“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!
Nice group of people showed up for my art opening last Friday at Karuna Contemplative Living. Thank you friends. Here with the owner, Anandi, and art enthusiast Mark. The show will be up through the end of May.
I chose these particular paintings for this exhibit because they embody the overarching message that weaves throughout my work. That we as a species must reclaim ancestral ways of being in sacred, reciprocal relationship with the earth if we are to ensure a livable planet for future generations and the survival of all species.
This was the inspiration for Resurrection: 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 endangered monarch butterflies, is assured. To maintain life on earth, we need the resurrection of indigenous and ancient ways of knowing. Can we remember that we breathe with trees? That everything comes from the Earth?
Indigenous leaders and teachers like Chief Arvol Lookhorse and Robin Wall Kimmerer are telling us that we are at a crossroads. All Nations Tree of Life was inspired during a Lummi Nation ceremony and later reiterated by Chief Arvol Lookinghorse during the indigenous plenary at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015. I wept through the entire three-hour session. Their message—red, yellow, black, white—we are all one people. “We must join together as a spiritual community in order to heal Mother Earth.” And again, reading Kimmerer’s inspirational book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Her sacred text was the inspiration for the Reciprocity mandala. She 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.”
The question is: Are we listening?
My work is a contribution and a prayer toward this transformative vision.
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/
Memento Mori is the Medieval Latin theory and practice of reflection on mortality.
This installation creates space to make visible what is invisible. To question: What are we willing to “see” and acknowledge? Do we veil ourselves to mask feelings of despair around the truth of a changing world including climate change and species extinction? Do we have the courage to bear witness to the beauty of our world, to break open our hearts for what we are losing, and be inspired to take actions to protect life on earth?
Much of what is now threatened by the ecological crisis isn’t visible to the human eye such as plankton, microscopic organisms that float on the surface of our oceans. Plankton comes from the Greek planktos meaning wandering or drifting. The neon-colored phytoplankton are responsible for half of the carbon dioxide that is naturally removed from the atmosphere. As well as being vital to climate control, phytoplankton produces as much oxygen as all the forests and terrestrial plants combined. However, some scientists argue that we have lost 40% over the past 60 years. What now? New research also illustrates the staggering amount of plastic being ingested by zooplankton, the foundation of our marine food chain. On average, we are losing 200 species per day.
Our grief is born of love and by allowing ourselves to feel our despair, we also discover gratitude for the miracle of life. With this exhibit, we are able to “see” that our very existence is intricately linked to the health of plankton and our oceans, both of which are currently under stress from our current way of life. Seeing the fragile beauty of these organisms, we recognize our innate interconnectedness in the web of life and respond with actions to slow the damage.
There is hope. I believe we each have the power to make a difference in our day-to-day lives—economically, politically, and in our consumer choices. I also believe in the power of human creativity and that each one of us has a gift to offer our world in service to other beings and to the earth. I invite you to find that one thing that breaks open your heart and that inspires you to, in the word of Gandhi, “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Profound gratitude to Christian Sardet and The Macronauts, Plankton Chronicles project for permission to use their photography for this project. planktonchronicles.org
“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 October newsletter:
I returned home from the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City a week ago but my heart is still in Utah with the 10,0000 people who attended the Parliament. Ten thousand men, women, and children/youth from 80 countries and 50 faith traditions ranging from indigenous, goddess, pagan, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, B’ahai, Buddhist, Hindu, artists, activists, priestesses, and healers. All in agreement to the holiness of our sacred container where love and compassion were generated in our honoring of diversity while recognizing the common threads of our shared humanity. I felt that I traveled the world in five days and found a home. A tribe. The theme this year was centered around “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity.”
The Ute tribe of Utah welcomed us to their ancestral lands and our indigenous brothers and sisters lit a sacred fire that burned throughout the Parliament. There was much praying, chanting, singing, dancing, a Cosmic Mass, and ceremonies but many tears were shed as well as we listened and bore witness to the numerous crises of our time. Religious extremism, social and economic inequality, climate change, and the rights of women and indigenous peoples.
The message was clear, people of faith (wouldn’t that be all of us?) have a moral obligation to step up and take action. Every plenary, every talk I attended addressed the urgency of this critical time and that we each have a role to play. Large and small. It was affirming of my work as a sacred artist and activist and returned energized to continue my mission in service to Mother Earth and all beings that began a decade ago.
What is calling you during this evolutionary time?
There were so many powerful moments and presenters, many whose work I have followed for years including Vandana Shiva, Terry Tempest Williams, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Marianne Williamson, Karen Armstrong, Jane Goodall, and the Dali Lama who spoke to us via satellite. The indigenous plenary was one of the most profound and moving. An elder from Greenland told us that the ice is melting and there is nothing we can do about it. He was looking for the one hope for future generations. I don’t know that I can ever forget his wailing song to the ancestors who we will need if we are to survive the future.
It is a good time with Sawhain (Halloween) this week to honor and welcome back your ancestors.
Our time together was an urgent call but it was surprisingly filled with hope. So many people on the ground doing the Great Work for other beings, human and non-human, and our beloved Mother Earth, Gaia, Pachamama.
I’ve been working on this new painting since my return. Our fragile world is cracking and transformation is assured. What will our world look like in 20 years? What part are you playing or will play in this Great Turning? “Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.” -Terry Tempest Williams.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
For love of the EARTH!
Greetings Earth Lovers
I am excited to share the completed “Lauds: Prayer for the Birds” from the “Where I Stand is Holy” series with you. If you have been following along, you know this has been quite a journey. The original vision emerged after my return from an Animas Institute quest last summer. I connected deeply to that landscape and was reminded of this commandment to Moses from the Torah: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5). When we are standing on Mother Earth, we are standing on holy ground. On our last evening together, I walked out in front of our group, removed my sandals, and chanted a song that we often sing during our community sweat lodge (changing sit to stand).
Where I stand is holy, holy is this ground.
Forest, mountain, river, listen to the sound.
Great Spirit circles all around me.
(Repeat several times)
This mantra guided the creation of this piece inspired by illuminated manuscripts that included ornate borders with flowers, bugs, and creatures of all sizes and imagined monks in ancient times as I painted each tiny leaf. The 11 varieties of birds that I chose through my research are just a small sample of the 314 North American birds threatened by climate change. According to the Audubon Society, 314 of the 588 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080. (Learn more here). With temperature changes, acidification of our oceans, and loss of habitat and food sources, their survival is precarious.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
How do we be with this beauty and our sorrow? As I learned from my own transformative journey through grief 25 years ago, it is important and necessary to allow the feelings and to allow our hearts to break open, as painful as it can be. It is natural to grieve what we love(d) and who among us doesn’t love our birds? “Beauty is what opens our eyes to love. Love ignites passion and passion is what propels us toward the future wrought with risk and uncertainty.” -Terry Tempest Williams
With the Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment and urgent call for creation care, my work (and many others) over the past decade feels affirming and am grateful for his vision and leadership on the most critical issue of our time.
In the Catholic tradition, Lauds is the morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, so I chose morning glories and songbirds to symbolize this time of the day as the sun rises in the background. Three other panels for Sext (noon), Vespers (evening), and Compline (night) are all part of this vision and will also give expression to our endangered species. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter, too.
For love of the birds.
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.
I had the joy of returning to my grad school alma mater, Marylhurst University last weekend to give a presentation entitled, Contemporary Sacred Art and Spiritual Ecology. This was part of the annual meeting of the PNW Chapter of the American Academy of Religion, Society of Biblical Literature & The American Schools of Oriental Research. (Click here to learn more). It was very meaningful for me to return to campus, shown here in full bloom, and to share my work with this community of scholars.
Eight years ago, in 2007, I presented my master’s thesis here as part of the MAIS, or Interdisciplinary Studies program with a concentration in Spiritual Traditions & Ethics. Throughout my graduate studies, the intention for my research was to discover how we as a species had become so disconnected from our place in the life web, that we were destroying the land base on which all life is dependent. My thesis was a culmination of this research and I put forward the argument then, that the ecological crisis was a psychological and spiritual crisis. Today, there is a growing dialogue around the spiritual response to the ecological crisis that is now being defined as “spiritual ecology” and this is the core of my work as a contemporary sacred artist and activist. Here’s the abstract for my presentation:
Contemporary Sacred Art and Spiritual Ecology [Abstract]
What is the role of sacred art in the face of climate change? This interdisciplinary presentation is centered on the belief that our current ecological crisis is a spiritual crisis. Those of us in the developed West have become so far removed from our innate interdependence in the web of creation that we are destroying the land base on which all life is dependent. My research shows that this destructive way of being has evolved over the millennia beginning, in part, with the rise of monotheistic religious traditions that reverenced a transcendent God, while rejecting the holiness of the natural world out of fear of being associated with paganism and witchcraft. Alongside this paradigm, we are also seeing a resurgence of indigenous ways of knowing that remind us that the earth is holy and worthy of our reverence. Through my work as an artist and in this paper, I present a synthesis of these two ways of being in relationship to the Sacred that is both transcendent and immanent creating a third narrative as expressed through interspiritual artwork. In conclusion, this project will shed light on the way that contemporary sacred art can help us confront the ecological crisis including species extinction and climate change.
I presented under the Art and Religion panel and was honored to be in the company of so many gifted scholars, and a group of amazing women, in this section. Many had completed their doctorate work at Pacifica or CIIS (California Institute of Integral Studies). Two excellent graduate-level institutions that are bringing forward the new cultural paradigm through their programs. The conference ignited my passion for scholarly inquiry though pursuing a PhD that could take up to eight years of my life and considerable financial resources (that I don’t have) isn’t where I feel called to be right now, though I am keeping the seed planted for a future time. There are critical issues facing life on earth and at this time in my life, I am called to continue the vision and intention that I set forth thirteen years ago when I founded Sacred Art Studio. And so it goes…
For love of the Earth.
Thanks to Louise Paré of CIIS for the photograph during my presentation.