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.
I painted this mandala in 2006 while attending graduate school and studying the world’s religions. It was profound to be discovering all the threads of interconnections that we share in common. Any of you who have been following my work know how profoundly I believe in this truth. If we could only take the time to really study our own religion and that of other faiths, perhaps humanity might come to find peace. This is my hope and my vision for our world.
This stain glass inspired mandala began with the hand in the center. The hamsa hand (Arabic) or hamesh hand (Hebrew) is a symbol of protection and a popular icon throughout the Middle East and N. Africa. The words hamsa and hamesh mean “five” and refer to the digits on the hand and is also referred to as the Hand of Fatima (Islam), Hand of Miriam (Judaism), and the Hand of Mary (Christianity). Represented here are also the four elements—tree/earth, fish/water, dove/air, and snake/fire—sacred symbols that appear throughout our religious texts. Bound together by the elements, the cycles of the moon and the seasons, the message here is that no matter what faith we choose or inherit, we are all interconnected in the web of creation. We are one. The calligraphy translates as peace—Shalom in Hebrew, Shanti in Sanskrit, Salam in Arabic.
You can purchase small posters of this painting here.
Mihrab Tree of Life ©Amy Livingstone
Like many of you, I have been in deep grief this past week with the results of the election. I believe it is necessary to allow time to mourn and then we must move towards action, and soon. Love must trump hate. For love of all beings regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. For love of the earth and for love of country. During the recent Parliament of World Religions NW event, I spoke with Harris Zafar of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I asked him: “How can we support our Muslim brothers and sisters if we have a Trump presidency?” His response was that we all need to have the courage to stand up and speak out. To overcome fear and stand together as one. From 12th c Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi: “My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, a temple for idols, and a Ka’ba for the pilgrims; it is a tablet of the Torah, and the book of the Koran. I profess the religion of Love, and whatever direction its steed may take, Love is my religion and my faith.” And in the words of Hillary Clinton: “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”
Art: “Mihrab Tree of Life,” ©Amy Livingstone, Sacred Art Studio
Inspired by the Islamic/Sufi tradition. Read more here http://sacredartstudio.net/mihrab-tree-of-life-sacred-geom…/
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.
I am very excited to be attending the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s an amazing opportunity to be in the presence of so many people of faith in dialogue addressing the critical issues of our time. Themes including climate and environmental issues, war, violence and hate speech, and economic inequity. Individual commitments of compassion, peace, justice and sustainability will be featured in these events. Dedicated plenaries for all attendees will advocate the participation, perspectives, leadership and experience of women, youth, and indigenous peoples in the interfaith movement. Learn more at parliamentofreligions.org,
I look forward to sharing more on my return. You can follow me on Facebook as I’ll be posting there as well.
For a New Beginning
In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
From my January Newsletter
New Year Greetings:
I hope this note finds each of you well in spirit and in health; invigorated by what O’Donohue calls “the grace of beginning;” of what is yet to be as we enter the new year. Aren’t we often ripe with expectation during these first weeks of January when we contemplate what may unfurl in our lives? We plan. We set intentions. We resolve to do, and to be, the best we can. I often feel like I’m at the starting gate ready to run a race and remind myself that life isn’t a marathon but an unfoldment of each moment, each day, each year. As we walk the path, the journey unfolds before us. This is a lovely reminder from the late Henri Nouwen:
We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises.
This can be a daily spiritual practice around gratitude given that life does throw obstacles on our journey and we live in a culture driven by fear. An acupuncturist once shared with me that fear and excitement embody the same level of energy but that ‘fear is excitement without the breath.’ Have you noticed that? In fear, we tend to hold the breath. So, when I begin to feel anxious about the future, the economy, climate change, or any of the myriad crises facing life on planet earth at this time, I stop and remember to breathe in and breathe out. Then I take the next step and continue to walk this path of art, beauty, and service.
The wonder is this: that, as we walk it, the path becomes clear. We have only to trust it into action, then truth reveals itself, shining all the brighter for the darkness of our time. -Joanna Macy
In the studio, I have been continuing with the “Where I Stand is Holy” series (see previous posts) but this sweet little painting, “Andean Dreams,” (above) wanted to be born through me and is inspired once again by my Peru pilgrimage. It’s no accident that hummingbird (Kinti) appeared again in my work as he is a potent symbol for holding our core in stillness amidst the busyness of contemporary life. There is also an urgency in our work on behalf of the living earth and all her creatures. I feel this and know many of you do as well but if we don’t take time for silence and stillness, burnout is inevitable. Breathing in and out? In the Andes, hummingbird is also a symbol of resurrection. New beginnings. Like this moment, this day, this new year. All pregnant with new possibility. What is calling to be born through you?
For love of the EARTH!
“The artist attempts to make inner truths visible, audible, or sensible in some way, by manifesting them in the external, material world (through drawing, painting, song, etc.). To produce their finest works, artists lose themselves in the flow of creation from their inner worlds. The visionary artist creatively expresses her or his personal glimpses of the Divine Imagination.” -Alex Grey, Visionary Artist
Although many visionary artists employ entheogens to ignite visions of the transcendent, my work emerges out of a profound mystical experience that occurred twelve years ago. This awareness of our radical inter-connectedness in the web of creation continues to inform the thread that I follow around my life and work. From this experience and wanting to better understand the historical roots of our religious traditions, and how Western civilization had become dis-connected from our place in the life web, I attended graduate school at Marylhurst University here in Portland. It was post 9/11, I was mid-forties, a lapsed Protestant, and knew very little about Islam except for the poetry of Rumi.
To my surprise, Islam emerged out of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Christianity in 610c.e. So much of what the media puts out around Islam is misleading. Sadly, there are fundamentalist groups in every religion and I think it’s important to remember that Christianity also has a long history of violence against the other including women and the genocide of Native Americans on this continent. I often contemplate what the original founders, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, would think of the ways their visions around love for God and the neighbor have been distorted over the millennia. I hold out some small hope that as Catholics and Protestants eventually found peace, so perhaps shall the Sunni and Shia. In the meantime, I pray for the innocent civilians in Iraq and those in Israel and Gaza who are suffering.
So, how does art contribute to this conversation?
I’ve always loved the beauty of Islamic art and had been researching this sacred art for some time in preparation for the painting shown above. Because there can be no representations of Allah(God), the sacred art of Islam is expressed through sacred geometry, arabesque (the winding vines), and calligraphy. The mihrab is a niche inside a mosque, facing east towards the Kabba in Mecca, and the direction that Muslims must pray. According to my research, the mihrab is also considered the place where the divine presence dwells on earth. So, my vision was to find a way to bridge the immanent (cosmology) and the transcendent (God) within the Islamic tradition.
I began studying sacred geometry and for any of you who have explored this realm you know that it is a vast landscape where one can spend an entire life wandering. Shown here is my drawing of the “Seed of Life,” the seven intertwining circles that represent the seven days of creation. From this, what emerges are two intersecting triangles that form the Star of David (Judaism) and the Seal of Solomon (Islam). The seed of life rests amidst the cosmos/stars on the floor inside the mihrab. The arabic in the heart of the compass within the tree of life translates as love in Arabic.
It might also surprise some to discover that the Prophet Mohammed was considered an environmental steward. The Hadith, a companion text to the Qur’an, details reports of statements or actions of Muhammad that include his philosophy on the natural world. I saved this issue of Parabola magazine with articles on religion and the holy earth from grad school: “The Prophet’s (SAW) environmental philosophy is first of all holistic: it assumes a fundamental link and interdependency between all natural elements and bases its teachings on the premise that if man abuses or exhausts one element, the natural world as a whole will suffer direct consequences….The three most important principles of the Prophet’s philosophy of nature are based on the Qur’anic teachings and the concepts of tawhid (unity), khalifa (stewardship) and amana (trust).” -Francesca De Chatel, from Environmentalism and Islam, Parabola, 2007.
I hope you find this as interesting as I have during the research and creation of this sacred art. If you have any thoughts about what I have shared, please feel free to send me your feedback. Part of creating peace is starting the dialogue and finding the common threads of our shared humanity.
From my April Newsletter.
To sign up visit www.sacredartstudio.net
To borrow from the poet Denise Levertov, “so much is in bud” as we journey further into the season of Spring. The garden is bursting with new growth and on a global scale, we are witnessing the death of old structures in preparation for giving birth to new ways of being in relationship to the other, the earth, and the Divine. Like so many of us, I feel this energy intensely and it has been organically coming forward through my artwork. The sculpture shown here, MotherEarth (part human, part tree) is the second in my maiden/mother/crone series and is nearly complete. The womb in the back spontaneously emerged much like the womb/fetus in the “Creation Illumination” that I shared with you last month (you can view the painting below). On Saturday night, in honor of Earth Day, I also attended the seasonal sweat lodge ceremony at my spiritual community, People of the Heart. It was powerfully symbolic as it occurred on the day between crucifixion and resurrection during the Easter holy days. Entering into the womb of the mother earth, I let go of old wounds that needed to die in order that I can birth anew–trust, vulnerability, and JOY amidst these challenging albeit evolutionary times.
I find it fascinating that the word Easter originates from Astarte, the Greek goddess of fertility and sexuality (she is also appears throughout the ancient world in my other forms as well). Hence the bunny rabbits and eggs during the holiday festivities. This time of year does usher in a fecundity, a ripening energy that is the life force that feeds new growth, communion with the beloved, and our creativity. This time also coincides with the Celtic celebration of Beltane on May 1, the half way point between spring equinox and summer solstice, wherein the ritual mating of god and goddess was celebrated in ancient times. In other words, a marriage of the masculine and feminine, similar to what is being born collectively through us in our own time. As an interfaith spiritual artist and practitioner, I honor all paths to the Divine and believe that no matter who/what we choose to worship–Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, or a Tree, we are all interconnected in the web of Creation. My work is in discovering the common threads between our religious traditions and with those of our earth-honoring ancestors, so that all beings may come to realize we are indeed all One. To read more, click here.
You might want to ask yourself what needs to die within you in order to give birth to that which is most essential or what unique gift is yours to bring forward that the world needs now? If you would like to share that with me, I’d love to hear from you as always.
May the beauty of the season be with you and may the muses guide you in your blooming creativity!
For love of the EARTH!
From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea-‘
But we have only begun
to love the earth.
We have only begun
to imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
-so much is in bud.
How can desire fail?
-we have only begun
to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision
how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.
Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet-
there is too much broken
that must be mended,
too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,
so much is in bud.
What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure?
I think it is the hope of loving,
or being loved.
I heard a fable once about the sun going on a journey
to find its source, and how the moon wept
without her lover’s
We weep when light does not reach our hearts.
like fields if someone close
does not rain their
“Love is, in fact, an intensification of love, a completeness, a fullness, a wholeness of life. We not live merely in order to vegetate through our days until we die. Nor do we live merely in order to take part in the routines of work and amusement that go on around us. We are not just machines that have to be cared for and driven carefully until they run down. In other words, life is not a straight horizontal line between two points, birth and death. Life curves upward to a peak of intensity, a high point of value and meaning, at which all its latent creative possibilities go into action and the person transcends himself or herself in encounter, response, and communion with another. It is for this that we came into the world–this communion and self-transcendence. And this must not be confined only to sexual fulfillment: it embraces everything in the human person–the capacity for self-giving, for sharing, for creativity, for mutual care, for spiritual concern.
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone–we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love. And if this love is unreal, the secret will not be found, the meaning will never reveal itself, the message will never be decoded. At best, we will receive a scrambled and partial message, one that will deceive and confuse us. We will never be fully real until we let ourselves fall in love–either with another human person or with God.”
And I might add, falling in love with the earth! Out of love for the earth, may we walk lightly upon her and care for all her creatures. May it be so.
My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, a temple for idols, and a Ka’ba for the pilgrims; it is a tablet of the Torah, and the book of the Koran. I profess the religion of Love, and whatever direction its steed may take, Love is my religion and my faith.
–Ibn Arabi, 12th c. Sufi