{Unveiling} Sext: Prayer for the Desert


“Sext: Prayer for the Desert” ©Amy Livingstone

From my September newsletter:
“A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us-like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness-that ‘out there’ is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of [wo]men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.” -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness

I love this from Ed Abbey and discovered it while reading his book over the summer during the final stages of “Sext: Prayer for the Desert” shown here.* Seems appropriate given the intention for this painting and the entire “Where We Stand is Holy” series. It has been quite a journey with this piece as I changed course a few times around what beings to include in the border. These texts by Meloy, Williams, and Abbey were inspirations for understanding the sensuousness of the desert landscape, not having spent much time there myself except Sedona briefly and New Mexico many years ago.
book
I definitely felt the holiness of these landscapes in the American Southwest and there is a long history from all our spiritual traditions of those who have undertaken a pilgrimage to the desert to seek out God, the numinous, or something “wholly other” to quote German theologian Rudolf Otto. Consider Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad from the Abrahamic traditions. Exodus 3:5: Yahweh to Moses: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

In this painting, sego lily and cherry (Utah state flower and fruit), globemallow, and phlox are woven throughout with the creatures: raven, black-chinned hummingbird, collared lizard, desert tortoise, sage-grouse, prairie dog, not to mention the scorpion, honey bees, praying mantis, butterflies, and ants. All this beauty is under siege by oil/gas corporations who want to exploit this sacred landscape. This painting is a prayer but also feels like an elegy to me for that which we are losing. To learn more, visit Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

I also believe in the words of author and activist Alice Walker that “Anything We Love Can Be Saved.” If you read this and follow my work, you are a lover of mother earth and together I believe our love (and actions) can heal our world.

After taking a sabbatical last month, I’m pleased to share that my neck issues seem to have improved with physical therapy, yoga, stretching, and chiropractic care. This time has given me a new awareness of how fragile the inner landscape of our beings truly are. Taking breaks often from the technology is essential to our wellness. So, let’s take a break and go for a walk now…

For love of the earth,
Amy

*Sext, or Sixth Hour, is a fixed time of prayer of the Divine Office of almost all the traditional Christian liturgies. It consists mainly of psalms and is said at noon. Its name comes from Latin and refers to the sixth hour of the day after dawn.

Contemplative Living

What does it mean to be a contemplative in the modern world? Most often people associate contemplative living with the austerity and isolation of a monastery. At one time, that was true. Although there are still monastic communities around the globe, many of today’s contemplatives participate in the world but bring with them a deep sense of reverence for life, the Holy, into daily life. Like the mystics from all spiritual traditions, there exists an an awareness of the numinous presence that infuses every aspect of our lives. While Buddhist teachings and meditation guide me in deepening my awareness into the present moment, two teachers that also speak to me around contemplative living are Caroline Myss and the late Thomas Merton. In her book “Entering the Castle,” Myss offers a guidebook for answering the call of the soul and she coins the phrase “Mystics without Monasteries” to describe this new way of being in the world. Click here for an excerpt from her book.

And in “New Seeds of Contemplation,” Merton writes: “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, an awareness of the reality of that Source.” Click here for more on Merton.

Living a contemplative life doesn’t require that we renounce the world but it does require choosing a new way of being in the world. Slowing down, unplugging from the technology (at least periodically), and learning to be with the silence in order to create space for encountering what Merton called the “spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life.” Why is this important to those of us who live in the 21st century? As we know, we live in a fast-paced and enormously stressful world. Carving out time in our personal lives for contemplation can open up new possibilities that nurture our spiritual life, our creativity, our relationships (to each other and to the Earth) and bring more calm into our daily lives. I’ve walked the stressed-out, workaholic lifestyle and know that world, too. For all the uncertainty that may come with following my soul’s calling, every day I wake feeling grateful…for life, for beauty, for this present moment…which is all we ever truly have.

I live much of my day in silence, except for the abundant birdsong coming in from the garden, but this may not be possible for those with the demands of family and workplace. So, where to begin if you are just starting out? I recently heard spiritual teacher August Gold interviewed and thought she had a great framework in starting a practice if you don’t have one. She suggests beginning every day with 15 minutes in this way:

· 5 minutes reading inspirational materials
· 5 minutes journaling what is most alive in your heart
· 5 minutes of silent sitting (no TV, radio, computers!)

I would also add, 5 minutes of sketching, doodling, or collaging to tap into your creative source!

Communing with the Creation

Summer Greetings from my July Newsletter:  
Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest. While the rest of the country has been living under crushing heat waves, here in Oregon our rainy season lasted well into June. Given the level of drought not only in the U.S. but around the world, I bow with gratitude for the life-giving rain. But today, on this gorgeous Sunday morning, I’m thrilled to be sitting in my garden, sipping coffee and listening to the birdsong as I write this note to you. Jays, juncos, and spotted towhees make haste to the freshly-filled feeder while others splash about in the bath hanging from a Ponderosa Pine, waiting their turn.

In last months newsletter (see previous post), I shared how “art saves lives,” and indeed saved my life twenty years ago. I also believe like many of us that the natural world can also heal our hearts and bring us peace during these challenging times–personally and collectively. All too often though with the advent of technology, demands of family, and the fast pace of our modern world, we don’t take enough time to nurture our souls by communing with the earth. There is a common belief that one need be “out in nature,” camping or hiking, etc. However, if we can remember that we are always “in the Creation” at any given moment even in the city, we have the opportunity throughout each day to connect to the beauty that is around us. We need only stop what we are doing and be present to that which is before us. To the air we’re breathing. The trees we pass on the road. The food we eat. The water we drink. The bird in that tree…right over there.

From naturalist Terry Tempest Williams: “How to create time, how to create buffers around us so that we are doing nothing. I think that may be our biggest disease right now–the disease of busyness. With all these modern conveniences that are supposed to be time-savers, I think we’ve never had less time. So I think creating open space, time to do nothing, time to love, time to be, time to dream, to think, to walk, is its own act of civil disobedience.”

For me, at this time of year, I take my contemplative practices outside. For example, I practice what I call “bird meditation.” Here I use the word meditation loosely. Like one of my spiritual teachers, Adyashanti, I consider this practice a form of silent sitting. Most often the notion of meditation is tied to a rigorous practice utilizing breath and body with a desired outcome in mind. Typically “enlightenment” or freedom from some sort of emotional or mental anguish, or suffering, etc. For Adya this is another form of striving much like anything we undertake in our lives which only adds to our suffering. Here, the ego strives for control which ultimately leads to more feelings of failure and self-criticism. Instead, this silent sitting, or bird meditation in my example, allows for simply letting everything be as it is with no striving. You cannot “fail” with this practice. You are simply present to all that is around you, within and without including the Creation, the earth, which is holy and worthy of our reverence.   

In the morning, I spend forty-five minutes to an hour silently sitting which often begins with reading a sacred text such as poetry. In silence and stillness, being with what is in this present moment, grounds me before I begin my work day. You may not have an hour, but even fifteen minutes a day before you turn on your computer or phone, can make a difference and bring some inner peace into your world. Try it and let me know what you discover. 
 
For love of the EARTH!  
 Amy    
  
A Beauty Blessing
-John O’Donohue
 
As stillness in stone to silence is wed
May your heart be somewhere a God might dwell.
 
As a river flows in ideal sequence
May your soul discover time in presence.
 
As the moon absolves the dark of resistance
May thought-light console your mind with brightness.
 
As the breath of light awakens colour
May the dawn anoint your eyes with wonder.
 
As spring rain softens the earth with surprise
May your winter places be kissed by light.
 
As the ocean dreams to the joy of dance
May the grace of change bring you elegance.
 
As clay anchors a tree in light and wind
May your outer life grow from peace within.
 
As twilight fills night with bright horizons
May beauty await you at home beyond.

Drawing as Meditation

Yesterday, drawing as a contemplative practice for deepening awareness to the miracle of creation. So much beauty as the earth awakens from her winter slumber.

This earth is my sister;
I love her daily grace, her silent daring
and how I loved I am –
how we admire this strength in each other,
all that we have lost, all that we have suffered,
all that we know;
we are stunned by this beauty,
and I do not forget;
what she is to me,
what I am to her.

-Susan Griffin

Eden

Less words these days. Perhaps it is the languid pace of summer. Simply reveling in the beauty of the Earth. For me, the garden, Eden, is right here and right now. From poet and author Susan Griffin:

This earth is my sister;
I love her daily grace, her silent daring
and how loved I am –
how we admire this strength in each other,
all that we have lost, all that we have suffered,
all that we know;
we are stunned by this beauty,
and I do not forget;
what she is to me,
what I am to her.

The Art of Waiting

From my July Newsletter:
In last month’s newsletter I wrote about contemplative living and the practice of slowing down and being present to what the late Trappist monk Thomas Merton referred to as the “spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life.” (Click here to read the issue). Another aspect of contemplative living is practicing the “art of waiting.” We live in a world driven by productivity, so the notion of waiting can feel uncomfortable and generate some anxiety within us. I was noticing this for myself recently after having come through a very fruitful time, artistically and intellectually (post graduate school). I wanted to keep the momentum moving; instead, my energy waned and my efforts in the studio came to naught. While I attributed part of this inertia to my despair over the Gulf crisis, I discovered that it was necessary for me to surrender, to rest in the unknown, and to wait. Instead of trying to push my agenda forward, I had to trust in Spirit…have faith in Divine Imagination. It was about this time when I was drawn back to Sue Monk Kidd’s “When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions.” In a chapter entitled, Quickaholic Spirituality, she writes:

What has happened to our ability to dwell in unknowing, to live inside a question and coexist with the tensions of uncertainty? Where is our willingness to incubate pain and let it birth something new? What has happened to patient unfolding, to endurance? These things are what form the ground of waiting. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that they’re also the seedbed of creativity and growth.

This also brought to mind the poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice in “Letters to A Young Poet.” He wrote:

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Even though it can feel uncomfortable, even chaotic at times, the “art of waiting” (like gestation) is the natural state prior to giving birth. To our Self. To our art/creativity. To a new chapter in our lives. And collectively, giving birth to a new vision for humanity. For me, this is a vision grounded in our interconnectedness in the web of creation and our co-creating a world that works for all. We are living with much uncertainty these days but our spiritual leaders also speak of this time as a period of great transformation and that we are all part of this evolutionary process. The art of waiting…with patience and kindness towards Self…creates space for listening to the soul, discerning inner guidance, developing creativity, and answering the call towards healing ourselves and our world. So, the next time you feel overwhelmed that life isn’t progressing as quickly, or in the way you had envisioned it might…surrender, wait, listen. And remember to breathe!

To sign up for my monthly newsletter, go to www.sacredartstudio.net

Upcoming workshop on May 1

Co-creating with the 4 Elements

A special day for women seeking to explore the connection
between nature, spirituality, and creativity

Date and Time: Saturday, May 1st • 9:30am—5:00pm
Cost: $80 (includes art supplies & light lunch)

Nourish your soul with a day where you can slow down and enter into a sanctuary of contemplation and creativity. Drawing inspiration from the natural world and the four elements of earth/air/fire/water, we will explore the inter-relationship of these elemental energies within the cycles of the seasons and the four stages of a woman’s life. Learn how remembering the ancient wisdom of our ancestors can deepen your connection to the natural world, open new pathways for experiencing your place within the web of life, and inspire your own creativity. Earth, or Gaia, will be our muse for the day as we journey around the wheel of creation and co-create in sacred circle.

Drawing from the earth-honoring traditions and the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the day will include group sharing, play, meditation, contemplative practices, and the creative process. Take away practices that can guide you on your soul path and provide meaningful ways for you to restore your spirit throughout the year.

To register contact me at Sacred Art Studio
amy[AT]sacredartstudio.net or 503.239.9671
www.sacredartstudio.net

Directions and what to bring will be provided upon registration.
Space is limited.