Harbor View, 4x10, acrylic on board, copyright Jan Blencowe 2012
I'm thinking, and reading a book, again. Two favorite activities, though they often lead to long intricate and complex ideas and issues that take many months to unravel and usually transform me in the process. A good, but sometimes exhausting process.
Spirituality and painting have always had an uneasy relationship for me, even though I know that they are, if not one and the same for me, at least parts or aspects of each other. Painting being one expression of my spirituality. The problem arises when my very practical, rational left brain assesses the situation and says "Ah-ha, painting is enjoyable, pleasurable and satisfying. Therefore, it must be a fun, leisure activity, like playing. It's the icing on the cake, something you do after you take care of your work, not the work itself."
But the core of me, the heart informed by the mind knows differently. Unfortunately, the core me is quiet and gentle and the other voice is loud and insistent. So lately I've been thinking about my entire relationship to nature, the practice of painting nature and how those two tings are in actuality a very important aspect of my spirituality and the real work that I do as journey along the ever twisting path of life towards union with God.
The book I am reading is called Wonderful and Dark is this Road, by Emilie Griffin. I'd like to share a few gems of wisdom that I am ruminating on this week.
Children and adults of a certain sensitivity report a sense of sacredness in particular moments under the influence of nature's wonders.
This is a very common occurrence for me and one that stretches back through my childhood. When I read this it was startling to think that some people must not experience this, since we that do apparently have a certain sensitivity, which others lack. I had not really thought of that before.
A lovely discussion of the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins and writers C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths and William Blake follows. Griffiths was new to me but all the others are long time favorites of mine. That discussion struck such a chord in me that I felt as if we all must be kindred spirits and I found great comfort in that.
A brief discussion of a portion of Evelyn Underhill's writings on the illumination of the self follows with her interpretation of these impulses we of a certain sensitivity feel under the influence of nature.
" We have seen that all real artists, as well as all pure mystics, are sharers in some degree in the Illuminated Life. They have drunk with [William] Blake, from that cup of intellectual vision which is the chalice of the Spirit of Life: know something of its divine inebriation whenever Beauty inspires them to create. Some have only sipped it...but to all who have seen Beauty face to face, the Grail has been administered; and through that sacramental communion, they are made participants in the mystery of the world." ~ Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, 1955
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have sipped from that cup. So that even the small, simple painting above, for me at least, resounds with a sacred joy captured in the fresh and childlike playfulness of the wildflowers, the innocent toy like sail boats speeding along pushed by a benevolent wind and the golden sun warming the earth and imparting life. Such a simple painting yet the experience of painting it holds so much profound and yes, even sacred meaning. And through the act of painting it I have become a participant in the mystery of the world. I am humbled and even more aware than ever that art is a sacred gift, and to be able to make art is a high and sacred calling indeed.
The title of this chapter in the book is called Earth's Crammed with Heaven which is a line from Elizabeth Barret Browning's poem Aurora Leigh. Here's is the portion from which the chapter title comes...
Earth's Crammed with Heaven
And every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees takes off his shoes--
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
May all we who are artists be ones who see!