“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
Beauty blessings during this transition to Autumn in the Northern hemisphere. A belated Shana Tova to my Jewish friends. I’ve been contemplating this painting “Wheel of the Four Winds” again since Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Especially, the direction of the West, where the Archangel Raphael, symbolized by the bull, is our guide and teacher in navigating the darkness. Feels appropriate given the collective traumas of this year and the coming darkness of the autumnal season. In our earth-honoring traditions, this is a time for going within—though most of us have been living this all year! But perhaps we can do this more intentionally, asking ourselves what is asking to be released, like the leaves from the trees, to create the compost for the coming year? Breathing into this. Join me?
This painting is inspired by Rabbi Gershon Winkler’s book “Magic in the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism.” In the Jewish shamanic tradition, “the West is death…the dream place where all the doing ceases and has a chance to process, to become seed for tomorrow’s newness.” And the bull “symbolizes majesty and determination, unrelentingly pushing forward into tomorrow, into the next moment into destiny, against all odds and with a sense of surety and knowing…this is the place of wisdom and understanding.”
The Hebrew transliteration is “tifaret,” or beauty, which sits at the heart of the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life at the center of the medicine wheel. In the four corners Hebrew letters—aleph, mem, and shin—representing the elements of air, fire, water, and earth which Kabbalists ceremonially chant.
Art: “Wheel of the Four Winds.” 2014, 30×48” ©Amy Livingstone. You can read more about this painting here: https://www.sacredartstudio.net/new-year-new-painting/
I woke very early one morning recently to see this sweet fawn nestled against this large grass. With my 35mm and zoom lens, I was able to capture this precious moment. I am also now watching over three turtle nests, or clutches, here on the land. The turtles wandered up from the pond nearby and deposited their eggs within view of the kitchen where I now await their emergence next month. I pray over each one on my way to the studio and hope the little ones make it back to the pond. I feel blessed to have many of these magical moments with creatures of all kinds here.
As lonely as it can feel during this pandemic, I am grateful for the kinship and beauty with “the peace of wild things” to borrow from poet Wendell Berry. My beloved former home of Portland is under siege right now and sending my love and support to my community there who are involved in standing up for racial justice.
Is art a luxury during such a challenging and uncertain time? Some days you might wonder, but imagine this pandemic without the arts? Our creativity. No paintings, books, music, poetry, movies, videos, etc. And the amazing murals giving expresson to our time. I’m heartened by the way people, having been forced to slow down, are also now hearing the birdsong out their window and are being present to all the wonders of the natural world. That is hopeful in spite of the darkness right now. To quote Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” And the soul, I would add.
What wonders are you seeing around you. Right now in this moment?
DOODLE OR DRAW YOUR EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD AROUND YOU.
From an early age, Nature was my muse. Though I’m working on several larger paintings pencil drawing which was my first medium is fun for me and a meditation. Here, the Luna Moth, a recent visitor to the studio. I invite you to join me for this practice in seeing, being present, and giving expression!
NEW PRINTS AND FREE SHIPPING
During this quarantine time, I have updated my website, YouTube channel (see a virtual tour of my studio here in NC) and my online shop with free shipping on giclee prints! There are so many new prints available now including canvas prints. Watch the video below to learn more.
SUPPORT THE MORE BEAUTIFUL WORLD OUR HEARTS KNOW IS POSSIBLE.
For love of the Earth!
The Holy Longing
Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.
From April 10 newsletter. Happy Easter and Passover to all those who celebrate this holy time. Given this archetypal celebration of death/rebirth, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Sumerian goddess of fertility and wisdom seen emerging from her chrysalis and womb (Vesica Piscis) felt appropriate to share. Her mythic journey to the underworld is symbolic of a death and rebirth like that of Jesus and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. For me, I resonate with the transformational journey of Inanna and the caterpillar into the butterfly. I’ve been drawing from this theme of being in the “chrysalis” over the past month as we quarantine during this global pandemic.
In the ancient myth, Inanna passes through the seven gates of the underworld, forced to give up one symbol of her power at each gate until she arrives in the underworld stripped bare of all worldly possessions. Ultimately, she is killed, but then she is revived with the food and water of life and returns bearing gifts of wisdom. The story speaks to me of what we are each collectively undergoing psychically during this time of darkness. We are like the imaginal cells inside the chrysalis, shape shifting in preparation for our emergence.
Could this be a global initiation? Will we emerge from our cocoons bearing a new vision of living in sacred reciprocity with each other and the living earth. After traveling myself into some dark places around the unknown and tracking the news endlessly, I’ve settled into my interiority and asking myself, what am I being asked or forced to surrender? Sitting with the question. What about you?
Nature Mandala Offering: Day 10
I began this nature mandala offering for the healing of all beings and mother earth on April 1 and will continue to add prayers until the end of the month or until our return. Many of you are familiar with this ceremony that was inspired by my pilgrimage to Peru in 2006 which I have brought to events and installations over the past decade. If you’re not, you can see photos and learn more at this link. Feel free to email me a prayer and I will add it to our mandala in your stead.
With love and gratitude,
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.
|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,