karma

When We Pray – Progress

Greetings Family,

I was unable to complete the whole manuscript of my book last month. Although I was quite enthusiastic to get it done, I think I was a little unrealistic about the amount of time I could actually put not the project without going to a retreat location and write from there. However, I did manage to get four chapters completed which places me at the halfway mark! I have four more to go and will be ready to get back into writing mode as we refocus for a new month.

Unfortunately, I was sick with the flu the whole holiday weekend and spent 85% of my time at home in bed! 😦  But I’m almost well now and plan to get back into the swing of things later this week.

Below is a summary of each chapter of the project. As you can see below I don’t necessarily complete the chapters in order because my brain just won’t work that way. I meditate upon which chapter should come next and trust that Spirit will guide me to the write one, as it inspires me with the needed content.  Hope you find them of interest!

WHEN WE PRAY:
8 MEDITATIONS ON THE AESTHETICS OF PRAYER & THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
CHAPTER SUMMARIES
Preface

Since the book is really a series of essays or meditations (or monographs??) I don’t think a formal introduction to the contents/concepts is needed. However, I do think it important to basically set the tone for the reader and provide a few insights about the overall direction of “When We Pray” and my reasons for developing its content.

When We Pray
Making the Connection: Prayer, Aesthetics & the Spiritual Life
This initial essay will paint a picture of the overall conceptual framework that allows the reader to begin to see and understand the connections between prayer, aesthetics and the spiritual life. In this section, I will define some essential terms, provide some historical and contextual grounding, and lay the overall framework for the more specific points of discussion that will comprise the other meditations.

When We Pray
The Aesthetics of Enlightenment: the Universal & the Particular – COMPLETE
It is here that the real work begins. I delve into the most misunderstood paradox in spirituality, how the seemingly particular act of going within through prayer and meditation ultimately leads to an ever more intimate understanding of that which is most common to all – the universal. This essay will delve into this paradox and help us to understand how the aesthetic dimensions of spiritual life help us to better understand the universal and the particular.

When We Pray III
Making Special: Sacred Symbols, Sight & Geometry – COMPLETE
What does it mean to make something special? How does our concept of the sacred relate to our use of symbols and the ways in which symbol is used on the spiritual path? This meditation will examine these ideas and relate them specifically to the process of spiritual growth and discernment – particularly with regard to the ways both humans and Spirit utilize symbols and signs as a means of communication.

When We Pray IV
The Work is all Divine: The Role of Imagination in Prayer & Manifestation – COMPLETE
In this essay, I will explore the ways in which imagination and manifestation play a central role in prayer and the spiritual life. It will present the conceptual framework and context through which manifestation and imagination helps us to see understand the inherent connection between prayer, imagination, and the process of manifestation.

When We Pray V
Awakening: The Art of Prayer & the Art of Life – COMPLETE
We use the term “art” in relation to a wide range of human endeavors that stretch from the actual creative work of the “Arts” to the facility with which we live our lives. This meditation will explore the term “art” by defining it in a manner that allows us to connect it with aesthetic experience, inspiration, and the spiritual life. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the notion that prayer is an “art” and how human beings can harness the aesthetic dimensions of prayer in order to live inspired and artful lives.

When We Pray VI
In Defense of the “Woo-Woo”: The Aesthetics of Mysticism and the Spiritual Life
The contemporary scientific model and its accompanying evidence-based approaches in the softer sciences have given mysticism a bad name. Even many Spirituality and New Age professionals will often shy away from the mystical or qualify any mystical statements by apologizing for becoming to “Woo-Woo”. In this chapter, I will address this phenomena and put forth a perspective that argues for mysticism and spiritualization as key components in prayer and spiritual development. This meditation will explore the ways in which the aesthetic dimensions of mysticism and mystical experience have always been and continue to be integral to prayer and the spiritual life

When We Pray VII
In the World & of the World
This chapter will focus upon the more practical aspects of living the spiritual life by examining how our spirituality should deeply ground and connect us to the world in which we live. How does one think about and frame their response to the world’s problems from a spiritual perspective, and what can the aesthetic dimensions of our spirituality bring to that discussion? There is a real and needed place for social activism, global thinking and reflection upon the ways in which our spiritual life can be brought to bear upon the needs of our current place in human history.

When We Pray VIII
Coda: There is only Love
Ultimately, love is all there is. This final essay will serve as a concluding segment that will weave together the various strands from the previous meditations through an examination of the concept of divine love. It will provide an overarching vision that incorporates the key concepts from the meditations. However, it will not be a summary, but rather an inspirational vision that is both a didactic and beautific discussion on love and the ways aesthetic insights can aid us in the expression of love in our every day lives.

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Will: The Power of Integration

INSPIRATION

Believe it or not, I wasn’t planning this. My initial chakra focused image, “The Flowering of Truth” was intended to be a single image. When I completed the work in February, I had no intention of creating another work on the chakras – nor the impetus to create a series. But it would seem that Spirit had other plans.

A large percentage of my inspirational and creative processes are dependent upon intuition and channeling. Most of my inspirations are brought forth through life-experiences and/or insights intuited/channeled/gleaned from my meditation practice. In a very real sense, one could view my creative practice as a spiritual development journal. In hindsight, I see that the process of strengthening my 5th chakra was in preparation for my departure from my day job in order to pursue my vocation full-time. I needed to connect with the expression of my voice and speak forth my truth in authenticity. “Will: The Power of Integration” is about the need for me to marshal my energies and resources towards the achievement of my goals so that I will have the strength to persevere despite all obstacles. It wasn’t until this image’s completion that I realized that this was the start of a series.

The third chakra is found in the vicinity of the navel and solar plexus. Its primary element is fire – thus it is associated with the pancreas and adrenals. It’s color – yellow is the core of the preceding two chakras (red and orange respectively) as the core of any fire is bright yellow-white with the reds and oranges radiating from that burning center. The 3rd chakra is the integrator of the 2 preceding it (1 = earth/matter, 2 = water/creation). Hence the power of the 3rd chakra is based in integration. It’s mantra, “I can” is reflective of human “Will”. Not society’s traditional notion of “will to power, conquer, push through…” but a dynamic force that transforms and shapes through integration. From this perspective, “will” is the integration of our desire and focus for the purposes of transformation and manifestation. Thus transformation and manifestation are based upon one’s power to combine and integrate the various aspects of one’s being in order to direct them towards a purpose. This is the power of “Will”.

Will: The Power of Integration

Will: The Power of Integration. The 2nd creation in my chakra series.

SYMBOLISM

As discussed previously, the color yellow is associated with the 3rd chakra and the core of fire and sun. I chose not to seat the figure because I wanted her to embody the energy associated with this chakra. This woman is standing, floating up and away from the lotus beneath her. She rises unaided, of her volition as she integrates her focus and desire in order to initiate her own ascension. She is the source of her own ascension and transformation due to her own self-integration (we are in truth the truth we seek). Her outstretched arms are symbolic of both praise and the discovery of her own inner power.  It is as if her outstretched arms and slightly lifted head evoke ecstasy and draw in the swirling matter that surrounds her as it becomes an integral part of her being. Her hair is both charged with the light of the chakra’s activation and the power flowing within. 

The graphic lotus symbol above her depicts the third chakra and its accompanying Sanskrit character. The open lotus beneath her figure is also symbolic of the chakras in general. 

Look out for a discussion of the crown chakra next month!

 

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When We Pray: Reflections on Prayer & Meditation

INSPIRATION

My initial interest in devotional images was birthed in my childhood. The first devotional images I encountered were found within some old family bibles that I found on book shelves in various family members homes.  I was fascinated by these depictions of divine beings and biblical figures. At school I would go to the library and check out various art books that depicted images created by the old European Renaissance Masters – especially those featuring the works of Da Vinci and Durer. In college, I was once again drawn back to these same images with a greater capacity for understanding  after I entered art school and began to receive in-depth training in drawing, painting, and art history. 

My first attempt at creating a devotional image did not occur until I received a commission from the President of my seminary – Dr. Louis Charles Harvey. He commissioned me to create a large watercolor illustration of African slaves with wings on their feet flying up and away from the plantation fields and into the vast expanse of the heavens. His inspiration for this image was based upon the old Negro Spiritual, Steal Away to Heaven. I later completed a second image based upon the biblical Annunciation event (the angel Gabriel informs Mary that she has been chosen to conceive Jesus – Luke 1.26-38) for a doctoral class on Christian iconography.

The impetus for the “When We Pray” series was birthed out of my own personal experiences with prayer and meditation. Prayer is an essential component of the spiritual life and its importance is emphasized throughout all spiritual traditions. Although we often make a distinction between prayer and meditation, the two often support and interpenetrate one another. For my purposes, prayer can most easily be defined as communication with the divine.  Prayer, like any other form of communication must involve both sending and receiving. Thus it occurs within the context of dialogue and mutuality. In order for this mutuality to be authentic there must be some real capacity for both parties to affect and be affected.

We could also define prayer as the movement or opening of the heart towards the divine. This movement or opening involves a change of focus and orientation that tunes one in to the divine frequency so that one is prepared to engage with the divine in dialogue and mutuality. From this perspective, one simply seeks spirit through the focus of attention and expectation on the divine and communication results as a natural part of the process. The underlying assumption is that our creator wants to be to in communion with the creation in dialogue and mutuality.

SYMBOLISM

My intention was to create an image which depicted: a) my understanding of prayer, and b) visually communicate the mood and feelings which accompanied some of my own experiences with prayer and meditation.  I wanted to give birth to all of the sensations I had experienced energetically, emotionally, psychically, and physically. At the outset, there was no plan to create a series of images, there was simply a compelling desire to make visible the invisible, to encapsulate that which is universal within the particularity of a single image. Each daily encounter with spirit provides new experiences and information that can fuel another image, always the same and yet somehow always miraculously different. It is this miraculous quality which spurred me to complete more images over the course a year. It wasn’t until I had begun the fifth image that I decided to complete the series at seven works – thus symbolizing completion.

All of the works contain two constant motifs: 1) the divine presence being symbolized through the use of a hand(s), and 2) each figure is cocooned within a pulsating field of spiritual energy. The presence of these two motifs in each image is a visual representation of the quality of sameness or consistency that accompanies prayer and meditation, yet all the while other aspects of theses same elements can be different or convey slightly different qualities. It is the same, yet at the same time always different. In these works this quality is conveyed by depicting each cocoon differently, the hand (or hands) are depicted in varying positions, and in each image symbols are present but they vary in size, shape, and meaning.

Hands

The symbolism of hands is pregnant with a wide range of possibilities. The divine hand is an image that is encountered across a wide range of religious literature. The Christian bible often makes references to the hand or finger of God resting upon, supporting. protecting, surrounding…various persons and situations. The Exodus narrative is a perfect example of the use of this symbol with great effect (for more information see my blog post from October 2014). In my personal experiences the divine presence expresses its self in a variety of ways that often give me sense of being held, caressed, protected, stroked, supported, guided or whatever else may be appropriate at that particular time. This sense is one which I have experienced consistently within my prayers and meditations.

Divine Energy/Light

The sensation of energy, light, Chi, Holy Spirit, aura, magnetic fields, bioelectricity…is one of the most widely acknowledged examples of the various ways one can encounter spiritual power during prayer and meditation. Although many of these terms describe very distinct forms of experience they all ultimately originate from one common divine source. Each praying figure is surrounded by a divine light which is intentionally biomorphic in form and unclear in origin. One is not sure if the light originates from the praying figure, or one of the symbols which are depicted within the image. I deliberately chose to alternate the tone of  the light surrounding each figure by depicting the energies in black (Fig. 1, 3, 5 & 7) or white (Fig. 2, 4 & 6).

When We Pray

I

This is the 1st image in the series. The hands symbolize the presence of the divine supporting, sustaining, protecting, touching, caressing, loving…each of us as we open ourselves to know and be known. In this image the cross represents divine sacrifice and protection, while our connection to the divine is represented through the Tibetan symbol of enlightenment within and above the figure. 

 When We Pray II

II

This 2nd image makes use of a single hand which supports the standing figure.  The divinity within is represented by the Reiki symbol of enlightenment emanating from the figures back. The Yantra behind the figure is the Sodasi which represents perfection, totality and the full cycle of creation.

 When We Pray III

III

This is the 3rd image of the series. The symbol behind the figure is the Islamic Hand of Fatima which is indicative of divine protection, and the Egyptian Eye of Horus which represents enlightenment and supra-natural intuition. The aureole-like 8 point star is indicative of enlightenment, the Bahai faith, and the 8-fold path of the Buddha. The transfer of energies is symbolized by the yin/yang symbols within and below the meditating figure.

 When we Pray IV IV

This 4th image depicts a figure in prostration before the divine in prayer and supplication. The symbol below the figure represents the power of Islam as does the Crescent moon and star suspended above it. The rays of divine light pour forth from the Crescent moon as it shines forth piercing the darkness with the light of truth.

 When we Pray V

V

The 5th image of this series incorporates the use of a female figure.  Images 5, 6 and 7 all make use of the female form to complete the series. Unlike image #2 this figure faces the viewer as she stands with outstretched arms before the divine in prayer and supplication. The symbol above the figure represents the flow of divine energies that surround the figure. The star behind the figure symbolizes heavenly light pouring forth in crystalline form as she is delicately perched upon divine hands.

 When we Pray VI

VI

This is the 6th image in the series, the 2nd female figure, and the second seated figure. She is seated in meditation with her palms together in front of her heart. The symbol above her represents the Buddhist wheel of life and its 8-fold path. The symbol below the figure represents Sikhism but has been turned upside down. I took some artistic license with this symbol for the sake of the composition. To my knowledge, this does not alter the symbol’s meaning. As with all the images in this series, the divine energies surround the figure as heavenly light bursts forth from above her.

 When we Pray VII

VII

This is the 7th and final image of the series. This female figure is in a prayer position with her palms turned upward toward the heavens. The divine hands are cupped around the figure as if they are forming a shield of supernatural power and protection. I chose to complete the series by only using symbols derived from African sources. The symbol above the figure represents the divine Eye of Horus which mimics the shape of the pineal gland and its association with the 3rd eye, or intuition. The symbol below the figure is the crescent moon of Islam which is predominant among most parts of East and North Africa. The outer symbol is an interpretation of the ankh. As with all the images in this series, divine energies surround the figure but in this final image the light is emanating from the figure herself as indicated by the use of light and shading inside the hands.

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