When I was considering graduate school in 2003, I contemplated whether to pursue a Masters in Fine Art, a Masters in Art Therapy, or the program that I eventually ended up choosing which was an Interdisciplinary Masters in Spiritual Traditions & Ethics. I had completed undergraduate work in fine arts in my youth and had been painting and sculpting “on the side” over the years while working as a graphic designer. This was before I answered my soul calling to work professionally as an artist in 2001. An MFA might have given me the opportunity to teach in an academic setting but not necessarily. I also wasn’t interested in the mainstream gallery scene. I had recently returned from a 10-training with environmentalist Joanna Macy and was studying the teachings of Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality. My vision was to use my art in service to the healing of the earth. I wasn’t seeing much of that in museums or galleries though that has changed over the years with greater awareness of climate change and the ecological crisis overall.
After the deaths of my brother and mother, and relocating to Portland in 1993, I had begun prerequisites for a Masters in Art Therapy (this is how I came to sculpture originally!). Through my own grieving process, I wanted more meaningful work and to support others in their grief. I’d had a successful design career but while doing the prerequisites, I realized that I was still too raw to hold space for others as a therapist and instead found my way to the Dougy Center, a center for grieving children and families. I was a volunteer grief facilitator there for eight years and can say that those were some of the most meaningful and healing years for myself and for all those who passed through their doors. My workshops evolved out of this same desire to support others in their healing journeys.
Fast forward to 2003. At the time, I was in a writing group working on “my story” around the deaths, the spiritual awakening that occurred over those dark years, and the mystical experience I had during the Macy Training. This became my writing sample for the graduate program and was published in Alternatives Magazine. People around me thought I was crazy. They’d ask incredulously: “What are you going to do with that degree?” But I listened to my inner voice and knew this was where I was called to be. I had just founded Sacred Art Studio and wanted to study religion. I wanted to understand how humanity had become so disconnected from the natural world that we were willing to destroy the land base on which all life was dependent. I was also an avid student of art history since undergrad days and already knew of the connections between faith and art. I didn’t know exactly where my work or my life was going but I needed to trust in my vision. And so I began graduate school in the fall of 2004 and graduated with honors in 2007.
Over these past 11 years, my art and spiritual path have been informed by these studies and my intention remains the same: to communicate the sacredness of the creation, to inspire a deep reverence for the earth, and with a hope to spark actions that protect the holiness of this place we all call home. It hasn’t always been a lucrative path financially but it is a meaningful life and I live simply. I have also been having fun designing books, often for first time authors who are self-publishing. This feeds my wild love of books and desire to serve others in their creative gifts.
Recently, I was thrilled to discover a wonderful book that validated this calling. “Art Lessons” by Deborah Haynes, an artist and academic based in Colorado who likewise has studied religion and the arts. She speaks to what I have already expressed: “A theology of the arts is based on the conviction that the artist has a personal calling, a vocation, to interpret the dilemmas we face, thereby giving voice to hopes and fears, experiences and dreams. In doing this, a theology of the arts is also oriented to this world, to the present as it moves inexorably toward the future. And, it is active: It urges engagement and commitment to the world in order to bring about political, social, and cultural transformation.”
A couple of new works in progress. “Sacred Text” (working title) and a painting that originally started many years ago as 14th c mystic and visionary icon Julian of Norwich who spoke radically of Christ as Mother, as the nurturing and loving presence of God.” She wrote, “All shall be well, all shall be well…For there is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.” May it be so.
It’s February 2nd and already the first signs of spring are here with daffodils emerging and little buds on the hydrangeas beginning to show themselves in the garden. A mild winter in the Northwest but we are still only half way to the Spring Equinox. Today is Imbolc which originated within the pagan tradition and is one of the cross-quarter days which falls between the Solstice and the Equinox. The day became associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid who was later adopted by the early Christians and is revered as St. Brigid. From chalicecenter.net/imbolc:
The Second of February belongs to Brigid, (Brighid, Brigit, Bride,) the Celtic goddess who in later times became revered as a Christian saint. Originally, her festival on February 1 was known as Imbolc or Oimelc, two names which refer to the lactation of the ewes, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring. Later, the Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions. The powerful figure of Brigid the Light-Bringer overlights both pagan and Christian celebrations.
In secular culture this time of year became known as Groundhog Day—which was a big deal growing up in New Hampshire where the winters were fierce and we kids yearned for the sun to return so we could play outside again. Growing up, I did not know this yearly visitation of the groundhog had its roots in the ancient ways of our ancestors. Imbolc is a festival of the hearth and home and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. It was a time to start preparing the fields for the first planting and to bless the crop seeds saved and stored from the last harvest. This is the time for purification and renewal.
Today, we can begin to till our actual gardens and we can also symbolically till the soil of our souls by letting go of something (or some action) that no longer serves us and plant a seed of intention to bring into our lives what we most want to harvest this year. Like our ancestors, I joined with several of my women friends in circle this weekend to honor this turn of the wheel and to set intentions for what we would like to see blossom in our own lives. It was a sacred ceremony that was blessed by fire and water, the two elements most associated with Brigid.
For me, these are symbolic of the feminine aspect of the life-giving water and the masculine energy of the fire—like the sun—that when joined together in union give birth to new life. Growth and opportunity are abundant in this landscape. During the winter season, we rest in the darkness of the womb and the sun will now purify and bring energy and light to a new vision for ourselves and our world. What are you longing for? What would you like to see bloom more fully in your life, your work, your relationships? Plant the seeds of intention now, nurture the ground, and harvest the gifts as we journey through the cycles of the seasons in the coming year.
Brigid was the goddess of healing, inspiration, craftsmanship and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge. “Song” from Wendell Berry—farmer, tiller of the soil and soul, and poet:
Within the circles of our lives
we dance the circles of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the seasons,
the circles of our reason
within the cycles of the moon.
Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all
Only music keeps us here,
each by all the others held.
In the holds of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.
And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone
into the darker circles of return.