“Where We Stand is Holy” Art Opening. Deep bow of appreciation to those who braved Tropical Storm Ophelia and came out for the opening at Zin Yoga and Wine Lounge in Old Town Garner, just south of Raleigh on September 23rd. There was a steady stream of visitors and it was a delight to connect with this wonderful community. Gratitude to Jessica at Artizen Ventures, shown with me here, who coordinated the show for me and owner Kara for hosting my work. The “Reciprocity Mandala” found a new home with this lovely couple, Eric and Gin. A hard one to let go of, but I’ve enjoyed her here in my studio for these past six years.
As many of you know, the painting is inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass.” When I completed the painting in 2017, I sent her a limited-edition giclee print. This was her response: “I have to tell you that I just cried when I saw your painting. I feel my dear ones from Braiding Sweetgrass, so very much alive here, so loved. It is so whole. The love and the grief…the glimpse of salamanders, the radiance of goldenrod and asters…This is really magnificent and I am so touched by your creation. This is our work, together-to reciprocate the beauty of the world with beauty of our own. I am so grateful.”
Show runs through the end of the year. Discover Zin Yoga here who shares a similar vision as mine! “Our vision is that of a watering hole – a place where ALL can come, regardless of our differences, to receive the nourishment we need.” – Kara O’Briant (founder)
“You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way”.” -Richard Bach from Jonathan Livingston Seagull
“Pam’s Beach”, 36×24”, Acrylic, 2023. (Commission) ©Amy Livingstone
I love this quote from Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the 1970 text that helped shape a generation of free spirits pushing the social and cultural boundaries of that era. My eldest sister, Pam, is of that generation and am grateful to all the women like her who broke through established norms so those of us coming up behind them could have the freedoms our mothers never had, and to choose how we wanted to live our lives (though our reproductive rights are being stripped across this country which is outrageous to say the least).
Pam recently commissioned me to paint a beachscape (seen above) for her new home in SW Florida as she begins life anew. Her only requests were lots of blue and to feel peace and calm. It was a joy and a lot trickier to paint water lapping up on the sand than I had imagined! Of course, she also loved the sanderlings so ubiquitous to the beaches and her own Livingstone Seagull.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Oh tear-filled figure who, like a sky held back,
grows heavy above the landscape of her sorrow.
And when she weeps, the gentle raindrops fall,
slanting upon the sand-bed of her heart.
horizontally, into endless depths.
whose hurry we are.
(Excerpt. Transl. by Stephen Mitchell)
This is a long post but I have been contemplating this over the past few days with the start of Holy Week, so read as much or little as you feel called. Blessings to all who celebrate this sacred time.
Most of you know I love Rilke and recently came across this poem which so resonates with my painting of “Mother Mary.” She was inspired by Michelangelo’s monumental-scale sculpture, the “Pieta”—where a very youthful Mary is seen weeping and holding the dying Christ across her lap.
Lacrimosa translates as weeping and refers to “Our Lady of Sorrows,” Mother Mary. It’s holy week for those of the Christian faith centered around the return of Jesus to Jerusalem, culminating in his crucifixion and resurrection. Death. Rebirth. It’s no accident that this season of Easter corresponds to the period around Spring Equinox. It’s well known among progressive theologians that the early writers of the Christian texts grafted their narrative over the pagan traditions of the time. Caves were popular places in the ancient world for spiritual awakenings and transformations (e.g., Muhammed). The womb of our Mother Earth. In Oregon, I attended Sweat Lodge ceremonies during the holy days and were always profound.
Probably like many of you raised as a Protestant, I did not have any relationship with Mary. It’s one of the few things I admire about Catholicism in that they revere Mother Mary. In my opinion, Luther threw the beauty and Sacred Feminine out with the bath water so to speak during the Protestant Reformation of the early 16th century. In my youth, we attended a Congregational Church that was simple and, being New Englanders, very spare with Puritanism running deep into the roots of our consciousness.
I’m no longer a practicing Christian, in part, due to the egregious interpretations of the scriptures that too often condemn the Other and denies the rights of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community as we are witnessing in our world today. Though I have reclaimed the prophetic Jesus and his message of love, inclusivity, service, and social activism. Up to the age of about 30, I did believe in a benevolent Christian God that was somehow looking over my family and myself. But when my brother died of AIDS in 1989 and Christian leaders and politicians pronounced to the world that my brother deserved to die such a horrific death because of who he was, I was outraged. When my mother died suddenly nine months later, I couldn’t believe in a God who could cause so much suffering in my life. It was a dark period as many of you know who have followed my journey.
Fortunately, over time, my grief journey did ultimately culminate in a spiritual awakening and transformation that continues to inform my life. And I came to deeply appreciate Jesus and Mother Mary during my years in graduate school studying World Religions. I had read “Mists of Avalon” and seen the film version many years previously that ends with Mary becoming the manifestation of the Goddess in a new form which resonated for me. But it was during a Spiritual Direction retreat on the campus of Marylhurst University, Oregon’s oldest Catholic university and the first liberal arts college for women established in the Northwest, in 2006, that I had an epiphany.
I was walking around the property one morning, in reflection and contemplating this sacred time in community with other budding scholars, when I came upon a small sculpture of the “Pieta,” near a parking lot of all places. One might not have even noticed it, but there it was. What I saw was my own mother weeping over her dying son. In the early morning on the day he would die, after sleeping in the hospital waiting room, I walked into my brother’s bright room. My mother was sitting by his bed, weeping, and she said to me: “My son is dying and there is nothing I can do.” Mothers weeping over their sons, dying from a plague condemned by those in power. It was a powerful vision of love and a letting go of the anger I had harbored all those years towards Christianity though I would not return to the Church itself.
I don’t believe in original sin or that Christ is my redeemer but I celebrate that this Holy Prophet walked on this Earth—in the Garden, by the Sea, and in the Wildness—spreading a message of Love and was willing to die for that Divine calling. We can also celebrate the fecundity and beauty of the season and release what no longer serves us so that what needs to be reborn can find its way into our lives. And we can honor mothers who mourn.
May all beings know love. May all know peace.
Art: “Mother Mary.” 18×24”, Acrylic, 2010. ©Amy Livingstone. Original, prints, and posters available. www.sacredartstudio.net
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth ;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.
I recently completed “Calling in the Ancestors”* inspired by my Scottish ancestry. Here, the figure is draped in the Livingston(e) Tartan and in the background is Loch Linnhe and Castle Stalker in the Highlands where my ancestors originated. Heather, shown in the field and on the flower crown, grows wildly there and the thistle (seen in the border) is the national flower of Scotland. Si Je Puis is the Livingstone heraldic motto and means “If I Can.” I feel more connected to my ancestors through this process and hope to visit one day soon. Gratitude to my sister, Beth, who has done all the sleuthing on our Scottish and Swedish ancestry.
While working on the piece, I asked myself: How can we draw courage, wisdom, and resilience from all our ancestors during these troubled times? We are ancestors in the making. How will future generations remember us and our response to the challenges of our time? The winged Scottish Crossbill is our spirit guide as we navigate this territory.
*Note: The photo was taken with my iPhone. Prints coming soon!
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again’.” -Lewis Carroll
Frosty mornings here on the land. ©Amy Livingstone
Very chilly mornings have arrived here in North Carolina! Warm thoughts to those who are experiencing the deep polar vortex and pray for those vulnerable to the cold—human and more-than-human. I’m grateful for shelter and embrace the interiority of the season and the darkness as a time of reflection, inspiration, and creative visioning. May the beauty of the season be yours and inspire your own creativity in the spirit of joy, peace, and healing.
Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
tossed an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried
over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.
I feel blessed to be included in this anthology of essays around grief, healing, and transformation. It’s published by Heart2Heart, a local non-profit here in North Carolina that supports individuals, families and communities who are in the sacred passage of the dying time, and also those that are navigating grief through movement, massage therapy, and sacred music.
My contribution in this collection is titled: “The Healing Power of Art and Holy Listening” about my transformative journey through grief after the deaths of my brother and mother thirty years ago that led me to this path. There are many other inspirational stories that I look forward to reading as well. If you are looking for support or inspiration on your journey, it’s available on Kindle or in paperback here.
“The forest is far more than a source of timber. It is our collective medicine cabinet. It is our lungs. It is the regulatory system for our climate and our oceans. It is the mantle of our planet. It is the health and well-being of our children and grandchildren. It is our sacred home. It is our salvation.” ― Diana Beresford-Kroeger, To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest.
“Rilke’s Angel” 24×36″, 2022. Acrylic on Canvas
“lord god Bird: Elegy for Ivory-billed Woodpecker.” 12×36″, 2022. Acrylic and Jewels on Canvas.
From my September Newsletter:
I hope this message finds you well and perhaps welcoming in cooler temperatures though I know the West coast is still battling wildfires. Prayers up to all beings including those of the more-than-human world who are impacted.
I was able to complete these two paintings recently. It’s surprising how physical painting truly is, at least for myself as I prefer standing at my easel. So going back and forth between the palette and canvas, then stepping back to view your work, takes stamina. My knee has healed considerably so am able to work with minimal pain. Unfortunately, one of the wires is now protruding and I’m heading into another, albeit easier, surgery for their removal. I’m looking forward to having this completed so I can get back to strength training and a full recovery! If you missed the news about my fractured patella, read about that here.
Both of these paintings give expression to my sorrow over the loss of our beloved trees and as a consequence another one of our winged kin. They say that when people saw the magnificent Ivory-billed Woodpecker, they would exclaim “Lord God Bird” due to its size and beauty. Declared extinct last year though some argue that there may still be some living in the swamps of Louisiana (the state flower is magnolia) though there hasn’t been a sighting since 1944. They went extinct due to unchecked logging and loss of habitat. This painting will be included in the “Where We Stand is Holy” exhibit when I find a location for that. Lost another year here due to my injury but trust in Divine timing.
Buy recycled FSC products whenever possible and advocate for our forests. Without the global forest there is no hope for humanity’s future on earth. Join renowned biochemist and botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger in her mission to share the ancient Celtic wisdom of the trees and bring about a renewed connection to the Global Forest. Learn more about her mission to protect our forests here.
For love of the Earth!
“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!
First walk on Spring Equinox, 2022.
Someday, emerging at last from the violent insight,
let me sing out jubilation and praise to assenting angels.
Let not even one of the clearly-struck hammers of my heart
fail to sound because of a slack, a doubtful,
or a broken string. Let my joyfully streaming face
make me more radiant; let my hidden weeping arise
and blossom. How dear you will be to me then, you nights
of anguish. Why didn’t I kneel more deeply to accept you,
inconsolable sisters, and surrendering, lose myself
in your loosened hair. How we squander our hours of pain…
-Rainer Marie Rilke, from The Tenth Duino Elegy
Dear earth|art loving friends:
Rilke’s poems, especially the Duino Elegies, have been a constant companion over these past several months. If you have arrived upon my website and haven’t seen my social media posts, I wanted to share some of my journey with you here. On January 18th, my life changed in an instant as happens in life. I slipped on black ice on my way to the mailbox and fractured my patella. A very pretty name for our knee cap. It broke into three pieces and the surgeon was miraculously able to reconstruct it with screws and rods. It has been an excruciating physical journey beginning with the fracture itself, straightening the leg in the emergence room, post-op surgery, and months of physical therapy working to get it back to full functionality. It’s the most difficult thing I have had to do physically in my life to date.
I’ve always worked to stay healthy, active, and athletic throughout my life and bearing witness to my brother’s agonizing death from AIDS thirty-three years ago implanted daily gratitude for the gift of good health, especially as I have aged. Though I nearly died from appendicitis when I was 16 and was bitten by a dog who ripped a big chunk of skin off my left arm six years ago nothing prepared me for this journey. But how can we prepare, truly? Like a diagnosis of any kind, you are thrown into an alternate reality of treatments and, hopefully, healing. I’m grateful that this isn’t a diagnosis, that I am making progress, and expecting a full recovery but that hasn’t been clear from the start.
I kept hearing six-to-eight weeks or I wouldn’t get back the function of my leg sending me into fear and “nights of anguish” to quote Rilke. I prayed for guidance from the angels, and Mother Earth/Pachamama, before and during every bend of my leg. Wailing. Pushing. Crying. Praying to get to 90º. Four times a day. Every day. This went on for several weeks without any progress and was looking at the possibility of a surgical manipulation. Thankfully, as my patella healed, and with new PT practices, my leg slowly began to bend more each and every day. And I continue to progress one brutal step at a time and now can see the light of hope.
I’ve asked Spirit what is it that I am to learn from this experience. I know deeply the finiteness and fragility of life, likely, from my early near death experience, then from the early deaths of my brother, mother, and best friend over 30 years ago. I’ve lived my life knowing that my time is limited and have followed the threads of my soul calling. Perhaps it is trust? Surrendering? Or learning to receive and being cared for which isn’t necessarily easy for a wildly independent woman such as myself? Or to welcome a rest or sabbatical, albeit forced, from my ambitions to serve our besieged Mother Earth? I’m still asking the questions. Rilke is also famous for having advised us to “live the questions.”
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rilke
At work on the “Kinship Mandala, May 2022.”
I haven’t been painting during these months though I am now finding the energy to give attention once again to my art and vision. It’s been so grueling physically that I didn’t have the strength to stand at the easel until now though I have been sketching, doing some design work, and I wrote a chapter titled “The Healing Power of Art and Holy Listening” about my transformative journey through loss for an anthology being published by a local community on the gifts of grief. I’ll share more when it is printed.
I am excited to be emerging from this place of liminality—betwixt and between—and I “sing out jubilation and praise” for this gift of life, beauty, and love. Deep gratitude to my surgeon, physical therapists, and my sister and brother-in-law. And to all those who have been sending prayers and holding the light of healing for me over these months. It takes a village to heal.
And to the angels…
“Rilke’s Angel” (In process).
As we stand at the threshold between the end of this year and prepare to welcome in the next—while continuing to navigate the challenges of this global pandemic—a blessing from the late Irish philosopher and poet John O’Donohue. “We bless this year for all we learned, / For all we loved and lost…”
At The End Of The Year
The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.
As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
Photo: “Threshold: Machu Picchu.” 2006. ©Amy Livingstone
Art: “911: Love is the Answer”—2001, 2015, 2021
Evolution of a painting and our collective journey on this Day of Remembrance. September 11, 2001. It was the twelfth anniversary of my brother Richard’s death from AIDS, I was lighting candles in his memory when I heard of the terrorist attacks. Already in a place of mourning, I was stunned and bereft like most of us. However, it was during the Day of Remembrance three days later that I truly had an epiphany. I experienced a sense of love and oneness that I had never known before.
Much like the love that Paul speaks to in Romans to “love one another with mutual affection.” Christ’s message of love. The interfaith ceremony at the Rose Quarter in Portland, Oregon, included speakers from all faith traditions—Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist and our indigenous brothers and sisters. As the mystic and poet Rumi wrote: “The broken heart is the doorway to God.” It was extremely powerful and on my way home on the train I had a vision that became this painting.
What I remember in the days following the attacks was that love. The world came to a halt and people stepped away from their busy lives and began to question the meaning of life, to examine what was truly important. It wasn’t how much they had financially or materially, it was about family, friends, and love. Who would I call if I were on that plane? There seemed to be a new realization for the precariousness of our existence and a new reverence for life. People were kind to one another. This was the world I wanted to live in and prayed that this feeling of unity would last…
In my vision, I saw hands holding the earth emerging out of the smoke of the Twin Towers. My hands? White hands. However, over time, it hasn’t felt right with the growing awareness of racial injustice in our world. Years ago, I digitally added the red nails as an expression of the Divine Feminine which is being called forth during this evolutionary time.
And more recently, the 2021 version, I retouched the image with only the earth and heart in color. We are indeed interconnected in the web of live, may we unite in love for one another and for the living Earth. May it be so…
I send a breath of compassion to all those who are grieving for loved ones lost as a result of the September 11 attacks.
Art: “911: Love is the Answer” 24×36″, 2001. ©Amy Livingstone. I spoke at Eastminter Presbyterian in Portland on September 11, 2011 about this journey, you can watch the two-part videos (total of 20 minutes) here: https://www.youtube.com/user/SacredArtStudio/videos