prayer

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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There is only Love

 

WHEN WE PRAY: THERE IS ONLY LOVE

INSPIRATION

There are certain themes in life that continually repeat for each of us.  Lessons we must learn, ideas and concepts that require us to continually expand our understanding of them, seasons of lack and plenty…and these too are an integral part of our soul’s journey.

An ongoing theme for me is Love. In this case, I seem to have come full circle because I thought that the “When We Pray” series was complete last summer. I completed what I thought was the final image of the series (#VII) and began to move on, but the inspiration for this image burst forth in me and has already inspired me to begin another in the series. You may also remember that I was addressing the theme of Love inspired by Rumi in my creation of the “Resurrection of Love” triptych. But it appears that neither Prayer nor Love are through with me yet.

My efforts to strengthen my intuition and maintain a more consistent connection to my guides are steadily convincing me that we are forever and always surrounded by Love. It’s not that I didn’t already know or believe this, but my vision was clouded by my own biases and preconceptions. It is one thing to understand a thing conceptually, but truly knowing it in the depths of one’s spirit is something drastically different.

Most of us believe that God is love, that our souls have come here to give and receive love, that we are loved unconditionally; but very few of us have been able to truly experience the power and depths of divine love – let alone consistently dwell in that state of experience. At best we have epiphinal moments through which we are able to experience glimpses of glory. We know that familiar feeling you get with family or old friends when you feel completely safe, whole, known, accepted and loved. Those moments when all is right with the world and we silently wish that we could suspend time in such a way that would allow us to spend the rest of our lives suspended in that moment.

I am coming to know and rest assured that there is only love. That each of us is loved and cherished with a depth that we will never truly understand on this side of the veil. That our higher selves and guides pray with us, for us, and undergird each of us with an unfathomable love! Find the courage to trust it. Let go of fear and cling to love. What has been holding you back from love – both spiritually and romantically? Be quiet, become still, open your heart to Spirit and in the darkness of that silence, you will come to know that love is all in all.

There is Only Love72.5

SYMBOLISM

I made use of the repeating heart motif because it is easily recognizable within modern cultural iconography. This motif is repeated throughout the composition not only as a symbol of love but as a means of guiding the eye downward through the image. The heart motif with its downward edge helps push the eye downward from the heart of the angelic guide, down through the bottom of the heart shape surrounding the angel, then down through the hands framed in the heart shape, then we dive once more into the heart of the human figure which will also help guide our gaze into the power of love symbol located beneath the figure. A love that is always flowing downward to each of us through various levels of being.

The angelic being who floats in the large heart above the figure is also engaged with the human figure below it in meditation and prayer. This figure also holds and receives divine love with its heart. A love that is echoed in the heart of its human companion. This connection is symbolized in the identical hearts the two figures share. The two figures are communicating heart to heart through the medium of love. Earthly intuition is perceived in the gut, but spiritual intuition is perceived in the heart and transmitted through love. This being holds its hands in the form of a teaching mudra – as it imparts divine wisdom and blessings upon the human figure below.

The halo above this figure is a symbol of divine grace, majesty, and power; while the symbol directly below the figure is an Adinkra glyph indicating divine love.

Since this image is a companion to the When We Pray series it was imperative that the hand motif occupy a prominent role within the composition. As in the other pieces in the series, the hands symbolize the hands of the divine as an ever-present source of comfort, protection, support…etc. In this case, the hands have formed the shape of a heart to symbolize the presence of divine love which surrounds the praying figure within. The hands operate almost like a frame that we gaze into to find the small but significant human being within them. Not only are we surrounded by love, but it serves as the very framework through which all humanity must be viewed.

The figure within the divine hands is deep in prayer and meditation. His closed eyes and traditional meditative posture indicate his turn within- while the halo and biomorphic energy field surrounding him are indicative of the higher spiritual energies he is receiving as a result of his practice. His hands form the mudra associated with blessings and wisdom. His practice brings him both divine blessing and love, but also provides wisdom into the deeper spiritual insights that are only available to those who consistently go within. The symbol below the figure is a West African glyph indicating the power of love. A love which is filling his heart as symbolized by the heart shape within the chest of the figure.

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The Flowering of Truth

INSPIRATION

The impetus for this work has been part of an ongoing struggle. A struggle that has been uniquely mine yet paradoxically experienced by each of us at various points throughout life. From the earliest stages of human development, each of us learns about self through the experience of contrast between us and that which is other. A baby begins to comprehend the difference between self and mother through the contrasts created by the touch. sight, and sound of its mother versus that of its own. Later in life, we often learn to distinguish who we are through the experience of contrast between the ways others (friends, parents, classmates…) are like us or different from us.
 
This process of self-discovery continues throughout the life cycle because each of us is always changing. The person you were at 3 is still present within your DNA and consciousness but is definitely not the same person who is reading this post right now. This process of continual growth and deepening consciousness requires that we not only discover who we are in terms of likes and preferences but also necessitates that we come to know self with depth and profundity. In a sense, one could postulate that we don’t actually learn who we truly are, but rather that we find the courage and strength to discover, and then become who we truly are. That living a conscious life is a continual process of becoming or embodying the spiritual beings whom we truly are.
  
As our eternal being, our essence becomes more fully integrated and embodied within us it shines forth more brightly through us under the guise of personality. In order for this to occur, we must first find the willingness to look within, the strength to face what we find there, and finally the courage to be that person in the world regardless of what others may say or think about us because of it. This kind of courage requires that we commit ourselves to complete truth and authenticity in all of our interactions. That you find the courage and commitment to be and do YOU in every aspect of your life – no matter what the circumstances. No facades, no compromises to get along, no hiding how you really feel or think to fit in, no holding back your truth for another’s sake…etc. I’m talking about having the courage and determination to be who you are in every way you can, under any and all circumstances.
 
Each of us has the right and the responsibility, to be who we are and do what we want as long as we are honest and forthright in our intentions, and do not hurt or harm others in the process. This kind of freedom can only be achieved by operating from a level of truth and authenticity that most of us are not willing to live from.  In my opinion, this is the kind of commitment to truth and authenticity which lies at the core of 5th chakra symbolism.  
The 5th chakra’s core principle is truth. It is the first chakra to move us beyond the boundaries of our physicality and connect us to the higher realms of consciousness by acting as a conduit for the expression of vibration, sound, and speech. Thus it is associated with the throat, neck thyroid, shoulders, arms, and hands. When we deny the truth within ourselves, or continually speak or act in ways which lack integrity or truth this chakra can easily become clogged or choked thereby weakening its’ vibration. When fully opened, this chakra gives one the courage and commitment to express one’s self in truth and authenticity.  
This has been the focus of my struggle. To not only know, “Who I am” but to strive to authentically “be me” in all situations and circumstances. To stop worrying about, “how others view me or my art?” If speaking my truth will cost me friends or prestige? Will people not like me if I show them who I really am or what I’m about? To be true to self is the simplest yet most difficult of endeavors. This year I am determined to open and clear this chakra. To let the real me shine forth and open up like as a flower opens to the receive the rays of the morning sun! To open to my truth, and express that authenticity in all my interactions. This is the Flowering of Truth.

flowering-of-truth-72-5

SYMBOLISM

The symbolism within this work is focused on truth. The large lotus symbol floating above the figure is a reinterpretation of the 5th chakra symbol. The deep cerulean blue is one of the colors associated with the chakra. The symbol found within the inner flower is the Bija symbol (or seed sound) “Ham”. When repeated, this sound is the key used to activate the chakra and unlock its power. The symbol eye-like piece above symbol is my own additive that which is reminiscent of omniscient divine presence. The white outline used to outline the flower is symbolic of the full moon which is also part of the chakra’s symbolism. T

The flower upon which the figure sits is also a lotus. I purposely used the varying shades of blue for this composition since the primary colors associated with the chakra are cerulean blue and turquoise. This flowering lotus is opening because the figure seated upon it is chanting the seed sound “Ham” as a mantra as she meditates upon the qualities associated with the 5th chakra. 

Since the seated figure is meditating upon the 5th chakra and chanting its’ seed sound, I chose the lift her head and expose her neck – the primary body part associated with the 5th chakra. I intentionally placed the tale end of the seed symbol in the lotus above her head near the figure’s throat in order to further accentuate her neckline and the connection between sound/mantra, the symbol, and the chakra’s connection to the throat. 

My intention was to strike a balance between the areas that were more highly rendered (the opening lotus and the figure’s flesh) and the more graphic areas (the lotus above the figure and the figure’s clothing in order to create a visually energetic push-and-pull between the various portions of the composition. This tension helps to create a downward movement which draws the eye from the face down through the opening lotus. I chose to keep the background soft and muted so that it would not distract from the main focal point of the composition – the meditating figure.

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Ascension III: Breaking through the Veil

INSPIRATION

Although the appearance of this image is very different from the two which have preceded it, the impetus for its creation is deeply embedded within the same concept. “Breaking through the Veil” is still very much about ascension. At the most fundamental level, each of us is spirit and exists as such in this dimension and those beyond it. From a quantum perspective, we know that more dense slower moving particles (lower vibration) can not maintain their integrity in the presence of less dense particles (higher vibration). The more dense particles must either be accelerated to the higher frequency or be destroyed by it. From a spiritual viewpoint, Spirit must literally descend to a lower frequency in order to become encased within physical matter. The portion of human consciousness which exists within our bodies had to literally descend and break through into this 4th-dimensional reality. 
Part of our spiritual work is the practice of more fully embodying this higher energy and consciousness within our physical body. At our best, we do this through a process of spiritual formation and an intentional cultivation of the inner life that will help spirit become increasingly more present within every aspect of our being. At our worst, we live unconsciously and are driven by ego, habit, and basic physical impulses. Siddhartha the first Buddha is a shining example of the potential we possess when the spiritual life is cultivated with discipline and intention. As we read his story we are privy to an ongoing process of transformation which culminates in him embodying so much spiritual light that he could phase up and out (ascend) into the higher dimensions of consciousness. He took the small spark which had initially broken through the veil and fanned it into a bright and shining light that brought about his ascension. 
When we review the life of Jesus and the events which led to his resurrection and subsequent ascension we find another point of entry. As a boy, we are told that Jesus was constantly spending time with the spiritual masters of his particular tradition. We also find that a significant portion of this embodiment work was completed during his baptism in the river Jordan under the hand of his cousin John the Baptizer. We are told that when he presents himself to John for baptism, Jesus rose up from the water and the spirit descended upon him like a dove. Whether we view this literally or symbolically, the essential point is that he was transformed in a manner which was easily identifiable by those around him. In this case, he was provided with an inpouring of spiritual power for the performance of his particular mission within the earthly realm. This descension could be interpreted as a greater connection to his higher self, or a greater capacity to access the frequencies within the higher realms. This capacity allowed him to perform various works which seemed to be miraculous by our limited perspective. 
The examples above inspired me to create “Breaking through the Veil”. The images I create are not only birthed from my vocational practice but are the result of spiritual insights that have accompanied my own process of spiritual formation.
 

Breaking the Veil 72.5

SYMBOLISM

“Breaking through the Veil” symbolizes ascension and descension. The piece was created using scratchboard because the stark contrasts between dark and light were an essential part of my vision for the image. We encounter utter darkness on the left and right sides of the image. For me, this blackness is pregnant with symbolism. In Western Euroethnic culture, blackness is associated with that which is base and evil. But in other cultures this isn’t the case. The blackness encountered here is associated with formlessness, the void, a place absent of any “thing” yet pregnant with infinite possibility. Science refers to it as anti-matter that fills the spaces between space and as such it is the blank canvas of the cosmos.   

On the left side of this expanse, we find a single point of light shining forth within the darkness. This light, this single spark from source is filled with infinite knowledge which is symbolized by the all-seeing eye contained within it. This single divine spark is filled with all knowledge and therefore, an infinite capacity to act upon and within the darkness which surrounds it. It uses its very being to pierce through, manipulate, and mold the slower moving anti-matter into a form that a portion of its consciousness can embody. In the process of descension and embodiment so much is of its former brilliance is lost that it, we, so often forget that how truly powerful, brilliant and expansive we are. We forget that there is so much more to us than theses bodies and thoughts could ever contain. We forget that this is not all there is and that the reality we know is simply the tip of a massive iceberg buried deep within.  

The child-like figure finds shape and form as it emerges from the darkness yet it is not fully formed as none of us truly are. Some of us will live a thousand lifetimes and still remain partially unformed. unfulfilled, and never fully mature into the possibilities for which we were intended.  This is why we must work at embodying the spark, bringing forth the light which yearns to become fully actualized within us. Live in the Light!

The rings emanating from the figure are indicative of both spiritual light and the dissolution that accompanies time. The first one is bright white and clear as we grow into our full maturity. The second aura is much denser because it represents the genesis of our physical forms process of decline. Notice that each successive emanation has less form and greater degrees of dissipation.  What is spirit must return to spirit. Eventually, the physical form will return back into the void from which it was birthed, and the spark will once again merge with its own omniscient brillance. As Job reminds us, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The spirit gives and the spirit will take away.” Amen.

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Winds of Hope

Winds of Hope

INSPIRATION

Recent events in my life have led me to the contemplation of hope. It just so happens that life has been moving along at its own steady pace. Sometimes intense and other times slow, but thankfully there have been no major upsets or crashing waves. When things are like this I often find the breathing room needed to catch my breath and connect more deeply to my higher self. It is during the steady rhythm of life that I am more easily able to reflect upon life’s deeper layers and connect with Spirit from a much more grounded place.

These times of recollection and reflection usually start with gratitude. I find myself grateful for the periods of sunshine that burst forth from the heart in the seasons between the storms. When I am quiet, I can observe a kind of in-gathering within my mind and spirit as all the myriad pieces of my identity are gently de-fragmented and reconnected to one another. I review the progress I have made, see things moving forward, and am filled with gratitude. But even more than that – I am filled with hope.

I am able to see the bigger picture and all the small but progressive steps that let me know I am moving forward towards my goals. This acknowledgment fills me with hope. Hope that that I can succeed. Hope that I can achieve my goals. Hope that I have and can make the right choices, and hope for the future. Hope is foundational and inspirational. The bible reminds us that,  “faith is the substance of things we yet hope for, the evidence of things not seen.” Most of us focus upon faith in this passage but the statement clearly places an even weightier emphasis upon hope – as the foundation which makes faith even possible. Without hope, life has no meaning. Without hope, faith is not possible. Without hope, there is no vision for the future. From this perspective, hope could best be defined as an assurance that the things we desire are actually capable of becoming reality. Thus my stepping back to acknowledge my progress. express gratitude for my current place, and celebrate my accomplishments fills me with hope.

Hope is the wind which blows through my spirit filling me with renewed determination and inspiration. My sails are full so, I do a bit more dreaming and make a few more plans. Then I stretch my arms out wide, lift my head towards the heavens and bathe in the hope’s breeze. HOPE

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

I began this blog because people who view my works often inquire about the meaning within my imagery and the symbols I employ. Since a great deal of my work is about spiritual insight and visual metaphor, symbology plays in integral role in my creative process. Lately, visitors to my studio have also begun asking about my medium, techniques, and the ways in which I am able to integrate them into my overall creative process. So I took the time to snap a few photos of this work in various stages of my creative process.

Everything starts with an idea or inspiration. It may be something I see, a spark gleaned from something I’ve been reading, an image or feeling that is impressed upon me within my meditations…but  things keep coming so I just try to remain open. Once I have solid grasp upon the concept, I begin doing sketches and/or looking at various images that may help to translate my inspiration into concrete visual form. This particular image had a rather long germination which began last winter while I spent 2 months viewing a package of subliminal message videos I had purchased. The actual composition came together quickly after I began researching images.

I am an extremely visual person and an artist so I often save random images that speak to me. While watching one of the videos, the image of the young man standing in the field struck me so I saved it. A few months later I was on google images (I just do that sometimes) and the grassy knoll just kind of popped out at me so I saved it as well. A month or so after that, I was at work making myself a cup of tea. I pulled the last tea bag out of the box and I saw the image of a lotus flower on the inside so I ripped the box apart and took the image to my studio so that I could digitize into my image library.  Shortly after that, I was sitting in my studio sketching. I was feeling really good and reflecting upon how well about things had been going and I got this very full, glad, hopeful feeling. I began to try and sketch it – so I pulled up a few images from my image library to see if anything might create a few more sparks and these three spoke to me.

As you can see from my initial thumbnail sketches it didn’t take long for me to come up with a workable composition. There are days and weeks when it doesn’t  come this easily and I may spend weeks researching, or end up producing 20-30 thumbnail sketches until I can find an inspiring and workable composition. Once I have a good composition, I will often produce 2-3 larger ones (4 x 6) to work out some of the light and shade problems.  For this image, I didn’t feel the need to do so. I moved directly to creating some small color roughs. The circled Image with the double stars is the color combination I decided upon using. With an extremely complicated image, I will create 1 or 2 larger-scale color roughs (4 x 6 as well) to alert myself to any potential tonal problems that may arise before I get into the actual process of execution.

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The Work

For me, getting down to the actual work of creation is also an act of worship, and ritual. This aspect of my vocation involves the use of several rituals that I employ to move me toward concrete acts of creation. Creativity necessitates form. An idea or concept is no better than a daydream until you give it form through acts of concrete physical manifestation. Just as “faith without works is dead” inspiration that are not accompanied by acts of manifestation die shortly after conception.

Keeping the above in mind, I often let the work itself determine the medium from which it will be manifested. At some point during the sketching stage, the imagery begins to inform me about which medium would be the best vehicle for this particular expression. In this case I knew the colors needed to be bright and vibrant so scratchboard was not a consideration. Once the color roughs were completed, it became clear to me that watercolor would be a better medium since the white paper beneath would produce a much brighter, ephemeral, and luminous quality than I could achieve with acrylics.

I begin by engaging in prayer, and then slowly and mindfully laying out my materials so that they are easily accessible and functionally placed within and around my work area. I then choose my material (in this case watercolor paper), and outline the image upon the surface. I often us a projector for larger layouts rather than drawing everything out by freehand. In this case, I used a thinner sheet of paper than I normally prefer to work with (I prefer 300lb Arches watercolor paper), so I had to size the paper before I could begin any actual painting (many artists don’t lay out their imagery until after sizing, but I prefer to do it beforehand).

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Before I begin to do any creative work I spend at least 10-15 minutes in prayer and meditation just before I begin. I created a small altar in my studio that contains candles, incense, crystals, a bell, and other items of significant personal value. After completing my meditation, I spend about 2-3 minutes with my Ipod selecting what (if any) music will be playing for that particular creative session.  With Winds of Hope I began by painting the first layer of washes upon the largest areas of the image. Although it is not depicted here, each area of color has anywhere from 5-8 thin layers of color upon it. This technique allows for the vibrancy of the colors to reflect up through the paper as each successive layer builds upon the next.

As you can see from the images below, the vibrancy of the colors slowly builds intensity with the application of each successive layer. The more subtle details and shading are added in as each layer of color is applied. For me, this process is more like sculpting than painting. I often imagine myself pushing, pulling and molding the various surfaces and contours of the image rather than drawing or rendering them with the paint brush.

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Finishing Touches

As you can observe from these photos, I save the more precisely detailed portions of the image for last. In this instance, it was the waving grass and the figure’s skin tones. These final details were part of my work activities on days 5-6.  Sometimes, I will initiate changes to the image based upon insights or promptings that come to me during my preparation meditations. For this particular piece, there were no promptings over the course of the process, but once the work was completed several people pointed out that the figure resembled me. This was not a conscious decision on my part and I honestly hadn’t noticed (oftentimes, we do more than we can know or say).

The piece was unveiled in my studio for the First Fridays Art Murmur without the facial mustache and goatee, but after the 7th or 8th comment about the figure resembling me, the following day I removed it from the frame and added the mustache and goatee so that the figure would resemble me more closely.

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SYMBOLISM

There are only two actual symbols in this image: the lotus flower depicted behind the central figure, and the West African Adinkra symbol floating above them both. The work’s title, “Winds of Hope” embodies the notion of Hope being the wind which blows through mind, body and spirit, filling us with renewed determination, enthusiasm,  courage, and willingness to sacrifice for the creation of our dreams. Hope is the literal wind beneath our spiritual wings. The figure lifts his head toward the heavens and opens his arms wide to be caressed by the spiritual winds of Hope in a display of gratitude for blessings already received. The lotus behind the figure is also indicative of hope as it springs up from the muck and mire of muddy riverbeds to show forth its splendor. The Adinkra symbol floating above the main portion of the composition literally symbolizes Hope in West African symbology. I thought it very apt and appropriate that hope is connected to the heart’s symbol. For hope too is about the heart –  it’s dreams, passions, and desires. Purple is indicative of spiritual power and love, red passion, and yellow symbolizes wisdom, happiness, and divine benevolence.

Winds of Hope

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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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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.

To Purchase a Print click on any of the images above, or use the link below:

Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

MEDITATIO: A VISUAL MEDITATION

INSPIRATION

I have been incorporating various forms of meditation into my spiritual tool box since the mid 1990’s. My initial exploration into the practice of meditation began after I read the writings of Ron Hubbard in the early 1980’s. I began experimenting with some of his practices but was too young to maintain the discipline required for me to gain any substantial benefits from my practice – so I eventually abandoned it.

My first consistent exploration was the result of my participation in a Tai Chi class. Tai Chi is a martial art form that can also be used as a moving form of meditation. The first 15-20 minutes of class were spent under guided meditation that would help calm and center the students before we began practice with the movements and forms. The practice of Tai Chi provided a solid foundation that has served me well.

The inspiration for this image came about as a direct result of my meditation practice. The focus of that particular morning was upon maintaining my awareness of the inner and outer dimensions of my experience simultaneously. Sitting quietly, calmly focusing upon my breath and then expanding my awareness gently outward in hopes of being more present to both the internal rhythms of my body (heartbeat, breath…) and the external, sensual dimensions of my surroundings (smell, hearing, feeling…). At some point I entered a space of deeply personal stillness as if I was suspended in a single moment and was completely aware of both the external and internal dimensions of my existence, but there was also something more – an acute awareness of energy flowing in, through, and around me. it was active and dynamic, but also gentle and delicate at the same time.  The result of that experience left me with a burning desire to communicate what I was feeling in some way.

These kinds of insights have been recognized by many spiritual teachers who have called for the elevation of intuition over reason, and pushed for greater acceptance of the kinds of knowledge and experience gained through practices like meditation, intuitionism, and super rationalism. They postulate that this knowledge is based on experience which is sui generis, that is – of a different kind. In my experience ultimate truths have always been more readily accessible through intuitive, mystical, or artistic experiences. Earl Coleman finds that both the aesthetic and the spiritual often share identical traits. Both artists and those who engage in spiritual practices have often spoken about reaching a point in which they achieve a heightened state of awareness. A space in which they are “caught up” into a higher level of consciousness that allows them to see, and feel in a new heightened way. Many have felt an acute awareness of a power greater than themselves at work, yet it was all-at-once a part of their “self.” For instance, those who engage in meditation experience the same brain wavelength patterns as persons who are engaged in “creative” activities like drawing, composing, writing….etc. The feelings one experiences during times of creation or meditation are much more distinct, and of a drastically different quality than ordinary emotions (sui generis). Both the spiritual and the aesthetic give one a sense of having come in contact with the ineffable, ultimate reality, or what theologian Paul Tillich often referred to as the “ground of being.” At the least, these activities create experiences which are out of the ordinary, thereby moving us toward a deeper connection with something beyond.

MEDITATIO

SYMBOLISM

Center Oval

The overarching theme of this work is about the balancing of energies. I wanted to make a direct connection between the spiritual energies that surround us and their presence deep within us. The seated figure at the center is the both the sender and receiver of these divine energies. The figure is seated in a meditation pose which is often found in the yogic tradition. The Yin Yang symbol directly between the legs is situated at the point of the root chakra. This placement of symbolic energies here mirrors the outer spiritual energies which swirl around the outer portions of the composition. Notice the mirroring effect as the placement of the orange and yellow swirls is opposite of the placement found around the outside of the composition. 

The praying figure behind the young man is representative of both the “higher self” and/or a spiritual guardian who both protects and intercedes when needed. The idea for this figure has validation in a wide variety of traditions whether it be in the form of guardian, angels and spirit guides, or ideas about the existence of a higher self or astral body. Notice this figure is also in a position of prayer or meditation as it works to support the other’s spiritual efforts. My own experience often includes the feeling of being held, watched or even connected to a greater presence which is in some ways me, but not me. I equate this with the concept of the higher self or the inner observer who notices what I notice. 

The green and blue swirls are representative of the earth which acts as source of energy and ground for us here in the physical realm. The dynamic swirling action reminds of the flow of physical energies of land and sea as they swirls connect directly to the outer swirls in a continuous line outward from the center of the composition. The thin white line serves as a transition point between the two forms of energy as they transition back and forth from one form to another. 

Outer Oval

The outer oval portion of the composition is depicts the swirling spiritual energies that surround and support all physical life. These higher forms of vibration are responsible for both spiritual power and the divine’s raw untapped creative potential. They are directly linked to the earthly energies via the transitional line that governs their transformation into the physical realm. I chose to include the two star points to balance out the composition and to indicate the spark of divine light and mind that governs the swirling mass of raw creative potential. it is mind and higher light which directs the all creation. The very act of creating necessitates some kind of form without it there could be no creation.  The character located within the star points is the Sanskrit symbols for Om. In the Vedic tradition, Om is the meditational frequency of the universe (creation). 

To Purchase a Print  click the image above, or the link below:

MEDITATIO

SOURCES

Earle J. Coleman, Creativity and Spirituality: Bonds Between Art and Religion. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998)

Exodus: A Visual Interpretation of the Biblical Book

Any examination of Black American history reminds us that the bible has always been a treasure trove of artistic inspiration within the Back community. Leslie King Hammond reminds us that “The narrative and moral parables of this sacred text provided…visual artists…with contextual and thematic strategies to artistically express their responses to the awesome and incongruous realities of the Africa-American experience.” One of the central themes in Black American theology-freedom has been a source of inspiration for Black American artists of every kind.  It was the desire for freedom which inspired some of our nation’s most treasured forms of art, the Negro Spirituals.

A BLACK AMERICAN SPIRITUAL 

Go Down Moses, Way down in Egyptland Tell old Pharaoh, “Let my people go”

When Israel was in Egyptland, “Let my people go” Oppressed so hard they could not stand, “Let my people go”

“Thus saith the Lord,” bold Moses said, “Let my People go: If not I’ll smite your first-born dead, “Let my people go”

“No more shall they in bondage toil, Let my people go, Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil, Let my people go”

The Lord told Moses what to do, “Let my people go” To lead the children of Israel through, “Let my people go”

Go down Moses, Way down in Egyptland, Tell old Pharaoh, “Let my people go”

This spiritual is a very poignant reminder of what I believe to be my task as a Black American artist and theologian. To speak whenever and wherever I can, to those who abuse their power in a manner which limits the freedom of others. With that thought in mind, part of my goal has been to attempt re-interpreting and re-creating biblical texts and themes into forms which are more reflective of modern life. This process must go beyond merely putting the same ideas and events into a contemporary setting, or simply depicting the characters with Negroid features (blackenizing) to the creation of new images and symbols which speak on their own terms.

In many ways. I am attempting to apply and illustrate theological and sermonic principles into the creation of my art. For me this process is primarily as one of prophetic proclamation using visual media. In my efforts to achieve this goal, I realize that my interpretations will always be filtered through my own being, personality, and experiences. I see this as an interpretive asset which helps to authenticate my vision.

Keeping the above in mind, one of my main goals with this creation was to re-interpret the Exodus narrative holistically using graphic, symbolic, imagery which focused upon divine action, presence, and liberation.

EXODUS

EXODUS

SYMBOLISM

Most of the works which I encountered in my research seemed to focus upon either the person of Moses, or a single event within the Exodus narrative. These positions de-emphasized the role of God in the former, and kept me from grasping the significance of the event as whole in the latter.

The drama of the Exodus event is grounded in experience. It was a decisive event in Israelite history through which God revealed God’s self the liberator of an oppressed and downtrodden people. The primary agent within the event is God. God initiates the liberation narrative by identifying with the cries and suffering of the children of Israel, “And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help…” (Exodus 2:23-25).

It is God who takes the initiative, God who reveals the divine self, and God who liberates the Hebrew community. Exodus 6:6 reads, “Say to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” I felt this declaration was a  key element within the Exodus drama overall. If we examine the narrative in its entirety this declaration becomes a very decisive element in how we must interpret everything else.

Not only does the role of God keep recurring within the narrative, but there is also an emphasis upon divine power and might. It is the might of a God whom is deeply immersed in the Hebrew community’s daily realities, and is not hesitant to be partisan, nor flinch from taking sides. The divine will and purpose are revealed by a divine disclosure of God’s goodwill toward the Hebrew community. This disclosure ultimately results in socio-political liberation through the destruction of the Egyptian oppressor’s military power. In other words, God takes the side of those who are oppressed (the Hebrews) and then initiates a series of events which  ultimately dismantle the existing socio-politic, economic, and military power of the Egyptian nation (represented by Pharaoh).

Among the many images present within the narrative, I particularly found the imagery of the hand and out-stretched arm of God acting, intervening, and protecting the Israelite people to be particularly potent. This emphasis upon the arm and hands is repeated throughout the story. God makes Moses’ hand leprous, Moses tells Pharaoh that God has declared that he, “Let my people go…” which definitely connotes some type of hold or grip which Pharaoh has upon the Israelites. At one point, the mighty hand of God is outstretched toward Pharaoh.  The outset of almost every mighty act Moses performs is initiated by stretching out his hand (with the staff), so that the hand of God may perform a mighty act for the people. It was from this constant reference, that I opted to use the hand and arm imagery as the primary symbol within this work.

The hand as a multi-functional symbol throughout the Exodus narrative. It can represent a variety of things on a variety of levels. It is the mighty outstretched hand of God which rises up to deliver. It is also the outstretched hand of the people crying out to God for liberation from their oppressor (lower right corner). It is the hand of Pharaoh raised in defiance of the divine imperative to free the Hebrews. It is representative of the hands of Moses and Aaron outstretched over the waters of the Red Sea. There are multiple meanings that can be derived from this image.

The shackled wrist represents the oppression of the Israelite people-but more importantly, God’s self-disclosure within the context of their liberation. God is the God for, and of the oppressed. “The God of the oppressed is a God of revolution who breaks the chains of slavery.” The shackled band signifies divine solidarity with the people while they are still within their state of oppression. God has declared that the Hebrews are to be set free. God has declared their liberation, and initiates actions which will make that declaration a reality by making use of political activity on their behalf (hence the broken shackles).

The orb represents the divine possession of the world as a whole, and the divine omniscient, omnipresent eye of God that not only sees and knows all, but continually speaks within the context of human history. That same God is still watching, and speaking to us now by calling each of us to aid in liberating those who are oppressed. The orb serves as a reminder of divine presence, control, and compassion for creation. When I think of divine compassion within the Exodus Theologian Elsa Tamez reminds me that “The oppression the Hebrews suffered in body extended as well to the innermost parts of their being. It touched their inner-selves, the transcendental part of their being, their dignity, their persons.” God is a compassionate being who relates to, and cares for all of creation in a every aspect of its existence.

The figure in the lower-right corner represents Moses. It is the prophetic figure of Moses who speaks on behalf of God in order to initiate the Hebrew people’s radical break from the social inequities which they were suffering in Egypt. Walter Breugermann points out that “…Moses dismantles the politics of oppression and exploitation by countering it with a politics of justice and compassion. The reality emerging out of the Exodus is not just a new religion or a new religious idea or a vision of freedom but the emergence of a new social community in history, a community that has historical body, that had to devise laws, patterns of governance and order, norms of right and wrong, and sanction accountability…Israel emerged not by Moses’ hand-although not without Moses’ hand-as a genuine alternative community.”

The figure of Moses serves as a reminder that God is still working in, and through the minds and hearts of ordinary people. Hopefully, God still speaks through us to proclaim the divine message of freedom and aide those who are in need. Below Moses’s figure, the people stretch their hands forth to God while at the same time seeking direction and guidance from the prophetic figure before them. Not only are their hands raised in defiance of oppression, but to also obtain direction and hear, “What thus saith the Lord.” The figure is representative of the eternal shepherd who must rise up, step forward and interpret the will of God with, and for the community.

The left-hand corner depicts the wilderness experience. It seemed unnecessary to depict a large group because the mass of figures would detract from a more pertinent point: despite the people’s liberation from Pharaoh, they still had to survive the wilderness. Even after liberation, they were still in constant need of divine guidance and direction. They were out in the open, alone, and vulnerable facing the harsh realities of the world (starvation, shelter from the elements, rest…), because of this they were still very dependent upon divine benevolence.

In a sense, each of us must face the world alone. We each must face the reality of the world’s vastness, and yet somehow find a sense of direction and purpose both physically, and spiritually. The wilderness is the place where we do this. The wilderness is the place where the Hebrews become a nation (Israel) as they cement their relationship to the divine by means of a covenant. I attempted to depict this journey through the use of a single figure traveling through a vast expanse. A single female figure represents the Hebrew community that will become the bride of Yahweh by means of the covenant. The power and presence of God is symbolized by the rain which is falling upon the figure. This rain is also symbolic of the harsh elements which can be encountered in the wilderness.

The elements which form the background operate on many levels. The rain falls steadily and equally throughout the composition. It is the permeating presence of God within the world both physically and spiritually. Just as water eventually permeates, covers, and touches everything; so does the divine presence. Thunder, lightning, and clouds are all a part of the experience of rainfall. In the bible, they are very symbolic representations of the divine presence and power. In the Exodus narrative, God speaks to the Israelites through a cloud, and is present with them in a cloud. Thunder is a symbol of God’s awesome power. The same power which was manifested to Pharaoh as he was forced to grant the Israelites their liberation. Thunder and lightning are part and parcel of the awesome display of divine power which accompanies the mighty hand of God.

To purchase prints click one of the link below:

EXODUS

Exodus is available in print format only. 

SOURCES

Brueggermann, Walter. “The Alternative Community of Moses” in The Prophetic Imagination. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1978.

Cone, James H. God Of The Oppressed. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1975.

____________, A Black Theology of Liberation: Twentieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Orbis Books, 1986.

Cress Welsing, Francis. The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors. Chicago: Third World Press, 1991.

HarperCollins Study Bible New Revised Standard Version.

Hooks, Bell. Art On My Mind New York: New Press, distr. By W.W. Norton, 1995.

Moody, Linda A. Women Encounter God: Theology Across the Boundaries of Difference. New York: Orbis Books, 1996.

Studio Museum of Harlem, Challenge of Modernism: African American Artists 1925-1945. New York: Studio Museum of Harlem, 2003.

The Creation Tryptic: Goddess, Terra & Humanity

Greetings,

As promised I am posting my first blog in order to provide specific details regarding the inspiration and symbolism found within my creations. While I was pondering what imagery to explore during this initial posting, this tryptic came to mind because it too is symbolic of beginnings. It represents my first attempt at combining the insights I was gleaning through my theological studies and spiritual practice, with my training as an artist. 

These pieces were initially presented in 2004 as part of a 30-page comprehensive examination which detailed the sources and theological underpinnings of the works. To my surprise, one of the professors on my Examination Committee, the Reverend Dr. George Cummings, Pastor of Imani Community Church expressed his desire to purchase the pieces from me shortly after the exam was completed. Luckily, I was able to get the images digitized before the sale. I am still humbled by the interest he expressed in my efforts and am eternally grateful for his support.

INSPIRATION

The images which comprise this tryptic were inspired by reflections upon the creation narrative found in the biblical book of Genesis, chapter 1.  One of my earliest memories of captivation by a work of art is connected to viewing a large picture book that contained images of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man” painting in the Sistine Chapel. I was touched by the image’s detailed beauty and its spiritual power. When reading the Genesis narrative I would often have flashes of the Sistine Chapel imagery flash into my head.

But as I entered seminary and went on to doctoral studies my memories of Michelangelo’s images became more disconcerting.  This memory was embedded within my mind, but it no longer spoke to me in a manner which was comforting or relevant given my place in a postmodern world. All of life is about relations, and our relationship with the world is one of the primary building blocks for all other forms of relation. How we relate to the world determines how we relate to God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Given my place in the world as a black man, the image of a bearded white male passing the energy of life to another white male was creating obstacles which hindered my relationship to the divine and human history. I decided, no I needed to re-contextualize, reinterpret and re-create the creation story into a form that was more life-sustaining for myself and others like me. This meant going beyond merely putting the same events into a contemporary setting, or blackenizing traditional compositions. It meant attempting to create new images and symbols which could speak on their own by fostering a new set of relations between, God, self, others, and nature.

If Michelangelo’s God was no longer able to speak to or for me, then I was left asking myself the question, “Who is God for me?” Being the person whom I have been created to be, the answer could not manifest itself within purely spiritual or philosophical terms; it must also be concrete and visual. While reflecting upon this question, I was drawn to the words of the Black Liberation Theologian James Cone who stated, “The word ‘God’ is a symbol that opens depths of reality in the world. If the symbol loses its power to point to the meaning of black liberation, then we must destroy it. Must we say that as a meaningful symbol the word ‘God’ is hopelessly dead and cannot be resurrected…oppressed and oppressors cannot possibly mean the same thing when they speak of God…the question then, as black theology sees it, is not whether blacks believe in God, but whose God?”

Cone speaks very poignantly about what I believe my task as an artist to be. To speak whenever, and wherever I can to those who are suffering, struggling, and fighting to break the shackles of oppression-while attempting make sense of their faith and their world. To in some way attempt an interpretation of what God has done not only in the past, but most urgently, today-at this very moment. The nature of this encounter must be grounded in concrete experiences that can enable others to recognize the activity and presence of the divine both in a manner that will help them to identify with the biblical witness from their present life situation. This, more than anything else is what I believe to be my vocation, and what I strive to achieve through my art.

THE TRYPTIC

I researched various representations of biblically themed creation images but none of them spoke the message I felt was needed. As I began focusing upon the Genesis creation narrative, it became quite apparent that one single image could not adequately portray the majesty of these momentous events. It is difficult to focus upon any single event when dealing with a narrative that provides such a wealth of imagery. After reviewing the text several times in several different versions, I concluded that the action basically occurred in three stages: the introduction and initial creation event (verses 1-5), the development of the cosmos with the subsequent development of the earth’s masses and organic life (verses 6-25), and the decision to create humankind in the image and likeness of God (verses 26-31). The emphasis upon three divisions within the narrative also supported my decision to use a variation of the tryptic format that utilized an editorial approach (traditional tryptics often depict a single image across 3 panels).

Use of the tryptic format necessitates that one stay within the same relative dimensions and style throughout all three panels. Since I was conceptualizing the images from a narrative, I felt a need to link the details and maintain continuity by keeping the color palette consistent throughout all three panels. The colors are representative of Western symbolism and Eastern Orthodox iconography: Orange=benevolence, Yellow=wisdom/divinity, Blue=heavenly love, Violet=love and truth. The dark portions of the works represent the primordial chaos and formlessness which served as material for the work of creation.

The dominant shape throughout all three panels is that of the circle or oval which represents eternity, wholeness, and completion. It begins with oval-like aureole, halo, and stomach in Goddess, then takes on a more subtle appearance in Terra as I emphasize the roundness of the form (belly, breasts, buttocks, thighs) and the circular earth shape within the Goddess’ womb. In Humanity the round aureole, breasts and stomach combine with the repeated halo to symbolize the eternal, infinite qualities of the deity. The nudity of the figure is referred to as “nuditas virtualis” and is a sign of innocence and purity.

Creation

A Feminine Deity

“In that cosmic moment pulsating in possibility, God breathed into space and, groaning in passion and pain and hope, gave birth to creation.” This implies that a fundamental aspect of our connection to the divine lies in our ability to reproduce, to create life (being) as God first created it. The witness of human history can be interpreted as the divine’s continuous revelation of love and caring to humanity. Later in the Genesis narrative God blesses humanity and issues the charge of responsibility for the rest of the earth. This charge initiates a continuous process of revelation and disclosure of the divine purpose to humanity. Therefore, all divine revelation must be viewed in a relational context. God wants to be in communion and relation with the creation in a more interdependent and horizontal relationship than we are accustomed to given the unilateral context of most societal power relations. Unilateral power seeks to impose it’s will upon others-to affect while remaining unaffected thus increasing one person while decreasing another. Relational/horizontal power seeks to both affect and be affected. These qualities are most often associated with the feminine.

Relational power is creative and therefore, aesthetic. In the creation narrative this relational aesthetic is depicted using images of God providing gestation and giving birth to the creation. God in effect births the creation out of the divine primordial chaos of nonbeing. It is then cared for and nurtured throughout each successive stage of its differentiation and development. From the creation of light to the forming of humanity, we see images of a being who seeks to be in continual relation with its creation. This conclusion informed my decision to make use of a female deity in the tryptic.

The choice to depict the deity as an African-American female was driven by my initial question, “Who is God for me?” I was already sure that the ideal of God symbolized as a bearded white male was not an adequate depiction. Too many people of color have suffered psychological and spiritual trauma from that kind of imagery. If God is truly for the oppressed, then I must agree with Cone’s statement, “The Blackness of God is the key to our knowledge of God…there is no place in black theology for a colorless God in a society where human beings suffer precisely because of their color.” God is Black! I can think of no other persons more representative of the oppressed than Black women. Black women undergo a tri-dimensional experience of racism, classism, and sexism which places then in a disproportionately higher percentage among the poor and working classes. In addition, no other group has suffered, or continues to suffer such radical debasement from physical and cultural stereotypes propagated by the media, the world of art, and oftentimes the black male as well. If God identifies with the experience of anyone who is oppressed, it must assuredly be that of Black women.

Creation - Goddess

Goddess (Genesis 1:1-5)

This detail depicts the opening of the creation narrative. God the maternal creator is already pregnant with the possibilities of being and physical life symbolized by the ankh (a symbol of fertility and life in Egyptian mythology) and the pregnant Goddess. The outstretched arm and graceful, gesturing, hand is indicative of divine power, grace, and beauty. Notice the head and eyes tilt upwards toward the light (form) that will be manifested as the Goddess eagerly anticipates the coming creative work. The long flowing robe with its purple accents within the folds is symbolic of the passion and sacrifice that accompany this creative birthing. The creation does not come easily, but is a labor of love and commitment which requires effort and creative zeal. The circular halo around the head represents dignity and holiness, while the aureole represents divine power and glory emanating from the divine presence. The orange color indicates the Goddess’ benevolent intentions towards her creation.

Creation - Terra

Terra (Genesis 1:20-25)

In this panel we find the Goddess pregnant with the world itself. A world which was conceived in the divine mind with wisdom (yellow coloring), and created in the divine womb. As the Goddess develops and nurtures the created world through the stages of creation: (differentiation, ordination, and sustentation) the divine hand cradles, protects and comforts the developing world (hands=presence and might of the divine). while the exposed breast represents motherhood and nourishment.

Creation - Humanity

Humanity (Genesis1:26-31)

For this panel, we again see the orange aureole which is now in the form of a mandorla symbolizing divine benevolence and power, while the yellow nimbus around the head is indicative of divine wisdom, holiness and dignity, I once again went back to the robe with its purple accents/folds (passion and suffering) in order to re-enforce the sense of passion and create continuity between the the first and last image. The mandorla shape was used because it mirrors the shape of a womb. We also see the circular form being repeated within the breasts (nourishment and motherhood), belly, halo/nimbus, and mandorla. The countenance of the Goddess is directed down at the human child within-indicating her unconditional love, nurturing, and concern for humankind and all of creation.

I sought to make the hands more expressive than in the previous two, in order to emphasize the tender love and concern which the Goddess exercises for humankind which is being formed in her own image. The hands (divine power and might) of the figure rest upon the protruding belly to provide protection (upper hand) and nurturing support (lower hand); while the infant (humanity) lovingly reaches up almost as if to touch the very hand of God. This bond between child and parent (creator and created) is indicative of the mutual love and tenderness created within a relational context.

THE IMAGES

The images in the Creation Tryptic are available in print format only. They can be purchased individually or as the entire tryptic (contact me personally to inquire about a discount on the entire set).

To purchase prints click one of the links below:

Creation – Goddess             Creation – Terra             Creation – Humanity

Materials:

The tryptic was created using Windsor Newton Watercolor Paints on Arches 300lb Watercolor Paper. Once completed it was coated with Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Spray as a sealant.

SOURCES

Cone, James H. A Black Theology of Liberation. Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North American Religion, vol. 1, 1970. Twentieth Anniversary ed. New York: Orbis Books, 1991

___________. God of the Oppressed. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1975

Ferguson, George ed., Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954

Grant, Jacquelyn. White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and a Womanist Response. American Academy of Religion, Academy Series 64, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1989

Huffaker, Linda A Stark. Creative Dwelling: Empathy and Clarity in Self and God. American Academy of Religion series, no. 98, Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998.

Irwin, Alexander, Eros Toward the World: Paul Tillich and the Theology of the Erotic. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

Mesle, Robert C. “Aesthetic Value and Relational Power; An Essay on Personhood.” Process Studies, 13 (Spring 1983): 59-70

Moody, Linda A. Women Encounter God: Theology Across the Boundaries of Difference. New York: Orbis Books, 1996