Reading Kahlil Gibran of late and appreciated this from “The Prophet.” Too often we turn to prayer as a form of request when life is not going so well for us (like this past year!) but what if we saw prayer as a form of praise. For life. For beauty. For the gifts of the earth? I reclaimed the word prayer for myself many years ago through the sacred act of creating art. Silence, stillness, contemplation, the paintbrush gliding along the canvas, gratitude for the gift of life. I wrote about this some years ago at my blog: https://www.sacredartstudio.net/reverence-and-art-as-prayer/
From The Prophet:
You pray in your distress and in your need;
would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.
And if it is for your comfort to pour your darkness into space, it is also for your delight to pour forth the dawning of your heart.
And if you cannot but weep when your soul summons you to prayer, she should spur you again and yet again, though weeping, until you shall come laughing. . . .
May all beings be fed. May all beings be loved. May all know peace Aho.
Artwork: “The Artist’s Prayer,” 24×18″, Acrylic. ©Amy Livingstone. Inspired by Medieval monks who painted sacred texts, this painting speaks to the creation of Beauty by the artist as a prayer book for peace. The Latin “Oratio ad sanitatem nostri mundi” translates as a prayer for the healing of our world. The quote above from Rumi: “Out beyond fields of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field, I’ll meet you there.”
“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
It has been a slow unfolding here since my last newsletter. Settling into my new home and studio here in Panther Branch Township just south of downtown Raleigh. It’s now six months since I pulled out of Portland and headed back East to begin a new chapter of life. Something I swore I would never do after moving alone to Portland in 1993. It was hard then and I was in my early 30s. It took time to make a life but a beautiful life it was and remain so grateful for all the many gifts over the years.
Never say never. Here I am approaching 60 and starting over again! Natural concerns about finding community, making meaningful connections, and making a living linger but life–and loss–have taught me too many times that everyday is a gift. Some days I am lonely but on this day of life, I am following my soul. Where it will lead remains a mystery. This is the journey of a pilgrim. Will you join me? “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life” to quote Oliver. Where are you being called to expand and take a step toward your soul calling? Artistically or otherwise?
Right now, I am committed to finishing the “Where We Stand is Holy” installation by the end of August to begin exhibiting in the Fall. I began the series of paintings around endangered species and landscapes several years ago but got put aside while care taking my father prior to his death and with the cross-country move. Prints of the first two panels (Lauds: Prayer for the Birds and “Sext: Prayer for the Desert”) are available at my shop.
The new studio seen above looks out over a quiet piece of land with wild trees, a little pond, and an abundance of Cardinals and Eastern Bluebirds. I traveled 3000 miles to find peace. Om shanti. Though I do look forward to returning to Portland to visit friends!
For love of the EARTH,
From my September newsletter:
“A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us-like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness-that ‘out there’ is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of [wo]men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.” -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness
I love this from Ed Abbey and discovered it while reading his book over the summer during the final stages of “Sext: Prayer for the Desert” shown here.* Seems appropriate given the intention for this painting and the entire “Where We Stand is Holy” series. It has been quite a journey with this piece as I changed course a few times around what beings to include in the border. These texts by Meloy, Williams, and Abbey were inspirations for understanding the sensuousness of the desert landscape, not having spent much time there myself except Sedona briefly and New Mexico many years ago.
I definitely felt the holiness of these landscapes in the American Southwest and there is a long history from all our spiritual traditions of those who have undertaken a pilgrimage to the desert to seek out God, the numinous, or something “wholly other” to quote German theologian Rudolf Otto. Consider Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad from the Abrahamic traditions. Exodus 3:5: Yahweh to Moses: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
In this painting, sego lily and cherry (Utah state flower and fruit), globemallow, and phlox are woven throughout with the creatures: raven, black-chinned hummingbird, collared lizard, desert tortoise, sage-grouse, prairie dog, not to mention the scorpion, honey bees, praying mantis, butterflies, and ants. All this beauty is under siege by oil/gas corporations who want to exploit this sacred landscape. This painting is a prayer but also feels like an elegy to me for that which we are losing. To learn more, visit Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
I also believe in the words of author and activist Alice Walker that “Anything We Love Can Be Saved.” If you read this and follow my work, you are a lover of mother earth and together I believe our love (and actions) can heal our world.
After taking a sabbatical last month, I’m pleased to share that my neck issues seem to have improved with physical therapy, yoga, stretching, and chiropractic care. This time has given me a new awareness of how fragile the inner landscape of our beings truly are. Taking breaks often from the technology is essential to our wellness. So, let’s take a break and go for a walk now…
For love of the earth,
*Sext, or Sixth Hour, is a fixed time of prayer of the Divine Office of almost all the traditional Christian liturgies. It consists mainly of psalms and is said at noon. Its name comes from Latin and refers to the sixth hour of the day after dawn.
“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.
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.
What does it mean to be a contemplative in the modern world? Most often people associate contemplative living with the austerity and isolation of a monastery. At one time, that was true. Although there are still monastic communities around the globe, many of today’s contemplatives participate in the world but bring with them a deep sense of reverence for life, the Holy, into daily life. Like the mystics from all spiritual traditions, there exists an an awareness of the numinous presence that infuses every aspect of our lives. While Buddhist teachings and meditation guide me in deepening my awareness into the present moment, two teachers that also speak to me around contemplative living are Caroline Myss and the late Thomas Merton. In her book “Entering the Castle,” Myss offers a guidebook for answering the call of the soul and she coins the phrase “Mystics without Monasteries” to describe this new way of being in the world. Click here for an excerpt from her book.
And in “New Seeds of Contemplation,” Merton writes: “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, an awareness of the reality of that Source.” Click here for more on Merton.
Living a contemplative life doesn’t require that we renounce the world but it does require choosing a new way of being in the world. Slowing down, unplugging from the technology (at least periodically), and learning to be with the silence in order to create space for encountering what Merton called the “spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life.” Why is this important to those of us who live in the 21st century? As we know, we live in a fast-paced and enormously stressful world. Carving out time in our personal lives for contemplation can open up new possibilities that nurture our spiritual life, our creativity, our relationships (to each other and to the Earth) and bring more calm into our daily lives. I’ve walked the stressed-out, workaholic lifestyle and know that world, too. For all the uncertainty that may come with following my soul’s calling, every day I wake feeling grateful…for life, for beauty, for this present moment…which is all we ever truly have.
I live much of my day in silence, except for the abundant birdsong coming in from the garden, but this may not be possible for those with the demands of family and workplace. So, where to begin if you are just starting out? I recently heard spiritual teacher August Gold interviewed and thought she had a great framework in starting a practice if you don’t have one. She suggests beginning every day with 15 minutes in this way:
· 5 minutes reading inspirational materials
· 5 minutes journaling what is most alive in your heart
· 5 minutes of silent sitting (no TV, radio, computers!)
I would also add, 5 minutes of sketching, doodling, or collaging to tap into your creative source!
From my May newsletter.
Last month, I shared a sneak peek of the “Prayer for the Birds” from the “Where I Stand is Holy” series (4 panels inspired by illuminated manuscripts that address species extinction related to climate change and other human factors) and mentioned that I had been stalled on this painting due to some resistance. And in reflection, my resistance was about fear and attachment instead of trusting and being in the process.
I’ve never had this type of technical problem with my painting but since my Iconography class two years ago, I have been attempting to integrate similar layering techniques into my work. After adding too many layers of paint in the center window, I was struggling with getting the paint to lay down in the sky and on the figure. I was also attached to the way the face was looking even though I could tell it wasn’t quite right. Intuitively, I knew I would have to start over but resisted that until I finally surrendered. Fear crept in along with my perfectionism. Ego was driving the process not divine trust. Ultimately, I had to let go and leap. So, I sanded down the face of the madonna and did start over. I reworked the morning sky. At any given moment during the painting process, when fear or perfectionism shows up, it helps me to repeat a mantra to myself asking Spirit for guidance knowing that I am simply the vessel giving expression to this sacred art. A holy prayer that this beauty may serve others and our world. In his book, “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield speaks to the many layers of resistance and that is a natural part of the creative process. The key is to acknowledge it and continue to show up every day to do the work (whatever that is for you) we are here to do. What is yours?
I was re-visiting my first book of eco-philosophy today, A Sacred Place to Dwell: Living with Reverence Upon the Earth by Henryk Skolimowski, that I discovered in 2003. Reading this sacred text was life changing and inspired me to go on to graduate school to study spiritual traditions and ethics within an interdisciplinary framework. Although I had considered an MFA and a Master’s in Art Therapy at the time, I felt called to this other scholarly path to better understand the disconnect between humanity and all of creation— philosophically, theologically, sociologically, and psychologically, etc. I wasn’t interested in being part of a contemporary art world driven by the notion of art-for-art’s sake or the pathologies of dis-ease associated with art therapy, though I bow in gratitude to those who follow the latter calling. My artwork has been a response to this original inquiry and The Translator especially speaks to the creation of a new language, what some are now calling “the new story,” of our interdependence and reverence for the earth. You can read about the painting here.
Skolimowski put forward this “New Gospel” and share that here with you.
For love of the EARTH!
The New Gospel
- The World is a Sanctuary.
- You were born creative.
- You hold destiny in your hands.
- You have the responsibility to do your part.
- The web of life includes all forms of life, human and non-human.
- Be compassionate to others.
- Be gentle to yourself.
- Be mindful how you treat your body.
- Be mindful of what you think and what you eat.
- You were born into a beautiful world.
- Your nature is divine.
- You divinity must reveal itself in your action.
- Suffering cannot be avoided.
- The fact of death cannot be avoided.
- Celebrate! The universe is in a state of self-celebration.
- What is your path of liberation? To begin with, you need to take yourself seriously.
- Oikos (Eco)—A Sacred Enclosure (oikos is Greek for ‘home.’)
- Achieve wholeness through your own effort.
- We are meaning makers.
This is a small piece (12×12″) as yet untitled that I have been working on over the past week or so. Shown here in its progression. A sweet morning meditation as I continue work on the larger scale series “Where I Stand is Holy” that shines a light on species threatened by climate change. People often ask me how I create my decorative borders. As you can see here, I work out the design on a tissue paper and create the pattern that I will then replicate around the edges. Symbols of transformation continue to appear in my life but this is also representative of our larger collective evolution at this time in our earth’s history.
“Whosoever offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water–that offering of love, of pure heart, I accept” -Bhagavad-Gita.
I love her daily grace, her silent daring
and how I loved I am –
how we admire this strength in each other,
all that we have lost, all that we have suffered,
all that we know;
we are stunned by this beauty,
and I do not forget;
what she is to me,
what I am to her.