Art journaling with Pam Cox on Thursday morning, photographed by Irene Hayes
Ways of Seeing, this year’s Carmelite Centre Symposium, was a spiritual workshop held over three days (23-25 May 2019) in the Carmelite Hall in Middle Park. Set out here are the abstracts or summaries each presenter provided as an explanation for their particular session. Several of these papers are posted elsewhere on this blog.
* Pam Cox on Journaling: ‘Art Journaling: A Way of Presence’
This session will be purely experiential with the foundation from 'Inner Journeying Through Art-Journaling’ by Marianne Hieb. It’s about learning to see and record your life as a Work of Art.
* Will Day on Creativity: ‘Fostering Creative Expression in One’s Life and Spiritual Practice’A reflective session.
'One evening at the end of last summer. I stood by the brackish river spellbound, watching scores and scores of swallows diving, wheeling and undulating, carving delicate, intricate and entirely new patterns on the breezes over the reedy riverflats... '
What is this Divine Play which animates the Cosmos, the world around us, our beingness and our own creativity?
Through my personal reflections on weeping strangers, Hindu cosmology, psychotherapy and worship I hope to spark a little curiosity about our creativity; its value, its delights, and its relationship to spirituality.
In the second part of the session I will offer simple, practical techniques for opening to and exploring our creativity... and thereby perhaps discovering a rich and mysterious contemplative realm.
* Stuart Devenish on Vision and Perception: ‘You Shall See Heaven Open: Christian Faith as an Alternate Mode of Seeing’
The spiritual life is a “seeing life”, in which the Christian disciple and the faith community to which s/he belongs, perceive the existence of an alternative reality to the commonly accepted world of everyday reality. Having read the Bible and been “scripted” by its redemptive narrative, those who make their confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord”, come to accept a contrarian view to that offered by the secular culture, their scientific education, and the materialist consciousness they have inherited. The supernatural-redemption-transformation shape of the Jesus-story at the heart of the Christian narrative – although the laughingstock of Christianity’s opponents – is the defining narrative for Christian believers of every kind and ilk.
This seminar invites participants to explore a number of themes and practices that relate to the categories of eye, vision, perception, meaning-string and worldview that form a central part of Christian belief and practice in the 21st century. Some key elements to be explored in the Seminar will be: (1) Jesus’ emphasis on the eye rather than the ear; (2) disciples to play their part in the redemptive story rather than know the doctrine; (3) the Church’s role is to teach its adherents to see Christianly; & (4) the fact that optical therapy forms an essential part of spiritual formation.
* Ian Ferguson on the Body and Spirituality: ‘Embodied spirituality : Incarnation, Communion, Transcendence’
My session will be an experiential exploration of “embodied spirituality” – spirituality seeking to overcome the dualism that sees body and soul, flesh and spirit as separate, diminishing the flesh and elevating the spirit. I use three theological ideas as a way into this physical exploration:
Incarnation – the movement towards embodiment in divine and human terms through which each of us becomes whole physically and spiritually to the extent that we can say, “I am my body".
Communion – we are creatures who live, move and have our being in relationship, in community. Individual bodies have evolved in and for relationship. We become incarnate in communion with others.
Transcendence – encountering and entering into that which is greater than myself, the mystery within and beyond individuality. The spiritual paradox at play here is that in becoming truly myself through incarnation and communion, I transcend myself and commune with the divine.
* Susan Frykberg on Sonic Meditation: ‘Listening and Sound-making: the Creative Spirit in Christian Chant.
“To Sing is to Pray Twice. To Sing in Community with Creativity is to pray Thrice”
with thanks to Augustine
This approach to prayer and chanting combines what I have learned at a workshop run by Cynthia Bourgeault’s musician; my studies in Gregorian Chant and the practice of sonic meditation, (developed by composer Pauline Oliveros). We often talk about God the creator, but when we think of being made in God's image, how often do we image ourselves as creative beings? Each of the chants we sing today enables us to be sonically creative. With the exception of the Gregorian Chant, they are very simple, a basis for freedom within the mutuality of shared listening and soundmaking. (Actually, the Gregorian is simple too, but the breath-based phrasing and the Latin may be unfamiliar to some.)
During this session, we will do three chants, plus the Gregorian one. Each chant will last at least ten minutes. Below are some of the qualities of chant, to differentiate it from song.
• spiritual, interactive, breath-based, aural, group work.
• don’t have to be trained singers to participate, everyone has a voice, (and creative one)
• balance of simple sound-making and listening (self, other, group)
• repetition enables us to participate in group communion through slowing down
• ear, voice, body and breath become unified
• option for freedom around the basic chant
• changing the articulation of the words
• softer or louder
• choosing different pitches (harmonization)
• solos on top of chant if anyone feels like it
• tempo changes freely if a member of the group wishes
* Rob Gallacher on Icons: ‘Discovering Contemplative Prayer with Icons’
* Michele Harris on Mandala: ‘Mandala Making : a Spiritual Practice’
In Sanskrit mandala means both circle and centre, representing both the visible worlds (circle) and the invisible or interior worlds deep inside our mind and body…our soul space (centre). A mandala is a sacred space, which can reveal some inner truth about the outer world and us.
Making Mandalas has been used as a spiritual practice in many faith traditions for centuries. It was used as a sacred art and included chanting mantras combining sacred sound and images as a means to healing and enlightenment
My plan this afternoon is to give a brief account of the meaning and how different cultural traditions create and use the mandala. I will share how I came to my own art practice and mandala making and how this has enriched my spiritual journey. I will talk you through the process I use for creating a mandala and then we will spend time creating our own mandala.
* Clotilde Lopez on Art Experience and Spiritual Practice: ‘Into the Icon’
A practical workshop designed for anyone interested in finding new ways to access the spirit through experiencing different art forms. A range of creative practices and processes are introduced as starting points or triggers that serve as ways into the spirit.
“Into the icon” is part of a quote by CG Jung where he pronounces that
“If you put yourself into the icon, the icon will speak to you.” The icon in this case can be any image that you sit with and contemplate. When you give your attention to an image, an object or an idea and you acknowledge what appears, it can help connect us to our spirit and gives voice to the personal.
The focus of this workshop is on doing one’s “Inner Work” by working with one’s own symbols and images. Paying attention to the inner life requires of the individual to become aware and to listen carefully to what comes up within us, be it dreams, a mood, a fascination, a thought, an idea, an apparent un-solvable problem – anything can prompt us and lead us into a deeper relationship with the Self. By taking notice of that which arises within us, we pay attention to the soul’s demands and our responses to it; It requires effort, engagement listening and action. Inner work is spiritual practice.
* Glenn Loughrey on Art Form: ‘My own art form and my existence as a Wiradjuri person’
I will be using a visual form to illustrate our oral traditions, i.e. no notes or paper as such. I will bring a canvas etc. and illustrate how Aboriginal people “see”. I will suggest people sit in a circle around me as I paint and talk and not talk as appropriate. I will want them to practise wings-nga-rra as I work with them.
Folks I am still sitting with what I will do in my session. It is not clear but predominantly looking at whether
- art is in fact spiritual in itself or is it no-thing in particular?
- Is art created or the revealing of the hidden?
- Is it story or is it a map of stories? If so what story (ies)
- is it a screen or a vessel?
- Is it rational or foolishness?
- Is it a commodity or value-less essential?
I will draw on my Aboriginal not academic sense to explore these. I will bring some pieces and a canvas I am working on and what I need to do art.
* Mary McCowan on Contemplation: ‘Exploring the Possibility of Visual Art as a Daily, Contemplative Practice.’
Mary McCowan’s session is on Contemplation. Participants will gather and view examples of contemplative art. All activities and sharing times are invitational and optional. Elements of Mary’s current prayer practice tare used as a basis for the experiential time.
* Jan Morgan & Graeme Garrett on Poetry and Mystery: ‘Fragrant portals, dimly starred : poetry and the song of Creation’
‘Fragrant portals, dimly starred’. An exquisite line from a poem by Wallace Stevens, The Idea of Order at Key West. Portals evoke places where there is a thinning of the veil between worlds, places where the beyond breaks into the present, the here and now, places where the stars, even if dim, are visible. Creative energy flows. Creation is. We want to engage with poetry as one of the arts. In this instance, poetry linked with the song (and the cry) of creation, and in particular of the ocean, that immense watery womb from which all life comes. Stevens’ poem is itself a portal through which we are invited to enter the song and engage with its Spirit singer. The session includes a presentation of the poem, a meditation on its evocation of Mystery, and an opportunity for creative response.
* Lynne Muir on Calligraphy: ‘The Expressive Alphabet’
My form of artistic expression is to interpret words visually, responding to the spirit inherent in text. As a calligrapher, my initial interest was to examine medieval manuscripts and illustrative styles from Celtic Britain to ancient Persia.
Calligraphy today is becoming more interpretative of the artist’s spirit and ability to break out of the accepted design structures.
Today I will show you a range of my designs from purely traditional to modern expressive pieces to inspire and inform you of the possibilities for your own lettering journey and extend your understanding of calligraphy today.
I will demonstrate some basic letterstyles, and later we will explore free style interpretations of words.
* Jina Mulligan on Art Contemplation: ‘The art of Odilon Redon as an Aid to Contemplation’
If you have ever travelled by jalopy or ox-cart you will know, as mode of transport, it is numbingly slow. It does, however, give us an opportunity to consider a leaf, a stem, a piece of bark. We are able to examine each object in all its facets.
Redon experienced this as a young child growing up in the isolated countryside near Bordeaux. Abandoned by his parents, he lived with a kindly uncle. Redon says: “spirit free, eyes alert, we could lie down at full length on the bench of the carriage and see nothing but the landscape rolling by, slowly, deliciously, scarcely moving, in a kind of contemplation.”
Redon saw himself as a watcher taking pleasure in silence. He lived ‘in’ himself. This inward looking was to lead to his art that became for him, a consuming passion.
We read in his journal, A soi-même; To Myself: “I have created an art of my own. I created it with my eyes open to the wonders of the visible world, and whatever anyone might say, always careful to obey the laws of nature and life.”
In Redon’s art we see an art form that is distinctly personal, a particular way of seeing. The images beckon to us, they invite us to participate and to engage with the work.
Redon tells us: “I was helped to create this art by the love of certain masters who introduced me to the cult of beauty. Art is the Supreme Power, vast, health giving and sacred.
-It opens like a flower –
In the hands of a dilettante it produces merely a delightful enjoyment, but in the hands of an artist it creates, in torment, the new grain for the new sowing. I believe that I have yielded docilely to the secret laws that have led me to fashion as best I could and according to my own dreams, things into which I have put my whole self.”
In engaging with Redon’s work we acknowledge his inner process of unfolding. How after using charcoal for many years he says: “With my eyes more widely open upon things, I learnt how the life that we unfold can also reveal joy.” He expresses this joy with his use of harmonised colour.
Redon suggests that it is through our own invention that we ‘unfold’. Personal invention, he says, is one of the three sources from which art is born. Together with the recognition of Tradition and Reality (Nature). Personal invention is for Redon the original intuition that combines and summarises everything.
During this session of the symposium our aim is to look carefully at Redon’s art images. To consider what unfolding and ‘opening like a flower’ spiritually may mean in the context of contemplation.
Redon tells us: “All the erroneous criticism written about me when I began came from not having seen that nothing had to be defined, nothing understood, nothing limited, nothing specified, because all that is sincerely and amenably new - like beauty, moreover - carries its meaning within itself.
The designation by a title given to my drawings is sometimes superfluous, so to speak. The title is not justified unless it is vague, indeterminate and aspiring, even confusedly equivocal. My drawings inspire and do not define themselves. They determine nothing. They place us just as music does in the ambiguous world of the indeterminate.”
In order to be thus inspired we consider contemplation as the ‘waking up’ aspect of growing consciousness as described by Ken Wilber. The journey inward. Wilber reminds us that “Art is the Beauty of Spirit as it expresses itself on each and every level of its own manifestation. Art is in the eye of the beholder - in the ‘I’ of the beholder. Art is the ‘I’ of Spirit.”
It is in the 1st person, singular experience that we seek our individual process of waking up, Wilber tells us.
“From the time before time, from the very beginning, the Good, the True and the Beautiful were Spirit whispering to us from the deepest sources of our own true being, calling to us from the essence of our own estate, a whispering voice that always said,
Love to infinity and find me there,
Love to eternity and I will be there
Love to the boundless corners of the Kosmos and all will be shown to you.
And so whenever we pause and enter the quiet, and rest in utter stillness,
we can hear the whispering voice calling to us still;
never forget the Good;
never forget the True;
never forget the Beautiful..
for these are the faces of your own deepest Self freely shown to you.
In the sharing of our personal experience, we acknowledge the process of our individual waking up.
As Redon says: “We are each born with another person inside us whom our will maintains, cultivates and saves - or does not save …. the end of destiny lies in oneself, it follows hidden paths that the world does not know; they are filled with flowers or thorns.”
Redon's flowers and thorns offer us the possibility of another way of seeing.
Through a selection of displayed images, we take care to look painstakingly and deeply into Redon’s world and so establish ourselves within our own being.
A remembered day trip in Umbria persists to bring some of these images into focus.