Divinity and the universe seem deeply biased in favor
of the future. Both celebrate emergence.
Call it: Resurrection. Call it: New Life or New Creation.
Call it: Evolution or Creativity. I believe in the future
and the possibilities of hope.
-Theologian Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality.
I discovered this quote after I completed “Resurrection” seen here above and it felt so appropriate to the vision behind this painting: Holy mother earth with the seed of life nestled in the heart of the web of life. Our current paradigm is cracking open. Transformation, symbolized by the monarch butterflies, is assured. To maintain life on earth, we need the return or “resurrection” of ancient ways of knowing associated with indigenous and ancestral wisdom, for living in harmony with the earth.
Fox’s message fills me with hope and possibility at a time of deep division and uncertainty in our country, in our world. Art has that power, too. Hope.
I’ve been researching options for people to collect my work in more affordable ways. Art blankets have been something I’ve considered for awhile. Popular in the visionary arts community, they’re great to take to any festival, camping, or to snuggle up with at home. Spread the beauty.
These soft and cozy blankets are woven with 100% cotton. 60% of which is recycled cotton. Made in the USA. $85 plus shipping. (If you’re in the Portland area, I could arrange for delivery.) I’m taking pre-orders here.
I’m also thrilled to share with you that Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass loved the Reciprocity Mandala. She wrote:
“I have to tell you that I just cried when I saw your painting. I feel my dear ones from Braiding Sweetgrass, so very much alive here, so loved. It is so whole. The love and the grief…the glimpse of salamanders, the radiance of goldenrod and asters….This is really magnificent and I am so touched by your creation. This is our work, together-to reciprocate the beauty of the world with beauty of our own. I am so grateful.”
I’m so deeply touched. And in spite of all the uncertainty, I am also grateful. For life, for spirit. For the beauty of our world. Where are you creating beauty today?
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.
It’s February 2nd and already the first signs of spring are here with daffodils emerging and little buds on the hydrangeas beginning to show themselves in the garden. A mild winter in the Northwest but we are still only half way to the Spring Equinox. Today is Imbolc which originated within the pagan tradition and is one of the cross-quarter days which falls between the Solstice and the Equinox. The day became associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid who was later adopted by the early Christians and is revered as St. Brigid. From chalicecenter.net/imbolc:
The Second of February belongs to Brigid, (Brighid, Brigit, Bride,) the Celtic goddess who in later times became revered as a Christian saint. Originally, her festival on February 1 was known as Imbolc or Oimelc, two names which refer to the lactation of the ewes, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring. Later, the Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions. The powerful figure of Brigid the Light-Bringer overlights both pagan and Christian celebrations.
In secular culture this time of year became known as Groundhog Day—which was a big deal growing up in New Hampshire where the winters were fierce and we kids yearned for the sun to return so we could play outside again. Growing up, I did not know this yearly visitation of the groundhog had its roots in the ancient ways of our ancestors. Imbolc is a festival of the hearth and home and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. It was a time to start preparing the fields for the first planting and to bless the crop seeds saved and stored from the last harvest. This is the time for purification and renewal.
Today, we can begin to till our actual gardens and we can also symbolically till the soil of our souls by letting go of something (or some action) that no longer serves us and plant a seed of intention to bring into our lives what we most want to harvest this year. Like our ancestors, I joined with several of my women friends in circle this weekend to honor this turn of the wheel and to set intentions for what we would like to see blossom in our own lives. It was a sacred ceremony that was blessed by fire and water, the two elements most associated with Brigid.
For me, these are symbolic of the feminine aspect of the life-giving water and the masculine energy of the fire—like the sun—that when joined together in union give birth to new life. Growth and opportunity are abundant in this landscape. During the winter season, we rest in the darkness of the womb and the sun will now purify and bring energy and light to a new vision for ourselves and our world. What are you longing for? What would you like to see bloom more fully in your life, your work, your relationships? Plant the seeds of intention now, nurture the ground, and harvest the gifts as we journey through the cycles of the seasons in the coming year.
Brigid was the goddess of healing, inspiration, craftsmanship and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge. “Song” from Wendell Berry—farmer, tiller of the soil and soul, and poet:
Within the circles of our lives
we dance the circles of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the seasons,
the circles of our reason
within the cycles of the moon.
Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all
Only music keeps us here,
each by all the others held.
In the holds of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.
And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone
into the darker circles of return.
I hope the start of this New Year brings you good health and joy. There seems to be a renewed energy of hope at this moment after what seemed like a year of holding our collective breaths. We’re still here though too many beloveds have departed this realm, but I remain grateful for all who are holding the light these days. As indigenous teacher and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:
“The path is lined with all the world’s people, in all colors of the medicine wheel-red, white, black, yellow-who understand the choice ahead, who share a vision of respect and reciprocity, of fellowship with the more-than-human world. Men with fire, women with water, to reestablish balance, to renew the world. “
May it be so. This quote comes towards the end of Kimmerer’s brilliant hymnal to the Earth, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.” There is abundant wisdom and rich imagery in her book and with only so much space to work with, I simply allowed the species of each plant and animal to guide me. Salmon, heron, ambystoma maculata (salamander), three sisters, aster and goldenrod, medicine plants, etc…Through this co-creative journey, I feel an even deeper kinship with all these beings.
I hear the call from our indigenous brothers and sisters about the need for all of us to unite as a spiritual community to heal the earth. This was also the inspiration, for those new to my work, for the “All Nations Tree of Life” shown below. I/we are seeing this happen within many communities even though it may not be visible in mainstream media.
In closing, from Braiding Sweetgrass: “The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibility for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blanks out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. . . . Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world. . . . In return for the privilege of breath.”
What is your gift? Would love to hear from you!
For love of the Earth!
From my December newsletter:
Happy Solstice & Holydays
To those of us in the Northern Hemisphere today marks the beginning of winter. My/our Celtic and Scandinavian ancestors had rituals to welcome the return of the light during this darkest of days. And it’s no coincidence that Hanukkah and Christmas fall around the Winter Solstice both of which celebrate the light. In the Jewish faith, it was a vessel of oil that was meant to burn for one day, and lasted for eight, symbolized by the lighting of the menorah. And for those of the Christian faith, a little bundle of hope born into a time of darkness.
I was pulling runes, a Nordic divination system, when working on the mandala below. When drawing ISA (I) the guidance is to stop and go within. It announces a time of restoration and renewal at the deepest level. I’m entering this space as we approach the year’s end and embracing the stillness after two Christmas seasons in the hospital with my father, who departed this realm last month.
Wishing those of the Jewish faith a blessed and happy Hanukkah during this season of light. I really love this ancient ritual of lighting the menorah. For those unfamiliar with the symbolism of this sacred time: Hanukkah is a celebration of the victory of the Maccabean Rebellion (167-160 BCE) against the attempt by Antiochus to force Hellenistic i.e. Greek pagan, practices upon the Jewish people and symbolizes the re-dedication of the Temple. According to the legend, when the Jews regained access to the Temple, they found only one jar of oil left, enough to stay alight for only one day, but by a miracle, the oil stayed burning for eight days. Occurring around winter solstice, each night for eight nights, another candle is lit on the menorah. The amount of light gradually increases like the lengthening of sunlight.
Rape of the Spirit, 2001, Bronze ©Amy Livingstone
It’s been over a month since my last communication. I hope this email finds you well and enjoying the beauty of Autumn and the lush colors that are abundant this year.
It has been an intense time for me with the sudden death of a good friend and the leader of my spiritual community, and my father’s final passage to the far shore a week ago today. It was hard to see him suffering at the end and am grateful to have been with him when he departed this realm. It was sacred time and naturally brought up memories of sitting by my late brother’s bedside 29 years ago as he lay dying from AIDS. Many of you know of my transformative journey through grief and if not, you can read about it here. My mother’s spirit (as were others) was present in my father’s tiny room over the last several weeks and am imagining them together again.
Art saved me back then and continues to be my saving grace and with so much suffering/violence in our world. The sculpture above “Rape of the Spirit” is one of many sculptures and paintings that emerged out of my own grief. It’s why I believe in the power of art to heal and may be offering some workshops again in the coming year if that is where I am called. Right now, I’m allowing time to grieve and listen for guidance around this next stage of life and work. Where there is an ending, a beginning or rebirth is inevitable and am trusting in that.
I need to be creating, so am slowly getting into the studio and am back to the mandala below. There are many paintings in process and will be sharing those in time. And if you’re starting to think about the holydays, consider purchasing sacred art prints, cards, or originals. I am experimenting with a line of sacred art items and will share more on that soon. Visit the shop here.
“In our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Reciprocity mandala inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.”
The “Interfaith Tree of Hope” is currently hanging at the New Thought Center for Spiritual Living (NTCSL) in Lake Oswego. A percentage of the sale of this painting will benefit this community committed to peace, love, and unity. Peace. Salam. Shalom.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brother[sister]hood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
From my September Newsletter.
I delivered the “Interfaith Tree of Peace” for Providence St Vincent Hospital on Wednesday having completed this revised version over the past month. It’s quite large at 7 x 3 feet and with the addition of the dove, it called for a new title and intention. This painting along with “Be Peace” that I shared with you last month will hang in the Interfaith Prayer Room next to the chapel on the second floor (they are repainting the room so it will be a few weeks before they are up). It has been an honor to create this sacred art and hope that they bless all who encounter their beauty.
Given the divisiveness in this country and around the world along with the current struggles people and our beloved planet are undergoing, it’s been a challenge at times for me believe that art matters with so much suffering. But I also believe deeply that we each have a unique gift to contribute to a “more beautiful world we know is possible” (Charles Eisenstein) and if we can’t envision a better world, we can not co-create one together. It has also been affirming to all artists to hear from the Pope:
“The artists of our time, though their creativity, may help us discover the beauty of creation.” -Pope Francis
And so, my process continues to one of devotion and I dedicate this holy work daily to the healing of our world. May it be so.
Sending prayers to all those impacted by Harvey and Irma. And to our beloved Columbia Gorge that is currently on fire. There is much more work to be done to instill reverence and respect for the natural world in our youth. I may be taking a look at ways to contribute to this cause once my father passes and I have more energy and time to give.
With gratitude and love,
“Interfaith Tree of Hope” 84 x 36″ ©Amy Livingstone
“Be Peace” 48 x 36″ ©Amy Livingstone
“The artist’s gift is always to creation itself, to the ultimate meaning of life, to God.” -Otto Rank, Art and Artist
I’m excited to share the Providence St. Vincent hospital paintings that will hang in the interfaith prayer room next to the Chapel. They will be redecorating the space, so not sure at this time when the paintings will actually go up. The good news is that the chaplaincy group loves the peace painting above (though the antique gold is hard to replicate here digitally). However, I am redoing the “Interfaith Tree of Hope”. They found it too pink and not what they anticipated.
During the creation of this painting, I kept my vision and intention on the people who might be sitting or praying for their loved ones in the hospital. Informed no doubt by my holding space with my father during his end of life process and remembering, too, the hours I sat with my brother as he lay dying from AIDS all those years ago. I envisioned a tree of light, with the seed of life emerging from the darkness to bring hope and healing.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of diverting from what we had discussed in our original conversation around using similar colors as the “Interspiritual World Tree.” When I’m working on an individual commission, I don’t show the work in process as it can change over the length of its creation and that has always worked for my clients. But with a large organization like Providence, I really should have shown them where I was called to take the piece before completing it.
It was a lesson for me and all is not lost as I love the painting but will be spending the rest of this month on the new painting. It should go more quickly as I’ve already worked out the design and know exactly what colors to use. Stay tuned!
I would like to find a home for the “Interfaith Tree of Hope” and perhaps another faith community or healing space will purchase it. If you know of anyone would might be interested, I would appreciate hearing from you or forward this email.
Creator of the Universe,
How infinite and astonishing
Are your worlds.
For your Sacred Art
And sustaining Presence.
Forgive my blindness,
Open all my Eyes.
Reveal the Light of Truth.
Let original Beauty
Guide my every stroke.
Flow through me,
From my heart
Through my mind to my hand.
Infuse my work with Spirit
To feed hungry souls.
-Alex Grey, from Art Psalms.
With gratitude and love,