When I was considering graduate school in 2003, I contemplated whether to pursue a Masters in Fine Art, a Masters in Art Therapy, or the program that I eventually ended up choosing which was an Interdisciplinary Masters in Spiritual Traditions & Ethics. I had completed undergraduate work in fine arts in my youth and had been painting and sculpting “on the side” over the years while working as a graphic designer. This was before I answered my soul calling to work professionally as an artist in 2001. An MFA might have given me the opportunity to teach in an academic setting but not necessarily. I also wasn’t interested in the mainstream gallery scene. I had recently returned from a 10-training with environmentalist Joanna Macy and was studying the teachings of Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality. My vision was to use my art in service to the healing of the earth. I wasn’t seeing much of that in museums or galleries though that has changed over the years with greater awareness of climate change and the ecological crisis overall.
After the deaths of my brother and mother, and relocating to Portland in 1993, I had begun prerequisites for a Masters in Art Therapy (this is how I came to sculpture originally!). Through my own grieving process, I wanted more meaningful work and to support others in their grief. I’d had a successful design career but while doing the prerequisites, I realized that I was still too raw to hold space for others as a therapist and instead found my way to the Dougy Center, a center for grieving children and families. I was a volunteer grief facilitator there for eight years and can say that those were some of the most meaningful and healing years for myself and for all those who passed through their doors. My workshops evolved out of this same desire to support others in their healing journeys.
Fast forward to 2003. At the time, I was in a writing group working on “my story” around the deaths, the spiritual awakening that occurred over those dark years, and the mystical experience I had during the Macy Training. This became my writing sample for the graduate program and was published in Alternatives Magazine. People around me thought I was crazy. They’d ask incredulously: “What are you going to do with that degree?” But I listened to my inner voice and knew this was where I was called to be. I had just founded Sacred Art Studio and wanted to study religion. I wanted to understand how humanity had become so disconnected from the natural world that we were willing to destroy the land base on which all life was dependent. I was also an avid student of art history since undergrad days and already knew of the connections between faith and art. I didn’t know exactly where my work or my life was going but I needed to trust in my vision. And so I began graduate school in the fall of 2004 and graduated with honors in 2007.
Over these past 11 years, my art and spiritual path have been informed by these studies and my intention remains the same: to communicate the sacredness of the creation, to inspire a deep reverence for the earth, and with a hope to spark actions that protect the holiness of this place we all call home. It hasn’t always been a lucrative path financially but it is a meaningful life and I live simply. I have also been having fun designing books, often for first time authors who are self-publishing. This feeds my wild love of books and desire to serve others in their creative gifts.
Recently, I was thrilled to discover a wonderful book that validated this calling. “Art Lessons” by Deborah Haynes, an artist and academic based in Colorado who likewise has studied religion and the arts. She speaks to what I have already expressed: “A theology of the arts is based on the conviction that the artist has a personal calling, a vocation, to interpret the dilemmas we face, thereby giving voice to hopes and fears, experiences and dreams. In doing this, a theology of the arts is also oriented to this world, to the present as it moves inexorably toward the future. And, it is active: It urges engagement and commitment to the world in order to bring about political, social, and cultural transformation.”
A couple of new works in progress. “Sacred Text” (working title) and a painting that originally started many years ago as 14th c mystic and visionary icon Julian of Norwich who spoke radically of Christ as Mother, as the nurturing and loving presence of God.” She wrote, “All shall be well, all shall be well…For there is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.” May it be so.
|“Eve” from “Lovers of Creation” Triptych, ©Amy Livingstone|
I bow to all mothers on this day. . . past present and future and for all of those (women and men) who are nurturing the Divine Feminine into being. I gave this talk five years ago and am sharing again with you today.
Nurturing the Divine Feminine into Being
Abundant Life Center, Vancouver, WA
Mother’s Day. May 13, 2012
Happy Mother’s Day. It’s fitting that that the talk today is on the Divine Feminine. A day when we honor, celebrate, and remember mothers. What better symbol of the divine feminine than that of the mother. She who nurtures a new life into being. Who BIRTHS…FEEDS from her own body, LOVES, and NURTURES the soul of a child into adulthood. From the late Irish philosopher and poet, John O’Donohue
Your voice learning to soothe
Your new child
Was the first home-sound
We heard before we could see.
Your young eyes
Gazing on us
Was the first mirror
Where we glimpsed
What to be seen
Your nearness tilled the air,
An umbilical garden for all the seeds
Of thought that stirred in our infant hearts.
You nurtured and fostered this space
To root all our quietly gathering intensity
That could grow nowhere else.
Formed from the depths beneath your heart,
You know us from the inside out.
No deeds or seas or others
Could ever erase that.
Mother…. Symbol of LOVE. For me, this is the heart of the Divine Feminine. Remembering and nurturing the Divine Feminine into being is a journey from head-to-heart. From hatred to love. From power over to power with. From meaningless consumption to a renewed sense of reverence for life and beauty. This will require a radical shift in consciousness to a new way of being in relationship to each other and our world….to the Earth.
There’s a lot being written about the Divine Feminine these days. One of the many voices contributing to this conversation, is spiritual teacher Andrew Harvey. He writes: “The Divine Feminine is initiating a crucial new phase in our evolution: urging us to discover a new ethic of responsibility toward the planet; bringing us a new vision of the sacredness and unity of life.” I believe that without THIS vision…this evolution…our planet remains in peril, and our very survival is at risk. Most of us know that we are facing ecological, economic and social crises around the world. Climate change, species extinction, threats of nuclear war, toxic food sources, and the list goes on. Social thinker David Korten, calls this the ‘great unraveling.’
What we are experiencing is the result of a dominant masculine paradigm, that emerged alongside the rise of monotheistic religions that placed one male God in a position of authority over all humanity and creation. Attempting to extinguish the Goddess in all her incarnations, the Abrahamic traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam suppressed the feminine and subjected women to an inferior position beginning with our first archetypal Mother, Eve. However, what I have discovered through my own spiritual explorations and graduate studies in religion is the way in which these original sacred texts have been subjectively interpreted over the millennia to serve those in power.
For example, the Creation story is believed to have been written during and after the Israelite’s exile in Babylon (what is Iraq today). The ancient creation myths—Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh—were part of the oral tradition in that region. Theologians believe that in an attempt to understand the source of their own suffering and place in the cosmos, the early writers of the Torah borrowed from these ancient myths to write their own story of origin. Therefore, the notion that we are born into original sin, as we have been indoctrinated to believe in Christianity, was not the intention behind the Garden of Eden story. Those of the Jewish faith don’t believe they are born into original sin but original goodness. But without the notion of the Fall and original sin, what is the role of Christ as redeemer?
What is the role of the Catholic Church? For me, Christ’s message of love, service, compassion, inclusivity, and a willingness to challenge the military authority of his time, is a beautiful example of the Divine Feminine in practice. Love. Compassion. Inclusiveness. Unity…all lie at the heart of the Divine Feminine. What has excited me in researching these sacred texts, is that we also have the opportunity to rethink, and reinterpret, scriptures in a way that is reflective of our own time…and in support of a more progressive spirituality that IS inclusive.
Although most of our religious traditions have worshiped male deities over the millennia—Yahweh, Christ, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, etc., the feminine face of god has existed alongside them all along and are now becoming more recognized and gaining in popularity…certainly in the West where the Judeo-Christian tradition has been dominant in our culture. Women and men are seeking out alternatives to traditional religions that are more inclusive and less dogmatic.
• In Judaism, and the mystical teachings of Kabbalah, Shekinah is the feminine divine presence.
• In Christianity, Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and also Eve as first Mother, are all now being honored as representatives of the divine feminine
• In Islam and Sufism, Fatima, wife to the Prophet Mohammed, and the Beloved
• In Buddhism, Kuan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, is worshipped all over world including the United States.
• In Hinduism, there are 330 million gods and goddesses. Although Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu are the three primary male deities, in the pantheon of goddesses, Shakti, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Kali, Durga to name a few all represents aspects of the divine feminine.
• Of course, there is also a whole pantheon of Greek and Roman goddesses, so we are not lacking for images that represent the feminine face of god but we are now at a point in history where the recognition of their own Divinity can support us in bringing back into balance the masculine and feminine energies. We need the masculine as much as the feminine but as we have experienced the scale has been tipped too far towards the masculine–causing wars and ecological degradation around the world. This is why it is so important to nurture the divine feminine into being.
Outside of these religious traditions there has also been, since the feminist movement of the 70s, the revival of the most ancient goddess of all…that of Gaia. Mother Earth. What our indigenous brothers and sisters have always known, is that the Earth is our first Mother. The embodiment of the divine feminine, she is the giver of life. Sustainer of life and worthy of our reverence and devotion. Unfortunately, this hasn’t always been the case given the first commandment to have no other gods than the one god of the Abrahamic traditions.
And there are those who strongly hold to their beliefs that those who honor the Earth are pagan, devil-worshippers, and will go to some version of hell. It’s part of the conversation, too, but I feel hopefully that many of our religious leaders are now embracing and encouraging good stewardship of the Creation among their followers. Through a number of mystical experiences, I have come to a deep awareness that no matter who or what we worship (be it a god, goddess, or science)—we are all interconnected and we are all of the Earth.
I want to mindful of not painting an idealized portrait of the Divine Feminine. Love may be the heart of the divine feminine. And yes, a mother’s love is tender and nurturing but it is also a fierce love. This is the marriage of light and shadow. The Goddess, as Gaia, is a giver and sustainer of life, but she is also the destroyer of life as we have been witness to in the large-scale natural disasters that have become more prevalent. And all of you who are mothers know you would protect your young at all costs.
When Marianne Williamson speaks she often uses the story of the hyena mother who guards against the rest of the den of hyenas until all her young are fed. In her analysis, females are anthropologically wired to protect their young. For me, the emergent Divine Feminine is likewise asking that we harness both the tender love and fierce love to awaken, heal, and transform our world from one that is unsustainable to one that is life-sustaining—where our children are fed and bombs are no longer necessary.
We now know that the Divine Feminine has been present throughout history but how do we nurture it fully into being? Through us? How do we mid-wife this new era into consciousness? As I stated in the opening, this is a journey from the head to the heart for all of us—men and women. What I’ve learned is that it requires us to break open our hearts to each other and our world. To compassion. To love. To Oneness. Those attributes of the Divine Feminine.
I know what it feels like to have my heart broken wide open from my own experience through loss and grief when I was 30. Today is Mother’s Day and I’m thinking about my mother, Jane. She died unexpectedly 22 years ago. Nine months after my brother died from AIDS. It was a very dark time in my life but through my suffering, the dark night of the soul to quote St John of the Cross, I was able to open my heart to compassion for others, for all life. There were many gifts that came out of this period in my life for which am now grateful, though it was hell on earth for a time.
Breaking open our hearts doesn’t have to happen to so tragically, though it often does happen that way, doesn’t it? But let us not wait for a catastrophe to open or hearts to our world. In my workshops, the first step I offer on this journey of the heart is to slow down, take time for silence and stillness. Contemplation. Coming into awareness of the revelatory miracle of Creation. Mother Earth. There is so much beauty around us at any given moment, if we would we allow ourselves the time to simply BE. Beauty breaks open our heart. Think of a time when you became aware of this. ……
In “Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World,” author and Jungian Jean Shinoda Bolen writes: “Seeing beauty, loving what is beautiful, and nurturing and sustaining it all go together. It is also the ability to sense or intuit potential beauty and, through love, encourage it into existence.” Sounds like the Divine Feminine to me.
Beauty is available to us everywhere even when we’re stuck in traffic. Last Saturday morning, I was crossing the Vancouver bridge to lead a workshop at the Unitarian. It was the first time in 19 years of living in Portland, that I got the bridge lift. Though concerned for a moment at being late, I just turned off my engine and sat, watching the birds play in the rafters above me. Listening to their bird song, I breathed deeply into the present moment. I had no control over the situation, so I just allowed everything to be as it was.
Allowing ourselves to be more present to life—being with both with the joy and the grief that may emerge when we finally step off the speeding train that is contemporary life—is key to breaking open our hearts and inviting in the Divine Feminine. I believe the most radical thing we can do is to slow down. In this way, we are better able to be present to beauty, to our feelings, to the people in our lives, to God, to bear witness to what is happening in our world and then take action from a place of LOVE.
As an artist, of course, one of the primary expressions for me to nurture the divine feminine into being is through my artwork. First, in the creation of clay sculptures, primarily of the feminine form, much like our ancestors who sculpted the goddess during the Neolithic period. For example, I’m currently completing a series of ceremonial sculptures that represent three seasons of a woman’s life—the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Painting has been my primary medium since my teens and although at one time my work emerged out of the darkness and disappointment in my life, I now create sacred art that draws from the holy well of all spiritual traditions.
Today it is beauty that is my gateway to the Divine. Over the past year, I completed a large-scale, three-panel painting that re-visions the Garden of Eden narrative through an indigenous lens. The overarching theme for the piece became “the Garden is right here, right now.” Paradise is not in some unknowable future, but right here on this glorious planet…we need only remember the holiness of this place we call home. Bringing together symbolism from both the Genesis narrative and those of our earth-honoring ancestors, the painting is a visual scripture that reveals our innate interconnectedness in the web of Creation. Here, Adam and Eve representing the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine, reclaim their roles as stewards of Creation.
The creative process brings us into the present moment and I believe with all my heart, that we each have a creative gift to bring to the world what ever that may look like for you. I’m awed by people who make art in their kitchen. Fruits and vegetables are so gorgeous. Creativity is our sacred inheritance. As we are born into a creative universe, so we are all co-creators in our evolutionary history. To quote theologian and founder of Creation Spirituality, Matthew Fox:
To allow creativity its appropriate place in our lives and our culture, our education and our family relationships, is to allow healing to happen at a profound level. The intimacy of creativity corresponds to the mystical experience itself. Mysticism bespeaks union, and there is an ongoing union of us and the Divine (Feminine) precisely during the process of giving birth in any form whatsoever.”
Creating life, being a mother… a parent….is one of the most creative acts a human being can undertake. And I bow to you all on this Mother’s Day. Our indigenous teachers say this is the remembering time. A time to remember our relationship to the Earth, our first Mother… that we are all interconnected in the web of life. I also believe it’s a time for remembering your innate creativity in whatever form that may take to serve the healing of our own hearts…our families…our world.
We may be living amidst the great unraveling according to David Korten, but in the words of my teacher, environmentalist Joanna Macy, we are also in the midst of the Great Turning. This is a time of great transformation foretold by many ancient prophecies when the divine feminine and masculine will come into balance again after a period of near extinction and initiate a new phase of evolution ushering in a renewed vision that honors the sacredness of all life on Earth. May it be so.
In closing, a poem that speaks to me of the emerging Divine Feminine:
Beauty is the Messenger
Beauty is the messenger
Calling love out from forgotten places
Hidden by worry and fear,
And misplaced under the illusion of scarcity.
War, pain and conflict are all too evident
Between border towns, strangers and commuters.
But LOVE grows exponentially faster.
It IS the speed of light.
So, kindness reaches its destination
Infinitely faster than the time it takes
For the heaviness of cruelty
To chafe across toughened skin.
Beauty is the messenger
Waking up the sense of wonder,
Rounding up our wholeness into connection beyond ourselves
And increasing our capacity for limitless love.
Beauty is the messenger
Proving the incompatibility
Of splendor and malice;
Showing simply by example…
What is possible.
May all beings know peace. May all beings be loved.
I haven’t disappeared my friends but after five months of events, I am back in the studio working. This summer, my intention is to get as far as I can on completing the “Where We Stand is Holy” series that began with “Lauds: Prayer for the Birds.” Shown here are details from “Sext: Prayer for the Desert.” Desert Tortoise, Sage Grouse, and Black-chinned Hummingbird. There are efforts to list the Sage Grouse as endangered species but much resistance from the oil/gas lobbyists as it would impact exploration and extraction in the SW.
“Sext: Prayer for the Desert” is nearly complete. I am also in various stages with Vespers (water) and Compline (mammals). These paintings inspired by illuminated manuscripts shine a light on endangered species as well as the beauty of those wild places under siege by oil/gas extraction, plastics in the ocean, and climate change. I’m envisioning these panels to be part of larger installation and will share more as that develops. In the meantime, I am offering limited-edition art prints with a percentage of your purchase benefiting organizations working to protect our creatures and wild places. Shop here: http://sacredartstudio.net/product-category/prints/
Memento Mori is the Medieval Latin theory and practice of reflection on mortality.
This installation creates space to make visible what is invisible. To question: What are we willing to “see” and acknowledge? Do we veil ourselves to mask feelings of despair around the truth of a changing world including climate change and species extinction? Do we have the courage to bear witness to the beauty of our world, to break open our hearts for what we are losing, and be inspired to take actions to protect life on earth?
Much of what is now threatened by the ecological crisis isn’t visible to the human eye such as plankton, microscopic organisms that float on the surface of our oceans. Plankton comes from the Greek planktos meaning wandering or drifting. The neon-colored phytoplankton are responsible for half of the carbon dioxide that is naturally removed from the atmosphere. As well as being vital to climate control, phytoplankton produces as much oxygen as all the forests and terrestrial plants combined. However, some scientists argue that we have lost 40% over the past 60 years. What now? New research also illustrates the staggering amount of plastic being ingested by zooplankton, the foundation of our marine food chain. On average, we are losing 200 species per day.
Our grief is born of love and by allowing ourselves to feel our despair, we also discover gratitude for the miracle of life. With this exhibit, we are able to “see” that our very existence is intricately linked to the health of plankton and our oceans, both of which are currently under stress from our current way of life. Seeing the fragile beauty of these organisms, we recognize our innate interconnectedness in the web of life and respond with actions to slow the damage.
There is hope. I believe we each have the power to make a difference in our day-to-day lives—economically, politically, and in our consumer choices. I also believe in the power of human creativity and that each one of us has a gift to offer our world in service to other beings and to the earth. I invite you to find that one thing that breaks open your heart and that inspires you to, in the word of Gandhi, “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Profound gratitude to Christian Sardet and The Macronauts, Plankton Chronicles project for permission to use their photography for this project. planktonchronicles.org
“All Nations Tree of Life” final along with several sketches in my book as I worked through this concept inspired by the wisdom of our indigenous brothers and sisters after attending a Lummi Nation ceremony (During UU Conference at Oregon Convention Center) and the indigenous plenary at the Parliament of the World’s Religions last year. Their message: red, yellow, black, or white–we are all one people (symbolized by the medicine wheel in the heart of the tree). “All Nations. All Faiths. One Prayer” to quote Chief Arvol Lookinghorse, the 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe. We are at a crossroads and must join together in order to heal Mother Earth and all her creatures, including we two-leggeds. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Here, DNA weaves throughout the roots of this sacred tree, connecting us as a people even when we aren’t able to see this deeply innate interdependence in daily life.
I was reminded of her book again after finishing the painting shown here, “Resurrection.” Although most would associate the word or concept with the resurrection of Christ, I am using the word in context with the necessary and emerging return of the ancient paradigm associated with our indigenous ancestors and the Divine Feminine of the Goddess tradition, prior to the rise of patriarchy. Although I would also suggest that Christ is likewise an embodiment of the feminine with his original message of inclusivity and love for the neighbor and stranger.
From Amazon: “In her compassionate meditation on how nature and humans both collide and connect, Williams affirms a reverence for all life, and constructs a narrative of hopeful acts, taking that which is broken and creating something whole.”
Butterflies = transformation. Life. Death. Beauty. Preciousness of life. Bowie. Rickman. Frey. Levine. Icons and teachers. So breathing into the complexities of life and in my heart, and piecing together a mosaic of beauty in a broken world.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
A blessed and wildly creative new year to you,
From my November Newsletter:
In our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop
upon the heart
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful
grace of God.
I first discovered this quote from the Greek tragedian Aeschylus while doing research in graduate school a decade ago. Robert Kennedy had recited this to a crowd during a campaign stop upon hearing of the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Kennedy was speaking to a grieving nation and it also resonated deeply with my own grief journey after the deaths of my brother and mother 25 years ago.
If we don’t turn away and numb the pain, those profound moments of loss that we all experience have the power to break open our hearts and to remind us of that which is most essential. Love, family (biological or chosen), health, community…a peaceful, sustainable, and just world. And for me, beauty and art of course.
Today, in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the abhorrent backlash against those of the Islamic faith, most of whom likewise desire a safe home, food on the table, and a peaceful world, may we have the wisdom to recognize that we are one human family.
I continue to be inspired by my experience at the Parliament of World Religions last month with so many inspiring visionaries from all faith traditions. A Sikh woman, Valerie Kaur, spoke of Revolutionary Love. I’m attaching the video link here and hope that you will be equally as inspired by her message.
Like many of you, I feel deeply the heaviness of our world but give thanks for this precious gift of life in all its complexities and possibilities. Thank you for your support and as always, I welcome your thoughts.
A blessed Thanksgiving to all.
In gratitude and love,
From my October newsletter:
I returned home from the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City a week ago but my heart is still in Utah with the 10,0000 people who attended the Parliament. Ten thousand men, women, and children/youth from 80 countries and 50 faith traditions ranging from indigenous, goddess, pagan, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, B’ahai, Buddhist, Hindu, artists, activists, priestesses, and healers. All in agreement to the holiness of our sacred container where love and compassion were generated in our honoring of diversity while recognizing the common threads of our shared humanity. I felt that I traveled the world in five days and found a home. A tribe. The theme this year was centered around “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity.”
The Ute tribe of Utah welcomed us to their ancestral lands and our indigenous brothers and sisters lit a sacred fire that burned throughout the Parliament. There was much praying, chanting, singing, dancing, a Cosmic Mass, and ceremonies but many tears were shed as well as we listened and bore witness to the numerous crises of our time. Religious extremism, social and economic inequality, climate change, and the rights of women and indigenous peoples.
The message was clear, people of faith (wouldn’t that be all of us?) have a moral obligation to step up and take action. Every plenary, every talk I attended addressed the urgency of this critical time and that we each have a role to play. Large and small. It was affirming of my work as a sacred artist and activist and returned energized to continue my mission in service to Mother Earth and all beings that began a decade ago.
What is calling you during this evolutionary time?
There were so many powerful moments and presenters, many whose work I have followed for years including Vandana Shiva, Terry Tempest Williams, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Marianne Williamson, Karen Armstrong, Jane Goodall, and the Dali Lama who spoke to us via satellite. The indigenous plenary was one of the most profound and moving. An elder from Greenland told us that the ice is melting and there is nothing we can do about it. He was looking for the one hope for future generations. I don’t know that I can ever forget his wailing song to the ancestors who we will need if we are to survive the future.
It is a good time with Sawhain (Halloween) this week to honor and welcome back your ancestors.
Our time together was an urgent call but it was surprisingly filled with hope. So many people on the ground doing the Great Work for other beings, human and non-human, and our beloved Mother Earth, Gaia, Pachamama.
I’ve been working on this new painting since my return. Our fragile world is cracking and transformation is assured. What will our world look like in 20 years? What part are you playing or will play in this Great Turning? “Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.” -Terry Tempest Williams.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
For love of the EARTH!
From my September Newsletter:
Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them –
The summer flowers depart –
Sit still – as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.
From The Autumn by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I welcome the Autumn and the element of water as it begins to rain while writing this message to you. Blessed rain after a long, dry, and hot summer. Though I appreciate the everyday epiphanies of time spent in the outdoors, the garden, and the thrill of growing tomatoes, the turning of the wheel guiding us toward our inner world is my true home. This is a fertile time for our creativity!
Through the summer I have been working on the mandala commission shown above. What I have titled the “Hope Mandala,” was commissioned by a lovely woman, Patti, who lives in the Boston area. It became clear in our exchanges via Skype and email that the universe had conspired to bring us together in order to manifest this work of sacred art that is both personal to her and universal in its message–hope and interconnectedness.
When I asked what she wanted to feel when looking at her mandala, she said hope and inner strength to preserve in her meditation practice. It became clear to her to dedicate her practice to the healing of the earth. I was thrilled that we shared this common vision and when I unveiled her mandala this week, she wept. The highest compliment I can receive for my work as it has touched the soul and why I refer to these commissions as soul-symbol mandalas. Learn more here.
Her chanting of the Great Compassion Mantra (Da Bei Zhou) immediately inspired my vision of Kuan Yin, Bodhisattva of Compassion, or She Who Hears the Cries of the World, to be at the heart of the mandala or yantra. Here, she holds the willow sprinkling the divine nectar of compassion and healing on our beloved mother earth. Behind her, the Taoist symbol of yin/yang symbolizes her dual nature/paths in life: The yang/masculine side as a finance person (represented by the mother board texture). The yin/feminine aspect of your Spiritual Self, who feels connected to the universe as represented by the Gemini constellation, her astrological sign (the twins reinforce her dual nature).
On a macrocosmic scale, these also symbolize the ways in which we are all interconnected in the web of life. Through our technology, our cosmology, and globally as expressed with the longitude/latitude, or energy meridian, that holds the mandala. We are indeed one.
The flowers in the thresholds at each of the four cardinal directions symbolize hope, healing, clarity of vision, and courage/devotion. As a Chinese American woman, I included the kanji which translates as hope.
Prints and cards will be forthcoming and a percentage of the proceeds will benefit an organization working towards the healing of our world. More to come.
I’m currently preparing to attend the Parliament of World Religions next month that is being held in Salt Lake City, Utah. I sense this will be a continuation of my graduate work in our world’s spiritual traditions and the way these studies have informed my work as an artist and activist on behalf of our holy mother earth. Imagining new works, ceremonies, and offerings will emerge from this interfaith and indigenous sacred gathering. Look forward to sharing more as the journey unfolds.
Greetings Earth Lovers
I am excited to share the completed “Lauds: Prayer for the Birds” from the “Where I Stand is Holy” series with you. If you have been following along, you know this has been quite a journey. The original vision emerged after my return from an Animas Institute quest last summer. I connected deeply to that landscape and was reminded of this commandment to Moses from the Torah: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5). When we are standing on Mother Earth, we are standing on holy ground. On our last evening together, I walked out in front of our group, removed my sandals, and chanted a song that we often sing during our community sweat lodge (changing sit to stand).
Where I stand is holy, holy is this ground.
Forest, mountain, river, listen to the sound.
Great Spirit circles all around me.
(Repeat several times)
This mantra guided the creation of this piece inspired by illuminated manuscripts that included ornate borders with flowers, bugs, and creatures of all sizes and imagined monks in ancient times as I painted each tiny leaf. The 11 varieties of birds that I chose through my research are just a small sample of the 314 North American birds threatened by climate change. According to the Audubon Society, 314 of the 588 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080. (Learn more here). With temperature changes, acidification of our oceans, and loss of habitat and food sources, their survival is precarious.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
How do we be with this beauty and our sorrow? As I learned from my own transformative journey through grief 25 years ago, it is important and necessary to allow the feelings and to allow our hearts to break open, as painful as it can be. It is natural to grieve what we love(d) and who among us doesn’t love our birds? “Beauty is what opens our eyes to love. Love ignites passion and passion is what propels us toward the future wrought with risk and uncertainty.” -Terry Tempest Williams
With the Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment and urgent call for creation care, my work (and many others) over the past decade feels affirming and am grateful for his vision and leadership on the most critical issue of our time.
In the Catholic tradition, Lauds is the morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, so I chose morning glories and songbirds to symbolize this time of the day as the sun rises in the background. Three other panels for Sext (noon), Vespers (evening), and Compline (night) are all part of this vision and will also give expression to our endangered species. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter, too.
For love of the birds.