During the holy month of December when many of us celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, and/or Solstice, I’ve been reflecting on light. This time of year is often referred to as the ‘Season of Light,’ wherein we drape an array of lights throughout home and hearth. In the Jewish tradition, the menorah is brought out for ceremonial lighting. These days I’ve been imagining what it was like two thousand years ago for our ancestors before electricity and the ubiquitous presence of illuminated devices nestled neatly into the palms of our citizenry. Sitting before the blazing fire in the wood stove today, I was thinking of those dark nights many moon cycles ago. I reflected on the ancient Jewish celebration of Hanukkah and of the oil that ‘should’ have burned for only one day and the miracle that it lasted for eight. I imagined three holy men, or Magi who were Zoroastrian (from Persia, what is now known as Iran) priests and astronomers following the stars to honor the birth of a vessel born to bring light in a time of darkness. Jesus, bearer of love and hope. I envisioned our earth-honoring ancestors celebrating the darkest night of the year around a sacred fire while inviting the return of the light over the coming months.
While studying the world’s spiritual traditions in graduate school, I was surprised and de-lighted to discover the many common threads that weave themselves throughout all our faith traditions including those with our earth-honoring brothers and sisters. These sacred texts affirmed for me that no matter what path we are called to follow, we are all interconnected in the web of creation. We are indeed all One. May all beings know peace, may all beings know love. May it be so.
Mother, Father, God, Universal Power
Remind us daily of the sanctity of all life.
Touch our hearts with the glorious oneness
of all creation,
As we strive to respect all the living beings
on this planet.
Penetrate our souls with the beauty
of this earth,
As we attune ourselves to the rhythm
and flow of the seasons.
Awaken our minds with the knowledge to
achieve a world in perfect harmony
And grant us the wisdom to realize that we
can have heaven on earth.
-Jo Poore (Earth Prayers from Around the World)
At the End of the Year
The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.
As this year draws to an end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.
Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.
The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
And so we begin to wind down another year. Most of us celebrate the holy days in ways that honor our own unique tradition or struggle through the season nostalgic for remembrance of things past, anxious for the new year to come. I tend to vacillate between the two. We then begin the process of reflecting on the year and visioning for the next. Ending and beginnings. We humans are typically happiest at the beginning of any adventure whether it be the start of a new year, a new relationship, a new project, and subsequently feel sadness at its end. In his work with dying patients, theologian and Griefwalker, Stephen Jenkinson counsels that we need to “learn to love the ending as much as the beginning.” This is no easy task but one I am learning to explore as an essential element to life, in my relationships, and in my work as an artist. Perhaps it comes along with the spiritual journey that invites us to let go and trust in the process. That life is indeed guiding us towards or through a labyrinth of cycles to our soul’s destination.
I felt this recently with the completion of my large-scale painting based on the Garden narrative. As most of you know, this project began late last year with a vision in the wake of the Gulf oil spill and came to life over the past year. I made near daily pilgrimages to the studio to work on the piece and upon completing it, a void emerged. Now what? Of course, to complete the cycle of co-creation, it must be viewed and I am currently seeking a location for a show. However, I felt a sadness or emptiness where once this intense passion had been driving my artistic expression. So I have been sitting with that, noticing it. It’s in the waiting, the in-between spaces that become the spiritual practice. That place of gestation once again that seems to show up over and over again, certainly in my life. And what has emerged is a vision to take this piece into video of some sort. I envision a journey into the heart of the Creation and the diverse layers of symbolism that weave throughout it and why I feel it is an important contribution to the current ecological and theological discourse, especially among those who feel called to reject climate change, species extinction, and the environmental movement overall. (Click here for one example).
Once again I am discovering that in life an ending can be an opportunity for birthing a new beginning, a new vision. And once again I’m happily immersed in the creation of a new soul-symbol mandala commission and the ‘crone’ from my sculpture series that includes the maiden and the mother. And so, allowing for the sadness, “we give thanks to the gifts learned” to borrow from O’Donohue’s poem and hopefully in the process we can learn to love the ending as well as the beginning. Perhaps this is our task in both life and love.
Twenty-five years ago I never thought I would see a sign that read, “The Beginning of the End of AIDS.” Today is World AIDS Day and I just viewed part of the on-line panel discussion with former president Bill Clinton, Bono, physicians, scientists, and global activists working to end the AIDS pandemic. This sign was on the wall behind the panel. I was moved to tears by the end of the conversation when they read off the numerous organizations working to eradicate this horrific disease from the planet. They believe it is possible. Wow. Back in the early days of the epidemic, when my brother, his partner, and so many other young gay men were dying and first diagnosed there were few agencies (The Gay Men’s Health Crisis was the only one in NYC) working on the frontlines of the disease and there was so much denial and fear. Even our political leaders refused to acknowledge what was happening. Reagan and Bush, Sr. never mentioned AIDS while in office and for a long time I blamed both of them for my brother’s death. The late 80s. A different era.
As I’ve shared here before (click to read), art has always been my way of processing deep feelings, especially my grief in the wake of my brother’s (and my mother) death. I credit art for saving my life during those dark years and you can see some paintings from my early years by clicking here. The painting shown above titled “Scarlet in A Wind” was inspired by the song a former friend of mine wrote for me about my loss and love for my beloved brother Richard. The red ribbon being the AIDS ribbon. As we mourn and remember all the precious beings who have been taken by this disease, may we also celebrate those angels among us who are working tirelessly to end the suffering of all those who continue to live with HIV/AIDS. May it be so.
Scarlet in a Wind
Sad ribbons blowing
Scarlet in a wind.
Sad ribbons blowing
Twisting ‘round her heart.
Thoughts flying skyward
“Dearest angels in the sky
I had no time to say good-bye.
Your greedy wings took him away.
I didn’t know it would be today.
Didn’t you know that he wanted to stay?
All of my tears couldn’t keep you away.
Golden harps sang too soon.
Wind from your wings swept through the room.
Why did you need him so soon.
We needed time to grow and bloom.
All the things he might have been
are erasing in the night.
A father with child or a funny old man.
Now a dad lives on past his son.
Too soon. Too soon.
Tell him I love him.
Tell him I care.
Tell him one day
I will be there.”
© 1996, Joanne Nelsen
This is a brief excerpt from a paper I wrote in 2004 while completing graduate studies at Marylhurst University. Founded by Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality informs my spiritual path as well as provides a framework for my workshops and retreats.
Creation Spirituality is intrinsically grounded in cosmology and creativity. Its theology is based on a reverence for life and honoring the sacredness in all of creation extending to the universal whole. As we are born of creation—a creative process in itself—we are, therefore, born with an innate desire to create. Creativity imbues the Creation Spirituality tradition in a way that allows us to connect to the Divine, recognize our interconnectivity, and thus act for the welfare of all. Creation Spirituality is the path to awakening, healing, and transformation. It’s ecumenical in its inclusivity and draws on the wisdom of the ancient peoples and the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages, specifically Meister Eckhart, the fourteenth century Dominican mystic. The Four Paths of Creation Spirituality include the Via Positiva, Via Negativa, Via Creativa, and the Via Transformativa. “The backbone of the creation spirituality tradition is its naming of the spiritual journey in the Four Paths. It is important to be able to name the journey so that people can share in a common language” (M. Fox, Creation 17). This is a language that honors the awe and wonder of creation (Path 1), the darkness and letting go (Path 2), creativity as giving birth to our Divinity (Path 3), and an awakening to act in service to justice and compassion (Path 4).
Can Creation Spirituality infused with a reverence for life, cosmology, and art transform cultural attitudes towards the living body of earth?
Most often we think of the natural world as an economic resource, or as a place of recreation after a wearisome period of work, or as something of passing interest for its beauty on an autumn day when the radiant colors of the oak and maple leaves give us a moment of joy. All these attitudes are quite legitimate, yet in them all there is what might be called a certain trivializing attitude. If we were truly moved by the beauty of the world about us, we would honor the earth in a profound way. . . . and turn away with a certain horror from all those activities that violate the integrity of the planet. (T. Berry, Dream 10)
During this time in history, we are facing an environmental crisis never before experienced by any other civilization. The geobiological structure of the earth that has taken billions of years to bring into existence is now being threatened by the anthropocentric-driven relationship that humans have with the earth—all in the name of progress and growth. If we don’t alter our relationship with the natural world from one of exploitation to one of reverence the future of human life on earth remains questionable. Creation Spirituality is one path to a renewed biocentric relationship with the earth and creativity, and by extension the artist, can contribute to the awakening, healing, and transformation our world; however, the resacralization of nature is a choice that humanity must make for the collective good and for the survival of life on this planet. It is a profound homecoming to our interconnectedness in the web of life and it means a paradigm shift at the deepest level of our humanity that requires the support of our economic, political, religious, and educational institutions. It asks for “the recovery of faith in our creativity and in the artist within each of us and the artists among all of us. . . . It has to do with the rekindling of the spark of hope and vision, of adventure and blessing, that a tired civilization needs” (M. Fox, Blessing 187).