Archive for womb

On Process, Sculptures and Kindness

Alleluia-
Verse for the Virgin

Alleluia! light
burst from your untouched
womb like a flower
on the farther side
of death. The world-tree
is blossoming. Two
realms become one.
Hildegard of Bingen
(Trans. Barbara Newman from Women in Praise of the Sacred)

When I make art, I am seeking the Void or the womb of God, a place Hildegard describes so beautifully as the nexus where “two realms become one”. The last several years have brought me a much needed emptying process creating space in my life for this sacred nexus to flourish. I have been laid open and unclogged by making art. Making art cleared me and making art connects me with the Void. It is a form of deep, committed prayer.

This is the story of my opening told through my sculptures. I started as an artist sculpting in clay at the age of four, but left the medium for 20 years. Upon my return a few years back, I made very controlled sculptures like this one:

The Egg Cracks (c) Sybil Archibald

Like an egg, I was slowly cracking open- excavating a space for the Divine to enter. But as I created, I felt stuck. I didn’t feel that deep freedom which connecting to the Divine creative flow brings. I was controlling the process too much.

To loosen my grip, I began a series called the “The Act of Creation”. These pieces are about surrendering to the moment of creation without judgment. It was important for me to create without expectation of the outcome, to surrender product for process. I entered into the Void and mingled with the Divine creative energies there. Thus I acted on this clay only by instinct and stopped in the moment I felt this internal flow of creativity recede. As a vessel, I felt the creative energies within me merge into matter and I felt it as a physical sensation deep within my body. These pieces are a captured instant of the creative process made concrete and a record of, perhaps, my most intimates moments in the arms of the Artist.

Here are just a few from this series for more check here.

Act of Creation #1
Act of Creation #1 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #1 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #2

Act of Creation #2 (c) Sybil ArchibaldAct of Creation #2 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #3

Act of Creation #3 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #7

Act of Creation #7 (c) Sybil ArchibaldAct of Creation #7 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #8

Act of Creation #8 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #9

Act of Creation #9 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation Group Shot

Act of Creation Group (c) Sybil Archibald

Making these pieces completely opened me up. Suddenly I had ears, finally the Artist had come and gently slipped me on like a glove. My current “Mystical Vessel” series, sculptures of mystics who profoundly influenced my spiritual development, could not have happened without this experience of letting go. Here are the first three pieces from this series:

The Pregnant Virgin
The Pregnant Virgin (c) Sybil Archibald

The Pregnant Virgin (c) Sybil Archibald
For video of this sculpture check here.

Hildgard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen (c) Sybil Archibald

Hildegard of Bingen (c) Sybil Archibald
For video of this sculpture check here.

St. Francis
St. Francis (c) Sybil Archibald

St. Francis (c) Sybil Archibald
He needs arms before I make a video…

Making art in this way, deeply connected to Divine flow of creativity, is an adventure, a riotous ride into the unknown. Like a whirling dervish, I spin into hidden realms and it is sweet compensation for a body confined by illness. Which is why, despite everything I have been through, I am profoundly grateful for the infinite kindness of God.

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

The Pregnant Virgin Mary

Annunciation
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Denise Levertov

I recut the video of my pregnant Virgin Mary sculpture. I think it’s a lot better, much more informative. it also includes some of my etchings and woodcuts of the Annunciation. I hope you like it!

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 Slowing to Find the Void

I needed this this week. I have been pushing like mad to complete a few computer projects and, surprise, no artwork was made. I most strenuously object to the serious term “artwork.” When you push, it does seem like work instead of the Divine play it is. So I am emptying out again, slowing down to find and embrace the void so that my creative voice can ring out again. It is but the faintest echo of the voice of the Divine Artist, but it is my succor, my peace & my purpose.

Form in Void
The tree is stripped,
All color, fragrance gone,
Yet already on the bough,
Uncaring spring!
– Ikkyu Sojun (1394 – 1481)

The Virgin Mary as Artist’s Exemplar

Post Updated: I’ve bumped up this post from last month because I added photos of the sculpture it inspired at the end.

This poem by Thomas Merton is, perhaps, the most beautiful and moving Mary poem I have ever read:

The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to a Window
Because my will is simple as a window
And knows no pride of original birth,
It is my life to die, like glass, by light:
Slain in the strong rays of the bridegroom sun.

Because my love is simple as a window
And knows no shame of original dust,
I longed all night, (when I was visible) for dawn my death:
When I would marry day, my Holy Spirit:
And die by transubstantiation into light.

For light, my lover, steals my life in secret.
I vanish into day, and leave no shadow
But the geometry of my cross,
Whose frame and structure are the strength
By which I die, but only to the earth,
And am uplifted to the sky my life.

When I became the substance of my lover,
(Being obedient, sinless glass)
I love all things that need my lover’s life,
And live to give my newborn Morning to your quiet rooms,
-Your rooms, that would be tombs,
Or vaults of night, and death, and terror,
Fill with the clarity of living Heaven,
Shine with the rays of God’s Jerusalem:
O shine, bright Sions!

Because I die by brightness and the Holy Spirit,
The sun rejoices in your jail, my kneeling Christian,
(Where even now you weep and grin
To learn, from my simplicity, the strength of faith).

Therefore do not be troubled at the judgments of the thunder,
Stay still and pray, still stay, my other son,
And do not fear the armies and black ramparts
Of the advancing and retreating rains:
I’ll let no lightning kill your room’s white order.

Although it is the day’s last hour,
Look with no fear:
For the torn storm lets in, at the world’s rim,
Three streaming rays as straight as Jacob’s ladder:

And you shall see the sun, my Son, my Substance,
Come to convince the world of the day’s end, and of the night,
Smile to the lovers of the day in smiles of blood;
For though my love, He’ll be their Brother,
My light – the Lamb of their Apocalypse.
Thomas Merton- 1944

Madonna del Parto (The Pregnant Virgin)I feel this poem physically. It engages my spirit, my mind and my body. I can not put words to the way this moves me.

I am devoted the Virgin Mary on many levels, but today I will talk about Mary as Womb, the physical location of creation. As pure Vessel for God’s Light, she is the ultimate exemplar for the artist. Just as Franciscan monks in the Middle Ages sought to imitate Christ as a spiritual path, so the artist must seek to emulate, in however imperfect a way, the path illuminated by Mother Mary. Merton describes her state:

“It is my life to die, like glass, by light:”

and

“When I became the substance of my lover,
(Being obedient, sinless glass)
I love all things that need my lover’s life,
And live to give my newborn Morning to your quiet rooms, “

The artist must strive to be empty, to be clear of “self”, to become wholly filled with the fecund stream of Divine Creativity. Then this endless wellspring is constantly seeking to pour through the artist so that it may be joined with matter in the act of making art. This is the artist’s sacred duty, channeling Above into below. (I written a lot about this see the “Making Art Category” of this blog for more.)

This poem also tells us that true union and emptiness come without fear. Translated for the artist: true creation, without trying control Creative energy but in partnership with it, provides a release from creation anxiety and fear. It is the process of trying to control that creates fear. The artist must become, as Merton so beautifully describes “like glass”. This is something I am beginning to know again after many years of intense creation anxiety.

Therefore do not be troubled at the judgments of the thunder,
Stay still and pray, still stay, my other son,
And do not fear the armies and black ramparts
Of the advancing and retreating rains:
I’ll let no lightning kill your room’s white order.

I am so grateful for this poem. Any poets out there, keep writing and take heart. Poems can transform lives.

This sculpture was inspired by this post and visa versa. These are photos of it in process. I’ll post more after it has been fired and glazed.
(c) Sybil Archibald The Virgin Mary as Vessel in progress

(c) Sybil Archibald The Virgin Mary as Vessel in progress

Thanks for looking!

Filling the Vacuum a Little… Bringing Earth to Healing

Mother by Sybil ArchibaldSo today I’m allowed to lift my arm for the first time in a week. I still have to wait to lift it above my shoulder, but this is a happy day nonetheless! I also feel new energy and purpose.

Yesterday I spoke about holding the space open for the Divine to enter. It’s interesting, more happens when I wait and things that were unclear become clear. My family & I have thought for sometime of being away for part of the winter. Nothing was coming together so I sat back and waited. Now something wonderful has entered into that open space. It is a one month trip to sunny St. Thomas which I am going to use as an artist’s retreat. I’ll be packing a small bag of clothes, a large trunk of art supplies and my laptop.

The Living Hand by Sybil ArchibaldWhere I live just outside of New York City, I often feel disconnected from nature. Illness works on many levels it is most definitely spiritual direction on a personal level. But I have often wondered if it is something more too. Our bodies are the Earth. Creation stories from many peoples Apache , China, Aboriginal , African and of course the biblical story of Adam to name a few describe humanity as being created out of Earth. I have always felt that on some level my illness reflects the illness and decay of our planet. I firmly believe in the alchemical principle “As above, so below”. If we are pale reflections, echoes of our Creator, as physical creatures we must also be the echo of creation itself. Our blatant disregard for our own flesh must be on some level both manifestation and cause of the current plight of our dear planet.

So I will take my time in the lush tropical greenery of St. Thomas to enter into the act of creation through my art and writing, but also to envelope my body in its physical source, nature. Like a child estranged from its parent, my body will find healing in the Earth’s loving arms.

Eden by Sybil ArchibaldI have learned that I cannot control the illness in my body, greater forces than I can understand have plans for me for which I gladly wait. But I take heart. I believe physical healing is possible. I have always believed it and will continue my belief whether or not physical healing becomes part of my own path. What small steps I can take like resting, using my energy wisely, eating well or nurturing myself do have an effect. I must treat myself as if I were my own garden and this in turn must effect the Earth. My flesh is the land, it is Earth and the two cannot be separated except as an illusion in the human mind. My flesh is but a small grain of sand, but as I have said before, sand does have a way of piling up. The small ways in which we heal ourselves will begin the process of healing our planet.

Hail Mary

enter my hands

Full of Grace

fill me

Blessed art thou among women

flesh joined with spirit, Earth

oh endless Divine Womb

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus

perfected jewel of creation present in every moment

Holy Mary mother of God

ancient well, connect me to Your eternal stream

Pray for us sinners now

let us heal the connection that has been sundered

and at the time

circle upon circle

of our death.

bring us lasting rebirth: flesh at with one spirit

-Sybil Archibald

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!

The Feminine Aspect of the Divine

Goddess of Willendorf

Since yesterday I quoted a mystic who has such a strong sense of the masculine aspect of God, I thought a little balance was in order:

God is a Woman,
I am Her doll.
She is my Love,
She is my All.
-Sri Chinmoy

I have often talked here about my sense of the creative nature of God in feminine terms. I have spoken of the artist’s need to enter into the Womb of God, in order to access Divine creativity. This Womb is a state of pre-Being and is described by Plotinus as “the One”. His use of the term “the One” is wonderful because it is gender neutral. The ultimate act of creativity is when the One emanates or births, Being, everything that is. If an artist can tap into this eternal process, it will add untold power and healing potential to their works.

Often as I write here, I question my use of the word “God” as excessively limiting. I love Eckhart’s admonishment to discard “God” as an idea to allow something greater than we can conceive to connect with us. There is an interesting post on Tim Victor’s blog discussing this very problem. He suggests a term “Godde” as a combination of God and Goddess. I am considering adopting it but it still feels too limiting to me. When I pray, I always say God/Goddess/All That Is, but this may be too cumbersome for writing purposes.

All human definitions and description of the Divine are so very limited, but it concerns me that we limit ourselves unnecessarily by giving God a gender attribute. Of course the Divine has a glorious masculine aspect, this is Being, the active principle. But let us not cut ourselves off from the Womb and stillness.

I’d love your thoughts on the terms you use for the Divine.

Behold, Mary,
you who increase life,
who rebuilds the path,
You who confused death
and wore down the serpent,
To you Eve raised herself up,
her neck rigid with inflated arrogance.

You strode upon this arrogance
while bearing God’s Son of Heaven,
through whom the spirit of God breaths.

O gentle and loving Mother,
I behold you.
For Heaven released into the world
that which you brought forth.

This one,
through whom the spirit of God breaths.

Glory to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And to this one,
through whom the spirit of God breaths.
-Hildegard of Bingen

———————————-

A bit of good news: Heather’s Poor Excuse is back up and running.

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.

The Song of Bareness

A cantilena formerly ascribed to Johannes Tauler 14th century German Mystic:

I will sing of bareness a new song,
for true purity is without thought.
Thoughts may not be there,
so I have lost the Mine:
I am decreated.
He who is unminded has no cares.
My unevenness no longer causes me to err:
I am as gladly poor as rich.
I want nothing to do with images,
I must stand free of myself:
I am decreated.
He who is unminded has no cares.

Would you know how I escaped the images?
I perceived the right unity in myself.
That is right unity
when neither weal nor woe displaced me:
I am decreated.
He who is unminded has no cares.

Would you know how I escaped the mind?
When I perceived neither this nor that in myself,
save bare divinity unfounded.
then I could not longer keep silent, I had to tell it:
I am decreated.
He who is unminded has no cares.

Since I am thus lost in the abyss
I no longer wish to speak, I am mute.
The Godhead clear has swallowed me into itself.
I am displaced.
Therefore the darkness delighted me greatly.

Since I have thus come through to the origin,
I may no longer age, but grow young.
So all my powers have disappeared
and have died.
He who is unminded has no cares.

Then whosoever has disappeared
and has found a darkness
is so rich without sorrow.
Thus the dear fire
has consumed me,
and I have died.
He is thus unminded has no cares.
-trans. Martin Buber

I love this concept: “I am decreated”. Such a beautiful way of expressing the via negativa. We come into this world with all kinds of expectations and feelings, so many ideas about the way we want things to turn out or what we want to create. “I am decreated”. I surrender myself back into the womb of God to a place before expectations existed so that those expectations cannot define or control the act of creation. This is the place of Pre-Existence, of Nothing which gives birth to everything. “Since I am thus lost in the abyss I no longer wish to speak, I am mute.” I am mute so God can speak. This is sensational.

“He who is unminded has no cares”.

This is poem charts the process the spiritual artist must undergo to truly become a doorway for fecund stream Divine creativity to enter into this physical world. We must be “decreated,” emptied of self so that we may be filled with something much greater than our small selves could ever envision.

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.
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.
….Amen

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.

The Root Cellar

Root CellarSometimes when I get in my head too much (which is often!) I have trouble working. I get disconnected from my materials and the physical world. When this happens, I like to read the poet Theodore Roethke. His poems are so grounded in the beauty and processes of the natural word. Everything about them is connecting from their imagery to their rhythmic pulse. One of my favorite Roethke poems is the root cellar. Try reading it out loud.

The Root Cellar
Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.
–Theodore Roethke

I believe this is a depiction of a womb, the hidden process of creation. The manure & etc. are the blocks we must transform into fertile ground to produce healthy work. I just adore this poem.

Hildegard of Bingen Sculpture

A couple of people have asked me to post about Hildegard of Bingen, 12th century German mystic and visionary. Today I’ll post about some of my artwork she has inspired; tomorrow I’ll write about Hildegard’s life & why it’s is so important to me.

About 20 years ago (Now that in itself is crazy!!) I made sculpture of Hildegard. I was recently looking for the documentation of it and it’s vanished. So, I’m going to describe it here.

The sculpture was of Hildegard undergoing a mystical ecstasy. She was standing naked, writhing in that sweet agony- somewhat akin to this etching detail.
Etching detail

I rigged a door in her stomach which when opened, played Hildegard’s music. Inside were stashed my Hildegard drawing series. But the door was locked with a padlock. I placed the key inside her womb. You had to reach up into her birth canal into the womb to get it.

So, I arranged a trap. I briefly attended Mount Holyoke College, women’s college. Probably a good school, but I was trained to be such an elitist at my high school (Crossroads) that I couldn’t interact with the other students. They hadn’t read Rimbaud, man was I a snot! Fortunately, I am nothing like that now. Also I wanted art school, but promised my Dad to get a liberal arts education. Anyway my trap:

I invited my Medieval Spirituality professor along with my class to view the sculpture. I asked him to open the sculpture. He accepted and found himself sticking his arm up to his elbow into Hildegard’s birth canal in front of a group giggling girls. He was beat red. It was a beautiful thing! Everyone was thinking about sex all the time, but no one ever said anything. The only men were the professors and it was kind of like turning the tables. When the stomach panel was finally unlocked and opened, the sound of the music was shocking. Music entered a charged space. Very dramatic, but also a lot of fun.

UPDATE: I want to say a little bit more about yesterday’s post. When I had that professor stick his hand up into Hildegard’s birth canal. It wasn’t meant as a sexual moment, although it obviously has those overtones. That professor was afraid & self conscious when he did it. He didn’t know what he would find and he knew he was being watched by his class.

Hildegard’s womb in the moment of a mystical ecstasy is charged with the Divine. It is the microcosm of the Divine womb, the source of all creative energy. Remember the mystical rule, as above so below. So I meant to evoke the terror that we feel when approaching God: the fear of the unknown and the fear of annihilation. Squatting down and reaching up into an unknown darkness, all the while feeling you are being watched and judged. To me that sounds a lot like entering into the mystical path.

Interpreting Hildegard #4 (c) Sybil Archibald
Interpreting Hildegarde # 4

Interpreting Hildegard #8 (c) Sybil Archibald


Interpreting Hildegard #8