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.
My 92 year old father fell and broke his hip in December. It has been a wild journey in moving him from the hospital, to rehab, and now to assisted living. For any of you who have walked this path with your elders, you know the intensity and time this takes. I have had some sweet moments in the studio, working on various projects including sketches for the interfaith prayer room at a local hospital. I continue to believe in the power of art and beauty to heal our hearts and our world even amidst the insanity of what is unfolding in our country.
I will return soon with more offerings, art, poetry, and inspiration!
In our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace
I painted this mandala in 2006 while attending graduate school and studying the world’s religions. It was profound to be discovering all the threads of interconnections that we share in common. Any of you who have been following my work know how profoundly I believe in this truth. If we could only take the time to really study our own religion and that of other faiths, perhaps humanity might come to find peace. This is my hope and my vision for our world.
This stain glass inspired mandala began with the hand in the center. The hamsa hand (Arabic) or hamesh hand (Hebrew) is a symbol of protection and a popular icon throughout the Middle East and N. Africa. The words hamsa and hamesh mean “five” and refer to the digits on the hand and is also referred to as the Hand of Fatima (Islam), Hand of Miriam (Judaism), and the Hand of Mary (Christianity). Represented here are also the four elements—tree/earth, fish/water, dove/air, and snake/fire—sacred symbols that appear throughout our religious texts. Bound together by the elements, the cycles of the moon and the seasons, the message here is that no matter what faith we choose or inherit, we are all interconnected in the web of creation. We are one. The calligraphy translates as peace—Shalom in Hebrew, Shanti in Sanskrit, Salam in Arabic.
You can purchase small posters of this painting here.
The journey continues and art is more important now than ever.
“To those of you who, so far, thinking that this article doesn’t pertain to you because you don’t consider yourself to be a part of the art world, please hear me: You are even more essential to the arts than the rest of us. You are the audience. You are, quite literally, our reason for being. So, please, after you’ve taken to the streets, take to the galleries and museums. In our city, where 42 percent of the population is without religious affiliation, these institutions are our houses of worship. They connect us with something greater than ourselves. They offer the comfort and solace of beauty, and provide endless examples of what the human hand can do when it is guided by the heart.” -Jennifer Rabin, Willamette Week
I was heartened by this recent article in our local indie newspaper about the importance of art in our lives. And the important role we each play in this (r)evolution of collective consciousness from separation to oneness, from fear to hope, from hate to love. Rabin writes: “Never is art more essential than in times of separation; it is the ultimate force of creativity, hope, reflection and revolution.”
For those who are new to my work, I founded the Studio in 2003 and have been committed to raising awareness of the sacredness of the creation, our interconnectedness in the web of life, and the plight of endangered species. Over the years, through sales of my work, I have donated funds to the World Wildlife Fund, Audubon Society, Panthera (big cats), and the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
Every purchase has contributed to “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible” to quote Charles Eisenstein. Not only do you bring this beauty into your sacred space or give as a gift, you make a difference with your purchase and I thank you. Mother Earth and her creatures thank you.
“Prayer” ©Amy Livingstone
Prayer of deep listening
In this century and in any century,
Our deepest hope, our most tender prayer,
Is that we learn to listen.
May we listen to one another in openness and mercy
May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect
May we listen to our hearts in love and forgiveness
May we listen to our deep spirit in quietness and awe.
And in this listening,
Which is boundless in its beauty,
May we find the wisdom to cooperate
With a healing spirit, a divine spirit,
who beckons us into peace and community and creativity.
We do not ask for a perfect world.
But we do ask for a better world.
We ask for deep listening.
Photography: Dan Kvitka
“Hope Mandala” (Soul Symbol Mandala Commission) ©Amy Livingstone
THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
From my November Newsletter:
Like many of you, I have been feeling despair since the results of the election. We have entered another dark period in our human history where rhetoric meant to divide us is being fueled by fear. Fear of the other and fear of our future. Our fragile planet is also now ever more threatened by new leadership that denies the science of climate change. My heartaches for our beautiful mother earth and all her creatures, including we two-leggeds.
I believe it is necessary to allow time to mourn and then we need to move towards action, and soon. Love must trump hate. For love of all beings regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. For love of the earth and for love of country. During the recent Parliament of World Religions NW event, I spoke with Harris Zafar of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I asked him: “How can we support our Muslim brothers and sisters if we have a Trump presidency?” His response was that we all need to have the courage to stand up and speak out. To overcome fear and stand together as one. And I am grateful that we are beginning to see this coming together in community to listen and to dialogue, to co-create what Martin Luther King envisioned as the Beloved Community. Love.
And I also believe we must continue to bring forward all our creativity in service not only to our own hearts but for our world. If you don’t already have a practice of creative expression, I encourage you to explore different mediums: drawing, coloring, collaging, painting, writing, journalling, or dancing. Art, poetry, and beauty save me daily and know the power of art to heal. Let me know what practices are supporting you during this time of change. I will continue with the mission of Sacred Art Studio in spreading the message of our interconnectedness and love for the earth and all beings–human and otherwise. I am grateful for your support and am offering 50% off my sculptures.
A blessed and happy Thanksgiving to all those here in the states.
In gratitude and love,
The completed “Reverence” that became a companion piece to “Resurrection” (below). While working on this painting, the title that kept coming to me was “Why Do We Crucify Ourselves?” but ultimately the message for me, and all my work, is around reverencing the earth. I was drawn to add the Celtic knot pattern from my ancestral Scottish homeland and symbols of the four elements from the ancient alchemists. Remembering the wisdom of the ancients. I think it is important to also remember that Jesus worshiped and preached by the sea, in the desert, and in the garden; Moses received the Ten Commandments from Yahweh atop a mountain; and the Prophet Muhammad received the holy Koran in a cave. They experienced and encountered God, the Divine, in nature. Reverencing the earth as holy isn’t in opposition to loving and worshiping one’s personal God and today there is ever more urgency for humanity to awaken to this truth and to remember our innate interconnectedness in the web of creation. This is the call coming from Standing Rock (#NoDAPL) and our indigenous brothers and sisters. Are we listening? It is time to “resurrect” indigenous and ancestral ways of knowing that connect us to the sacredness of the earth to ensure a livable planet for all beings and future generations.
From theologian Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality: “Divinity and the universe seem deeply biased in favor of the future. Both celebrate emergence. Call it: Resurrection. Call it: New Life or New Creation. Call it: Evolution or Creativity. I believe in the future and the possibilities of hope.” May it be so.
“Resurrection” 2016 ©Amy Livingstone
Holy mother earth with the seed of life nestled in the heart of the web of life. Our current paradigm is cracking open. Transformation is assured. To maintain life on earth, we need the return or “resurrection” of ancient ways of knowing associated with our indigenous ancestors and the Divine Feminine.
Mihrab Tree of Life ©Amy Livingstone
Like many of you, I have been in deep grief this past week with the results of the election. I believe it is necessary to allow time to mourn and then we must move towards action, and soon. Love must trump hate. For love of all beings regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. For love of the earth and for love of country. During the recent Parliament of World Religions NW event, I spoke with Harris Zafar of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I asked him: “How can we support our Muslim brothers and sisters if we have a Trump presidency?” His response was that we all need to have the courage to stand up and speak out. To overcome fear and stand together as one. From 12th c Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi: “My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, a temple for idols, and a Ka’ba for the pilgrims; it is a tablet of the Torah, and the book of the Koran. I profess the religion of Love, and whatever direction its steed may take, Love is my religion and my faith.” And in the words of Hillary Clinton: “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”
Art: “Mihrab Tree of Life,” ©Amy Livingstone, Sacred Art Studio
Inspired by the Islamic/Sufi tradition. Read more here http://sacredartstudio.net/mihrab-tree-of-life-sacred-geom…/