Archive for Women Mystics

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.

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

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 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.

Living in Gratitude

This video is really an audio recording of Caroline Myss speaking about gratitude and waiting. The pictures are nothing special, but the audio! It’s one of the most empowering things I have listened to in a long time:

Gitanjali # 37
I thought that my voyage had come to its end at the last limit of my power–that the path before me was closed, that provisions were exhausted and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me. And when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders.
-Tagore

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

On Clay

Clays are extraordinary, layered, crystal structures which have, built into them, what amounts almost to an innate tendency to evolve…Clay has plans.
-Lyall Watson, from An Introduction to Clay Colloid Chemistry

I started as an artist at the age of 6 in clay. The altars I built from clay I dug directly out of the earth are some of the most satisfying pieces of my career. There is an innate connection between God and earth. Clay is a meeting place, a doorway to Heaven.

I have been an avid gardener for years. I began to garden for the fragrance and color of flowers but now I garden for soil. It is easy to miss the Divine is the humble trappings of dirt. There is something about soil that is just afire with the light of God. It is the lowliest of things, we tread on it, ignore it, sweep it away, and yet it sustains us all. The soil pulses with life that we cannot or will not see. There is no more satisfying feeling than seeing what appears to be a barren, wormless plot of land transform into a teaming mecca of life.

Dirt

Working with clay gives me the same satisfaction. Clay itself is very dense, like the material word itself. It takes effort to move it and to see in it the true reflection of the Divine. And yet it is responsive. There is something in clay that wants to grow and transform and which responds to that same impulse within the artist. Clay is a partner in the creative act, not a submissive servant.

In the biblical story of the creation of man, God chooses to blow the breath of life into clay to create Adam. I have discussed this from the perspective of the gilder who must use breath, but the clay’s perspective is just as interesting.

That God chose clay to receive his direct kiss, should illuminate the central importance of Earth. By gardening or working with clay we engage the Earth. And if we empty ourselves and enter fully into the present moment something amazing happens. The artist becomes the physical vessel for Divine creative energy, holding it, that it may be translated into, fused with matter. The particular way in which an artist engages matter allows for greater concentrations of Macrocosmic energy to enter the world.

But that is not all. All matter, to a greater or lesser degree has consciousness of its Source. Clay is like a sponge that actively seeks to draw in Divine fecund energy. It and Earth itself has its own active spirituality and deep connection to God.

Contemporary theologian Thomas Berry argues this persuasively.

There is a spiritual capacity in carbon as there is a carbon component functioning in our highest spiritual experience. If some scientists consider that all this is merely a material process, then what they call matter, I call mind, soul, spirit, or consciousness. Possibly it is a question of terminology, since scientists too on occasion use terms that express awe and mystery. Most often, perhaps, they use the expression that some of the natural forms they encounter seem to be “telling them something”.- Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, Page: 25

He also says:

“Gardening is an active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe.”

Medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that

All things love God. All things are united according to friendship to each other and to God.

And mystics such as Teilhard de Chardin and Hildegard of Bingen see it everywhere:

Crimson gleams of Matter, gliding imperceptibly into the
gold of Spirit, ultimately to become transformed into the
incandescence of a universe that is person- and through all of this there blows, animating it and spreading over it a fragrant balm, a zephyr of union- and of the Feminine.

The diaphany of the Divine at the heart of a glowing universe, as I have experienced it through contact with the earth- the divine radiating from depths of blazing matter.
-Teilhard de Chardin

Hildegard of Bingen says:

God’s Word is in all creation, visible and invisible. The WORD is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. All creation is awakened, called, by the resounding melody, God’s invocation of the WORD. This WORD manifests in every creature. Now this is how the spirit is in the flesh–the WORD is indivisible from God.

So let us not discount the importance of our physicality and out Earth in a reckless attempt to find a higher spirituality. Spirit is not up there, it here in every atom and molecule, every glowing and vibrant speck of dust. Let us be present and embrace the bounty God has offered us by entering into the unceasing flow of Divine Creativity on Earth. By embracing the Earth we embrace the Divine.

Eden illumination (c) Sybil Archibald

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!

On Joy, Pain & Divine Laughter

Bernini, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa

I saw an angel close by me, on my left side in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful – his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call Cherubim I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of his goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. -St. Theresa of Avila

This piece of sculpture and St. Theresa’s vision had a profound effect on me when I visited Rome in my early twenties. When you see the piece, it is as if it is floating on air, the marble is to thin in places that it seem transfused with light. Both the sculpture and the vision are a paradox. The sculpture is both heavy stone and ethereal light, the vision is joy and pain captured in the same moment.

I have been wondering about pain and joy over the last several days. I’m beginning to feel I too serious. I think maybe the Divine does not expect us to be so solemn. As usual, I’m thinking about making art and about the emptiness and silence it requires, the pain and suffering it can bring up. I discussed fear and pain on numerous occasions, but never joy and I have to ask myself why.

St. Theresa’s vision shows us that pain and joy can coexist. The pain implicit in having a physical form need not stamp out the joy of our connection to the Divine. In fact, in St. Theresa’s vision, her joy is felt physically as well as spiritually. She describe pleasure, the vision is almost sexual in nature. When I discuss and think about Divine creativity, I always feel very serious and solemn. I’m sure I take myself much too seriously! I’ve been rereading Wendy Beckett’s The Mystical Now, Art and the Sacred and I came upon this quote:

If we confuse ‘the sacred’ and ‘the solemn’, we are only allowing God to come to us from one direction. (p. 34)

What if I allowed that the possibility of joy while creating is equal to the possibility of pain? What if I embrace art as play with the Divine? Could I capture the abandon of a child at play as well as the meditative silence of a monk at prayer? I think I do when I work. Making art is definitely a form of play, but my mind is more sensitized to the suffering and difficulties. Would a small shift in perception change my whole experience of creating?

In his book Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions, Lex Hixon has an essay entitled The Landscape that laughs: Jewish Soul Masters of the Hassidic Way. This essay is all about the experience of joy and laughter as a direct experience of the Divine. It’s an amazing essay with so much to quote, but this passage really struck me:

Awakening to our own Divine Nature is not achieved automatically by going through certain steps in a sacred system, by prayers or meditations or rituals, no matter how sincere we may be. Ecstasy must first burn away these efforts of grasping God, leaving us with only apparent nonsense…Whatever bizarre or sublime form the holy presence may choose to assume and speak through, It redirects us to our original home, to the priceless spark of our intrinsic nature.

…Elie Wiesel writes about these stories of Rebe Nachman: “Laughter occupies an astonishingly important place in his work. Here and there, one meets a man who laughs and does nothing else. Also a landscape that laughs.” We encounter the same holy laughter in an account of kensho, or Enlightenment by a contemporary Japanese [Zen] practitioner: “At midnight I abruptly awakened. At first my mind was foggy, then suddenly that quotation flashed into my consciousness: “I came to realize clearly that Mind is no other than mountains, rivers, and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.’ …Instantaneously, like surging waves, a tremendous delight welled up in me, a veritable hurricane of delight, as I laughed loudly and wildly: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! The empty sky split in two, then opened it’s enormous mouth and began to laugh uproariously: Ha, ha, ha!'” Rebbe Nochman and this contemporary Japanese Buddhist both encounter a landscape that laughs. There is no fundamental cultural separation: ecstasy is ecstasy, fire is fire. (p. 121-122)

I have had two experiences with Divine Laughter, both around death. The first was with Lex Hixon himself. I was blessed to spend some time with him during college. Many years later I was told that he had died of cancer a number of years earlier. I was very sad and immediately said a prayer for him. Suddenly I heard him laughing and laughing with his distinctive voice as if he were in the room. There was such joy in his voice. My second experience was during the death of friends husband. I received a call from my friend that her husband had been taken to the hospital. She lived an hour away and I jumped in the car and drove to meet her. The whole way I was busy worrying and praying for her. When I was just about there, I suddenly realized I should be praying for him as well. It was as if the thought had been inserted into my head. Instantly I heard him laughing and laughing as if he were in the room. His laughter filled he car, there was such freedom and abandon in it. He suffered from severe depression so it was quite shocking to hear. When I arrived at the hospital I found that he had died at the exact time I had heard his laughter. I always felt that his laughter was a message for my friend, but now I see it was a message for me too. There is joy to be had here in this physical form.

I feel liberated, as if I am starting out on a new journey. I will keep you posted on my progress!

Hildegard of Bingen: Illness and Creative Purpose

During the first part of this video, I was close to tears. I’ve written about my deep connection to Hildegard’s life before. In college, I even made a pilgrimage to Bingen to visit Hildgard’s bones and the corner of earth where she lived. Fox starts with pictures of the places of her life, places I visited and then goes on to her illness and her awakening at the age of 41 or 42. I am close to turning 41 and have dealt with dramatic & debilitating illness for many years. There are obvious parallels and it hit me forcibly that Hildegard’s life is an exemplar for my own. Not that I could attain her genius and connection to the Divine, but I could attain her commitment to her creativity process, her respect and love of the physical world and possibly even a reprieve from illness although not necessarily how you may be imagining.

I have no expectation of my illness being lifted from me, but I do have hope. And this is, perhaps, why this video effected me so profoundly. I do have evidence that making art heals me. See here and here. But more than that, I have felt art remove the idea of illness from my system. When I work illness disappears. I’m just there. I enter a state where illness simply does not exist. It is state of freedom where I can embrace my physical nature bur not be burdened by it.

Most of my life, the physical world has seemed a burden to me. Once a long time ago, I met an amazing fellow, a pagan jewelry maker and musician of the highest caliber. He said something to me that was so shocking to my system that it shifted everything for me. He said:

I love this earth, I love the pleasure, the pain, the fight, the food, the suffering.

He said it with such relish. It was clear that he really did love being a physical being. It never occurred to me that anyone would want to do anything else but escape Earth and leave physicality behind. From that moment I considered for the first time ever, embracing my life on Earth. My illness which has bestowed so many gifts, helped force my down to Earth as well. By leaving me with little strength, I could not occupy my time with a million little distractions. It was just me and my body learning to dance for the first time.

Hildegard revived herself through her arts writing and painting, physical acts which channel Divine energy into the world. Throughout her work, she embraces nature and the Earth.

Oh greening branch.
O greening branch
O greening branch!
You stand in your nobility
Like the rising dawn.
Rejoice now and exult
And deign to free the fools we are.
From our long slavery to evil
And hold out your hand
To raise us up.
-Hildegard of Bingen

This is just one example of how she sees God in nature and nature as part of God. It was Hildegard’s job to express this. God rushed through her like Niagara Falls, pouring into this Earth. This is what Victor Frankl has to say about our purpose in life. (He is speaking about is time in a Nazi Concentration camp.)

We had to learn and we had to teach the despairing men that it did not really matter
what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop
asking about the meaning of life, and think instead of ourselves as those who were being
questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation,
but in right action and in right conduct. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of
life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.
Everyone has his own specific mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment, which
demands fulfillment. -Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Thanks Alive on All Channels)

I have my assignment. Hildegard is my example. Create, create, create.

Mother (c) Sybil Archibald

Meinrad Craighead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Video

This is really worth watching all the way through. It’s a woman speaking about her spiritual awakening during a stroke.

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

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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.