must have been blinded by the Light. Again the great Artist** struck me low so that I could be raised up, my coarse clay smoothed and baked to form a stronger vessel to bear the creative light.

The past few months have been some of the scariest of my life. My last post saw me moving with happy heart to what I felt was home. However things didn’t click as expected. I was so tired doing anything wore me out. I assumed the move was responsible. As it turned out, the real cause was that half my blood was missing due to a bleeding stomach. I awoke one night and my heart was racing. My defibrillator, which once before had been a great awakener, began going off repeatedly. I ended up in the cardiac ICU and 3 bags of blood later everything began to calm down.

For 3.5 months my heart beat with strange and frightening rhythms. All I could do was lay there a prisoner from inside as chaos coursed through my body. Sometimes it lasted minutes, sometimes hours. Often it woke me up from what little sleep I managed.

Is it strange that now I find myself grateful for this traumatic time? Like every crisis before, this experience has shifted me deeply to the core. A load of unconscious pain I was carrying has vanished. Crisis throws a stark light on reality and forces you to see what you had before been blinded too. It was painful to see certain truths, especially about my family, but it is more work to cling to a false reality and try to make it real. That energy I used cling to illusion is now released and will be used for more creative purposes. I am now more able to step into present moment, where all true art is created.

During this time I was unable to do even the smallest things like cook diner or sit on the couch for an evening; making art was a complete impossibility. But now that I’m feeling better and my heart is on earth rhythm again I am chomping at the bit to get back to my work.

I intend to shift my work from the expression of suffering to the exploration of joy. In retrospect, I notice this transition was already beginning in my Earthen Vessel series. But this clear focus will be a fresh adventure for me. It’s something I never consciously conceived of before this newest brush with chaos. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I received this in a newsletter from Rob Brezsny, who I enjoy for his unique ability to reframe issues, his creativity and his wit:

GAZING INTO THE ABYSS OF HAPPINESS

More and more creative people find they do their best work when they’re feeling healthy and secure. We know writers who no longer need to be drunk or in agony in order to shed the numbness of their daily routine and tap into the full powers of their imagination. We have filmmaker friends whose best work flows not from the depths of alienated self-doubt but rather from the heights of well-earned bliss. Singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey is the patron saint of this new breed. “When I’m contented, I’m more open to receiving a lot of inspiration,” she has testified. “I’m most creative when I feel safe and happy.”

At the Beauty and Truth Lab, we’ve retired the archetype of the tormented genius. We have zero attraction to books and movies and songs by depressed jerks whose work is celebrated but whose lives are a mess. Stories about supposedly interesting creeps don’t rouse our perverse fascination because we’ve broken our addiction to perverse fascination. When hearing about illustrious creators who brag that they feel most stimulated when they’re angry or miserable, we unleash the Official Beauty and Truth Lab Histrionic Yawn . . . .

All I can say is amen to that!

** My name for the Divine

PS For all those who reached out from my last post. I’m sorry I didn’t respond. I hope you’ll forgive me 🙂 I look forward to connecting in the future,

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

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 the Importance of the Physical

It seems I have finally sorted out all my technical problems with this blog. (Knock wood!) So as a thank you for your patience, below is a beautiful Rilke poem. I recently realized that even though I am an avid reader, it has been several years since I read a new novel. I thought this is very unlike myself until realizing that my book reading has been almost exclusively poetry with a few mystical texts thrown in for flavor. So I splurged on the Amazon.com used-book market and ordered about 20 books of poetry. I love used books, esp when someone has lovingly (but sparingly) notated them. They have been arriving in dribs and drabs each day, clothed in stained and crumpled wrappings that give no hint of the precious jewels hidden inside. Here is a poem I received today.

The Winged Energy of Delight
Just as the winged energy of delight
carried you over many chasms early on,
now raise the daringly imagined arch
holding up the astounding bridges.

Miracle doesn’t lie only in the amazing
living through and defeat of danger;
miracles become miracles in the clear
achievement that is earned.

To work with things is not hubris
when building the association beyond words;
denser and denser the pattern becomes–
being carried along is not enough.

Take you well-disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two
opposing poles. Because inside human beings
is where God learns.
-Rilke trans. Robert Bly

I love this poem because it is reminds me of the importance of living in the physical world. That we need to enmesh ourselves in life not only for ourselves, but for God. Physicality has its Divine purpose and it’s not just a race to return to our Source whether that be by death or spiritual withdraw from life. My greatest struggle has been detaching myself enough from the Divine to live fully. Ironically, now that I am really here in my body, I am more closely connected to my Source than ever.

The Binding of Isaac

Love came and emptied me of self,
every vein and every pore,
made into a container to be filled by the Beloved.
Of me, only a name is left,
the rest is You my Friend, my Beloved.
-Abil-Kheir (967 – 1049)

I am in the process of updating my art website and I wrote this about a couple pieces I did on the Binding of Isaac. I thought you might enjoy it:

The Binding of Isaac is a story that I have wrestled with for many years. When I first came to it, was overwhelming in its injustice. But now I understand that this is a story, not of God’s cruelty, but of God’s infinite love and kindness toward humanity. It is also a story of the power of surrender.

The Binding of Isaac is about being in an impossible situation, something that is so terrible that we think we cannot face it. This is a common human experience. It is not a question of the justice or injustice of a situation, it is a question of how we face a situation we cannot change or escape. Can we trust the Divine forces in our lives or do we fight and struggle? I have been in this situation over and over again with my health, how do you accept the unacceptable? But I have accepted it and learned to surrender as Abraham did and just as Abraham was shown such compassion and kindness, so have I. The Divine desires us to be creative luminous beings and if we won’t listen to this desire, the we will be forced to listen but in the kindest possible way that we can listen to. The act of surrender is the act of hearing God.

The first piece is Abraham’s Annunciation when he is told by God of his task. The second piece is the Binding of Isaac. There are two more pieces in this series to be completed, the moment Abraham puts the knife to Isaac’s neck and the unbinding of Isaac. These pieces are in progress and will be posted. 

Spiritual meaning of material used: These pieces are on sheep skin parchment representing the ram that Abraham sacrificed. The 22k gold leaf represents the spiritual perfection achieved by Abraham in his of of surrender. The pigments are handmade, for the most part from stones and plants representing the mountain Abraham climbed for his sacrifice. I also used bone black a pigment made from charred bones to represent the ram.

Image #1: Abraham’s Annunciation
The writing pouring into Abraham’s head is the Hebrew text from the Bible.

Image #2: The Binding of Isaac
The Hebrew lettering around his wrists is the text from the Bible, translation on edge of the box.18″x14″.
The Binding of Isaac, Abraham's Annunciation by Sybil Archibald

The Binding of Isaac, Abraham's Annunciation by Sybil Archibald

On Peace, Resistance & Creativity

Peace
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.
-Sara Teasdale

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

St. Francis by Sybil Archibald
St. Francis by Sybil Archibald St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

On Finding Peace: Life In An Interfaith Home

Teals

With all the chaos and turmoil in the world it is easy to be overwhelmed with despair, to feel there is nothing that can ease the world’s suffering. Perhaps the truly gifted and great can transform the wide world, but most of us can make a difference just by transforming our families and friendships.

The last 5 years have brought tremendous upheaval to my life- from health issues and financial changes to a major long distance move. I made it through all of these changes because of the presence of one person: my husband Barry.

He is a dear, kind soul and his support has been everything to me. Over the 16 years we have cobbled together a beautiful life from two very different cultural perspectives. My husband is Jewish and from a religious family. Although I was never brought to church as a child, my family has a strong Christian heritage that includes ministers and missionaries stretching all the way back to Elder William Brewster on the Mayflower.

Barry’s family is oriented to the group. They have large family parties that include 2nd and 3rd cousins. They are close-knit and care about keeping everyone together. My family, on the other hand, is scattered to the wind. We were raised with the idea that the individual was most important. There is never even pressure or expectation that we should be home for holidays. Our families are the complete opposite.

Barry & I fell in love and then we spent the next 16 years figuring out how to mesh these two disparate viewpoints. I learned to keep a Kosher kitchen and Barry learned to dress a Christmas tree. But the deep learning came by discovering how to respect each other’s culture. I went in with a healthy admiration for Judaism, but had my openness severely challenged by the clash of cultures. How does the individual, the one who prides herself on being different from everyone, interact with the group? I was like a square peg in a round hole. In the beginning I blamed Barry’s family for me not fitting it, but I came to realize the problem was in me. I wanted things my way, the way it had always been.

I am deeply grateful for this experience. I was a fraud. I thought myself so liberal and open, but when it came down to it I couldn’t accept that people did things differently from me. This experience has softened me. After all these years I can truly accept and honor our differences. I love that I get to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, Passover and Easter. I love that I am constantly forced to be open and accepting. And more than anything I love the dear man, who has challenged me to keep on living, to forgive, and to live up to my own lip service about who I am.

In the beginning of our relationship, there was so much conflict and upset because of these cultural differences, but we surmounted these differences. Over the past 5 years we have been through upheavals that would have torn many families apart in relative peace. This gives me great hope for the world. Cultural differences can be overcome, but not necessarily by changing the outside. When we can’t change the external situation in the world around us, we can look for the darkness inside, root out the judgments against others and our own attachment to having things our way. We are not powerless, we can create true peace in our own lives. This familial peace is like stone falling in a stagnant pond. The waves will fan out through the world.

Pax
All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of the master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.
-DH Lawrence

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.

On Icon Writing, Vessels and Sieves

Gabriel Icon, Vladislav Andrejev
Angel Gabriel by Vladislav Andrejev

During my college years, I had the great blessing of being able to study for a time at School of the Sacred Arts (SOSA) in NYC. It was an amazing place which gathered masters from many diverse spiritual traditions, teaching everything from Haiku, Tibetan butter sculpture, manuscript illumination, Russian Icon writing (painting), Tibetan Tonka painting, Indian dance, Chinese calligraphy and on and on. There were also lectures on mysticism and sacred traditions by scholars and spiritual leaders. Everything was geared to help you enter into and experience sacred mystical traditions, ground and guided by true masters. It was an amazing place which sadly closed years ago. It was here that I first met Lex Hixon, Karen Gorst (my co-author on Lapis & Gold) and studied Icon writing with Vladislav Andrejev.

Vladislav is an amazing man who radiates spirituality. I was in school at NYU and had to walk across Washington Square park to my Icon class in the old church that SOSA had taken over. I would often come upon Vladislav sitting on a bench deep in prayer in preparation for his class.

Let me put it kindly, I was not a success at Icon writing. This class was probably my first conscious, overtly spiritual struggle and my first awareness of my ego’s roll in defining my life.

To write an Icon, you have to set aside your ideas and submit to the form, following the master’s instructions entirely. At that time, this was impossible for me. Directions and me didn’t mix. I used to brag that I couldn’t even follow the directions on a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese and it was true. Not because I was unable read the instructions or understand them, but because my need to control was so profound. I couldn’t even follow the simplest instruction from someone, even written on a box, without arguing.

I wanted to write an Icon, but I want to “express myself” more. I was angry at being confined. I worked on an Angel Gabriel Icon and I was incensed that I could not alter the image at all to put my stamp on it. I was angry that I couldn’t choose my own colors for the many layers that built Gabriel’s face and clothing. It was absurd. I had big plans, but my plans interfered with my ability to write an Icon and striped me of the intimate knowledge and spiritual truths contained in that process.

In Icon writing everything has form, order and meaning. Order and form are strictly prescribed. You must travel their path to get to meaning. You can intellectually understand the meaning, but it will have no impact on your spirit without surrendering completely into the process. Only in this way will mind and spirit become one in knowledge and can you grow spiritually.

Vladislav’s class made it very clear to me that I had a problem. Through him, for the first time, I began to be aware of how ego was dominating my life. Of course, nothing shifted then. It took me twenty years and 10 days in the cardiac ICU to learn to surrender. But the awareness first came from him, through the process of Icon writing. It is an art, like manuscript illumination, which has deep spiritual effects on the artist. It demands the artist be healed through its process because it’s goals are so profound.

Icons are meant to be windows to God. They seek to remove the veils between the Divine and humanity. They are filters that allow a more pure resonance of God’s light to pour into the world. Theodore Roethke said:

Form is not regarded as a neat mould to be filled, but rather as a sieve to catch certain kinds of material.

This is a profound statement. We are not simply empty vessels to be filled with anything that comes along. We have a choice to filter and hold what is dear to us. Although we are vessels, we are active participants too.

What I didn’t understand yet in Vladislav’s class is that our only work here is opening the door for Divine Light, that some more true expression of the Self can emerge from surrendering the self, and that we are filters and windows too, walking Icons. While written Icons capture a timeless moment of peace and surrender harnessed by the spiritual surrender of the artist, we move through time. Each moment becomes a choice- what will we filter, what will we surrender? What kind of window will we build, one filled with an an opaque and dirty glass or one luminous, bridging two worlds?

Vladislav now teaches at Prosopon School of Iconology and has just released a set of instructional DVDs. Here is a short excerpt:

To see more excerpts or order the DVD go to the Prosopon School of Iconology website and click “Process” on the left sidebar. I believe after 20 years of work I may finally be ready to be a beginning Icon writer. I am ordering this video.

Interview with Me & Blogs on Art & Spirituality

One of my favorite blogs on art & spirituality, Abbey of the Arts, has an interview with me today. This is the interview that prompted me post a photo of myself last week.
Self Portrait: Annunciation- Etching (c) Sybil Archibald
Self Portrait: Annunciation (Etching)

There are number of other wonderful blogs out there on art & spirituality besides Abbey of the Arts. Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order:

The Contemplative Photographer (A christian viewpoint)
Beyond Words
FEOTU (Sparse postings, but worth the wait)
Owl’s Wings (A pagan perspective)
The Tangled Stitch
Sacred Circle Mandalas
Heaven in my Foot
Peripheral Vision
Creative Everyday
Creative Juices Arts & Painting from the Wild Heart

Just on spirituality, here is an amazing post on gratitude and illness from Havi. I think you will appreciate it!!

My newest pieces were finally fired so I will post some pictures soon. I’m really excited about the new series of sculptures I just began this week. They are of mystics I admire. I’m working on Hildegard of Bingen now. Meister Eckhart is next. The best part is I get to delve back into their texts to prepare!

Blessings to you on this beautiful day.

Sybil Responds

I am utterly overwhelmed and humbled by the response to my last post. I received many lengthy letters from people, some of whom I have known for years and some who have never posted a comment before. If I have not responded to your letter yet, please know that I will and that I am just seeking words which are adequate containers for what I feel. There have also been so many beautiful and supportive comments both here and via email.

It is a great surprise to me that my words and journey have impacted people to strongly. This is a deep lesson about self-judgment and trust. I guess that none of us understand the wake our vessel leaves as we navigate through life. We may judge our contribution as small or meaningless, but if this has taught me nothing else, it is that we are not meant to judge ourselves.

We are meant to wade into the Light and embrace our path, trusting that if we pursuit our calling, we add to what is good and true in this world. Let us leave the judgments, good or bad, to others. In the end we may all be truly astounded, as I am astounded today, by how empty my own judgments were.

My heart is filled with love. You have filled me. Thank you.

A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?
– Mechthild of Magdeburg