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?