“The Guardian” 30×40″ ©Amy Livingstone
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Summer greetings my July newsletter:
Sweltering heat has settled over North Carolina (and for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere) while fireflies dance about in the evenings, deer pass through the land stopping for a nibble under the bird feeder, and the setting sun illuminates pine trees with a magenta glow. “For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
It has been months since my last newsletter but I’ve been so focused on my recovery and regaining strength in my leg—it’s been all consuming. Today is the six month anniversary of my injury when I slipped on black ice and shattered my knee cap/patella. It has been a grueling recovery especially the first three months when my knee couldn’t bend to 90º, the first indicator to determine if I would regain full use of my leg. Screaming, wailing, crying—4x a day for months—pushing to get my knee to bend. It was brutal. I wrote about this journey at my blog which you can read below.
Fortunately, after five months of physical therapy, I am now bending at 132º. I drive now, care for my daily needs, and am walking much better. The first time I walked nearly two miles around a local lake, I had a “Rocky” moment and wept. When my surgeon first saw my X-rays six months ago, he wasn’t confident that I would walk again (perhaps meaning a return to my former abilities). I wept with joy and gratitude.
There’s still pain and they tell me it will likely be many months before it feels “normal” so I continue with daily PT and strength training. I am gradually painting again and looking to what comes next around this holy calling. We are in the midst of so much global change and after nearly 20 years with this particular vision, I am contemplating what might want to change or be updated in my work if anything. Not clear yet but trusting. Some adventure and travel is likewise calling!
I know that art is essential for the healing of our world. In an interview with the late, beloved Barry Lopez, his parting words—to all of us who are artists, writers, healers, and creatives working for the good of our planet—was: “Don’t be distracted. Stay in your prayer. Just keep doing the work.” At times, it can feel hopeless but I’m taking his words to heart. The world needs all of our creative gifts now more than ever—and yes, you do have a gift!
For love of the Earth!
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
|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
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”~ John Milton, 17th c poet.
Welcome new friends! As I await Hurricane Dorian’s impact here in my adopted state of NC, contemplating this painting “Reverence.” They say Raleigh-Durham area shouldn’t experience too much damage but sending out prayers to those devastated in the Bahamas and coastal areas. The awe and fierceness of Mother Gaia.
While working on this painting a few years ago, what kept coming to me was “Why Do We Crucify Ourselves?” (in the face of the climate crisis and ecological degradation) but what ultimately came through was “reverence”. How do we reverence the earth so profoundly, that it changes “forever how we experience life and [care for] the world?
I’ve always been drawn to the Celtic Cross when I see them scattered throughout old cemeteries–standing there majestically with their beautiful, ornate designs. Here, I added the Celtic knot pattern inspired by my own ancestral, Scottish homeland and symbols of the four elements (air, fire, earth, water) used by alchemists. I love drawing from the wisdom of the ancients, who have much to teach us about balancing the transcendent with the sacred imminent woven throughout the everyday.
It was a delight to have people from 350 Triangle come together in my new studio space to co-create in preparation for the upcoming Climate Strike here in Raleigh, and there are actions all across the globe. It’s been many years since I’ve had any workshops in my space due in part to caring for my elderly father until his death and then the transition to move back to the East coast. Feel energized again to start offering workshops again this fall. Visit my workshops page to learn more: https://www.sacredartstudio.net/events/
With love and gratitude,
“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,
“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,
“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.” -Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge.
This painting came through me very quickly on one hand just prior to my move but I have long been drawn to the tragic story of the Passenger Pigeon. With a population between 3-5 billion, it was the most abundant bird in North America. Flocks would darken the sky for days as they flew overhead. Yet human exploitation drove this species to extinction over the course of a few decades. “Martha” the last Passenger Pigeon died in 1914. Originating in Scotland, the cairn or stacked stones, implies a funereal monument and in the lower left corner, the extinction symbol. Created by a London artist Xylo: “The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species” during what is now being defined in our time as the Sixth Mass Extinction of Species.
The demise of the Passenger Pigeon is also an urgent message around our own vulnerability in the face of ecological degradation including climate change. “How might we act with restraint” to quote Williams? And how do we navigate these changing times? And with grace?
While speaking at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in November, indigenous elder Jim Dumont, of the Anishinabeck Nation, encouraged us to “Speak for the plants. Speak for the creation. Speak to the conscience of those who are destroying them.” This was affirming of my work and deeply moving. I wept. Art plays an important role not only in communicating a message/vision but, as most of you know, the process itself offers healing and a spiritual practice for resilience during troubled times. Even something as simple as coloring, drumming, planting flowers, or the latest ZenTangle can have enormous benefits for your well being and stress level.
I am settling into the new home and studio here in the Panther Branch Township (in Raleigh NC) and will share more next month. You can always check out Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for updates between newsletters. As always, I welcome your thoughts.
For love of the EARTH!
Challenging Hate Speech and Violence panel. From left: Shariff Abdullah
(Commonway Institute), Sat Hanuman Singh Khalsa (Sikh), Harris Zafar (Muslim),
Joanie Levine (Compassionate Listening/NVC), and Rev. David Alexander
(New Thought Center for Spiritual Living).
An inspiring day on Sunday (re)connecting with people from all faith traditions and activists working for social and ecological justice. It was one year ago that many of us gathered in Salt Lake City for the Parliament of World Religions and am feeling re-energized from being present for this gathering. Also honored to have my painting “All Nations Tree of Life” grace the cover of the program and share my work with this community. The three panel discussions were around Climate Change (forgot to take a photo!), Indigenous Wisdom, and Challenging Hate Speech and Violence–all interrelated with the urgent call to shift collective consciousness from separation to unity/harmony. The day was closed with music and of course, dance. Bow of gratitude to all the presenters and organizers for this special event. For love of the earth and all beings.
Peace. Salam. Shalom.
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.
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/