Etty Hillesum was a Jewish Dutch girl whose war time diaries and letters from 1941-1943 we just published a few years ago. Her life ended at Auschwitz at the age of 29, but her remarkable mystical journey was miraculous preserved. As she began her inward journey that prepared her for her ministry of love to those headed for a certain death, she wrote this:
"The inner world is as real as the outerworld. One ought to be conscious of that. It too has it's landscapes, it's contours, possibilities, it's boundless regions. And man himself must be a small center in which the inner and outer worlds meet. These two worlds are fed by each other, you must not neglect one at the expense of the other, You must not deem one more important than the other. Otherwise you will impoverish your own personality. A great many persons strike me as divided in half and thus more or less disabled." Etty Hillesum:Essential Writings, ed. Kidder, Orbis 2009.
I find that using this rotating platform in my studio paintings is enabling me to compose landscapes that capture some of this interaction between the spiritual and phyliscial, the inner and the outer worlds. This swirling scene was the first landscape in this series and sold immediatly to someone who saw some of this mystery in it. Meditating on a painting that invites you to explore your inner landscape is a way to find your own center where these two worlds meet and feed each other.
So many fundamental things come in threes. Primary colors: red, yellow, blue. States of water: solid, liquid, gas. Our planet: earth, water, sky. The Christian view of God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Three seems to combine the individual, the other and the community in the smallest number. Simplicity, complexity and harmony. In this painting, I see all this in beautiful, messy, tension filled harmonious unity. Life in all it's spiritual, natural and relational complexities, out of which flows the possibility of love. It is constantly in motion like the rotating platform it was painted on, like the planet we live on, like the seasons of life. Like faith, hope and love.
What if the cosmos is governed by attracting forces that bind individual things together into some new whole? What if this unseen force, built into the fabric of the Universe , led to conscious beings who could theorize this? What if this consciousness including a capacity to move into symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships, that would go so far as self sacrifice to assure the survival of the other? What if this is all the manifiestion of a single driving force we know as love? What if the universe is not an impersonal collection of particles but a relational process that culminates in persons who are bound together in love with a personal creator?
I cannot prove this to be the case, but the miracle of life itself and our collective consciousness as human beings give me cause to ask the questions. As scientists still search for the mysterious particles that form the "dark matter" that holds the billions of galaxies together, I still search into the mysteries of life and love with the eyes of faith. This is motivation behind this painting and indeed all of my artwork. This piece was created on a rotating platform, naturally organizing the paint into spirals and interesting rythms of color and light. I see both cosmic and personal forces represented here. It the first in a series of paintings titled Symbiosis. These will celebrate connections that create beauty, life and love. In closing I offer a quote for further reflection from Ilio Delio, a follower of French scientist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin, in her book, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution and the Power of Love:
We shape our enviornment, then it shapes us (Winston Churchill, modified). The move from Canyon Road to 125 Lincoln has opened things up for me. The more spacious surroundings has me doing larger work, capturing colorful vistas from my imagination and from my experiences in New Mexico. In the past few weeks, I have completed three diptychs:
The imaginary "Confluence" shown above (Acrylic, 24x48). The theme is the interaction of sky, land and water in the arid New Mexico climate. $1,800.
"Enchanted Sunrise, panorama (below) of Ghost Ranch hanging now in the Root Cellar Pub on Marcy (Acrylic, 30x60). Looking East towards the land of Georgia O'Keffe and her beloved Pedernal, the sun announces it's presence! $3,000.
"Sangre Sunset," from a photo taken last Tuesday from our deck (Acrylic, 24x48). The red glow of the cloud lights up the Sangre De Christo range over Santa Fe. $1,800.
Feeling confined or stuck? Look for ways to open up your world, expand your environment and see what happens!
7 Arts Gallery at 125 Lincoln (between Alan Houser and Pop Gallery) features six collaborating artists and beautiful rustic decor. I am so happy to be part of this new venture and this great team. We are open 7 days a week and our grand opening is scheduled for Friday night, May 12th. We are still a gallery and studio but with more arts represented. More on that later.
Things have a way of working out. This has been my mantra for a year or so. I have seen that so often that when some major unexpected changes hit in the process, I could actually believe it, not only for myself but for all involved in the process. We just keep going, focusing on what is next and plans evolve in a good way, different than what we planned but often better for all of us.
Keep taking risks and moving forward is my take away so far.
Which is harder, rock or water? Even ice can be smashed by a rock, right? But when you see a canyon like this you know the answer, water wins every time in the long haul. Gravity consistently moves water towards the path of least resistance and over time, these paths become the great canyons of the world. Moving water wins over time.
In the same way, being a a gentle but consistent advocate for growth, change, beauty and love over a life time makes a dent in the universe, a phrase made famous by Steve Jobs. Without love, technology is only used towards selfish ends, but with love, it has the power to multiply influence and transform entire communities. People over estimate what they can accomplish is a year, that is why New Years' Resolutions seldom live to see the light of March. But we under estimate what can be done in 5,10,20 or 30. I sit here at 62 and some people think of that as too old to start something new. But heck, God willing, I have a good 20 or 30 years to do art. If I do it with love, who knows what kind of dent I can make. You do not have to do something "great" to make that dent, simply doing something "good" over time will the get the job done beautifully!
I am reading a book titled, "The Essentialist." The thesis - life will be more focused and productive if we boil everything down to what is most important, say "yes" to that, and "no" to everything else. Nonessentialists say "yes" to everthing and everyone and scatter their life to the wind and whims of others. Simple but oh so hard to put into practice.
In my thinking about water, it strikes me that nothing is more essential to life itself...much of the life on our planet actually breaths it!!! We can go weeks without food but only days without water. The Psalmist likens us to sheep who depend on their shepherd to find water in the desert, pasture to feed and rest and protection from predators. My experience of the life of faith is that it is not passive dependence, but active following. God is always leading towards life, being aware, each day of the opportunities to find and give life are the path to the green pastures and still waters. Sometimes those opportunities are difficult, even dangerous. But life is still there, not in hiding and hoping circumstance change.
I am getting ready to make a major change in my life - moving from Canyon Road, by the literally flowing waters, to the canyons of buildings downtown at 125 Lincoln. It has already been a series of difficult choices and decisions. But it seems to be the direction of opportunity to find and give life to me. We will see how it all unfolds, but the mystery of faith assures me I will find life if I just pay attention, each day.
I looked at the paintings on my wall today and 9 of them were about water! Because this was not planned, I began to ask myself "why"? The connection between water and life is both foundational and inexorable. Only in the most imaginative SciFi is there life without water. Almost all cultures and religions both celebrate the gift of water and use it in religious rites. The great ancient cities were all near great rivers and ports. In arid lands, nothing is more valuable and precious. Who can forget the early scene in Lawrence of Arabia where a man is killed for drinking from a well without permission from it's owner! The painting above is an imaginary bend in the Chama River, bringing life to the high desert of New Mexico long before people modified the landscape.
Rivers in particular, seem to capture the movement of life and it's journey. Beginning small, they grow and grow, gaining input from others, finally emptying themselves into some vast, mysterious ocean where all others also end. Sitting by a river, I like to just close my eyes and listen to the almost musical quality of it's sound. I often reflect on where I have come from and where I am going, what life am I bringing to others and how I am impacting my world. Things that are important, not the urgent mental clutter that controls us so much of the time. Perhaps that is why I paint them.
Psalm 38 is a dark song of the night. We all have them. We blame God, we blame others, we blame ourselves. The mystery of faith still finds rays of light.
38 Domine, ne in furore
1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger; *
do not punish me in your wrath.
2 For your arrows have already pierced me, *
and your hand presses hard upon me.
3 There is no health in my flesh,
because of your indignation; *
there is no soundness in my body, because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities overwhelm me; *
like a heavy burden they are too much for me to bear.
5 My wounds stink and fester *
by reason of my foolishness.
6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; *
I go about in mourning all the day long.
7 My loins are filled with searing pain; *
there is no health in my body.
8 I am utterly numb and crushed; *
I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.
9 O Lord, you know all my desires, *
and my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart is pounding, my strength has failed me, *
and the brightness of my eyes is gone from me.
11 My friends and companions draw back from my affliction; *
my neighbors stand afar off.
12 Those who seek after my life lay snares for me; *
those who strive to hurt me speak of my ruin
and plot treachery all the day long.
13 But I am like the deaf who do not hear, *
like those who are mute and do not open their mouth.
14 I have become like one who does not hear *
and from whose mouth comes no defense.
15 For in you, O Lord, have I fixed my hope; *
you will answer me, O Lord my God.
16 For I said, "Do not let them rejoice at my expense, *
those who gloat over me when my foot slips."
17 Truly, I am on the verge of falling, *
and my pain is always with me.
18 I will confess my iniquity *
and be sorry for my sin.
19 Those who are my enemies without cause are mighty, *
and many in number are those who wrongfully hate me.
20 Those who repay evil for good slander me, *
because I follow the course that is right.
21 O Lord, do not forsake me; *
be not far from me, O my God.
22 Make haste to help me, *
O Lord of my salvation.
Tom C. McGee, Jr.
Musings about mystery, art and spirituality.