Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mirabai Starr on Art and the Need for Fallow Time

Fallow Time
by Mirabai Starr
Tuesday, November 12, 2019

When speaking of art, we most often think of the finished product whether it be a painting, a drawing, a performance, a sculpture, a poem, or another expression of creativity. Today, I invite you to consider the evolving process of creation as described by my friend Mirabai Starr who believes, as I do, that each of has the capacity to offer something new to the world. It does not come quickly or easily, but few things of any depth or value ever do. Mirabai writes:
A miraculous event unfolds when we throw the lead of our personal story into the transformative flames of creativity. Our hardship is transmuted into something golden. With that gold we heal ourselves and redeem the world. As with any spiritual practice, this creative alchemy requires a leap of faith. When we show up to make art, we need to first get still enough to hear what wants to be expressed through us, and then we need to step out of the way and let it. We must be willing to abide in a space of not knowing before we can settle into knowing. Such a space is sacred. It is liminal, and it’s numinous. It is frightening and enlivening. It demands no less than everything, and it gives back tenfold.
There is a vital connection between creativity and mysticism. To engage with the creative impulse is to agree to take a voyage into the heart of the Mystery. Creativity bypasses the discursive mind and delivers us to the source of our being. When we allow ourselves to be a conduit for creative energy, we experience direct apprehension of that energy. We become a channel for grace. To make art is to make love with the sacred. It is a naked encounter, authentic and risky, vulnerable and erotically charged.
The muse rarely behaves the way we would like her to, and yet every artist knows she cannot be controlled. Artistic self-expression necessitates periods of quietude in which it appears that nothing is happening. Like a tree in winter whose roots are doing important work deep inside the dark earth, the creative process needs fallow time. We have to incubate inspiration. We need empty spaces for musing and preparing, experimenting and reflecting. Society does not value its artists, partly because of the apparent lack of productivity that comes with the creative life. This societal emphasis on goods and services is an artifact of the male drive to erect and protect, to engineer and execute, to produce and control. Art begins with receptivity. Every artist, in a way, is feminine, just as every artist is a mystic. And a political creature. Making art can be a subversive act, an act of resistance against the deadening lure of consumption, an act of unbridled peacemaking disguised as a poem or a song or an abstract rendering of an aspen leaf swirling in a stream. 
Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.
Article from Richard Rohr and Center for Action and Contemplation,
 Nov. 12, 2019.  

Adapted from Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True: 2019) 159-160.
Image credit: Marion Greenwood (standing in front of mural painted for the WPA Federal Art Project, detail), Archives of American Art, Washington, DC, June 4, 1940. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

"Aphrodite in Brooklyn and Other Mythic Voices" - Illustrated Collection of Poems 1970 - 2010

I stopped writing poetry somewhere in my late 50's (and as I write this, I am recently entered into my 7th decade). I still keep a Blog, and I still make art..........but I don't know where the Muse of poetry went, it seems She abandoned me somewhere along the road. So this is the trail of my poetry, all I have really, from the early 1970's to the last poems.

I find these poems are touchstones along the path, lucid and sometimes numinous artifacts that, by touching them again, enable me to renew my acquaintance with those luminous moments of insight, love, loss, and above all, the sheer beauty of being alive. Beyond that, there is a pattern, a woven pentimento that glitters  beneath each seeming surface, a pattern that enfolds me from young adulthood to old age and belongs to all and none of those "identities". There is a voice here  I recognize as uniquely my own. Archiving these poems in this little collection, even better, having the pleasure of illustrating them............. has allowed me to hear that voice again.

I believe that it is important to cherish, archive, and share those moments, those touchstones, in whatever form they may be expressed, be it storytelling, poetry, visual arts, music.............. they are a Gift to the world we each can make, uniquely rising from each unique life.  I have no extended family now, no parents or siblings or children or grandchildren who would value my work or thoughts, so I make this Collection for myself, and as a Gift or Offering to any of my friends who happen to like poetry, and to any fellow Wayfarer who may chance upon it as well. If you find a resonance here with your own voice, I am pleased indeed.


Love is Saraswati's river
flowing through our lands.

She will feed the rice fields,
She will accept our woven offerings.
She will bear our ashes
and the fires of Kintamani
to the sea.

she neither takes nor gives:

we impose these significances
upon the flowers we cast in her.

From birth to death,
Saraswati's river sustains us to the sea.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Samhain 2019

I'm getting ready for my annual "Feast of Samhain", and as I do I remember all of those I've loved, all the people who are invited in spirit to the Feast, all the people who have given me my life and its experiences, and all those, whose names are lost yet live inside our blood and our genes, all of those who came before us to bring us here, in this time, in this moment.   

 Walking, I am listening.   Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the fruit of the love and labor of  thousands.

-Linda Hogan*

As always,  I grouse at the loss of  the sanctity of "Hallowed Eve" replaced with scary ghosts - although, costume balls and trick or treating is something I remember with a lot of affection.  But.... Witches on brooms!  Hah!  The meaning of the broom was an ancient folk tradition of "sweeping away the Bad", sweeping out of the house the bad energies, evil spirits, and illness.  And the ghosts...........well, that's what the Feast, like Dia de los Muertos, made very memorable Tucson's All Souls Procession, is all about:  inviting the Beloved Dead to the party, setting the place of honor at the head of the table for them, drinking their favorite wine and preparing their favorite dishes, and lovingly telling their stories, jokes, and singing their songs. Mexicans often set up their celebrations in graveyards.

Among those I remember are my mother, father, grandparents,  my brother Glenn, and my two oldest friends, Joanna Brouk the composer and Felicia Miller, poet and writer.  I so often think of them wondering how it's possible I have out lived them.   Abby Willowroot, Priestess of the Goddess and creator of the Goddess 2000 Project, and Jeff Rosenbaum, a prime creator of the Starwood Festival and A.C.E.  Nanci Nelson, a friend in a time of need, and Norman Rogers, a faithless yet memorable lover. 

And my good friend Charlie Spillar, who left us just this month.  And so many more...............Thank you, all, for gracing my life.  Come to the Feast all!

"The Sixth Extinction"
And I remember all of those fellow Beings who are leaving and have been lost to us, the Extinct and Vanishing Species, in this terrible time of loss, the Sixth Extinction.  May they not be forgotten.  The litany is long, and grows longer every day.

I always leave Pomegranates for Persephone on my Alter.  Every  year this time I remember a poem I wrote for Persephone that I still love, that is perhaps about the Feast of Samhain as well.  


When all the names are gone
when there is nothing left
for memory to feed upon
November hides
an unborn  promise.

All the wastes of love and time
Become, at last, alchemy.
To ferment their healing, here
in these nigrado depths,
becoming  albedo,
the medicine.

    I offer now bread, red fruit, red wine.
    To life.

To the harvest that was,
the  kisses of summer past
fragrant  as  petals on the wind,
 to the poet and the bard, the mother  and husband,
laughter of children, the confidence
of  bountiful fortune.

And to those outcast as well -
the inarticulate, the lost,  the hungry  and fallen.
To every transparent lover
wandering these bardos in their solitude.

To age and youth, light and dark,
Tenderly entwined in their embrace:

Come to the table, all.

Here is a rich conversation
harvested from the last living garden.
A dappled pear, an apple, a ripe pomegranate
A butterfly in its chrysalis, sleeping.

The slow rebirth of color
    deep in the depths of this dream.

The sundial will circle once more,
The wheat has new life in it yet.

    The blessing will be given.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"Circles" by Black Elk

You have
noticed that everything
an Indian does is in a circle, and that
is because the Power of the World always
works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In
the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all
our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and
as long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The
flowering tree was the living center of the hoop and the circle of the
four  quarters nourished it.  The east gave peace and light,   the south
gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty
wind gave strength and endurance. Everything the Power of the World does
is in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the Earth is round like a
ball,   and so are all the stars.   The wind in its greatest power whirls.  Birds
make their nests in circles. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a
circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons
form a great Circle in their changing, and always come back again
to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood
to childhood, and so is everything where Power moves. Our
teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were
always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of
many nests, where the Great Spirit meant
for us to hatch our children.
----Black Elk

Bird's Nest 
by Keith Taylor

Robert Kohler and Partnership With Mother Earth

A few years ago  I posted an article by Robert Koehler titled "Calling All Pagans - Your Mother Earth Needs You" and wrote to the author in appreciation for his article.  I was surprised when he wrote back, and we had an exchange of ideas.  I felt like revisiting the article in my Blog today.


Dominion! * Nature belongs to us, to suck dry and toss away. And thus we moved out of the circle of life and became its conquerors, an attitude at the core of the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilization. The momentum of this attitude is still driving us. We don’t know how to stop, even though most people now grasp that we’re wrecking the environmental commons that sustains life.

Addressing the verse and the idea of “dominion,” Phil Miller, a minister, wrote: “Some of us understand that word to mean ‘stewardship’ or ‘responsibility.’” And David Cameron wrote: “One has to wonder what would have ensued had the translation said  ‘stewardship’ rather than ‘dominion’? Almost incomprehensible that our future and the future of so many and so much may have hinged on that one word.”

If in one of the most defining religious-political texts of the human species we’d been charged with stewardship of the natural world, not some sort of adolescent, consequence-free control over it, what sort of spiritual understanding would have evolved over the millennia? What sort of technology? What would our civilizations look like if we believed in the depths of our beings that they were not distinct from but part of nature? What if, instead of organizing ourselves around the concept that we have enemies to subdue — “survival of the fittest” — we explored the complexity of our connectedness to one another and the whole of creation, even when the connections were barely visible?

What I am coming to learn, as I ask such questions, is that this understanding is already vibrantly present in the collective human consciousness, drowned out as it may be by the special interests that run our world. These interests, which serve war and money, have belittled complex understanding as “paganism” and colonized, enslaved and slaughtered its primary keepers: the tribal and indigenous people of the world. 
Listen to the words of Rupert Ross, from his remarkable book Returning to the Teachings, as he describes his dawning understanding of the aboriginal culture of northern Ontario: 

 “The word ‘connecting’ leapt at me. It captured not only the dynamics I imagined in that room, but also the key feature of all the traditional teachings I had been exposed to thus far. Until then, I had somehow missed it. It involved a double obligation, requiring first that you learn to see all things as interconnected and second that you dedicate yourself to connecting yourself, in respectful and caring ways, to everything around you, at every instant, in every activity.“. . . (Children) had to learn to see themselves not as separate, individual beings but as active participants in webs of complex interdependencies with the animals, the plants, the earth and the waters.”

Indeed, Ross and many others have pointed out that indigenous science has always known what Western science has only recently relearned: that the universe is energy and dynamic flux, that there’s no such thing as objectivity and separation. 

“Like Western science, indigenous science relies upon direct observation for forecasting and generating predictions,” according to the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network. “. . . Unlike Western science, the data from indigenous science are not used to control the forces of nature; instead, tell us the ways and the means of accommodating nature.”   Among other critical distinctions, according to the website: “All of nature is considered to be intelligent and alive, thus an active research partner.”

 I note these ideas not to throw rocks around in some “debate” about who’s right, but to open up the national and global conversation about who we are. We can let these ideas sit in our imaginations. What might stewardship of nature mean if we regarded the relationship as a partnership? What might a celebration of Earth Day (April 22) look like?

“We need to re-myth culture, to re-sanctify nature before it’s too late,” Lauren Raine (“a longtime advocate and practitioner of neo-pagan theology and resident artist for Cherry Hill Seminary, “the only accredited Pagan seminary in the U.S”) wrote to me last week.  “Earth-based spirituality is to be found in all cultures, including many rich traditions from Europe and Great Britain. The evolution of our strange, life-denying religious backdrop has much to do with the evolution of patriarchal culture and values. We need to get rid of the war gods, and return . . . to honoring the Mother.

We also need to put our lives on the line, or at least honor those who do. One of the many responses I got to last week’s column was from environmental activist Jessica Clark, who faces jail time for sitting in a tree last fall. 
In September, she and other members of the Michiana Coalition Against Tar Sands, or MICATS, temporarily blocked Enbridge Inc.’s tar sands pipeline expansion through Michigan. This was an expansion of the same pipeline that ruptured in 2010, badly polluting the Kalamazoo River; it was the largest and costliest inland oil spill in history. 

One night the protesters climbed trees at the construction site in central Michigan and anchored their platform to the company’s construction equipment. If the ropes had been moved, the protesters’ platform would have tipped, dropping them 50 feet to the ground. That didn’t happen, but they were arrested and convicted of trespassing — for the crime of stewardship. It’s the price of growing up.

 Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available.  V
isit his website at www.commonwonders.com.

*My bold.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Hildegard Von Bingham at Samhain...........

Years ago  I performed a ritual invocation at Samhain with this haunting, visionary rendition of Hildegard Von Bingham's  "O Successores Fortissimi Leonis" by the group Vox, recorded in the early 1990's.  The invocation was done at my "Rites of Passage" Gallery in Berkeley, California, in honor of the approach of Samhain, the last harvest festival, the time to homor the Beloved Dead, and also the time when "the veils between the Worlds are thin".  The Invocatioin was done with 4 women in a circle,  turning the circle with gestures of offering.  It was one of the most beautiful performances I've done, well remembered.

I recently  played the piece again and was delighted to find it had been uploaded on UTube.  Von Bingham's vision and prayers reach across the ages to touch me again, on the unimaginable Internet.  I just felt like sharing it again, here.

From "The Dinner Party" by Judy Chicago

Hildegard von Bingen.jpg
Illumination from the Liber Scivias 
showing Hildegard  receiving a vision
 and dictating to her scribe and secretary

"Hildegarde of Bingen, also known as St. Hildegard and the Sybil of the Rhine, was an enormously influential and spiritual woman, who paved the way for other women to succeed in a number of fields from theology to music. She was a mystic writer, who completed three books of her visions. During a time when members of the Catholic Church accorded women little respect, Hildegarde was consulted by bishops and consorted with the Pope, exerting influence over them.

She wrote on topics ranging from philosophy to natural healing with a critical expertise praised by both German advice-seekers and the highest-ranking figure in the Church, Pope Eugenius III. An esteemed advocate for scientific research, Hildegarde was one of the earliest promoters of the use of herbal medicine to treat ailments. She wrote several books on medicine, including Physica, circa 1150, which was primarily concerned with the use of herbs in medicinal treatment.
Hildegarde may be best known as a composer. 

Stemming from the traditional incantations of Church music, Hildegarde’s compositions took the form of a single chant-like, melodic line. These compositions are called antiphons and are a single line of music sung before and after a psalm. Hildegarde combined all of her music into a cycle called Symphonia Armonie Celestium Revelationum, circa 1151, orThe Symphony of the Harmony of the Heavenly Revelations, which reflects her belief that music was the highest praise to God.

Hildegarde herself created a drawing, or illumination, in her manuscript Scivias (Know the Ways), circa 1140–50, of her defining vision, in which the great span of the universe revealed itself to her in a trance as “round and shadowy…pointed at the top, like an egg…its outermost layer of a bright fire.”**

** "The Dinner Party" by Judy Chicago, Brooklyn Museum of Art   https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/place_settings/hildegarde_of_bingen