I hope the start of this New Year brings you good health and joy. There seems to be a renewed energy of hope at this moment after what seemed like a year of holding our collective breaths. We’re still here though too many beloveds have departed this realm, but I remain grateful for all who are holding the light these days. As indigenous teacher and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:
“The path is lined with all the world’s people, in all colors of the medicine wheel-red, white, black, yellow-who understand the choice ahead, who share a vision of respect and reciprocity, of fellowship with the more-than-human world. Men with fire, women with water, to reestablish balance, to renew the world. “
May it be so. This quote comes towards the end of Kimmerer’s brilliant hymnal to the Earth, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.” There is abundant wisdom and rich imagery in her book and with only so much space to work with, I simply allowed the species of each plant and animal to guide me. Salmon, heron, ambystoma maculata (salamander), three sisters, aster and goldenrod, medicine plants, etc…Through this co-creative journey, I feel an even deeper kinship with all these beings.
I hear the call from our indigenous brothers and sisters about the need for all of us to unite as a spiritual community to heal the earth. This was also the inspiration, for those new to my work, for the “All Nations Tree of Life” shown below. I/we are seeing this happen within many communities even though it may not be visible in mainstream media.
In closing, from Braiding Sweetgrass: “The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibility for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blanks out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. . . . Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world. . . . In return for the privilege of breath.”
What is your gift? Would love to hear from you!
For love of the Earth!
From my December newsletter:
Happy Solstice & Holydays
To those of us in the Northern Hemisphere today marks the beginning of winter. My/our Celtic and Scandinavian ancestors had rituals to welcome the return of the light during this darkest of days. And it’s no coincidence that Hanukkah and Christmas fall around the Winter Solstice both of which celebrate the light. In the Jewish faith, it was a vessel of oil that was meant to burn for one day, and lasted for eight, symbolized by the lighting of the menorah. And for those of the Christian faith, a little bundle of hope born into a time of darkness.
I was pulling runes, a Nordic divination system, when working on the mandala below. When drawing ISA (I) the guidance is to stop and go within. It announces a time of restoration and renewal at the deepest level. I’m entering this space as we approach the year’s end and embracing the stillness after two Christmas seasons in the hospital with my father, who departed this realm last month.
Wishing those of the Jewish faith a blessed and happy Hanukkah during this season of light. I really love this ancient ritual of lighting the menorah. For those unfamiliar with the symbolism of this sacred time: Hanukkah is a celebration of the victory of the Maccabean Rebellion (167-160 BCE) against the attempt by Antiochus to force Hellenistic i.e. Greek pagan, practices upon the Jewish people and symbolizes the re-dedication of the Temple. According to the legend, when the Jews regained access to the Temple, they found only one jar of oil left, enough to stay alight for only one day, but by a miracle, the oil stayed burning for eight days. Occurring around winter solstice, each night for eight nights, another candle is lit on the menorah. The amount of light gradually increases like the lengthening of sunlight.
Rape of the Spirit, 2001, Bronze ©Amy Livingstone
It’s been over a month since my last communication. I hope this email finds you well and enjoying the beauty of Autumn and the lush colors that are abundant this year.
It has been an intense time for me with the sudden death of a good friend and the leader of my spiritual community, and my father’s final passage to the far shore a week ago today. It was hard to see him suffering at the end and am grateful to have been with him when he departed this realm. It was sacred time and naturally brought up memories of sitting by my late brother’s bedside 29 years ago as he lay dying from AIDS. Many of you know of my transformative journey through grief and if not, you can read about it here. My mother’s spirit (as were others) was present in my father’s tiny room over the last several weeks and am imagining them together again.
Art saved me back then and continues to be my saving grace and with so much suffering/violence in our world. The sculpture above “Rape of the Spirit” is one of many sculptures and paintings that emerged out of my own grief. It’s why I believe in the power of art to heal and may be offering some workshops again in the coming year if that is where I am called. Right now, I’m allowing time to grieve and listen for guidance around this next stage of life and work. Where there is an ending, a beginning or rebirth is inevitable and am trusting in that.
I need to be creating, so am slowly getting into the studio and am back to the mandala below. There are many paintings in process and will be sharing those in time. And if you’re starting to think about the holydays, consider purchasing sacred art prints, cards, or originals. I am experimenting with a line of sacred art items and will share more on that soon. Visit the shop here.
“In our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Reciprocity mandala inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.”
The “Interfaith Tree of Hope” is currently hanging at the New Thought Center for Spiritual Living (NTCSL) in Lake Oswego. A percentage of the sale of this painting will benefit this community committed to peace, love, and unity. Peace. Salam. Shalom.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brother[sister]hood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
From my September Newsletter.
I delivered the “Interfaith Tree of Peace” for Providence St Vincent Hospital on Wednesday having completed this revised version over the past month. It’s quite large at 7 x 3 feet and with the addition of the dove, it called for a new title and intention. This painting along with “Be Peace” that I shared with you last month will hang in the Interfaith Prayer Room next to the chapel on the second floor (they are repainting the room so it will be a few weeks before they are up). It has been an honor to create this sacred art and hope that they bless all who encounter their beauty.
Given the divisiveness in this country and around the world along with the current struggles people and our beloved planet are undergoing, it’s been a challenge at times for me believe that art matters with so much suffering. But I also believe deeply that we each have a unique gift to contribute to a “more beautiful world we know is possible” (Charles Eisenstein) and if we can’t envision a better world, we can not co-create one together. It has also been affirming to all artists to hear from the Pope:
“The artists of our time, though their creativity, may help us discover the beauty of creation.” -Pope Francis
And so, my process continues to one of devotion and I dedicate this holy work daily to the healing of our world. May it be so.
Sending prayers to all those impacted by Harvey and Irma. And to our beloved Columbia Gorge that is currently on fire. There is much more work to be done to instill reverence and respect for the natural world in our youth. I may be taking a look at ways to contribute to this cause once my father passes and I have more energy and time to give.
With gratitude and love,
“Interfaith Tree of Hope” 84 x 36″ ©Amy Livingstone
“Be Peace” 48 x 36″ ©Amy Livingstone
“The artist’s gift is always to creation itself, to the ultimate meaning of life, to God.” -Otto Rank, Art and Artist
I’m excited to share the Providence St. Vincent hospital paintings that will hang in the interfaith prayer room next to the Chapel. They will be redecorating the space, so not sure at this time when the paintings will actually go up. The good news is that the chaplaincy group loves the peace painting above (though the antique gold is hard to replicate here digitally). However, I am redoing the “Interfaith Tree of Hope”. They found it too pink and not what they anticipated.
During the creation of this painting, I kept my vision and intention on the people who might be sitting or praying for their loved ones in the hospital. Informed no doubt by my holding space with my father during his end of life process and remembering, too, the hours I sat with my brother as he lay dying from AIDS all those years ago. I envisioned a tree of light, with the seed of life emerging from the darkness to bring hope and healing.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of diverting from what we had discussed in our original conversation around using similar colors as the “Interspiritual World Tree.” When I’m working on an individual commission, I don’t show the work in process as it can change over the length of its creation and that has always worked for my clients. But with a large organization like Providence, I really should have shown them where I was called to take the piece before completing it.
It was a lesson for me and all is not lost as I love the painting but will be spending the rest of this month on the new painting. It should go more quickly as I’ve already worked out the design and know exactly what colors to use. Stay tuned!
I would like to find a home for the “Interfaith Tree of Hope” and perhaps another faith community or healing space will purchase it. If you know of anyone would might be interested, I would appreciate hearing from you or forward this email.
Creator of the Universe,
How infinite and astonishing
Are your worlds.
For your Sacred Art
And sustaining Presence.
Forgive my blindness,
Open all my Eyes.
Reveal the Light of Truth.
Let original Beauty
Guide my every stroke.
Flow through me,
From my heart
Through my mind to my hand.
Infuse my work with Spirit
To feed hungry souls.
-Alex Grey, from Art Psalms.
With gratitude and love,
The Essence of Desire
I did not have to ask my heart what it wanted,
because of all the desires I have every known
just one did I cling to
for it was the essence of
to hold beauty in
my soul’s arms.
-St John of the Cross
From my June/July newsletter:
Greetings Earth Lovers
The late Irish philosopher and poet John O’Donohue said: “God is Beauty.” When we encounter beauty, we have an opportunity to experience the transcendent. The numinous, that which takes us out of the profane and into the sacred. These are indeed holy moments and we all have experienced this especially in nature.
Many years ago, I remember driving through the Okanagan region of British Columbia, high in the Canadian Rockies. I was alone, driving back from seeing a friend perform at a music festival in the area and had Puccini’s “La Boheme” in the tape deck. I had driven through this valley in the middle of the night from Vancouver airport several days earlier and had no clue as to the landscape I had traveled. At one point on my return, I reached the top of one peak at the exact moment an aria from the opera hit its crescendo and was completely overcome by awe at the profound beauty and holiness of the land before me. Combined by the dramatic nature of the music, I stopped in the middle of the road and wept.
I could dwell in that space of awe all the days of my life and sense it is a longing for us all in our fast-paced, technologically driven world. What about you? Where have you experienced this sense of awe and wonder? These moments and others like them inspire my work as a sacred artist and advocate for the earth. I believe deeply that what we love, we will protect.
These days, I am immersed in completing two paintings (one a triptych or three panels) for the interfaith prayer room at Providence St Vincent hospital here in Portland. The two side panels from the “Interfaith Tree of Hope” are shown here. I look forward to unveiling these paintings to you later this month. You can see other photos in process at my studio Facebook page.
I appreciate your support of this holy work especially now as I walk with my father who was hospitalized again in May and is currently receiving hospice care in assisted living. There are pearls to be gleaned here even amidst my exhaustion. I see the struggle between his will to live and fear of dying for one who has no faith or spiritual grounding. I pray for his peaceful transition as a faithful witness to his journey.
Sikhism, Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism, Baha’i
Taoism, Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam
|“Eve” from “Lovers of Creation” Triptych, ©Amy Livingstone|
I bow to all mothers on this day. . . past present and future and for all of those (women and men) who are nurturing the Divine Feminine into being. I gave this talk five years ago and am sharing again with you today.
Nurturing the Divine Feminine into Being
Abundant Life Center, Vancouver, WA
Mother’s Day. May 13, 2012
Happy Mother’s Day. It’s fitting that that the talk today is on the Divine Feminine. A day when we honor, celebrate, and remember mothers. What better symbol of the divine feminine than that of the mother. She who nurtures a new life into being. Who BIRTHS…FEEDS from her own body, LOVES, and NURTURES the soul of a child into adulthood. From the late Irish philosopher and poet, John O’Donohue
Your voice learning to soothe
Your new child
Was the first home-sound
We heard before we could see.
Your young eyes
Gazing on us
Was the first mirror
Where we glimpsed
What to be seen
Your nearness tilled the air,
An umbilical garden for all the seeds
Of thought that stirred in our infant hearts.
You nurtured and fostered this space
To root all our quietly gathering intensity
That could grow nowhere else.
Formed from the depths beneath your heart,
You know us from the inside out.
No deeds or seas or others
Could ever erase that.
Mother…. Symbol of LOVE. For me, this is the heart of the Divine Feminine. Remembering and nurturing the Divine Feminine into being is a journey from head-to-heart. From hatred to love. From power over to power with. From meaningless consumption to a renewed sense of reverence for life and beauty. This will require a radical shift in consciousness to a new way of being in relationship to each other and our world….to the Earth.
There’s a lot being written about the Divine Feminine these days. One of the many voices contributing to this conversation, is spiritual teacher Andrew Harvey. He writes: “The Divine Feminine is initiating a crucial new phase in our evolution: urging us to discover a new ethic of responsibility toward the planet; bringing us a new vision of the sacredness and unity of life.” I believe that without THIS vision…this evolution…our planet remains in peril, and our very survival is at risk. Most of us know that we are facing ecological, economic and social crises around the world. Climate change, species extinction, threats of nuclear war, toxic food sources, and the list goes on. Social thinker David Korten, calls this the ‘great unraveling.’
What we are experiencing is the result of a dominant masculine paradigm, that emerged alongside the rise of monotheistic religions that placed one male God in a position of authority over all humanity and creation. Attempting to extinguish the Goddess in all her incarnations, the Abrahamic traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam suppressed the feminine and subjected women to an inferior position beginning with our first archetypal Mother, Eve. However, what I have discovered through my own spiritual explorations and graduate studies in religion is the way in which these original sacred texts have been subjectively interpreted over the millennia to serve those in power.
For example, the Creation story is believed to have been written during and after the Israelite’s exile in Babylon (what is Iraq today). The ancient creation myths—Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh—were part of the oral tradition in that region. Theologians believe that in an attempt to understand the source of their own suffering and place in the cosmos, the early writers of the Torah borrowed from these ancient myths to write their own story of origin. Therefore, the notion that we are born into original sin, as we have been indoctrinated to believe in Christianity, was not the intention behind the Garden of Eden story. Those of the Jewish faith don’t believe they are born into original sin but original goodness. But without the notion of the Fall and original sin, what is the role of Christ as redeemer?
What is the role of the Catholic Church? For me, Christ’s message of love, service, compassion, inclusivity, and a willingness to challenge the military authority of his time, is a beautiful example of the Divine Feminine in practice. Love. Compassion. Inclusiveness. Unity…all lie at the heart of the Divine Feminine. What has excited me in researching these sacred texts, is that we also have the opportunity to rethink, and reinterpret, scriptures in a way that is reflective of our own time…and in support of a more progressive spirituality that IS inclusive.
Although most of our religious traditions have worshiped male deities over the millennia—Yahweh, Christ, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, etc., the feminine face of god has existed alongside them all along and are now becoming more recognized and gaining in popularity…certainly in the West where the Judeo-Christian tradition has been dominant in our culture. Women and men are seeking out alternatives to traditional religions that are more inclusive and less dogmatic.
• In Judaism, and the mystical teachings of Kabbalah, Shekinah is the feminine divine presence.
• In Christianity, Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and also Eve as first Mother, are all now being honored as representatives of the divine feminine
• In Islam and Sufism, Fatima, wife to the Prophet Mohammed, and the Beloved
• In Buddhism, Kuan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, is worshipped all over world including the United States.
• In Hinduism, there are 330 million gods and goddesses. Although Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu are the three primary male deities, in the pantheon of goddesses, Shakti, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Kali, Durga to name a few all represents aspects of the divine feminine.
• Of course, there is also a whole pantheon of Greek and Roman goddesses, so we are not lacking for images that represent the feminine face of god but we are now at a point in history where the recognition of their own Divinity can support us in bringing back into balance the masculine and feminine energies. We need the masculine as much as the feminine but as we have experienced the scale has been tipped too far towards the masculine–causing wars and ecological degradation around the world. This is why it is so important to nurture the divine feminine into being.
Outside of these religious traditions there has also been, since the feminist movement of the 70s, the revival of the most ancient goddess of all…that of Gaia. Mother Earth. What our indigenous brothers and sisters have always known, is that the Earth is our first Mother. The embodiment of the divine feminine, she is the giver of life. Sustainer of life and worthy of our reverence and devotion. Unfortunately, this hasn’t always been the case given the first commandment to have no other gods than the one god of the Abrahamic traditions.
And there are those who strongly hold to their beliefs that those who honor the Earth are pagan, devil-worshippers, and will go to some version of hell. It’s part of the conversation, too, but I feel hopefully that many of our religious leaders are now embracing and encouraging good stewardship of the Creation among their followers. Through a number of mystical experiences, I have come to a deep awareness that no matter who or what we worship (be it a god, goddess, or science)—we are all interconnected and we are all of the Earth.
I want to mindful of not painting an idealized portrait of the Divine Feminine. Love may be the heart of the divine feminine. And yes, a mother’s love is tender and nurturing but it is also a fierce love. This is the marriage of light and shadow. The Goddess, as Gaia, is a giver and sustainer of life, but she is also the destroyer of life as we have been witness to in the large-scale natural disasters that have become more prevalent. And all of you who are mothers know you would protect your young at all costs.
When Marianne Williamson speaks she often uses the story of the hyena mother who guards against the rest of the den of hyenas until all her young are fed. In her analysis, females are anthropologically wired to protect their young. For me, the emergent Divine Feminine is likewise asking that we harness both the tender love and fierce love to awaken, heal, and transform our world from one that is unsustainable to one that is life-sustaining—where our children are fed and bombs are no longer necessary.
We now know that the Divine Feminine has been present throughout history but how do we nurture it fully into being? Through us? How do we mid-wife this new era into consciousness? As I stated in the opening, this is a journey from the head to the heart for all of us—men and women. What I’ve learned is that it requires us to break open our hearts to each other and our world. To compassion. To love. To Oneness. Those attributes of the Divine Feminine.
I know what it feels like to have my heart broken wide open from my own experience through loss and grief when I was 30. Today is Mother’s Day and I’m thinking about my mother, Jane. She died unexpectedly 22 years ago. Nine months after my brother died from AIDS. It was a very dark time in my life but through my suffering, the dark night of the soul to quote St John of the Cross, I was able to open my heart to compassion for others, for all life. There were many gifts that came out of this period in my life for which am now grateful, though it was hell on earth for a time.
Breaking open our hearts doesn’t have to happen to so tragically, though it often does happen that way, doesn’t it? But let us not wait for a catastrophe to open or hearts to our world. In my workshops, the first step I offer on this journey of the heart is to slow down, take time for silence and stillness. Contemplation. Coming into awareness of the revelatory miracle of Creation. Mother Earth. There is so much beauty around us at any given moment, if we would we allow ourselves the time to simply BE. Beauty breaks open our heart. Think of a time when you became aware of this. ……
In “Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World,” author and Jungian Jean Shinoda Bolen writes: “Seeing beauty, loving what is beautiful, and nurturing and sustaining it all go together. It is also the ability to sense or intuit potential beauty and, through love, encourage it into existence.” Sounds like the Divine Feminine to me.
Beauty is available to us everywhere even when we’re stuck in traffic. Last Saturday morning, I was crossing the Vancouver bridge to lead a workshop at the Unitarian. It was the first time in 19 years of living in Portland, that I got the bridge lift. Though concerned for a moment at being late, I just turned off my engine and sat, watching the birds play in the rafters above me. Listening to their bird song, I breathed deeply into the present moment. I had no control over the situation, so I just allowed everything to be as it was.
Allowing ourselves to be more present to life—being with both with the joy and the grief that may emerge when we finally step off the speeding train that is contemporary life—is key to breaking open our hearts and inviting in the Divine Feminine. I believe the most radical thing we can do is to slow down. In this way, we are better able to be present to beauty, to our feelings, to the people in our lives, to God, to bear witness to what is happening in our world and then take action from a place of LOVE.
As an artist, of course, one of the primary expressions for me to nurture the divine feminine into being is through my artwork. First, in the creation of clay sculptures, primarily of the feminine form, much like our ancestors who sculpted the goddess during the Neolithic period. For example, I’m currently completing a series of ceremonial sculptures that represent three seasons of a woman’s life—the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Painting has been my primary medium since my teens and although at one time my work emerged out of the darkness and disappointment in my life, I now create sacred art that draws from the holy well of all spiritual traditions.
Today it is beauty that is my gateway to the Divine. Over the past year, I completed a large-scale, three-panel painting that re-visions the Garden of Eden narrative through an indigenous lens. The overarching theme for the piece became “the Garden is right here, right now.” Paradise is not in some unknowable future, but right here on this glorious planet…we need only remember the holiness of this place we call home. Bringing together symbolism from both the Genesis narrative and those of our earth-honoring ancestors, the painting is a visual scripture that reveals our innate interconnectedness in the web of Creation. Here, Adam and Eve representing the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine, reclaim their roles as stewards of Creation.
The creative process brings us into the present moment and I believe with all my heart, that we each have a creative gift to bring to the world what ever that may look like for you. I’m awed by people who make art in their kitchen. Fruits and vegetables are so gorgeous. Creativity is our sacred inheritance. As we are born into a creative universe, so we are all co-creators in our evolutionary history. To quote theologian and founder of Creation Spirituality, Matthew Fox:
To allow creativity its appropriate place in our lives and our culture, our education and our family relationships, is to allow healing to happen at a profound level. The intimacy of creativity corresponds to the mystical experience itself. Mysticism bespeaks union, and there is an ongoing union of us and the Divine (Feminine) precisely during the process of giving birth in any form whatsoever.”
Creating life, being a mother… a parent….is one of the most creative acts a human being can undertake. And I bow to you all on this Mother’s Day. Our indigenous teachers say this is the remembering time. A time to remember our relationship to the Earth, our first Mother… that we are all interconnected in the web of life. I also believe it’s a time for remembering your innate creativity in whatever form that may take to serve the healing of our own hearts…our families…our world.
We may be living amidst the great unraveling according to David Korten, but in the words of my teacher, environmentalist Joanna Macy, we are also in the midst of the Great Turning. This is a time of great transformation foretold by many ancient prophecies when the divine feminine and masculine will come into balance again after a period of near extinction and initiate a new phase of evolution ushering in a renewed vision that honors the sacredness of all life on Earth. May it be so.
In closing, a poem that speaks to me of the emerging Divine Feminine:
Beauty is the Messenger
Beauty is the messenger
Calling love out from forgotten places
Hidden by worry and fear,
And misplaced under the illusion of scarcity.
War, pain and conflict are all too evident
Between border towns, strangers and commuters.
But LOVE grows exponentially faster.
It IS the speed of light.
So, kindness reaches its destination
Infinitely faster than the time it takes
For the heaviness of cruelty
To chafe across toughened skin.
Beauty is the messenger
Waking up the sense of wonder,
Rounding up our wholeness into connection beyond ourselves
And increasing our capacity for limitless love.
Beauty is the messenger
Proving the incompatibility
Of splendor and malice;
Showing simply by example…
What is possible.
May all beings know peace. May all beings be loved.
New energy is pulsating within me and in my work as Spring brings forth the fecundity of the living earth. Amidst the stress of what is unfolding in our political scene, I find great comfort in the beauty that abounds from the sound of birdsong to daffodils; from the decomposing leaves waiting to be raked from the beds to the a splattering of St John’s Wort peeking through the soil—ripe with the smell of humus. The earth is indeed alive and “so much is in bud” to quote Levertov.
On Monday, I changed the altar cloth to yellow in the studio in celebration of Spring and in honor of Saraswati. Resting here in the center, holding her veena (string instrument) she is the Hindu goddess of learning, wisdom, and the creative arts. Now is an especially fruitful time to create as Mother Earth brings forward her beauty. No matter where you are, there is some piece of beauty at hand. A stone, a flower, an apple, a leaf, a bird….listen….look…breathe.
“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea–“
But we have only begun
To love the earth.
We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
— so much is in bud.
How can desire fail?
— we have only begun
to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision
how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.
Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet–
there is too much broken
that must be mended,
too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,
so much is in bud.