Mary Oliver, Today’s Poem Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Artist Illuminated, a Poem

Fire on Top, an Illumination (c) Sybil Archibald
Fire on Top, An Illumination by Sybil Archibald
22k gold leaf and handmade paints on animal skin parchment

Over at Abbey of the Arts, Christine is holding a poetry party. She writes:

I invite you this week to write a poem about your own invitation to enter the refiner’s fire – in alchemy lead is transformed into gold through heat and this becomes a metaphor for the human soul. What is the lead within you ready to be transformed into something treasured?

I am not normally a poet but this topic is near and dear to my heart, so I was inspired.

Over the years, I’ve made a deep study of early alchemists and their influence on medieval art techniques. The process of manuscript illumination is deeply sacred and transformative. My early embrace of these techniques allowed me to see that making art, regardless of medium, is a spiritual practice. Though I use many different mediums now, within me the spiritual crack opened by illumination continues to expand with Light.

For more on the technique and meaning of illumination, see my posts Finding the Sacred in Contemporary Art and Lapis & Gold.

The Artist Illuminated

Parchment
I trace the lines of God
on this dead skin-
a calf once, a self
prepared to be reborn.

Gilding
The red clay of Adam
laying lifeless upon skin,
desiring yet empty.

Deep within
I find it-
Divine breath,
hot, filled with life.

Exhaling,
I wake the glue which binds
body to soul,
giving form to life.

The once rough clay
is now perfected
by a blanket of gold.

With a flash the gilded clay rises up,
a wild horse running free,
as the newly golden surface
reflects living Light
back to Its
Source

Making Paint
I crush azure blue from a stone like so many grapes
All the while
emptying
my frail body of care,
surrendering concern.

Bleeding madder root in a bubbling pot,
heating iron over a fire to red.
Finding within
this lifeless squid,
its precious gift:
warm and brown
sepia stains my palms.

The Artist
Thus paint is made,
and my own skin emptied,
a self once,
prepared to be reborn.

Here in this moment I stand
an emptied vessel.

I dip my brush
and disappear.

I am the the glove
for the fiery blue Hand of the Artist
which destroys as it creates.

I have been consumed
In tender, burning flame
a shell of my former self
all ashes, all dust

which I collect and slowly
begin to grind into paint.

-Sybil Archibald

Needle and Thread

I am loving my new book Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women edited by Jane Hirshfield. It’s really amazingly beautiful. Today I was reading this poem by Pan Zhao, the only woman to hold the post of Imperial Historian during the Han Dynasty in China, and it made me think of DebraAnn my bloggy friend over at Tangled Stitch who inspires me with the beauty of her work:

Needle and Thread
Tempered, Annealed, the hard essence of autumn metals
finely forged, subtle, yet perdurable and straight,

By nature penetrating deep yet advancing by inches
to span all things yet stitch them up together,

Only needle-and thread’s delicate footsteps
are truly broad-ranging yet without beginning!

“Withdrawing elegantly” to mend a loose thread,
and restore to white silk a lamb’s-down purity…

How can those who count pennies calculate their worth?
They may carve monuments yet lack all understanding.
Pan Zhao (48-117?) Trans. Richard Mather & Rob Swigart
from Woman in Praise of the Sacred

And Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

The Healing Hand (c) Sybil Archibald
The Healing Hand (c) Sybil Archibald

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

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

Happy Birthday Thomas Merton

Oh Sweet Irrational Worship
Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,

Bird and wind.

My leaves sing.

I am earth, earth

All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your silence:
O sweet, irrational worship!

I am earth, earth

My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.
I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
Stand reflected.

I am earth, earth

Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.
Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who believed deeply in contemplation and interfaith dialogue. The Website of Unknowing has a great overview of his life.

The video below is of the dedication of Thomas Merton Square in Louisville Kentucky. It made me tear up around the 4 minute mark when they had representatives from about 8 different religions taking turns reading Merton’s Shining Like the Sun Vision. He was a great man. I am really looking forward to sculpting him as part of my Mystic Vessel series.

Here is the direct link for my email subscribers.

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 the Importance of the Physical

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Issues

Well there seem to be some serious problems going on with this blog. If you try and click on any post to comment you can’t. My apologies. I’m working on getting it solved. In the meantime I’ve written several new posts but I’m waiting to sort out these issues to post them. Any prayers will be greatly appreciated.

UPDATE: I guess my theme was broken. Please excuse the look of this blog while I work on the problem.

Sybil

Art of the Spirit Business: Success!

I successfully transferred this site to a new host and upgraded WordPress. It’s nothing short of a miracle, how easily it went! However, you will notice a few kinks around the site which I will get cleaned up this weekend, but as it is almost 2am I must listen to my grumpy husband and go to sleep.

Thanks for your patience during this transition.

Sybil

The Binding of Isaac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Peace, Resistance & Creativity

Peace
Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore;
It is mine forevermore,
It ebbs not back like the sea.

I am the pool of blue
That worships the vivid sky;
My hopes were heaven-high,
They are all fulfilled in you.

I am the pool of gold
When sunset burns and dies, —
You are my deepening skies,
Give me your stars to hold.
-Sara Teasdale

My theme for this year is creating peace. In my last post, I wrote about my belief that we can release some of the pressure building up in the wider world by addressing that chaos and pressure in our own little garden. By changing our interior selves we powerfully effect those around us for the good. With this in mind, I have been ferreting out all the sources of pressure and turmoil in my own life. To my surprise, I find they are all internal. It’s not the breaking of a glass in the kitchen that brings turmoil, it’s my response. The more I resist a situation, the more upset is created.

I recently became aware of just how much I resist everything. My greatest resistance turns out to be to my own feelings. I resist feeling angry, sad, or experiencing uncomfortable memories; I even resist feelings of love and connection which are too intense. When I am resisting, I have to throw myself into doing something, anything so I won’t have time to feel. This unconscious need to do, causes more turmoil than anything else in my life. I end up forcing things to happen in ways are destructive instead of allow things to unfold in their own time. And because art cannot be forced (it must be allow to unfold), this behavior also kills the creative impulse and the artist’s connection to the divine flow. It clogs the divine well and gums up its receiving vessel.

Since Thanksgiving, I have worked tirelessly to not resist my feelings. As a result, I experienced about a month of intense, overpowering anxiety- an anxiety so strong I almost felt I wouldn’t make it through. It woke me at night and stalked me during the day. But I stuck with it. When anxiety bubbled up, I would stop and be still, embracing the fear as long as I could hold it. Then I’d take a break and enter back in. Eventually, I passed through this intense cloud. It was breathing that got me through, huffing and panting, almost like I was in a month long labor.

Amazingly, this has experience has shifted my whole being. I know real quiet and peace for the first time in my life. My connection to my family is deeper because I can tolerate and hold more feelings of love. Now when something comes up, whether it’s anger, anxiety or pleasure, I’m there to I feel it instead of running away. For the first time ever, I have a physical sense of being here on this planet and a consciousness of my “vesselhood” and the value that that holds. I’m tossing out the clutter from my vessel left, right and center. I am an open jar waiting for Divine creativity to fill me.

In closing, here is a picture of my newest sculpture of St. Francis and a link an old post containing his writing on what is perfect joy. I’m going to put together a video of him, but this week it’s so cold I just have to stay in bed with a heating blanket! Peace- Sybil

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

Art of the Spirit Business

Happy New Year everyone!

This blog was down for a day due to technical issues with my hosting service. These issues seem to be on going so I have made the decision to switch hosts. This is probably going to mean my blog is out of commission for a day or two coming up. I’ll keep you posted when it will happen. It should not effect feeds or anything else- I hope! The ways of the internet are strange and varied.

A poem for your time:

Calligraphy
How easily you have untied my tongue
and handcuffed my heart!
Poetry was a dead thing, a forgotten thing.
The icy caverns of my heart have thawed,
churning waters of words wind through its chambers,
cascading fires of my soul coming to life,
all senses open to the world’s music now,
a calligraphy of fire!water!earth!air!
ears!eyes!mouth!skin! opening their doors to the world,
the world comes pouring in,
light and color and sound and sense and beauty and life again.
A tree has grandeur and soft beauty, the green
spilling a hushed message from God,
the sky somersaulting in color,
a clown of orange and red stripes.
Yes! You have untied nature and my heart,
Poetry has burst through her cage to sing again,
You have come, and I spin madly around your presence
spinning…spinning …around your presence.
Usha Akella

Thanks for reading,

Sybil