Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Putting Words to Paintings in the Celtic Spirit

On Tuesday I had a special time of renewal on a spiritual retreat exploring Praying in the Celtic Spirit. To get a little feel for the atmosphere of the day go to the Mercy Center website and click on the "sunrise meditation" link on the left and the Mercy Center link above it

Isn't this a beautiful place? Of course it's winter now but there is still an austere beauty there.


I've been intrigued by Celtic spirituality, both the ancient pagan origins and the full flowering of Celtic Christianity for about 10 years now. I have a resource page about Celtic Christianity you might enjoy.

The day was wonderful with Sr. Mary Daly providing a fascinating historical perspective, personal anecdotes and beautiful visual, oral and written meditations. The people in the group were wonderful and there were many rich insights and ideas shared.

As many of you know I've been working on a new series of  landscapes that explore the enduring strength of the land. My subject is the convergence of land, water and sky. Something the Celts would have considered a "thin place" where the veil between this world and the spiritual world was very porous. The marsh is certainly one of my "thin places" filled with mystery. In that open and wild place I sometimes feel as if I could walk right through the veil to the otherside. Sometimes when the light is particularly sublime I feel the two worlds have in fact, merged.

The marsh is also intriguing because it must be so resilient (like we must be in life). The marsh grass, the muddy banks, the trees and understory on the edge of the marsh must withstand a twice daly deluge of salty water and then a comparative drought. That ebb and flow of the tides is of course caused by the moon. So there is a cosmic element in the marsh.

One of the many unique components of Celtic spirituality is its emphasis on the sacredness of nature. This is not pantheism, worshipping creation, but rather an acknowledgement of the hoilness of God's handiwork. The Celts understood that nature could be a conduit for worship and grace. They also understood that there really is no division between the sacred and the ordinary. All of creation is extraordinary. This in many ways is similar to the spirituality of the Hudson River School painters. Here's an interesting article about the kind of spiritual emphasis the Hudson River School painters focused on. If you're intrigued by this topic of spirituality in art here's another article on Pope Benedict's recent gathering of creatives to discuss the place of the spiritual in art.

This Celtic reverence for the ordinary seems to account for their profusion of blessing prayers. The Celts seem to have a blessing for everything from the grandest event to the humblest work-a-day chore. 

After our first silent mediation time during the retreat we came back as a group to share our experiences. The woman next to me had written blessing during her silent time and shared it with the group. I immediately knew that it was a perfect poem to accompany my new painting series.

As it turns out my fellow retreat participant is The Rev. Olivia Robinson of the Kensington Congregational Church in Kensington, CT.  She has graciously given me permission to share her blessing here:

Blessings Upon the Sea

Blessings upon the sea
Restoring my salt when I have lost my saltiness

Blessings upon those colorful sea creatures
I love to look upon

Blessings upon the waves and tides
That teach me the blessings of ebb and flow;
Of high tide and low tide.

Blessings upon the wave
That understands the necessity of gravity and grace.

Rev. Olivia Robinson


2 comments:

AutumnLeaves said...

So glad to hear of your enriching experience, Jan. I am not quite sure if this is a photograph or a painting of where you had your retreat. Either way it is gorgeous.

Jan Blencowe said...

It's a photo, it's one on their website, looks like it was taken in autumn. It's significantly grayer and more austere there now but still besutiful.

I have plans to go there and paint as soon as the weather gets nice.