“O people! We have been taught the language of birds, and been given everything
˹we need˺. This is indeed a great privilege.” Quran 27:16
As I shared with you last month, The “Conference of the Birds” was originally inspired by a Sufi text of the same name by Farid Ud-Din Attar, who influenced our most famous Sufi poets and mystics Rumi and Hafez. Though the painting doesn’t include birds from this epic poem, I loved the dialogue among the birds within the text about their journey (including their initial resistance) toward union with the One, the Beloved.
Who hasn’t experienced that resistance on the spiritual journey? There is a lot of fear in our world right now and it would be easy to give up on that which feeds life. But when we answer the call of Spirit, there is no going back sleep. And we will need to deepen our commitment in holding the light in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Attar was Persian, so the arches and textures are inspired by Islamic architecture and designs which render a feeling of the sacred. Per these evolutionary times we are living through, along with the beauty in the Garden, there is darkness around us as the poppy and lily flowers also portend. But here the Cardinal, Goldfinch, Red-winged Black Bird, and Arctic Tern hold the light of hope in the center around the circle of life, the one Divine source. Red, yellow, black and white, we are one people. Let us join together in love and unity for the healing of our world, and the Earth. Though difficult to see at this size, the red calligraphy at the bottom is Farsi, the Persian language, for love.
“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. “ -Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.
May it be so as we navigate this election day here in the United States and in the days ahead.
With love and gratitude,
From my September newsletter:
“I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in. I want to survive my life without becoming numb. I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words becoming the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars.” -Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds
I’ve been at a loss for words given everything happening in our world right now. I’m feeling “the pain of the age we are living in” to quote Williams. And I am also looking to the beauty of what remains around me daily. Some would argue a luxury as a person of privilege. Perhaps it is, but I also believe we each have access to the beauty of the living earth at any given moment. We can take moments to stop. Listen. Breathe. Turn off the phone and look at the trees. Listen to the birds. This and art and books, especially poetry, are keeping me sane. What are the ways you are navigating these times?
The “Conference of the Birds” (above) was originally inspired by a Sufi text of the same name by Farid Ud-Din Attar that I discovered through another author, Belden Lane, though none of the birds in this epic poem are included in this painting. Instead, there is Cardinal, Goldfinch, Red-winged Black Bird, and Arctic Tern.
I’m drawing once again from the wisdom of Chief Arvol Looking Horse during the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015 that inspired the “All Nations Tree of Life” below. With so much divisiveness in our country right now, this message could not be more urgent. He said: “Red, yellow, black, and white, we must join together as a spiritual community to heal Mother Earth.” Read previous post here.
What I found interesting while working on the “All Nations” painting was the connection to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The raven (in the tree) appears in many indigenous origin stories and also in the Hebrew bible. Noah releases a raven before the dove. (Gen 8) The same four colors of the medicine wheel appear in the Shamanic Judaism (according Rabbi Gershon Winkler). And in the New Testament: “On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Rev 22).
There are so many ways we are interdependent and pray that we come together as a nation to heal the wounds of racial and economic inequality, divisiveness, and the climate crisis. Sending prayers to all being impacted by the fires on the West coast of the US and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, and to those around the World facing the challenges of our times.
With gratitude and love, Amy
but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
|Alchemy of Change, 12×12″ 2020, ©Amy Livingstone|
From my June Newsletter
Greetings Earth Lovers
What a difference a few weeks makes. We are living in extraordinary times indeed. I know many of us are feeling the sorrow (and outrage) of our collective history and the racial injustice towards people of color in this country. We are a nation founded on genocide and slavery and it now feels there is reckoning for those of us who have had the luxury to turn away. But the time is now. Change is here. I pray that like the lotus that grows out of the watery muck and the butterfly that emerges from the darkness of its chrysalis, that the beauty of unity, justice, healing, and reconciliation will blossom.
The arts are playing a significant role at this time. Numerous books, films, and documentaries offer us an opportunity to learn and understand. I don’t know how to have the difficult conversations but as a white woman, right now I am educating myself and ready to listen.
Yggdrasil Tree of Life
Unveiling “Yggdrasil Tree of Life.” For the beauty and mythic narratives of our ancestors who also lived through times of profound uncertainty. May we rise to the challenges of our time with courage, faith, and an open heart. This is long but wanted to share the meaning behind this complex cosmology. What do you see?
My intention was to research the cosmology and mythology of my Swedish ancestors. I wonder if my grandmother Gerda heard about this as a fairytale when she was a child? This work continues with my vision to draw out the pre-Christian, indigenous roots (earth-based spirituality) within our own lineage or faith traditions in order to remember and reconnect to our interconnectedness in the web of life. Our separation from Nature has contributed to the multiple crises we are currently experiencing including the climate crisis and the global pandemic.
I began with the colors of the Swedish and Sami, the indigenous peoples of Scandinavia, flags. The border colors represent the former—blue and yellow. Around the border, the ancient Rune language. The inner ring symbolizes the Sami flag with red (fire), blue (water), yellow (air), and green (earth). And the flowers are similar to those used in their clothing and textiles.
In the Norse cosmology, Yggdrasil is an Ash Tree that forever remains green. It is the holy place of the gods. Because Odin is associated with the tree, his ravens hold the space surrounding the mandala or medicine wheel. The goddess Freya’s cats hold court on either side of Yggdrasil. Three roots of the tree hold it up and stretch out widely. There are nine realms that include humans, gods, giants and fairies.
Ratatosk, is the squirrel, who delivers messages along the rainbow bridge from the eagle above to Nidhogg, the dragon, below. Four stags—Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór—gnaw on the buds of the tree. The swans represent the well of Urd where the Norns reside and who were a group (in some sources), a trio of very wise female entities whose magical abilities were unmatched by those of any other being. The shamans and wise women of Yggdrasil!
From my January Newsletter:
New Year. New Decade. New beginnings. Holding this as I navigate darker feelings than usual around the state of our world, and Mother Earth. The fires in Australia. The loss of species. I know we’re all feeling the intensity of these troubled times. Art and beauty save me daily but it’s been a struggle. How about you?
I’ve painted over our communal painting (read here or previous post if you missed that invitation) several times. I read this from Stephen Pressfield in his book The War of Art today: “Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is that it means there’s tremendous love there too.” Not unlike our grief, which is also an expression of our love. Grief and/or resistance, I’ve returned to my original intention for this painting which is as an offering in the spirit of the Despacho ceremony inspired by my pilgrimage to Peru.
Here, I am painting the Kintu leaves (groups of 3 cocoa leaves), naming the places and creatures you have shared with me. Blowing my breath into the leaf image as a prayer on the wind. The bee at the center, declared the most important bee-ing on the planet.This will likely be a slow process but I am grateful to be a hollow little bone for spirit, to give expression for all your beloved beings.
Would you like to contribute to the vision for a communally-inspired painting as an offering of hope and healing for our world? If you have been following along on my journey, you probably are familiar with and share my deep concerns for our beloved Mother Earth. But I want to hear from you!
What being(s) in the more-than-human world do you love? Who would you grieve if that being is lost due to the ecological crisis including climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, ocean acidification, plastics? Perhaps a special place? Or a bird? A creature? Trees? Coffee beans? Bees? Salmon? Coral reefs? Respond to this email as soon as possible!
Let’s co-create this offering of beauty for the earth. I can see showing this when it is complete and having others contribute as well. More to come as this project evolves.
“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” -Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
I look forward to hearing from you! Namasté.
|Vespers is the evening prayer of thanksgiving and praise in the Liturgy of the Hours. This was the most challenging painting for the “Where We Stand is Holy” installation as every body of water and her creatures are threatened. It was difficult to discern what to include: dolphins, sharks, blue fin tuna? The list is endless. Inspired by an interview I heard with world-reknowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle who spoke of the profound beauty when she started diving and given that our coral reefs are in crisis, I included many of the beautiful fish that call these underwater lungs home.
The figure became Aphrodite who was born of the sea. Doves, the scallop shell, and pearl are some of her sacred symbols. And the chalice at the center, signifies the holiness of water that is used in every spiritual tradition for liturgical ritual. Water is life. Water is sacred.
Thank you for following along on this journey that began many years ago. After the first two panels were complete, I placed it on hold while I cared for my elderly father and made the transition back to the East coast. It felt like an overwhelming vision when I began and grateful to Spirit for guiding my hand.
Trust is an important aspect of the creative process!
Working on the rest of the pieces for the installation that will create a temple space to celebrate the sanctity and beauty of the creation and to grieve what is being lost. Sending prayers to those in California who are affected by the recent wildfires. May all beings be safe.
With love and gratitude,
|In Praise of Water
Let us bless the grace of water:
The imagination of the primeval ocean
Where the first forms of life stirred
And emerged to dress the vacant earth
With warm quilts of color.
The well whose liquid root worked
Through the long night of clay,
Trusting ahead of itself openings
That would yet yield to its yearning
Until at last it arises in the desire of light
To discover the pure quiver of itself
Flowing crystal clear and free
Through delighted emptiness.
The courage of a river to continue belief
In the slow fall of ground,
Always falling farther
Toward the unseen ocean.
The river does what words would love,
Keeping its appearance
By insisting on disappearance;
Its only life surrendered
To the event of pilgrimage,
Carrying the origin to the end,
Seldom pushing or straining,
Keeping itself to itself
Everywhere all along its flow,
All at one with its sinuous mind,
An utter rhythm, never awkward,
It continues to swirl
Through all unlikeness,
A ceaseless traverse of presence
Soothing on each side
The stilled fields,
Sounding out its journey,
Raising up a buried music
Where the silence of time
Becomes almost audible.
Tides stirred by the eros of the moon
Draw from that permanent restlessness
Perfect waves that languidly rise
And pleat in gradual forms of aquamarine
To offer every last tear of delight
At the altar of stillness inland.
And the rain in the night, driven
By the loneliness of the wind
To perforate the darkness,
As though some air pocket might open
To release the perfume of the lost day
And salvage some memory
From its forsaken turbulence
And drop its weight of longing
Into the earth, and anchor.
Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it,
The buoyancy of water
Stronger than the deadening,
Downward drag of gravity,The innocence of water,
Flowing forth, without thought
Of what awaits it,The refreshment of water,
Dissolving the crystals of thirst.
Water: voice of grief,
Cry of love,
In the flowing tear.
Water: vehicle and idiom
Of all the inner voyaging
That keeps us alive.
Blessed be water,
Our first mother.
~ John O’Donohue
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” -Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
Solnit’s book has become my manifesto during these troubled times. This week here in the U.S. has been particularly grievous with two mass shootings grounded in racism and misogyny further dividing our country. I send out love and a breathe of solidarity to all feeling the heartbreak of this trauma.
If you have been following my work, you know how deeply I believe in our fundamental interconnectedness and oneness with all beings including the more-than-human world. In my grief and outrage, it would be easier to just give up and the last few days have tested my faith in the healing power of art. At the same time, I have continue to show up in the morning and paint my heart on the canvas. What else am I to do, I ask?
I also agree with one of my spiritual teachers, Marianne Williamson, who is running for President. The forces of hatred are so strong that we must LOVE with the same (or more) intensity and conviction. Love of self, love of the neighbor & stranger, love of beauty, love of mother earth.
I don’t know how Julian of Norwich (who inspired the painting above), who lived as an anchoress during the Black Death in Europe, was able to say: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well” but it helps to remember that there have been other dark periods in our human history. And that art and beauty have likewise prevailed. Will you join me in this revolutionary love?
If you would like to support this ministry, you can purchase prints, posters, blankets, and note cards at my online store.
With love and gratitude,
“Sacred Art. Sacred Activism” in the August issue.
From the introduction:
We are living in a time of great change: racial, economic, and political polarities continue; climate change is contributing to record wildfires, drought, and other natural disasters across the globe; and mass shootings are sadly becoming normative to our daily lives.
There is much to grieve as we bear witness to our changing world. In tandem with what has been defined as the great unraveling, many of us are already participating in the birth of a new evolutionary consciousness as the Science of Mind community has long affirmed. Out of this darkness there is a collective rebirth yet to come with the light of love as our guide. As we navigate this threshold between a dying paradigm and a world that works for all, can art hold out a mirror to the truth of our oneness and the sacredness of all creation? Can art inspire hope and action on behalf of the living earth?
Throughout history, human beings have given expression to God, the Divine. Consider the cave paintings of Lascaux, the Hagia Sophia mosque in Turkey, or the golden icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church. To quote the late Irish philosopher John O’Donohue: “God is Beauty.” Sacred art is born of the marriage between the Holy and the creative imagination.
The Science of Mind magazine is available at Barnes and Noble and by subscription. https://scienceofmind.com/
|“It’s absurd to think of artists simply as ‘painting nature.’ . . . For them, nature is a medium, a language by which they reveal their world. What genuine painters do is to reveal the underlying psychological and spiritual conditions of their relationship to their world. . . They have the power to reveal the underlying meaning of any period precisely because the essence of art is the powerful and live encounter between the artist and his or her world.” -Rollo May|
I recently picked up and began re-reading Rollo May’s The Courage to Create that I first encountered back in graduate school. It’s an inspiring manifesto for the artist around the importance of art and creativity in a societal context as well as unconscious obstacles that are necessary to overcome in order to give birth to our artistic vision. For example, the relationship between creativity and death, our immortality, and what he refers to as “an active battle with the gods.”
Not unlike Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art, it means moving past resistance and trusting in the process. That the “gods” are actually on our side. Showing up even when it’s challenging. Not always easy but it is possible at any stage of our life.
It takes courage, which comes from the French root coeur or heart, to show up for creative work. A very talented friend of mine recently picked up a paintbrush again after 30 years. She entered her gorgeous painting into a juried exhibition and it was accepted. It’s never too late to pick up a brush, or the pen.
I can recognize when I’m hitting resistance in my process usually when nearing completion. While working on the above (from the Where We Stand is Holy installation), I needed to surrender for a time and then wrestle with the angels or demons that kept me from moving forward. It’s a breakthrough moment and am now in the finishing stages of this piece that shines a light on the creatures of the Arctic regions threatened by climate change. Where are you resisting your creative expression?
If you read or subscribe to the Science of Mind magazine look for my article, “Sacred Art. Sacred Activism.,” in the August issue.
Happy Interdependence Day!