we followed the advice of Robert Burns to change plans along the way: “The best laid schemes o' mice and men/ Gang aft agley” (from “To A Mouse”).
Returning home, remembering the experiences, reviewing photos taken on the trip, and reading more about O’Keeffe, my reflections seemed to spiral around the Beloved, the soul, and b/Beauty. The capacity to enter the imaginal world happens as our soul takes form in the canyon beauties: the stone and earth formations, the trees and plants, as well as the creatures like the Evening Grosbeak that appeared in Bandelier National Monument Park.
Beauty in a dry, seemingly hostile environment, offers insight; perhaps more than thought, the experience and presence there feed more feeling for the fusion of jamal/jalal, the gentle inseparable from the hard, lovely interwoven with severe, both familiar and mystical, the One. It’s the rose, the lily, the cactus blooming that glows because it celebrates the union with the thorn, the skull, the dark mystery. Love draws the human into the divine.
Some changes we made to the planned itinerary can be attributed to the influence of an emerging fascination with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. We found ourselves following the O’Keeffe track around Abiquiu, into Ghost Ranch, the White Place, Santa Fe, and Palo Duro Canyon. Back home, her art continued flowing from books such as:
* Georgia O’Keeffe by Charles C. Eldredge
“O’Keeffe’s work had, from her earliest days as a professional artist, elicited comments like ‘revelation.’ When Alfred Stieglitz first encountered her abstract drawings in 1916, he responded immediately to their power. As recalled by one witness to the moment, ‘They were a revelation to him.’ . . . William Fisher, for example, praised the ‘mystic and musical drawings,’ which he likened to religious ‘revelations’ in their ‘cosmic grandeur.’” (p. 13)
* Lovingly Georgia: The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer edited by Clive Giboire.
“Not only is [O’Keeffe’s painting] a piece of consummate craftsmanship, but it likewise possesses that mysterious force, that hold upon the hidden soul which distinguishes important communications from the casual reports of the eye.” (quoting Lewis Mumford, p. 295)
* Georgia O’Keeffe by Georgia O’Keeffe
“It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint” (p. 88).
I wonder how those of us who do not paint or dance or play music deal with clarifying “the intangible thing.” The feeling for that marks a true sign, doesn’t it? I believe it’s the guiding inspiration that draws each person to participate in his and her life as an artist.
Perhaps for me it’s doing photography especially when further expressed in digital media to play out a theme. “True Signs” swirls together art, photography, music, and words to explore the way I reach for and into relationship with the divine. In producing the digital media project, I found myself wondering if the purpose of an artist, at least for me in this moment, points toward revelation; an artist aims at developing consciousness that is increasingly sensitive to and responsive to signs of God. How might our knowing, our evolving consciousness, attune more poignantly into the inner and outer presence of the divine?
Tracking signs of God is scarcely a new thing. About a thousand years ago, Hamid al-Ghazali opens The Alchemy of Happiness:
“Knowledge of self is the key to the knowledge of God, according to the saying: ‘He who knows himself knows God,’ and, as it is Written in the Koran [41:53], ‘We will show them Our signs in the world and in themselves, that the truth may be manifest to them’” (Trans. Claud Field, p. 17).
The Study Quran links this passage with Q 51:20-21 “And upon the earth are signs for those possessing certainty, and within your souls…”
As happens often with the Qur’an, we hear echoes of other religious texts:
* Psalm 19 on the handiwork of God: “day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge…”
* Isaiah 7:11, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
* John 2:11, “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”
* Matthew 16:3, “And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?’”
The mystic Rabia expressed her relationship with the divine presence:
“O Lord, I have never listened to the sound of animals, or the movement of trees, or the murmur of water, or the song of birds, or the sitting in the shadows, or the sound of the wind, or the echo of thunder, but I have seen them as a sign of Your Oneness showing me that there is nothing like You.” The Knower of Allah, Rabia al-Adawiyya
Contemporary historian of religion, Diana Butler Bass, elaborates the importance of persons today shifting consciousness in order to realize the presence of the divine.
“Roiling around the planet is a shifting conception of God…unmediated and local, animating the natural world and human activity in profoundly intimate ways…the personal, mystical, immediate, and intimate is emerging as the dominant way of engaging the divine. What was once reserved for a few saints has now become the quest of millions around the planet—to be able to touch, feel, and know God for one’s self.” (Grounded, p. 9)
“Where is God? . . . The grounded God is a God in relationship with space and time as the love that connects and creates all things, known in and with the world. . . . God is not above or beyond, but integral to the whole of creation, entwined with the sacred ecology of the universe.” (Grounded, pp. 10, 25)
In reading Grounded, in reflecting on O’Keeffe’s art, through meditating on sacred text, and while remembering the experiences of our journey, I’m wondering about the application of soil quality (ranging from fertile to depleted to rebuilt) in relation to the stuff a human has that is comparable to the soil, the earth. Is it helpful to consider our “ground” for consciousness in this sense? In addition to the purification process, there is also the rebuilding. Consciousness, like earth, has been decimated by erosion and poor management; but it’s reassuring to experience rebuilding it. Purified and rebuilt consciousness provides the ground for discerning the signs of God. Upon this fertile ground, God-consciousness can be built.
Blog entries referenced in the video include:
* Love Memories in the Imaginal World (Feb 19, 2018)
* Tracking on the Path of the Heart (Feb 10, 2018)
* Divine Intoxication (Jan 18, 2018)
* Foggy Steps in the Path of the Heart (Nov 8, 2017)
* The Cipher of a Mystery (Sept 18, 2017)
* Truth: Sacred-Text/Lived-Experience (Jun 22, 2017)
* The Infinite in One Step (Feb 2, 2015)
* The Sense You Were Born With (July 7, 2012)