Tag Archives: spirituality

The Tree That I am

 

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 “Dundas Street West, Toronto” DS 2016

An urban prayer walk – do not know what the tree is but I recognize the shape as my own – tall, strong, beautifully complex yet stripped down. However, this is me in winter. Soon leaves will show their buds of green. My sap runs thick and healthful even in the cold. Like maple syrup it will run for others to drink in the spring. People will even hammer jagged spouts in me to get what is in me out. They catch my lifeblood in buckets. I hope it will do them some good.

Pink flowers, tiny, star-shaped and fragrant pop open one day. I am more delighted by this than any other observer who looks up. They live for a while then die. I remember this blooming last year. I thought it would be forever this hot pink pulchritude. Petals on the streets were my outpouring of love. The streets looked paved in pink for a short few weeks. Then it all went brown. The death of petals is most sad – such a cruel contrast of life and death.

Soon, however, I noticed the leaves growing so large and multi-toned stretching out to catch the blue sky sun. Glory is what comes to me. This glory is even after the blooming is over. Is this the loveliness of middle age?

Then the heat of such growth gives way to the slowing coolness of autumn. The leaves large, veiny become scarlet red, burgundy, orange, burnt umber and lime to evoke awe. They show their true colours then become crispy and die.

I will not fear this death, as I know from past experience that this is when my roots go down far and wide seeking the moisture that keeps me alive although I look dead. This dormancy is my daily experience for now. It feels cold, dead, sparse – lonely.

This waiting will soon pass, I know. Birds of red, blue and yellow will be back to rest, feed and sing in my branches. I will feed some and provide shade for others and impress them in their rest with my splendor. This sap, this Spirit, will raise and beautify me again.

Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.

Book of Daniel

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The House by the Sea

 

 

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iPad Photo “Shell Still Life” DS

Several phone calls had made the morning stressful. I was tired, so tired. I decided to take it easy instead of catching up on more work. I sat in the garden room with a cup of coffee and began to knit.

I slowed my breathing to match the rhythm of contemplative knitting. This is my practice. I breathed a prayer. The sunlight shone on my face through the slats of the vertical blinds. I picked up a book lying in a pile neglected on the summer table: “The House by the Sea”.

A random reading became a welcome contrast to my disciplined course reading of late. It began: “Yesterday I lay around all day, sometimes on my bed upstairs, sometimes on the chaise longue on the porch, looking at the flowers. I enjoyed the lovely rooms in which I live, the light, the spaciousness…”. Peace started to blanket my mind.

May Sarton’s experience blended with my own. She continued: “Two days ago the purple finches came back… lovely to lie still and watch the wings coming and going…”. An interlude of words, of colour and patterned movement, a little sun, a sighed prayer brought calm to my type A personality. Now I can go back to work. In Genesis on week one of the earth, even God rested. Thank you.

IPad photo contemplative knitting

iPad photo “Contemplative Knitting” DS

 

Contemplation and Work

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“Lions Gate Bridge at Night” smartphone photo DS 2015

I find I am most productive when I am busy up to a point. When I am continually working and the studio is filled with projects at various levels of completion, connections between them just happen and a new seemingly unrelated work is created.

On the other hand when I practice a rhythm of work and rest, as has been experienced in monasteries for centuries, I find inspiration even when I sleep or read or visit galleries.

I am also more receptive to including what I see modeled by friends, colleagues and mentors when I am contemplative and grounded in a spiritual/mental/emotional/physical practice.

 

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Book of Ephesians

“Ora et Labora” St. Benedict

Three Images and a Poem

As I rest in a pre-dawn reverie a series of images emerge layered upon one another. The first is one of my favourite paintings of William Holman Hunt: “The Light of the World”. The glow of the lamp extends to light my tanned, blue pedicured feet. The thought comes: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119). I am walking the seawall at night. As I look up, stars dot the night sky. Behind me the ‘pearl necklace’ of the Lion’s Gate Bridge shines across the dark water. The stars turn into tiny orange fires from a poem by Denise Levertov. This is how some of my best paintings have come about. A narrative emerges from a series of images collaged in my mind by the Spirit.

This may not ever become a painting. I have more ideas than I could possibly get enfleshed in paint. But I know why I half dream today as turn over again. This is a nodal day; a day I waited for: a rare meeting with a professor about my future after graduation in the spring.

The years of workshops and book study groups that have been my praxis to balance my academics have all but dried up. In this time when I could look forward to planning new series of workshops there seem to be no open doors. My last book study group had to be cancelled for lack of attendance. Both of my creative expressions of painting and writing are mostly solitary activities, whether in the sunlit studio or the dark room and lamp lit desk. These are both my default and my scaffolding undergirded by the Spirit’s inner work.

Just when I will graduate with a Masters of Art in Spiritual Formation, all that I have worked for seems to have disappeared. The Shellseekers Art + Soul contemplation and creativity workshops are my passion. It is not like I can now just look in the newspaper and find a job. The path of an artist is an organic thing. Yet the path is lit for a little ways ahead. I will paint and write. It is what I do. That does not change. A door ahead will be opened for me to pass these on to others I am sure. Faith and fear are opposites. I have a choice.

Life Interrupts Sleep (DS 2015)

The middle of the night again

Life interrupts sleep

Much to contemplate these days

Oh to stave of the desire to weep

 

The poetic and the mundane

Compete with images of fear and pain

Traffic noises and bumps in the dark

Arise my fair one and see what is stark

 

A list is made

To empty the mind

Of worries real and of future cost

I must retrieve what was lost

 

A degree almost earned

Benefits of two decades fall away

A car scraped

An iced driveway

 

Painting is a thing of the recent past

Writing is slow and creaking

To mask the grief

Of your absence

 

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“The Light of the World” 1851-53

William Holman Hunt

“Snow Day” 2013 DS

Today I went back to bed. I made the necessary calls to cancel my appointments. It is a snow day. In fact at noon the snow is still falling.

There have been a lot of workshops this month and I am exhausted. However, I could not sleep. What happened was that, as I lay there, heaped with covers, trying to get warm, my basic coldness kept me kind of awake. My mind conceived or rather received, several new ideas for workshops in the New Year.

Often my best work is done when I do not plan it. This is what keeps me to a contemplative path. A snow day becomes an unexpected retreat day – what Richard Rohr in his book “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer” calls a sacred space, a liminal space, where we are led to let go and to somehow be transformed. It becomes a period of time away from our normal everyday life. We are able to see things in a new way.

Today I am kidnapped by the Spirit for a beauty day – a white day, a quiet day where my schedule is interrupted. This moment I am in awe of the largest of flakes, of the crackling sound on the screen window; of the swirling of the flakes in various directions simultaneously.

Surely this scene is the Self-expression of God:

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

I notice that my breathing pattern changes. This over-abundance of snow that is more than the branches can hold seems like this prophetic word:

I will [ ] open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. Malachi 10:6b

Yes, even in my fatigue I have received the “spiritual creativity” Rohr writes about that God gives when we relinquish control for a while and trust in God’s work “in the darkness.” Not only am I rested; I am revived to return to my goal-oriented lifestyle.