The Strength of the Link

Politics: Old and New

The Strength of the Link
Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I have long admired the work of Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister and was delighted to see her again at Oprah Winfrey’s house earlier this year when we were both filming episodes for SuperSoul Sunday. Who could have ever predicted it? Two vowed religious, neither of us youngsters, sitting on Oprah’s lawn and speaking about our newly published books. [1] I am sure neither of us saw that coming, which is perhaps what gives Sister Joan the freedom to speak so courageously and prophetically about our Christian obligation in politics.

In every life there is a crossover moment, after which a person will never be the same again. Somewhere, somehow the challenge comes that sets us on a different path: the path of purpose, the path of integrity, the path of transcendence that lifts us—heart, mind, and soul—above the pitiable level of the comfortable and the mundane.

It is the moment at which transcending the mediocre, the conventional, the pedestrian, becomes more impacting, more holy-making than any amount of beige-colored political success.

As a culture, we may have come to that point. As a people, we are at a crossover moment. It is a call to all of us to be our best, our least superficial, our most serious about what it means to be a Christian as well as a citizen.

So, where can we look for oneing in the political arena? Only within the confines of our own hearts. Politics—government—does not exist for itself and, if it does, that is precisely when it becomes at least death-dealing if not entirely evil. Nation-states and empires have all “died the death” in the wake of such power run amuck, of such distortion of human community.

In the end, politics is nothing more than an instrument of social good and human development. It is meant to be the right arm of those whose souls have melted into God. It is to be the living breath of those who say they are religious people and patriotic citizens—a link to personal faith.

The democratic system, as originally conceived, upholds a vision that links “care for widows and children” with a commitment to provide food stamps and a living wage for families under stress.

It embodies the soul of a nation that considers the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water, to save wetlands and reduce fossil fuels, to be a responsibility of America’s own Environmental Protection Agency.

It includes the love for all of God’s creation that links Jesus’ cure of Jairus’ daughter (see Matthew 9:18-25) and the man born blind (see John 9) with the moral obligation to provide healthcare and social services to all of us, not simply to some.

It embraces the courage of the Samaritan to reach out to the foreigner (Luke 10:25-37) that made this country open arms toward an immigrant world.

In fact, it is the strength of the link between religion and politics that will determine both the quality of our politics and the authenticity of our religion.

Many in the United States claim we are a Christian nation, but if we are to call ourselves such, we must sustain a sincere connection between our Gospel values and the political choices we make. We cannot declare we are one body and then neglect to give that body the care it needs, including food, water, and shelter.

References:
[1] See Joan Chittister, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage (Convergent Books: 2019).

Joan Chittister, “A Moment for Something More Soulful than Politics,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 30, 31, 34, 35.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (detail), Théodule-Augustin Ribot, before 1870, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pau, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: My prayer has led me . . . to know that reflection on the Gospel leads to compassion. Compassion often leads to much more nuanced analysis. . . . This more nuanced approach comes out of my prayer and call to care for the 100%, but it does come at a price. . . . The Spirit has pushed us out of our comfort zone of acceptability in order to meet the needs of people we had not known were ours. —Sister Simone Campbell, SSS

What is the future of Christianity? Donation Appeal

What is the future of Christianity?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Dear Friend,

Next year will mark 50 years since I was first ordained in my home parish in Topeka, Kansas. Over the years, God has allowed me to speak, write, and learn from so many people and cultures around the world. Because I rarely travel or teach on the road now, the Daily Meditations are one of the primary ways I can keep sharing what I’m learning each day.

I have always had excellent partners in my life and ministry. But something in the last few years has started to emerge that encourages me deeply. I am now surrounded by teachers and staff who are building a humble, inclusive, non-imperial Christianity in service to the healing of our world.

We now have a core faculty of five in the Living School, dozens of brilliant writers and role models in the Daily Meditations, a strong and capable team in New Mexico, and hundreds of thousands of people like you who are bringing forward the gifts of the contemplative tradition—peaceful change and healing. Gosh, does that feel like an important task at the moment! With all that is going on in the world today, it takes every one of us playing our part.

Twice a year we pause the Daily Meditations to ask for your support to continue this work. If you’ve been impacted by the Daily Meditations, please consider donating. A contribution of any amount is appreciated, as we are committed to keeping these messages free and accessible to all.

It seems that God is blessing this ministry—and it is my honor to serve alongside it. As Jesus said:

When we have done all that we are obliged to do, we should each say, “We are all merely servants, and we have only done what is our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10)

I hope that the Center for Action & Contemplation helps you find what is yours to do in the face of a complex and chaotic reality. Please take a moment to read our Executive Director Michael’s note below about how you can help and the really important gift we’d like to share.

Tomorrow the Daily Meditations will continue exploring why it’s crucial for us to engage contemplatively in politics.

Richard Rohr Signature

 


 

Dear friends,

We are honored that you are one of the nearly 400,000 people who read and share our Daily Meditations.

When the Center for Action & Contemplation started sending these messages twelve years ago, we never could have imagined the reach and impact they would have in people’s lives. But we now believe we’re only just beginning. With the reality of global climate change, systemic injustice, and fear driving so much of the politics around the world, can wisdom of the ancient perennial tradition speak directly to our current situation? This has been the goal of this year’s Daily Meditations—to show the truth that emerges in every age, vocabulary, and culture in a direct, powerful, and meaningful way to today’s context. Thank you for sticking with us through some challenging subjects.

Richard recently summed up the current Christian situation like this:

Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established “religion” (and all that goes with that) and avoided actually changing lives. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history and still believe that Jesus is “personal Lord and Savior.” The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.

Our faith must show real fruit. The Center for Action & Contemplation is committed to supporting the continued evolution of Christianity and the transformation of consciousness. Your contribution will help us build and grow this work by making these teachings accessible to new people in new ways.

Please consider making a one-time donation or a recurring gift. If 5% of our readers donated as little as $15, it would fully fund the Daily Meditations’ production, allow us to offer more scholarships, and share transformative teaching with more people. Will you contribute and invest in the future of this work? If you’re able, please consider making your donation a monthly one. Ongoing support helps create the stability we need to spread this vital message to more and more people around the world.

In gratitude for an online donation of any size we will send you a free digital version of our newest and arguably most important edition of Oneing, “The Future of Christianity.”

This issue of our bi-annual journal directly takes on the question of how this tradition can meet the needs of the present moment and prepare us for what is to come.

We are deeply grateful to be on this journey together.

Peace and Every Good,

Michael Poffenberger's Signature

Michael Poffenberger
Executive Director, Center for Action & Contemplation

P.S. Please consider making a contribution to the Center for Action & Contemplation (tax-deductible in the United States). We invite donations of any size. You can donate securely online at cac.org/dm-appeal or send a check (USD only) to CAC, PO Box 12464, Albuquerque, NM 87195. Learn more about charitable giving at cac.org/support-cac. Email us at [email protected] if you are considering making a legacy or estate gift. Thank you.

The Embodiment of God’s Love

Politics: Old and New

The Embodiment of God’s Love
Monday, November 18, 2019

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, author and former head of the Reformed Church in America, has invested much time and energy in ecumenical initiatives, as well as studying the relationship between faith and politics. We share a long-standing relationship with Jim Wallis and the Sojourners ministry, as well as our home state of New Mexico. In this excerpt from his essay published in the CAC’s journal, Oneing, he makes it clear that Christians are called to be involved in politics, but not exclusively for our own personal gain.

Transformative change in politics depends so much on having a clear view of the desired end. Where does that vision come from? Possibilities may be offered by various ideologies, or party platforms, or political candidates. But, for the person of faith, that vision finds its roots in God’s intended and preferred future for the world. It comes not as a dogmatic blueprint but as an experiential encounter with God’s love, flowing like a river from God’s throne, nourishing trees with leaves for the healing of the nations (see Revelation 22:1-2). This biblically infused vision, resonant from Genesis to Revelation, pictures a world made whole, with people living in a beloved community, where no one is despised or forgotten, peace reigns, and the goodness of God’s creation is treasured and protected as a gift.

Such a vision strikes the political pragmatist as idyllic, unrealistic, and irrelevant. But the person of faith, whose inward journey opens his or her life to the explosive love of God, knows that this vision is the most real of all. . . .

So, for the Christian, politics entails an inevitable spiritual journey. But this is not the privatized expression of belief which keeps faith in Jesus contained in an individualized bubble and protects us from the “world.” The experience of true faith in the living God is always personal and never individual. Rather, it is a spiritual journey which connects us intrinsically to the presence of God, whose love yearns to save and transform the world. We are called to be “in Christ,” which means we share—always imperfectly, and always in community with others—the call to be the embodiment of God’s love in the world.

It seems difficult for us to distinguish between our “personal” relationship with God and the rampant individualism we practice in our politics. Do we dare keep voting according to our pocketbooks and private morality? Yes, we are God’s beloved, but so is everyone else! If we believe God wants what is good for us, how do we not understand God wants what is good for each and every living thing? What would it mean to vote as if the very presence of God were in our neighbor and the stranger alike, which is simply what Jesus taught? 

Reference:
Wes Granberg-Michaelson, “From Mysticism to Politics,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 17.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (detail), Théodule-Augustin Ribot, before 1870, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pau, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: My prayer has led me . . . to know that reflection on the Gospel leads to compassion. Compassion often leads to much more nuanced analysis. . . . This more nuanced approach comes out of my prayer and call to care for the 100%, but it does come at a price. . . . The Spirit has pushed us out of our comfort zone of acceptability in order to meet the needs of people we had not known were ours. —Sister Simone Campbell, SSS

Affirm or Critique

Politics: Old and New

Affirm or Critique
Sunday, November 17, 2019

Politics is one of the most difficult and complex issues on which to engage in polite conversation. For many people, politics and religion are so personal that neither topic is deemed appropriate to discuss publicly. While separation of church and state is an important protection for all religions, it doesn’t mean we as people of faith shouldn’t engage in our civic duties and the political process. The idea of “staying out of politics” doesn’t come from God. My sense is that it arises from our egoic, dualistic thinking that has a hard time hearing a different perspective or learning something new. Well, this week’s meditations will invite us to ponder the forbidden together. (If you’re active on social media, we invite you to share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.)

In its first two thousand years, Christianity has kept its morality mostly private, personal, interior, fervent, and heaven-bound, with very few direct implications for our collective economic, social, and political life. For most Christians, politics and religion remained in two separate realms, unless religion was uniting with empires. Yes, church leaders looked to Rome and Constantinople for imperial protection, but little did they realize the price we Christians would eventually pay for such a compromise of foundational Gospel values.

This convenient split took the form of either the inner or the outer world. We religious folks were supposed to be the inner people; while the outer world was left to politicians, scientists, and workers. Now this is all catching up with us, as even the inner world has largely been overtaken by psychology, art, literature, and self-help. Fewer and fewer people now expect religion to have anything to say about either the inner or outer worlds!

If we do not go deep and in, we cannot go far and wide. In my opinion, the reason Christianity lost its authority is because we did not talk about the inner world very well. Believing doctrines, practicing rituals, and following requirements are not, in and of themselves, inner or deep. Frankly, Buddhism encouraged the inner life far better than the three monotheistic religions. We Christians did not connect the inner with the outer—which is a consequence of not going in deeply enough. We now have become increasingly irrelevant, often to the very people who want to go both deep and far. We so disconnected from the authentically political—God’s aggregated people, the public forum—that soon we had nothing much to say, except for one or two issues (abortion, homosexuality) where we presumed we had perfect certitude, although Jesus never talked about them.

But you know what? There is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something: The status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. From a contemplative stance we will know what action is ours to do, which words we are called to say, and how our spirituality must be fully embodied in our political choices.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 11-12.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (detail), Théodule-Augustin Ribot, before 1870, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pau, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: My prayer has led me . . . to know that reflection on the Gospel leads to compassion. Compassion often leads to much more nuanced analysis. . . . This more nuanced approach comes out of my prayer and call to care for the 100%, but it does come at a price. . . . The Spirit has pushed us out of our comfort zone of acceptability in order to meet the needs of people we had not known were ours. —Sister Simone Campbell, SSS

Art: Old and New: Weekly Summary

Art: Old and New

Summary: Sunday, November 10 — Friday, November 15, 2019

Art reveals what people believe and emphasize at any one time. (Sunday)

Images such as the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” and the “Immaculate Heart of Mary” keep recurring only if they are speaking something important and good from the unconscious, maybe even something necessary for the soul’s emergence. (Monday)

Art begins with receptivity. —Mirabai Starr (Tuesday)

The thing is to allow ourselves to become a vessel for a work of art to come through and allow that work to guide our hands.  —Mirabai Starr (Wednesday)

As I again sat listening to gospel music and spirituals, words began to form in my mind and I scrambled to write them down. —Diana L. Hayes (Thursday)

In its various forms, art can provide incarnational and contemplative insight. (Friday)

 

Practice: Contemplating Art

I often refer to the insightful work of contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber. This week’s contemplative practice is from Wilber’s excellent book The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad. Simply reading his essay is a contemplative experience. He offers one of the most beautiful and joyful perspectives on art that I’ve found.

Some of the great modern philosophers, Schelling to Schiller to Schopenhauer, have all pinpointed a major reason for great art’s power to transcend. When we look at any beautiful object (natural or artistic), we suspend all other activity, and we are simply aware, we only want to contemplate the object. While we are in this contemplative state, we do not want anything from the object; we just want to contemplate it; we want it to never end. We don’t want to eat it, or own it, or run from it, or alter it: we only want to look, we want to contemplate, we never want it to end.

In that contemplative awareness, our own egoic grasping in time comes momentarily to rest. We relax into our basic awareness. We rest with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. We are face to face with the calm, the eye in the center of the storm. We are not agitating to change things; we contemplate the object as it is. Great art has this power, this power to grab your attention and suspend it: we stare, sometimes awestruck, sometimes silent, but we cease the restless movement that otherwise characterizes our every waking moment. . . .

Think of the most beautiful person you have ever seen. Think of the exact moment you looked into his or her eyes, and for a fleeting second you were paralyzed: you couldn’t take your eyes off that vision. You stared, frozen in time, caught in that beauty. Now imagine that identical beauty radiating from every single thing in the entire universe: every rock, every plant, every animal, every cloud, every person, every object, every mountain, every stream—even the garbage dumps and broken dreams—every single one of them, radiating that beauty. You are quietly frozen by the gentle beauty of everything that arises around you. You are released from grasping, released from time, released from avoidance, released altogether into the eye of Spirit, where you contemplate the unending beauty of the Art that is the entire World.

That all-pervading Beauty is not an exercise in creative imagination. It is the actual structure of the universe. That all-pervading Beauty is in truth the very nature of the Kosmos right now. . . . If you remain in the eye of the Spirit, every object is an object of radiant Beauty. If the doors of perception are cleansed, the entire Kosmos is your lost and found Beloved, the Original Face of primordial Beauty, forever, and forever, and endlessly forever. And in the face of that stunning Beauty, you will completely swoon into your own death, never to be seen or heard from again, except on those tender nights when the wind gently blows through the hills and the mountains, quietly calling your name. [1]

If Ken Wilber’s words have brought to mind an actual person, place, or thing, close your eyes for a few minutes and simply contemplate your own experience of their radiant beauty. When we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, or an open heart to witness, Great Beauty will reveal itself in all living and created things.

Reference:
[1] Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit: Integral Art and Literary Theory (Shambhala: 1997), 44.

For Further Study:
John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan, Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision (HarperOne: 2018)

Diana L. Hayes, No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality (Orbis Books: 2016)

Diana L. Hayes and Charles Ngede, Were You There?: Stations of the Cross (Orbis Books: 2000)

Richard Rohr, The Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How A Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019)

Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True: 2019)

Image credit: Autumn (detail), Marie Bashkirtseff, Ukraine, 1883.
Inspiration for today’s banner image: And in the face of that stunning Beauty, you will completely swoon into your own death, never to be seen or heard from again, except on those tender nights when the wind gently blows through the hills and the mountains, quietly calling your name. —Ken Wilber

Changing Places

Art: Old and New

Changing Places
Friday, November 15, 2019

There must be a way to be both here and in the depth of here. Jesus is here. Christ is the depth of here. This, in my mind, is the essence of incarnation and the gift of contemplation. We must learn to love and enjoy things as they are, in their depth, in their soul, and in their fullness. Contemplation is the “second gaze,” through which we see something in its particularity and yet also in a much larger frame. We know it by the joy it gives, which is far greater than anything it does for us in terms of money, power, or success. In its various forms, art provides this incarnational and contemplative insight.

Two pieces of art have encouraged and enhanced my contemplative gaze. The first was one I saw in a Nuremberg art museum by Hans von Kulmbach (1476–1528). [1] It portrays the two human feet of Jesus at the very top of a large painting of the Ascension. Most of the canvas is taken up by the apostles, whose eyes are being drawn up with Christ, as the two feet move off the top of the painting, presumably into the spiritual realms. The image had a wonderful effect on me. I too found myself looking beyond the painting toward the ceiling of the art museum, my eyes drawn elsewhere for the message. It was a real religious moment, one that simultaneously took me beyond the painting and right back into the room where I was standing. It was another instance of understanding the Christ in a collective sense, recognizing not just his ascension but also ours. (See Ephesians 2:4-6.) The Ascension is the Christ Mystery come full circle.

Located in the upper basilica where Francis of Assisi is buried, it is a wonderful bronze statue of St. Francis inviting the Holy Spirit.

The second piece of art was created by a sculptor whose name is hidden. Located in the upper basilica where Francis of Assisi is buried, it is a wonderful bronze statue of St. Francis inviting the Holy Spirit. [2] Instead of looking upward as is usual, he gazes reverently and longingly downward—into the earth—where the Spirit is enmeshed with the earth. Francis understood that the Holy Spirit had in fact descended; she is forever and first of all here! There are many artists who inherently understand incarnation. They see art as a major transposition of sacred place from there to here.

Both these pieces of art put the two worlds together, just from different perspectives. Yet in both images, it is the Divine that takes the lead in changing places. Maybe artists have easier access to this Mystery than many merely verbal theologians.

References:
[1] Hans von Kulmbach, The Ascension of Christ, 1513, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436835.

[2] Sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi, artist unknown, Upper Church in the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Assisi, Italy; photo by K505/Shutterstock.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How A Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019), 118-119.

Image credit: Landscape (detail), Owon, Korea, late Joseon Dynasty.
Inspiration for today’s banner image: The image had a wonderful effect on me. I too found myself looking beyond the painting toward the ceiling of the art museum, my eyes drawn elsewhere for the message. It was a real religious moment, one that simultaneously took me beyond the painting and right back into the room where I was standing. —Richard Rohr

Release and Healing

Art: Old and New

Release and Healing
Thursday, November 14, 2019

My art flows from the patterns and paths of my lived experience which—like yours—are at once deeply personal and entirely universal. —Julie Ann Stevens, Living School Alumna [1]

Today contemporary theologian Dr. Diana L. Hayes shares a very personal part of her life and the healing she found in the creative process. In Hayes’ book No Crystal Stair, she describes herself:

I am a Catholic womanist, standing firmly in the shoes my mothers made for me and walking toward a future in which all of God’s creation will be recognized and affirmed regardless of race, class, gender, or sexual orientation. I am black. I am Catholic. And by the grace of God, I am here. I invite you to share my journey of self-discovery and faith. . . . My spirituality, a womanist spirituality, that is, a spirituality forged in the awareness and experience of the multiplicative forms of oppression that are used to limit and restrain black women, has been honed and sharpened by my journey with God throughout my life. . . . Womanist spirituality is the encounter of black women and Jesus spelled out in song, poetry, novels, and memoirs that speak of the everlasting struggle as they continue to move themselves and their people one step closer to the Promised Land, a land to be found after death, yes, but more important, a land they know has been promised in this life as well. [2]

Hayes writes about her mother’s unexpected death after a brief illness:

The shock of her death sent me on a devastatingly downward spiral, although few knew about it. I look back at the time from April of 1998 through the end of 2000 and have very little memory of anything except her death and my grief.

Some time before that, I had been asked to write a meditation on a series of pictures that depicted the Stations of the Cross on the whitewashed walls of a small church in a village in Tanzania. The artist, Charles Ndege, a young Tanzanian, had brought the passion of Christ to bold and vibrant life. What was most striking was that the passion was presented as taking place in a small African village and all of the people were clearly and beautifully depicted as African. I had had the pictures for some time and would occasionally pull them out and look at them, especially when I was feeling low. One day, as I again sat listening to gospel music and spirituals, words began to form in my mind and I scrambled to write them down. . . . Writing [that] book brought healing to my soul. Some few have challenged the depiction of Christ as black, thus revealing their own ignorance and limited faith, but for many, this book, especially its pictures, has provided spiritual release and healing. [3]

Like Hayes, I too have found healing through the creative process of writing. My beloved lab Venus passed away just as I began to write The Universal Christ. I dedicated the book to her memory. If we trust that nothing is wasted, creativity (art) may be one way we can participate in the evolutionary process of making all things new. We cannot bring back our loved ones, but our love may find new forms of expression for the healing of both our own hearts and the world.

References:
[1] Julie Ann Stevens, https://listenwritetransform.wordpress.com/subscribe/.

[2] Diana L. Hayes, No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality (Orbis Books: 2016), xxviii, xxiii, xxvi, xxvii.

[3] Ibid., xxviii, xxxi-xxxii. The book Hayes refers to is by Diana L. Hayes and Charles Ngede, Were You There?: Stations of the Cross (Orbis Books: 2000).

Image credit: Woman Standing Near a Pond (detail), Edward Mitchell Bannister, Canada and United States, 1880.
Inspiration for today’s banner image: Womanist spirituality is the encounter of black women and Jesus spelled out in song, poetry, novels, and memoirs that speak of the everlasting struggle as they continue to move themselves and their people one step closer to the Promised Land, a land to be found after death, yes, but more important, a land they know has been promised in this life as well. —Diana L. Hayes

The Creative Life

Art: Old and New

The Creative Life
Wednesday, November 13, 2019

I’ve discussed public and even famous works of art this week, but the very process of creating art is valuable and generative, even if no one else ever sees it. Mirabai Starr reminds us of the freedom of childhood and encourages us to be courageous and to embrace our creative nature once again. While we may consider childhood to be in our distant past, a child is still within each of us today.

When you were a child, you knew yourself to be cocreator of the universe. But little by little you forgot who you were. When you were a child, everything was about color. Now you pick black as your automatic font color, because that is the coin of the realm. When you were a child, you traveled from place to place by dancing, and now you cultivate stillness, which is great, but you are forgetting how to move to the music of your soul. You can hardly even hear that inner music over the clamor of all your obligations. . . .

Yes, you are worthy of art making. Dispense with the hierarchy in your head that silences your own creative voice. . . . It is not only your birthright to create, it is your true nature. The world will be healed when you take up your brush and shake your body and sing your heart out. . . .

The part of our brains with which we navigate the challenges of the everyday world is uneasy in the unpredictable sphere of art making. We cannot squeeze ourselves through the eye of the needle to reach the land of wild creativity whilst saddled to the frontal cortex, whose job it is to evaluate external circumstances and regulate appropriate behavior. Creativity has a habit of defying good sense. I am not arguing, however, that the intellect has no place in the creative enterprise. The most intelligent people I know are artists and musicians. Their finely tuned minds are always grappling with some creative conundrum, trying to find ways to translate the music they hear in the concert hall of their heads into some intelligible form that others can grasp and appreciate.

What a creative life demands is that we take risks. They may be calculated risks; they may yield entrepreneurial fruits, or they may simply enrich our own lives. Creative risk taking might not turn our life upside down but, rather, might right the drifting ship of our soul. When we make ourselves available for the inflow of [Spirit], we accept not only her generative power but also her ability to [overcome] whatever stands in the way of our full aliveness.

You do not always have to suffer for art. You are not required to sacrifice everything for beauty. The creative life can be quietly gratifying. The thing is to allow ourselves to become a vessel for a work of art to come through and allow that work to guide our hands. Once we do, we are assenting to a sacred adventure. We are saying yes to the transcendent and embodied presence of the holy.

Many of us seem to think we are too “old” to create something “new,” which is really too bad. Although my writing is certainly a creative act, it has been a long time since I have expressed myself freely with color, movement, or sound. If I’m honest, I would probably feel a little silly trying again at my age, but Mirabai’s writing reminds me that I am the poorer for it. What joy, satisfaction, or even embodied presence are we missing out on by our self-consciousness?  

Reference:
Adapted from Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True: 2019), 157, 159, 160-161.

Image credit: Original painting (acrylic on canvas, detail), Sophie McKay Knight, with imagery contributed by women scientists from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, as part of the Chrysalis Project coordinated by Dr. Mhairi Stewart, 2016.
Inspiration for today’s banner image: The creative life can be quietly gratifying. The thing is to allow ourselves to become a vessel for a work of art to come through and allow that work to guide our hands. —Mirabai Starr

Fallow Time

Art: Old and New

Fallow Time
Tuesday, November 12, 2019

When speaking of art, we most often think of the finished product whether it be a painting, a drawing, a performance, a sculpture, a poem, or another expression of creativity. Today, I invite you to consider the evolving process of creation as described by my friend Mirabai Starr who believes, as I do, that each of has the capacity to offer something new to the world. It does not come quickly or easily, but few things of any depth or value ever do. Mirabai writes:

A miraculous event unfolds when we throw the lead of our personal story into the transformative flames of creativity. Our hardship is transmuted into something golden. With that gold we heal ourselves and redeem the world. As with any spiritual practice, this creative alchemy requires a leap of faith. When we show up to make art, we need to first get still enough to hear what wants to be expressed through us, and then we need to step out of the way and let it. We must be willing to abide in a space of not knowing before we can settle into knowing. Such a space is sacred. It is liminal, and it’s numinous. It is frightening and enlivening. It demands no less than everything, and it gives back tenfold.

There is a vital connection between creativity and mysticism. To engage with the creative impulse is to agree to take a voyage into the heart of the Mystery. Creativity bypasses the discursive mind and delivers us to the source of our being. When we allow ourselves to be a conduit for creative energy, we experience direct apprehension of that energy. We become a channel for grace. To make art is to make love with the sacred. It is a naked encounter, authentic and risky, vulnerable and erotically charged.

The muse rarely behaves the way we would like her to, and yet every artist knows she cannot be controlled. Artistic self-expression necessitates periods of quietude in which it appears that nothing is happening. Like a tree in winter whose roots are doing important work deep inside the dark earth, the creative process needs fallow time. We have to incubate inspiration. We need empty spaces for musing and preparing, experimenting and reflecting. Society does not value its artists, partly because of the apparent lack of productivity that comes with the creative life. This societal emphasis on goods and services is an artifact of the male drive to erect and protect, to engineer and execute, to produce and control. Art begins with receptivity. Every artist, in a way, is feminine, just as every artist is a mystic. And a political creature. Making art can be a subversive act, an act of resistance against the deadening lure of consumption, an act of unbridled peacemaking disguised as a poem or a song or an abstract rendering of an aspen leaf swirling in a stream.

Reference:
Adapted from Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True: 2019) 159-160.

Image credit: Marion Greenwood (standing in front of mural painted for the WPA Federal Art Project, detail), Archives of American Art, Washington, DC, June 4, 1940.
Inspiration for today’s banner image: Making art can be a subversive act, an act of resistance against the deadening lure of consumption, an act of unbridled peacemaking disguised as a poem or a song or an abstract rendering of an aspen leaf swirling in a stream.  Mirabai Starr

Worship or Transformation

Art: Old and New

Worship or Transformation
Monday, November 11, 2019

Truly a sword is piercing my heart, the pain is so great. How could this be happening to my child, to my son? I remember when he was born. —Diana L. Hayes [1]

Even though I was raised a “good” Catholic, I was often puzzled by the frequent use of heart imagery among our saints and in our art. Paintings of the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” and the “Immaculate Heart of Mary” are known to Catholics worldwide; in these images, Jesus and Mary are always pointing to their hearts, which are ablaze. I often wonder what people actually do with these images. Are they mere sentiment? Are they objects of worship or objects of transformation? Such images keep recurring only if they are speaking something important and good from the unconscious, maybe even something necessary for the soul’s emergence. What might that be?

The lines above from Diana Hayes suggest an answer. Visual art speaks to us on a deeper level than our intellectual mind. Artists use color, form, line, and texture to bypass our normal defenses, stirring emotions that transcend language, explanation, time, and space. The blazing heart of Mary is undeniably united with the heart of her son. Even if we feel distanced from the divine suffering of Jesus, who cannot draw near to the parent of a suffering child? Humans are made to feel empathy, but sometimes fear or self-interest blocks the flow of love in us. Art can help us reconnect with our humanness.

Many have described prayer as bringing our thinking down into our heart. Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, for example, and you want to play it out or attach to it, consciously move that thought or person into your heart space. Dualistic commentaries are almost entirely lodged in your head. But within the heart, it’s much easier to surround thoughts and sensations with silence, with the warmth of your life-blood—which can feel like burning coals. In this place it is almost impossible to judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic. You are in a place that does not create or feed on contraries but is the natural organ of life, embodiment, and love. Love lives and thrives in the heart space. It has kept me from wanting to hurt people who have hurt me. It keeps me every day from obsessive, repetitive, or compulsive head games. It can make the difference between being happy or being miserable and negative.

Could this be what we are really doing when we say we are praying for someone? Yes, we are holding them in our heart space. Do it in an almost physical sense, and you will see how calmly and quickly it works. Now, the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart have been transferred to you. They are pointing for you to join them there. The “sacred heart” is then your heart too, a heart on fire with love and compassion for the world.

References:
[1] Diana L. Hayes, No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality (Orbis Books: 2016), 59.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 203-205.

Image credit: Srce Marijino (Immaculate Heart of Mary, detail), artist unknown, Goriča vas Church, Slovenia, second half of 19th century.
Inspiration for today’s banner image: Truly a sword is piercing my heart, the pain is so great. How could this be happening to my child, to my son? I remember when he was born. —Diana L. Hayes
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