This final painting is a portrayal of an Australian grasstree. These distinctive plants with thick trunks, grassy heads, skirts of dead leaves and long spear like flowering stems stand like sentinels in the bush and forests of Australia. There are 28 species of Xanthorrhoea which is the main genus of grasstrees in Australia. I grew up with the Western Australian bush where X. preissi dominates. This painting is modelled on an X. australis which we found in a local Aboriginal reserve and sacred place. I was delighted to discover the grasstrees in the bush there. Grasstrees are notable for their ability to survive fire and even to use it as an opportunity to flourish, flower and disperse seeds. In the painting the ring of dots represents the fire that burns but does not destroy reminiscent of the burning bush that Moses encountered (Exodus 3.2-3). Grasstrees are also capable of long life and depending on growth rates can be up to hundreds of years old.Grasstrees are clearly significant for various Aboriginal tribes and traditionally were a source for food, medicine, tools and weaponry. I wonder if Australian grasstrees as ancient figures of stillness, survivors of fire and sources of abundance might be a suitable symbol of spirit for Australians to revere, treasure and learn from as a portal to the sacred.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Sometime after the loss of our baby daughter I became aware of an inner diamond image that sat in my field of vision. It was a very stilling and focussing image and I felt for a time that it could easily facilitate a meditative space just by bringing my awareness to it. The image has over time faded however it spoke to me of the resurrection of our daughter and also something deeper of my own being at the same time. Initially I sketched it on a canvas and only more recently was I reminded of the image and it’s resonance with a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ called ‘That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection’. The poem ends with the following utterance:
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am,
And This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
As I was praying with this new attempt at the image I sensed that I was being called to bring it to form. In other words the inner image was only a seed of what it would become. I also sensed with wonder that that which is unseen (God) needed my creative endeavours to bring it to life in a physical way. I learnt much from this image about the co-creative dimension of spirituality.
The diamond itself carries movement downwards as it slices away the illusions of the separate self and streams its light outwards in all directions. The diamond is surrounded by the fires of the cosmos and the sun of suns (The Holy One) in the background. Unbeknownst to me at the start of the painting the deeply personal nature of this diamond image is also cosmic in its relevance. Further that ‘Holy Diamond’ is another name for the Risen Christ or what Quakers call ‘That of God in everyone’. It is the ‘true light that enlightens everyone’ (John 1.9). Richard Rohr in Immortal Diamond says this is our ‘True Self…the “treasure in the field” that Jesus speaks of…It is your own chunk of immortal diamond.’
This piece contains a prayer derived from the Community of Aidan and Hilda Ten Elements that I wrote some time ago. Following a recent community retreat I was tempted to change the words to reflect an Australian context however something tells me to leave it as is with its universal themes. Continuing the circle symbolism in my art recently the prayer is read in a circle moving inwards where we find the juxtaposition of the 10th Element (Mission) with the rich Interior Centre which is paradoxically often the source of the movement outwards with compassion towards others and the world. The colours of the edges and the centre are the same, though reversed in sequence, reflecting that God often reveals that Inner and Outer can be experienced as a whole. While not intended as an Aboriginal piece of art the dot work in the centre and at the edges however acknowledges Koori Dreaming. I believe we can connect with and appreciate the spirituality of First Peoples through our own instincts for prayerfulness. For example, I recently discovered that the local Aboriginal word for ‘welcome’ is wantakalowa… literally ‘which way?’ It seems significant that wantakalowa seems to connect hospitality with spiritual journeying. Perhaps each element of our Way of Life might also embrace us with the welcome at each point ‘which way?
Saturday, November 30, 2013
This painting is a meditation on the Trinity through the use of circles in art and an attempt to bring my heart to this Christian symbol. I used to get lost in analysis of Trinity as a theological concept but gradually as I discovered the iconography of the universal church the Trinity became for me a Circle of Love and a deeper contemplative reality that carries the themes of emptiness, humility, love, compassion, wholeness, form and formlessness. Each member of the Trinity intimately touches each other and binds together as a unified whole. Occasionally I have a sense of being in contact with the Mystery of the Trinity in prayer and this is indicated through the fourth circle being subsumed within the larger circle. I realised later that this mandala is not so much an encounter with the Trinity as about being birthed by the Trinity. The space at the centre is the birth canal! The energetic qualities or pattern of the Trinitarian relationships continue on in each human life.
The Celtic Cross simultaneously holds together life and death, pain and joyful resurrection and offers it to the whole universe. This painting is in essence grief work. We lost our third daughter three days after her birth in 2010 after a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy. The red background indicates that what is portrayed is linked to the Eternal. The gold coloured cross draws on the wisdom understanding that wisdom is better than gold and silver (Proverbs 9:10-11) and indicates that this image carries a treasure of infinite value.The inner brown or red ochre ring is the earthy womb for both babies that survive and babies that perish. This reality is immense, paradoxical, deeply moving and largely beyond intellectual understanding. However both realities can lead to a release of love. The inner circle is unintentionally similar to the Asian Ying Yang symbol and perhaps there is an archetypal resonance. This similarity arose naturally as I was trying to capture the two growing foetus each with a different life path. The curved white strip in the centre indicates the Mystery of the whole experience and the transfiguring Source of both life and death. I feel close to the reality of Christ’s Wisdom in this image.
During a workplace reflection late last year I noticed a small red rose in bloom with a glowing light filled centre growing in the garden of the family centre where I work (see post entitled 'The Centre of Yourself'). The rose became a symbol for joy emerging in my life and needing to be expressed rather than hidden. It was also a reminder of the following passage from the Rule for a New Brother which I discovered many years ago in a bush hermitage.
What love is you can learn from Jesus. He is the one who has loved most. He will teach you to put the centre of yourself outside...to be unlimited space for others, invitation and openness: 'Come to me, all who are weary and over-burdened and I will give you rest.’ (Brakkenstein Community of Blessed Sacrament Fathers, 1973).
This painting arose from a time of Lectio Divina with Sirach 24:30-34.
As for me I was like a canal from a river, like a water channel into a garden. I said, “I will water my garden and drench my flower beds.” And lo, my canal became a river, and my river a sea. I will again make instruction shine forth like the dawn, and I will make it clear from far away. I will again pour out teaching like prophecy, and leave it to all future generations. Observe that I have not laboured for myself alone, but for all who seek wisdom.
What captures my attention immediately in this passage is the movement from the watering of ‘my garden’ to labouring for ‘all who seek wisdom’. In the painting blue water flows out of the canals at the centre watering gardens and drier lands as it expands to become a river and sea. It seems to me this is the striking call of relationship with God. Our awareness can become, like Jesus Son of Sirach, that we are part of a sea, even an ocean of love and wisdom and the life this brings can be poured out for others, for future generations. Labouring for oneself alone is not the way of wisdom.
This pattern of growth interiorly and outwards reminds me of James Fowler’s work on stages of faith. In his reflections on faith and vocation in Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian he says: ‘The human calling –which we take to be universal – is to undergo and participate in the widening inclusiveness of the circle of those who count as neighbour, from the narrowness of our familial beginnings toward real solidarity with a commonwealth of being. This call means movement from the limiting love of those who love us and on whom we are dependent, toward the limitless love that comes from genuine identification with the Source and Centre of all being’.
All are called to be Wisdom channels.
This painting points to the significance of the sun as source of life and light. The Sun’s light and heat continually nourishes our bodies and indeed all life. Despite its relatively isolated position towards the edges of the Milky Way Galaxy the Sun connects us with the whole cosmos.
The Celtic Cross emerging from the Sun highlights that it too will eventually die and become something else. In other words for me the Sun speaks of the Christ pattern of life, death and resurrection. In some respects the sun is a model for our own spiritual life. Like the Eucharist and the self-offering of the Holy One the Sun continues to produce and gradually empty itself of light and energy supporting our own being on earth.
I resonate with the following Sun Prayer from the Carmina Gadelica with its deep reverence for the sun:
The eye of the Great God,
The eye of the God of glory
The eye of the King of hosts
The eye of the King of the living,
Pouring upon us
At each time and season,
Pouring upon us
Gently and generously.
Glory to thee,
Thou glorious sun.
Glory to thee, thou sun,
Face of the God of life.
Similarly in the following excerpt from St Francis’ Canticle of Brother Sun:
All praise be yours, my Lord, through
all that you have made,
and first my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and light you
give to us through him.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in
All his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears
In our Christian traditions the circle is a potent symbol that seems connected to the all-encompassing, co-creative and presence filled tradition of recognising Christ: The Wisdom of God. The circle also resonates with proclamations such as 'Christ is all and in all' (Colossians 3:11). The image of the circle turns up again and again in nature, in child's play (see photo for this post), iconography, liturgy, Church seasons, poetry, prayer and discussions concerning growth in the spiritual life. Perhaps the soul can recognise in the circle a way of nurturing and expressing our capacity for deep consciousness of the divine in all things.
By way of entering into 'Wisdom's circle' the following poem is offered....
Come to me
Leave your slumber early in the morning
Arise, come sit by my streams
And by my pools of silence.
I am waiting… at the gates
And at the borders of your towns
And your thresholds and boundaries.
I am waiting…in the wind that touches your face
And that caresses and whistles through ancient ruins.
It is time…for listening to all things
in your heart and in the
Trail of spirit in breath, st
one and stars.
It is time…for beginnings…
Wise sages have said, “Fear of the Lord
Is the beginning of Wisdom”
The beginning of Wisdom
Bring reverence, your desire, your love
Bring delight, your gladness, your joy
And come find fullness of life in God and Wisdom.
Come to me
Leave your slumber early in the morning
Arise, come sit by my streams
And by my pools of silence.