Unveiling Prayer for the Birds

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From my July Newsletter

Greetings Earth Lovers
I am excited to share the completed “Lauds: Prayer for the Birds” from the “Where I Stand is Holy” series with you. If you have been following along, you know this has been quite a journey. The original vision emerged after my return from an Animas Institute quest last summer. I connected deeply to that landscape and was reminded of this commandment to Moses from the Torah: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5). When we are standing on Mother Earth, we are standing on holy ground. On our last evening together, I walked out in front of our group, removed my sandals, and chanted a song that we often sing during our community sweat lodge (changing sit to stand).

Where I stand is holy, holy is this ground.
Forest, mountain, river, listen to the sound.
Great Spirit circles all around me.
(Repeat several times)

This mantra guided the creation of this piece inspired by illuminated manuscripts that included ornate borders with flowers, bugs, and creatures of all sizes and imagined monks in ancient times as I painted each tiny leaf. The 11 varieties of birds that I chose through my research are just a small sample of the 314 North American birds threatened by climate change. According to the Audubon Society, 314 of the 588 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080. (Learn more here). With temperature changes, acidification of our oceans, and loss of habitat and food sources, their survival is precarious.

Arctic Tern
Magpie
Cerulean Warbler
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Eastern Bluebird
Allen’s Hummingbird
Varied Thrush
Bobolink
Whooping Crane
Golden Eagle
Brown Pelican

How do we be with this beauty and our sorrow? As I learned from my own transformative journey through grief 25 years ago, it is important and necessary to allow the feelings and to allow our hearts to break open, as painful as it can be. It is natural to grieve what we love(d) and who among us doesn’t love our birds? “Beauty is what opens our eyes to love. Love ignites passion and passion is what propels us toward the future wrought with risk and uncertainty.” -Terry Tempest Williams

With the Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment and urgent call for creation care, my work (and many others) over the past decade feels affirming and am grateful for his vision and leadership on the most critical issue of our time.

In the Catholic tradition, Lauds is the morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, so I chose morning glories and songbirds to symbolize this time of the day as the sun rises in the background. Three other panels for Sext (noon), Vespers (evening), and Compline (night) are all part of this vision and will also give expression to our endangered species. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter, too.

For love of the birds.

The New Gospel (of Earth)

The Translator: 2014, 36x36" Acrylic (Inspired by "Walking the Borders" by William Stafford)
The Translator
(Inspired by William Stafford’s Walking the Borders.)

I was re-visiting my first book of eco-philosophy today, A Sacred Place to Dwell: Living with Reverence Upon the Earth by Henryk Skolimowski, that I discovered in 2003. Reading this sacred text was life changing and inspired me to go on to graduate school to study spiritual traditions and ethics within an interdisciplinary framework. Although I had considered an MFA and a Master’s in Art Therapy at the time, I felt called to this other scholarly path to better understand the disconnect between humanity and all of creation— philosophically, theologically, sociologically, and psychologically, etc. I wasn’t interested in being part of a contemporary art world driven by the notion of art-for-art’s sake or the pathologies of dis-ease associated with art therapy, though I bow in gratitude to those who follow the latter calling. My artwork has been a response to this original inquiry and The Translator especially speaks to the creation of a new language, what some are now calling “the new story,” of our interdependence and reverence for the earth. You can read about the painting here.

Skolimowski put forward this “New Gospel” and share that here with you.
For love of the EARTH!

The New Gospel

  1. The World is a Sanctuary.
  2. You were born creative.
  3. You hold destiny in your hands.
  4. You have the responsibility to do your part.
  5. The web of life includes all forms of life, human and non-human.
  6. Be compassionate to others.
  7. Be gentle to yourself.
  8. Be mindful how you treat your body.
  9. Be mindful of what you think and what you eat.
  10. You were born into a beautiful world.
  11. Your nature is divine.
  12. You divinity must reveal itself in your action.
  13. Suffering cannot be avoided.
  14. The fact of death cannot be avoided.
  15. Celebrate! The universe is in a state of self-celebration.
  16. What is your path of liberation? To begin with, you need to take yourself seriously.
  17. Oikos (Eco)—A Sacred Enclosure (oikos is Greek for ‘home.’)
  18. Achieve wholeness through your own effort.
  19. We are meaning makers.

Prayer for the Birds

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Spring greetings from Sacred Art Studio where the garden is bursting with life, color, and the birdsong is abundant. The sliding doors are open and am moving towards completion on the first panel of “Where I Stand is Holy” (detail here) As you know, this very complex painting is a morning prayer for the birds (threatened by ‪#‎climate‬). Visible here in this close-up are the American Three-toed Woodpecker and the Cerulean Warbler. I am reminded of the quote from Dostoevsky: “Beauty will save the world.”* When we awaken to our interdependence in the web of creation, we experience the earth as sacred. The birds, the flowers, the trees, and the water are our brothers and sisters. Reverence and reciprocity abide in this landscape where we recognize we are indeed all one. May we walk lightly and mindfully this day and every day on our beloved earth, Pachamama.

This has been a slow process of emerging as I was struggling with the central figure for a time after experimenting with some new layering techniques. Alas, I started over but that is all part of the process and will be sharing more of in my April newsletter. You can sign up for that on my home page.

For love of the earth and all her creatures.

Art: ©Amy Livingstone, Sacred Art Studio
*From Fyodor Dostoevsky’s book “The Idiot”

Honorable Mention Award

Primordial Womb ribbon
Very touched by the recent award for my painting “Primordial Womb” (shown here) from Concordia University and the Oregon Society of Artists. I painted this small 8×8″ cradle board as part of a fundraiser and gala at the University last month. Drawing from my Scottish ancestry, I was once again drawn to the Celtic Tree of Life. And another nest called to me but this time with a robin’s egg. I did some research on the symbolism of the Robin and here’s one shamanic interpretation:

“Robin will incite new growth in all areas of your life, areas that have become stagnant and out-dated. You must believe in yourself as you move forward for if you do, barriers will disappear, and confrontations will be for show only. Robin will show you how to do this with joy in your hearts. Their song is a happy one, reminding you to let go of your personal drama and learn to laugh with life.” Source: http://www.shamanicjourney.com/robin-power-animal-symbol-of-growth-and-renewal

Though I have been feeling some despair of late around the ecological crisis and early Spring here in the PNW, this is another affirmation of my art and soul journey. Signs from Spirit/God appear to us all the all the time if we are still and present. Are you listening?

For love of birds…

The Grace of Beginning

Andean Dreams: 2014, 12x12" Acrylic
Art: Andean Dreams, 12×12″, 2014 ©Amy Livingstone

For a New Beginning
-John O’Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

From my January Newsletter
New Year Greetings:

I hope this note finds each of you well in spirit and in health; invigorated by what O’Donohue calls “the grace of beginning;” of what is yet to be as we enter the new year. Aren’t we often ripe with expectation during these first weeks of January when we contemplate what may unfurl in our lives? We plan. We set intentions. We resolve to do, and to be, the best we can. I often feel like I’m at the starting gate ready to run a race and remind myself that life isn’t a marathon but an unfoldment of each moment, each day, each year. As we walk the path, the journey unfolds before us. This is a lovely reminder from the late Henri Nouwen:

We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises.

This can be a daily spiritual practice around gratitude given that life does throw obstacles on our journey and we live in a culture driven by fear. An acupuncturist once shared with me that fear and excitement embody the same level of energy but that ‘fear is excitement without the breath.’ Have you noticed that? In fear, we tend to hold the breath. So, when I begin to feel anxious about the future, the economy, climate change, or any of the myriad crises facing life on planet earth at this time, I stop and remember to breathe in and breathe out. Then I take the next step and continue to walk this path of art, beauty, and service.

The wonder is this: that, as we walk it, the path becomes clear. We have only to trust it into action, then truth reveals itself, shining all the brighter for the darkness of our time. -Joanna Macy

In the studio, I have been continuing with the “Where I Stand is Holy” series (see previous posts) but this sweet little painting, “Andean Dreams,” (above) wanted to be born through me and is inspired once again by my Peru pilgrimage. It’s no accident that hummingbird (Kinti) appeared again in my work as he is a potent symbol for holding our core in stillness amidst the busyness of contemporary life. There is also an urgency in our work on behalf of the living earth and all her creatures. I feel this and know many of you do as well but if we don’t take time for silence and stillness, burnout is inevitable. Breathing in and out? In the Andes, hummingbird is also a symbol of resurrection. New beginnings. Like this moment, this day, this new year. All pregnant with new possibility. What is calling to be born through you?

For love of the EARTH!

Andean Dreams

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“Andean Dreams” ©2014 Amy Livingstone

A new painting inspired by my Peru pilgrimage. (Read more about that here.)
Symbolism around birthing and new beginnings continues. Original (12x12x1.5″) and prints will be available after the painting returns from my photographer.

About Siwa Kinti, or the Royal Hummingbird in the Andean Spiritual Tradition:
“One of the highest vibrational energies in nature is carried by the hummingbird. In the Quecha lanaguage of the Andes, the hummingbird is called Kinti and is the archetype representing the direction of the North. This direction holds the qualities of Siwa Kinti, the rainbow hummingbird, who lives between the worlds and serves as a bridge to those who have come before us (our ancestors) and those who will come after us (our children and children’s children). It is said Siwa Kinti was the sacred being of Machu Picchu in Peru and today bridges the two worlds of North and South America. According to the Andean System, royal hummingbird has access to the center of the Hanaq Pacha, or upper world, where Spirit is found. Hummingbird represents the paradox between action and stillness.” Read more here: http://puakaihealing.com/hummingbird/

Where I Stand is Holy

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The winged-ones are speaking through me lately as I work on a new painting; the first in a series I’m calling “Where I Stand is Holy.” This particular vision came to me following my recent wildness trek with Animas Institute. On our last evening, we were invited to share a poem, song, or expression of our soul inspired by our experience. As I shared back in August (see previous post), I felt a deep connection to the forest, Tahoma (Mt Rainier), and White River. The landscape felt holy to me and was reminded of what Yahweh says to Moses: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5). When we are standing on Mother Earth, Pachamama, we are standing on holy ground. So that evening, I walked out in front of our group, removed my sandals, and sang a song that we often sing during our community sweat lodge. I changed the wording from sitting to standing but it goes like this:

Where I stand is holy, holy is this ground.
Forest, mountain, river, listen to the sound.
Great Spirit circles all around me.

Singing is not my particular gift and rarely sing outside the lodge let alone in front of a group of people that I don’t know well but I felt called to share what was alive for me in that moment. The river spoke to me of letting go of safety and trusting in the journey even when the path is uncertain. It was a very sweet moment and am grateful I found the courage to be vulnerable in front of these other beings–human and non-human. How often do we silence ourselves out of fear of being judged or abandoned?

The first painting of this 4-panel series that will once again address threatened species includes the Arctic Tern, Varied Thrush, and American Three-toed Woodpecker (view more at my Facebook and Twitter pages) and they are three of 314 North American birds that are threatened by climate change. The Audubon Society is tracking this and you can learn more and pledge to take action at this link. The painting process has been emerging slowly as the vision becomes clearer to me but there is also a feeling of uncertainty as to whether I can actually manifest what it is that I am being called by Spirit to create. This will be a time-intensive project and feels a bit overwhelming at times. Some days, I hear that little voice inside my head that says I “should” (a word that should be eliminated from our vocabulary!) create artworks that are more commercially viable but this is where my soul is called to be. So everyday, I show up, listen, and trust that I am being guided to serve not only my soul but the earth and the creatures in this way. Where might you be called to serve your soul and our world?

Check back often for updates or visit my Facebook page.

She Who Watches Final Painting

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The completed painting on my easel one recent sunny autumn morning. This painting, “She Who Watches,” is inspired by my recent soul journey with Animas Institute to explore what Bill Plotkin (guide and author of Wild Mind) defines as our Wild Indigenous Self. The experience was yet another homecoming and I felt a deeper communion with all creation. Owl came to me during one of our wanderings, so this painting became a self-portrait around my embodiment of owl spirit and her ability to be still and to watch, listen, and hold vision in the darkness. Thresholds of transformation and shape shifting are alive for me during this time of mid-life and perhaps for you, too. Embracing the journey to live from the soul and serve this divine calling.

Sometimes, when a bird cries out,
Or the wind sweeps through a tree,
Or a dog howls in a far-off farm,
I hold still and listen a long time.

My soul turns and goes back to the place
Where, a thousand forgotten years ago,
The bird and the blowing wind
Were like me, and were my brothers.

My soul turns into a tree,
and an animal, and a cloud bank.
then changed and odd it comes home.
and asks me questions. What should I reply?

-Hermann Hesse

 

 

 

Spiritual Ecology Convergence at UBC

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The art exhibit is in the lobby of the Liu Institute for Global Issues. Behind the mandala set up is a framed, giclee print of “Lovers of Creation” that I shipped earlier for the show.
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First Nation’s Beau Dick is a Canadian Northwest Coast Native artist of Kwakwaka’wakw descent. He opened the Wednesday talks with the creation story of his people and a blessing prayer for the day. 
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The Japanese Gardens around the Asia Center are stunning and peaceful. The whole UBC campus is really beautiful.
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Nice start to our community mandala.
 
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Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim from the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology via Skype introducing their documentary “Journey of the Universe” that is narrated by Brian Swimme.

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Art opening and discussions continue.
 
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Beauty making.
 
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Walking the universe story.

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Learning to make fire (without matches or lighter) from Nikki Van Schyndel of ‘Becoming Wild.’
 
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Our final mandala offering that will be remain in the lobby of the Liu Institute until the show comes down in November.
 

Last month I journeyed north to attend and participate in the first Spiritual Ecologies and New Cosmologies Convergence at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. It was a wonderful and inspiring gathering of people who care passionately about our beloved earth to envision and plan how we might join in solidarity to ensure a liveable planet for future generations and all our species. A wide variety of topics and speakers ranged from First Nation’s, Judaism, Muslim, Hinduism, Buddhism, Unitarian, Thomas Berry and the new cosmology, shamanism and art, Christianity and Bioregionalism, Occupy Vancouver and intentional community, and one of my favorites, “Jesus as Shaman.” I also brought the nature mandala ceremony to the event and participated in the group art exhibit which will remain up through November. You can learn more about the artists and speakers at this link http://holyscapes.wordpress.com/spiritual-ecologies-and-new-cosmologies-convergence/ Bow of gratitude to Jason Brown of UBC for bringing us all together in conversation.

Mihrab Tree of Life & Sacred Geometry

Mihrab Tree of Life: 2014, 36x48," Acrylic & Jewels. Inspired by the Islamic Tradition
Mihrab Tree of Life: 2014, 36×48″ ©Amy Livingstone

“The artist attempts to make inner truths visible, audible, or sensible in some way, by manifesting them in the external, material world (through drawing, painting, song, etc.). To produce their finest works, artists lose themselves in the flow of creation from their inner worlds. The visionary artist creatively expresses her or his personal glimpses of the Divine Imagination.” -Alex Grey, Visionary Artist 

Although many visionary artists employ entheogens to ignite visions of the transcendent, my work emerges out of a profound mystical experience that occurred twelve years ago. This awareness of our radical inter-connectedness in the web of creation continues to inform the thread that I follow around my life and work. From this experience and wanting to better understand the historical roots of our religious traditions, and how Western civilization had become dis-connected from our place in the life web, I attended graduate school at Marylhurst University here in Portland. It was post 9/11, I was mid-forties, a lapsed Protestant, and knew very little about Islam except for the poetry of Rumi. To my surprise, Islam emerged out of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Christianity in 610c.e. So much of what the media puts out around Islam is misleading. Sadly, there are fundamentalist groups in every religion and I think it’s important to remember that Christianity also has a long history of violence against the other including women and the genocide of Native Americans on this continent. I often contemplate what the original founders, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, would think of the ways their visions around love for God and the neighbor have been distorted over the millennia. I hold out some small hope that as Catholics and Protestants eventually found peace, so perhaps shall the Sunni and Shia. In the meantime, I pray for the innocent civilians in Iraq and those in Israel and Gaza who are suffering.

So, how does art contribute to this conversation?
I’ve always loved the beauty of Islamic art and had been researching this sacred art for some time in preparation for the painting shown above. Because there can be no representations of Allah(God), the sacred art of Islam is expressed through sacred geometry, arabesque (the winding vines), and calligraphy. The mihrab is a niche inside a mosque, facing east towards the Kabba in Mecca, and the direction that Muslims must pray. According to my research, the mihrab is also considered the place where the divine presence dwells on earth. So, my vision was to find a way to bridge the immanent (cosmology) and the transcendent (God) within the Islamic tradition.

I began studying sacred geometry and for any of you who have explored this realm you know that it is a vast landscape where one can spend an entire life wandering. Shown here is my drawing of the “Seed of Life,” the seven intertwining circles that represent the seven days of creation. From this, what emerges are two intersecting triangles that form the Star of David (Judaism) and the Seal of Solomon (Islam). The seed of life rests amidst the cosmos/stars on the floor inside the mihrab. The arabic in the heart of the compass within the tree of life translates as love in Arabic.
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It might also surprise some to discover that the Prophet Mohammed was considered an environmental steward. The Hadith, a companion text to the Qur’an, details reports of statements or actions of Muhammad that include his philosophy on the natural world. I saved this issue of Parabola magazine with articles on religion and the holy earth from grad school: “The Prophet’s (SAW) environmental philosophy is first of all holistic: it assumes a fundamental link and interdependency between all natural elements and bases its teachings on the premise that if man abuses or exhausts one element, the natural world as a whole will suffer direct consequences….The three most important principles of the Prophet’s philosophy of nature are based on the Qur’anic teachings and the concepts of tawhid (unity), khalifa (stewardship) and amana (trust).” -Francesca De Chatel, from Environmentalism and Islam, Parabola, 2007.

I hope you find this as interesting as I have during the research and creation of this sacred art. If you have any thoughts about what I have shared, please feel free to send me your feedback. Part of creating peace is starting the dialogue and finding the common threads of our shared humanity.