theology

The Awakening

INSPIRATION

If you recall, last month I spoke about my creative rut and accompanying blues. The 1 piece I did manage to create during the darkest portion of that period “Moonlight Blues” played an integral role in the creation of the piece featured this month.  It’s a shame that even the most spiritually in tune of us often miss the significance of certain events or decisions when we are caught up in the midst of them.  
For each of us there are ingatherings. Periods in our lives when we are struck by pain, hurt, loss, rapid change…and it affects us so deeply that we are forced to withdraw,  step back from life and the world, and just be alone (ingathering). During these times we are forced to grow, transform, stretch our inner being beyond the limits we had convinced ourselves we could not reach. During these periods of ingathering, we are often able to undergo rapid growth and experience profound shifts in spiritual awareness through which we are literally elevated and transformed. 
Just as the caterpillar cannot transform into the beautiful butterfly unless it withdraws from life and enters into its cocoon – a kind of ingathering. It must first go within. While in the cocoon, every cell in its body literally dissolves back into primal goo and is then recombined into an entirely new being.   It is literally transformed. From the prefix trans – to move beyond or through, and form – the physical manifestation of our material world.  We too must transform.
For me, the place of wrath and tears that created Moonlight Blues, was actually a time of ingathering. It was literally the cocoon of my transformation. From within that shell, I received an awakening. I was able to literally receive a divine transmission which elevated my outlook and frequency. My intuition has been awakened and strengthened, I have begun to connect intimately with my higher self and guides, and I have also been able to allow my spirit to fuse more fully with my physical being thereby uprooting many deeply held negative energies. There has been an awakening – a quickening that has pushed me to a new way a being with a new higher vibratory baseline. This Awakening is the inspiration for the similarly entitled work shown here.  
awakening-72-5
 

SYMBOLISM

“The Awakening” is the next phase of the process of ascension and descension I had been depicting in the ascension series (Ascension I, II and Breaking the Veil). The ingathering experience has given me deeper insights into the process and some of its more subtle nuances. The image depicts a single figure seated in deep meditation. If you know anything about meditation you understand that the act itself is a form of ingathering as one becomes still, goes within, begins to decompress from the body/mind’s constant barrage of sensory stimuli so that one can be renewed. As she receives divine transformation her head lifts up towards the heavens and in a gesture of receptivity and thanksgiving for the spiritual energies she is receiving. There is an opening, an infusion, a download if you will that will energize and awakens parts of her being (both physically and spiritually) which had previously lain dormant. The ability to literally float upon the air and phase in and out of  physical reality was a common feat documented on the life stories of many spiritual masters. 

As the figure floats upon the air bolts of lightning spread out beneath her. These thunderbolts represent not only spiritual power but the subsequent ability to affect the physical realm of nature – an ability that is also shared by those who have ascended and is usually narrated in the form of healings, walking on water, stilling storms, speaking with animals…etc.  Those who reach this level of mastery have power flowing through them that has a spontaneous effect upon others around them. This phenomena was responsible for the veneration of relics and other sacred items that belonged to holy figures. For example, the bible speaks of people being healed by the touching the discarded garments of the apostle Paul and other noted saints. 

Her hair rises up as it is filled with the sacred energies that are being received and course through her entire being. These energies are both spiritual and physical. Her hands form a mudra symbolizing power and transformation, while her eyes open up toward the heavens above. All the while she is supported by the divine hand of god which serves as a support, source of uplift, and grounding protection from any lower energies.

The burning fire bursting forth from the figure’s heart symbolizes healing, regeneration, and the development of a richer sense of intuition and connection to spiritual realities. There is so much discussion in circles about the third eye and its power to open one to spiritual insights, that we often forgot the true seat of all knowing is not from the mind or upper chakras, but from and within the heart. The same spiritual fire depicted within the figure’s chest is also mirrored above her in each of the smaller orbs that comprise the outer portion of the heavenly circle above. This divine connection is maintained within the awakened heart.

The other symbols within the piece are all loosely based upon numerological theories. The large circle above her is an adaptation of the Fibonacci scaling system which is directly connected to Phi and the golden rule of divine proportion found throughout nature, art, music, the human body, and symbology. The circular scaling sequence and the spiraling energies within the circle are all part of this system. The floating circular shapes are healing glyphs fashioned of copper that have been purported to heal those who come into contact with them, while the 9 pointed triangular shapes within the glyphs are indicative of the 9 personality types found within the Enneagram.  The number 4 is associated with the earthly plane so the four glyphs are earthly symbols which help to keep the figure grounded as the heavenly energies descend and fuse with her physical nature.  As in many of my other images, the figure is encircled within a biomorphically shaped ring of power which is indicative of both spiritual power and the auric energies.

This image will be the cover for my next major project. I have begun the process of developing 2 books for next year. This image will serve as the cover of project number 2. A large format coffee table book entitled: When We Pray: Seven Monographs on the Aesthetics of Prayer and the Spiritual Life. Look for further details by the end of March 2017! 

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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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Ascension I: The Son of Man Ascends

INSPIRATION

Inspiration is a funny thing. It is often born from the most unlikely sources and flashes into consciousness at the worst possible moments. Yet these capricious insights are an integral  part of the creative process. To be inspired is to be “in Spirit” and that was exactly how the seeds of this image began to sprout.

Over the course of 3 weeks, I had been listening to several talks by various thinkers and intuitives on the topic enlightenment and the expansion of consciousness. The more I absorbed their perspectives and meditated upon the topic the more insights poured into my mind and spirit. Over those weeks, I felt a growing need to not only synthesize these insights but to share them with others.

As human beings, we often think of ascension as an upward, and often hierarchical  movement, but in reality, ascension is circular and holistic. Ascension is about expansion! The expansion and integration of one’s consciousness throughout all levels of self. Thus, one becomes fully self-actualized and self-aware physically, mentally, spiritually, and  energetically. From this perspective, one can only ascend outward and upward to the level or depth one has also gone downward and inward.

This can be evidenced not only in Jesus’ life and ministry but in the writings and biographies of all the spiritual masters. We see what can best be described as a kind of implosion. Each master first begins by going within in an effort to know the self’s inner world and locate that quiet, silent place of inner spaciousness. But in each instance, the master begins to discover that the journey within is simultaneously connecting her/him more deeply to all that is without and beyond. Paradoxically, each one discovered that the universal resides within the particular. Yet each reached a point upon the inward journey where there was no further they could go. The journey inward was then replaced by an opening, a flowering, or a rapid outward expansion which completely altered their way of being. This transformation occurs as a result of the inward exploration and is directly linked to the act that we refer to as ascension.

SYMBOLISM

I chose Jesus because he is the most easily recognizable figure within my particular context. Since Jesus’ ascension is directly linked to his death and resurrection, I felt it was extremely important to make reference to these events within the work so that one can see the continuity between them. I began researching Jesus and the ascension using various theological texts and the biblical narratives. The main features of the biblical narratives are Jesus ascending up into the heavens, the presence of heavenly beings, the elements, and the disciples who stand in witness.

Materials

The image is painted using acrylic paints on a large solid wood board. I actually found the piece of board lying outside near a trash pick-up site. I was walking down the street and noticed this large piece of wood supported by a couple of trash bins. The wood’s surface was distressed by scrapes, peeling layers, and various rippling textures. Normally I wouldn’t even have paid attention to something like this but the surface was so intriguing that I decided to take it to my studio.  It literally sat in my studio for a month and some days I would just sit in the studio and stare at it. I felt a connection to it in some way but I had no idea what to do with it? It wasn’t until I was halfway through my sketches for Ascension that I understood why I had been drawn to this block of wood.

The panel is 1.5 inches thick and weighs about 80lbs. Its surface is rough, pitted, and unfinished. This large piece of wood is reminiscent of the Jesus’ death on the cross. Its surface and texture are not only symbolic of a cross but it is earthy and grounding just as Jesus’ death truly was. It reminds me that life, death, and ascension are not heavenly conceptualizations to be spiritualized, but real-world, natural, embodied experiences that are played out within the earthly realm.

Ascension I: The Son of Man Ascends

Imagery

The two angels found on the upper right and left portions of the composition are representative of heavenly witnesses and guides. The angel on the left holds an ankh which symbolizes rebirth and new life. The angel on the right wields a spear which makes reference to Jesus’ death by human hands and the piercing of his side by the Roman centurion’s spear during his crucifixion.

The elements of cloud and sky have always held a prominent place in spiritual symbolism. The clouds symbolize both the divine presence and the biblical narratives’ description of Jesus ascending up into the clouds as he entered the heavenly realms. In the biblical tradition, the divine presence is often symbolized by clouds so I felt they were appropriate for this image. The golden-yellow sky is symbolic of light and spiritual illumination. The divine light pours forth bringing both physical and spiritual illumination to Jesus and the disciples who see and comprehend the events with supra-natural clarity. The symbol floating in the sky above Jesus’ head is the West African Adinkra symbol for transformation.

The silhouetted figures found in the bottom portion of the composition represent the disciples who not only witness the ascension but later receive a portion of Jesus anointing and divine power with the arrival of the Holy Spirit as it is described within the biblical book of Acts. These figures are in various positions of prayer and supplication as they worship their ascending master. Each figure is not only connected to the next, but each is connected to Jesus through the orange mandorla which surrounds Jesus who is ascending up above them. The deep blue depicts the figure’s silhouettes since they are surrounded by the dark clouds of divine presence. They are also encircled by red and orange halos (respectively). The former represents Jesus’ shed blood which covers the figures and provides both protection and connection with the divine presence. The orange halo is symbolic of the disciples sharing in the same spiritual power that Jesus himself possesses.

 Jesus is depicted within the very center of the composition floating upon a cloud as he ascends into the heavenly realms. The viewer’s eye is directed to this focal point by the use of an orange mandorla surrounding Jesus. The same orange also surrounds his actual figure as an aura. Orange is an expansive color that is often used to symbolize energy and power. Since ascension is expansion I thought the orange was an appropriate means of symbolizing this reality. In addition, the biblical narrative clearly connects Jesus’ ascension with the notion of power, both spiritually and physically (“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”). This power pours forth from the figures’ eyes and body (if the eyes scare you stop watching so many horror films).  The symbol that accompanies this new state of ascended transformation is the reiki symbol for enlightenment emblazoned upon his forehead in red.  The red robe is reminiscent of Jesus’ death and the blood he shed upon the cross. His sacrifice will be the catalyst through which those who follow him will gain access to the heavenly realms. His hands are outspread in a gesture of welcome as his forefingers grasp his thumbs to form a mudra.

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Live In the Light: I & II

Light

Since the dawn of time all of creation has been living in the light. The first intimations of life on this planet were birthed as a direct result of their interaction with beams of light that penetrated the atmosphere and  pierced the ocean’s surface to cause reactions within tiny micro-organisms. As the process of evolution continued its never-ending project of differentiation and expansion, the foreparents of humanity came into being. And just like the other animals who roamed the earth our foreparents lived, hunted, and died according to the rhythms of the sun and moon. It is no wonder that some of the earliest known spiritual and religious rituals were often centered around the sun and the characteristics of light.

As we developed signs, symbols, and language the notion of light was an integral part of our semiotic vocabulary and eventually became a potent universal metaphor. As an artist, I spend a great deal of time observing, studying and rendering light and its effects upon the world. The way it affects colors or shapes, what it reveals or obscures, how it creates a mood, and the thousands of other ways it influences my imagery. As a theologian, I am well acquainted with the use of light as a metaphor throughout all spiritual and religious traditions. Light is the physical manifestation of both cosmic and supranatural power. The creation of light and the heavens plays a central role in every culture’s cosmologies. From an aesthetic perspective this is an essential point because aesthetics is not just about beauty – but relationships and harmony. How each culture understands and relates to the cosmos and its creation will be reflected in all  its other relationships to some degree. For instance, if your cosmology interprets creation as existing for the benefit of humankind then this perspective will be reflected in your relationship to the planet and all the other beings within it.

INSPIRATION

The initial inspiration for all of my “Live in the Light” themed works comes from the song, “Live in the Light” by Fertile Ground. It just so happened that I was going through an extremely dark and rough period in my life. There was a great deal of fear and confusion about the future during this time. Most days I was struggling just to make it through the day without completely losing it. I was being consistent in my prayer and meditation practice but it seemed as if I was unable to be still enough to find the peace, answers, or relief I so desperately needed. Everything seemed dry. One weekend I couldn’t find the energy or focus to create so I decided to do some thorough house cleaning in hopes that it would declutter my mind a bit as well. I decided to put on some music while I worked and within 10 minutes Live in the Light began to play and I was literally struck by the lyrics as they resounded within my head. I just sat down and listened (over and over again) until I was overwhelmed by a palpable sense of well-being and peace. It was then that I gained my breakthrough. I knew that somehow everything would be alright if I just did my best to live in the light, love in the light. The healing, compassion and all else I needed would come forth if I did my best to stay in the light. I have taken the liberty of reposting the lyrics below:

Live in the Light

If this life is heaven, can we live like the stars? Then all of life is a just a lesson to live in the light, live in the light.

We keep on living life like better days are far away. Each day we pray to god to find our way back to the stars- when we need to heal our hearts.

If this life is heaven, then all that we do is all we have. See, we’ve got to find a way to shine love’s light today – somehow. See, we’ve got to find a way to shine love’s light today – somehow.

So let’s live in the light. live in the light, live in the light Let’s live in the light. live in the light, live in the light. See, this life can be heaven when we find peace of mind. The only way to receive our blessing is to live in the light. Love in the light.

So, let’s stop the wars, stop for peace, stop for love, stop the violence, stop the push, stop for peace, stop the lies, stop the fight, stop the death, stop the hate – live the light. So, let’s stop wars, stop for peace, stop for love, stop the violence, stop the push, stop for peace, stop the lies, stop the fight, stop the death, stop the hate – live the light. Oh live in the light.

Let’s live in the light Let’s live in the light. live in the light, live in the light Let’s live in the light. live in the light, live in the light.

I can see us dancing in the sun looking at the sky. I can see the god in everyone walking side-by-side. I can see us through your walls. I can see us in the stars. I can see the light in every night and peace in every heart. Let’s live in the light, Live in the light, live in the light…

Live in the Light  Live in the Light

SYMBOLISM

The image above was the first created on the Live in the Light theme. It was created using oils paints on a piece of canvas board which someone had given me a few years prior. I still had the canvas because I very rarely paint using oils. This image is the 2nd or 3rd creation I have ever made using oil-based paints.

The standing figure has her arms outstretched with her hands angled slightly upwards toward the heavens.  The figure is in a position of reverence, joy, and receptivity. She stands before the light with open arms and an open heart, ready and eager to receive all that is offered. The red line which outlines the figure is symbolic of love and the Holy Spirit in the Christian tradition. In Hinduism red is associated with the root chakra which is fundamentally raw creative power – the very energy of life itself. The symbol within the figure is the Reiki symbol of enlightenment. Reiki can best be described as a healing modality that utilizes touch and the transmission of divine energies for healing, balancing of the body’s systems, and rejuvenation. She stands upon the earth larger than life itself as she reaches out to touch and be touched by the cosmos. All the while still solidly grounded within material reality represented in the figure’s appearance of growing forth from the earth itself.

I purposely made the sun like shape ambiguous in its origins. This ambiguity symbolizes the very nature of the spiritual life, and the metaphor of light within it. It is unclear whether the light is emanating from the heart of the standing figure or shining down upon it. We are never quite sure if the light we feel, or the divine presence we sense is emanating from within us or touching us from without? In my experience, it is paradoxically both at the same time. Just as it is often said that when we hug someone the love we feel is not only their love for us, but our own love being reflected back within us. So it is with divine light. We must radiate the light even as we receive it – thus that which we extend out is also reflected back to us (you give what you get/like attracts like). The color red is present within the orb, but orange is also there to represent divine benevolence toward the creation. The yellow rays bursting forth from the orb/sun are both physical light and spiritual light which imparts divine wisdom to all (yellow). It was divine wisdom that created the cosmos and sustains it. The thin powder blue line circling the earth is indicative of divine love and inspiration.

Live in the Light II

Live in the Light II – The Grand Design

Live in the Light II  – The Grand Design was created using acrylic paint on a board. Once again we find the larger-than-life figure standing upon the earth. The darker blue is indicative of heavenly love which permeates both the earth and the heavens. The thin powder blue line circling the earth is indicative of divine love and inspiration. Golden rays of divine light pierce the heavens providing power, wisdom, and protection (gold).

This time red is used in both the figure and the symbol within the sun/light. The symbol is called the Grand Design and imparts 2 important meanings: 1) From a spiritual perspective it symbolizes three great world religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It emphasizes their unity and connection to the same divine source. All three of which have been revealed to humanity here on the physical plane – hence the color red which indicates divine love for humanity. 2) As an artist the Grand Design points out all of the basic shapes that can be found in nature. All shapes can be comprised using either a square, triangle, circle or some combination. Thus we have the blueprint for every possible design contained within our own powers of creativity as they have been granted to us from above. It is through our various acts of creation that we most purely embody the image and wisdom of our creator. In this image the figure is more clearly defined as she is bathed in the encompassing light of divine wisdom as it flows past her to encircle all humankind (earth). Here the figure is representative of all humanity as it receives divine love and wisdom.

In Conclusion

This series reminds me that we must live in the light. That we are part of the light and its rays can only be reflected in us if we strive to live in it each and every moment. We do this by being present to life, present to our feelings, and present to the divine light within us. This life can be heaven if we allow ourselves to pour forth the aspects of heaven which are innately present within us. Live in the Light!

P.S. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mr. Heath Armstrong, Producer and host of the Artrepreneur Now podcast. If you get some time check it out or download it from iTunes (free) so you can listen at your leisure.

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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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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). 

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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