Archive for Stigmata

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

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.

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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

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

St. Francis, Women Mystics & the Question of Suffering

Holy Fast, Holy FeastToday as I was finishing up my sculpture, I started thinking about how we choose to serve humankind and the Divine. It seemed very clear to me that it is a choice. The choice that I have lived with most of my life is to serve through suffering. But this is not the choice I make now. I’ll explain using the example of medieval women mystics.

The wonderful scholar, Caroline Walker Bynum, has written extensively on medieval women mystics. Her books Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (The New Historicism: Studies in Cultural Poetics)
and Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Ucla)
changed my life because they helped me identify the path that I had been unconsciously taking. Bynum talks of medieval religious women who cultivated suffering. They rolled in glass and starved themselves to name just a couple of the physical punishments indulged in. It was part of the mystical path of Imitatio Christi. In the medieval period life was extremely hard. There wasn’t much you could do to mitigate suffering. So these mystics embraced suffering and gave it meaning. As Christ suffered on the cross to redeem and heal humanity, so the women would inflict pain and suffering upon themselves believing that through their own suffering humanity would be healed.

I think, however, here is a major difference between what Jesus underwent, and what these women mystics underwent. His suffering was God-given. He did not seek it out; he only followed the path that had been laid for him. The medieval mystics, on the other hand put their own will into the matter. They constructed the idea of Imitatio Christi. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I adore these women and their writings. I only wonder how God might have appeared and how they might have served without exercising their will. St. Francis is interesting because he also practiced Imitatio Christi. He cultivated suffering, but he also accepted God-given suffering in his early illness and through receiving the stigmata later in life.St. Francis receives the Stigmata

I realized while I was sculpting today is that for along time I carried this idea that I had to suffer to serve God. I am not just talking physically either. I was not comfortable with joy and at ease with the calm passage of time. Some how it felt selfish and wrong to be happy when there was so much work to be done to heal the world. But now, this seems incredible hubris to me. I realized that I have released the need to suffer and I chose to serve God and humanity through light rather than through the darkness of suffering. Sculpting today I felt the light and was grateful.

You can have an illness and not suffer. For me this is one of the main lessons of St. Francis’ life. His stigmata smelled of roses.

St. Francis: His early Illness

St. FrancisI’m reading St. Bonaventure’s (1217-1274 CE) Life of St. Francis. Early in St Francis’ life, before he embarked on the path to sainthood, he became seriously ill. He as just a regular young man until this illness transformed him. This is what Bonaventure says about it:

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.

It was after he recovered that he began to take on the role of mystic. I’ve written a lot lately about the beauty and role of illness in spirituality. I find it everywhere throughout mystical literature. St. Francis left few writings, he taught through the example of his life. The numerous transformations he under went to become one with God are intense. I’ve written about a few of them before, including the meaning of his stigmata. His life shows the effect of illness Divinely given and humanly accepted. Tomorrow I’ll post about some medieval women mystics who cultivated suffering as a way of serving humanity. This is a completely different, willful thing.

Bonaventure’s writings are beautiful. Besides his Life of St. Francis, I also love The Soul’s Journey into God. In it he describes the physical world as “vestiges,” foot print of God. Every living creature and every object contains God’s grandeur. I spent one summer trying to apply this to everything I saw: Chihuahuas, garbage, car exhaust, hideous neon yellow jackets, you name it. I finally started to get and now it seems like second nature after of years of practice. Well most of the time! Heavy perfume and spitting still get me!