Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Ways of Seeing, the Carmelite Centre Symposium (23-25 May 2019) -- Abstracts

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’

 Speaking first from my own experience I will go on to explore how icons can facilitate contemplative prayer.  An icon is a "window on heaven",  and contemplative prayer is a two-way process of listening and responding.   Examples will be drawn from particular traditional icons to show how an icon is first accessed,  and how that understanding descends from the head to the heart. Participants will have the  opportunity to contemplate an icon of their choice,  compose their own prayer response, with the aid of a worksheet if desired. Finally they will be invited to share the experience.

* 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 iconis 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.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Contemplation with Odilon Redon JINA MULLIGAN

Photograph by Irene Hayes of work in the Redon session
In Session Four (Friday 24th of May) of Ways of Seeing, the Carmelite Centre’s three-day spiritual workshop, Jina Mulligan spoke on the art of Odilon Redon as an aid to contemplation. Here is Jina's paper.

Contemplation with Redon.

Moment One:
So, today, I am inviting you to share with me some remembered moments from a day excursion in Umbria.

We are in Assisi, and the year is 1997. Because the outing is enveloped, for me, in Redon images and because that particular day has remained very much in my consciousness, I am presenting the excursion in these three moments.

It is my hope that you will look deeply into each one of these images as we proceed. I am not using powerpoint because after years of having pictures flashed before me in lecture theatres, one after the other, in quick succession, I know that not much can be retained from that way of seeing.

The way to view art, I believe, is to sit with the work for an extended period of time. I am hoping that you will look at these seven pieces during our conversation. When we have finished here there are other Redon works on display in the library. You will be free to engage with each of those at your leisure. You may like to write about them in your journal or just sit with them in silence. Maybe chat to someone about them if you wish.

As you know, art is a very personal choice. As is the taking on, of a spiritual practice. What works for me will not necessarily work for each one of you.
I love the work of Redon. I have been looking at it since the 1980’s and still it holds for me the wonder of absolute beauty and joy.

So here we are in Assisi, that timeless city in Umbria, Italy. We are staying at the old hotel next to the Upper Basilica of Saint Francis. The thing we notice about Assisi at first glance is the rock. The buildings are of rock, the roads are of rock. Grey, whitish pinky rock. There is an ancient solidity about the place.

Today is a particularly grey day. It is the 8th December. Winter time. The snow has come early this year. The top of Mount Subasio is white - grey capped.

As we step out from our hotel onto the enduring rocks the air bites into our skin. We dash back into the hotel and up to our room for a thick wooly scarf and gloves. As we pass through the foyer, of the hotel, we notice on the displayed liturgical calendar that today is The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We know that this feast day was only declared in 1854 and remains something of a controversy. In years to come we will recall this feast day as Rahner describes it, as the feast day of beginnings; but we don’t know that yet.

Today we are simply taking a day excursion to the top of the mountain and back. We have brought with us from home our guide book - Walks in Tuscany and Umbria. Today’s trek is laid out for us on page 303. The book warns us that there are a number of things Saint Francis would not have approved of. Appalling litter and spent cartridges. Over development and bad tree management.

We think that we will probably decide for ourselves, if that is the case, and so we move onward. We have our backpack with the salty cake, bread and cheeses the hotel staff have given us. Up the road a bit, we come to the piazza and there is that coffee shop with the wonderful pastries.

Will we stop? Better not - it is still far to go.

That old cattle dog runs over to us. He knows we like to walk because yesterday he came with us down to Santa Maria degli Angeli. We laughingly say he is probably St. Francis. “O.K. Francis, we say, you can come too.”

The guide book tells us to follow the street to the old city gate. (Porta Cappuccini) As we are approaching the gate we think of Leunig’s cartoon - you know the one where Mr Curly is walking down the garden path, he opens the gate and falls head first into the universe. We do wonder what will be on the other side of this gate.

The book tells us to take the cypress-lined stone track that leads to the left. A steep climb. Bear right past the ruins of the old fort, it says. The rocks are loose now and we kick them with our boots. There is something very comforting about the stone of this place. 

The day remains grey, the clouds hang mottled overhead. We listen to Redon’s voice in the background telling us that his habit was to study the pattern of the clouds. He says: “It is only after making an effort of will power to represent with minute care a grass blade, a stone, a branch, the face of an old wall, that I am overcome by an irresistible urge to create something imaginary. External nature, thus assimilated and measured, becomes, by transformation, my source, my ferment.”

We see on this grey day why Redon said that everything begins with black. Black is the most essential of colour - it springs from the depths of our being.

Charcoal, he says, this rather ordinary medium has no inherent beauty, it facilitates my attempts to render chiaroscuro (light and dark) and the invisible. Charcoal allows no lightheadedness, it has a certain gravity. Only emotions allow anything to be made of it.

Redon in his youth seemed to project his gloom and enthusiasm onto the clouds sailing in from the Atlantic in endless conveys. He says: “Later, long afterwards…I spent hours, or rather whole days, stretched out on the grass, in empty stretches of countryside, watching the clouds pass, following with infinite pleasure the fairytale brilliance of their incessant changes.”

A sickly, solitary child, he was quick to awaken his inner resources. He looked always inward. “Art is a flower which blossoms freely, to the exclusion of all rules: in my view, it leaves in sad disarray the microscopic analyses of the ‘aestheticians’ who seek to explain it.”

As we walk on past the truffle reservation, a particular ‘noir’ of Redon comes to mind. It is from his first series of lithographs called ‘In the Dream’ (Dans le rêve), the series from 1879. It is at first glance a strange image. Two minute figures, a man and a woman step diagonally onto the foreground of the picture plane. They seem to be fleeing across what looks like a giant chessboard. Behind the figures are two enormous pillars. Beyond the pillars the dark is impenetrable. Between the pillars surrounded by what looks like a halo or an aurora borealis, a colossal eyeball floats independent of the other forms. The pupil of the eyeball is turned upward.

We know there have been many interpretations of this image. We also know that Redon said many interpretations are possible and all are permissible. There is no correct interpretation. This work, like his other works, is primarily to inspire.
The giant eyeball seems to move with us. We have that feeling of looking down on
ourselves. Witnessing the very smallness of our forms. Tiny figures in a gigantic universe.

We are so consumed with the image, we barely notice, our progress. It isn’t until we are in a large car park that we stop for a minute. The large picnic area is deserted as there are no tourists here at present. There is no evidence of the litter that the guide book speaks of.

The Eremo (Santuario delle Carceri) comes into view. This is the Hermitage of St Francis.

The place where he came to find solitude and peace. The building nestles into its wooded hollow. Stones carefully placed together against the backdrop of the mountainside.

We say good-bye to Francis. No dogs allowed in the Sanctuary. A series of notices ask us for our silence.

On entering the building we are attracted to the small chapel. Mass has started and we settle into the rhythm of the language. Our Italian is sketchy at best.
After the mass we descend the stairs to the Grotto of Saint Francis. It is a tiny space. It is quite a struggle to fit into it. What amazes us is that we are totally encased in solid rock. We think of the hymn: Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.

We are also mindful of Redon’s image of Jesus. It is the face of the suffering servant. Thorns surround his face. His soul is filled with pain. Eyes wide open this time. Redon sees this image as a mirror of his identity, he sees Jesus as his brother. He says: ‘Jesus never accuses. He died for us, with forgiveness and charity on his lips.’

With no deceit in his mouth. (Is:53,9)

This is the very human face we see before us. The face Redon produced to represent his brother. Our saviour. The face is very real to us here in this confined space. We feel very aware of his pain and suffering. We feel that this Jesus is totally accessible.

After some time we ease from this tiny cave and move silently out into the courtyard. We see ourselves once more from above. Small figures. Minuscule forms in a burgeoning universe. We feel humbled by the magnitude that surrounds us.

The air here is like no other that we have ever tasted. It takes our breath away. So crisp and clean. We drink it in. Nothing moves. Leaves hang silently from the trees. We are enveloped in silence.

In years to come we will experience the great stillness in our meditation and we will remember this place. But for now we simply marvel at the peace and serenity of the space. Doves fly softly above. Right now no other form exists.

The area has such a quality that we don’t want to leave here. We don’t know it yet but it will take years to recapture this absolute peace and stillness.

Finally we drag ourselves to the rear gate of the hermitage. And there is Francis waiting in the thin layer of snow that lies underfoot. With a wag of his tail he bounds off - he seems to know the track.

A red triangle is stamped to a tree trunk. We realise that is how the trail is marked.

The quietness persists as we move through a grove of pines. Occasionally snow plops from some of the needles. Otherwise all is calm.

That all knowing eye hovers over us. Gigantic and upward looking.

Moment Two:
That face of Redon, the one encased in thorns also hangs about us. The very human face of Jesus.

We are thinking of Redon’s claim that there are three sources to his art. After Tradition, he says, comes Reality. “That is in other words Nature which is a pure means of expression of our feelings. Without Nature our will to create remains a mere dream, an abstraction, a simple vibration of life devoid of the perfect organ that will enable it to appear, forcefully, fully in all the clarity and purity of its supreme expression.”

Here in this unfamiliar place, the snow covered ground sneaks up toward the sky. We see nothing of the grass or rocks that prompted Redon’s words: the words that come to us again, “It is only after making an effort of will power to represent with minute care a grass blade, a stone, a branch, the face of an old wall that I am overcome by the irresistible urge to create something imaginary. External nature, thus assimilated and measured, becomes, by transformation, my source, my ferment.”

Messing about with these thoughts we emerge near the top of our climb, onto a ridge. Ground and sky have now merged into an endless white-grey sheet. There are no trees or vegetation of any kind visible. We are moving within this unbroken space. We seem to be part of Redon’s single resource of light and darkness that owes so much to the effects of the abstract line. His deep source that operates directly on the spirit.

Wilber tells us: Spirit alone transcends and includes Mind and Nature. Pre-rational Nature can be seen with the eye of flesh. Rational Mind can be seen with the eye of reason. But trans-rational Spirit can only be seen with the eye of contemplation. He says that artist and critic and viewer alike must be alive to that higher domain in order to participate in this art. He quotes the artist Brancusi
who says: “look at my works until you see them. Those who are closer to God have seen them”.

We sense that there is more to it. That there has to be more that is possible, but we don’t know any of that yet. 

And there before us, emerging from the silvery grey ground and reaching into the silver grey sky, is a large wooden cross.

We pause. All we can do is stand and stare.

The bare wood soars from meddlesome grey into meddlesome grey. We think of Redon’s Calvary and we stand still and silent like the figures in the picture, at the foot of the cross. The Jesus who hangs above, is now right beside us. Christ in Silence. Eyes closed. The veil is half lifted from the figure. Jesus holds his hands before his lips. If you try this attitude you will know that the act is but part of some other action. We wonder if Jesus is receiving the kiss of God. We wonder if this is the oneness that Fr Thomas Keating tells us about. The oneness that is always offered in a new way, and from the contemplative perspective,
the oneness that is being alert to this dynamism.

We do see here that Redon does suggest a kind of dynamism. There exists a stillness that seems to be evolving. The halo of light behind the figure is fashioned in such an indefinite way that it seems to be interacting with the whole picture plane.

Fr. Thomas suggests that we should use any means we can to remember God’s presence in us and in all beings. Maybe Redon is giving us this means. Through this very beautiful image of Jesus Christ in evolution.

Beside us, too, is the Virgin of the Dawn. A head only, the closed eyed attitude suggests to us, also, the act of emerging. In years to come we will remember this image in relation to Rahner’s idea; the one in which he is suggesting to us a real beginning. The virgin’s beginning and our individual beginning as well as the beginning as such. Rahner will tell us that “the whole pervades and prevails in each, and each of the mysteries of the kingdom is inexhaustible. And it has only been grasped fully when all has been understood. The whole, however, is the inexhaustibility of the infinite mystery (and presence) of God”.

But we don’t know this yet, either, do we? Right now we sit with Christ in Silence and the Virgin of the Dawn. The wooden cross looms above.

We wonder what all this can mean for us for the here and now? Why these images? And why this overwhelming feeling of momentum.

We reflect again on Redon naming his three sources: tradition, reality and personal invention. Three modes of speech - the eternal speech of beauty. They appear constantly in the great epochs, he tells us, when a civilisation expanded without hindrance and could seek unimpeded to rise towards it’s own truth. He claims Phideas and Leonardo da Vinci as sacred figures who raised art to the highest inaccessible peaks of plastic vision, towards which the greatest minds continually turn in love, homage and rapt contemplation.

We now honour Redon, somewhere in there.

We bury down into the snow - small beings gathered under the towering cross. We nibble on our salty cake and bread and cheeses.

Francis is fed up with us by now. He takes one look and bolts for home.

Moment Three:
We barely notice the walk back down the mountain. Francis is long gone but we are not concerned about finding our way. The trail seems to unravel before us.

Darkness is falling as we enter the old city. The rocks remain sturdy underfoot. Already there are Christmas baskets hanging outside many buildings. A selection of leaves with bright yellow lemons intermingled with them. A few people scurry from building to building.

Back at the hotel, now and we notice lights on in the Lower Basilica of St Francis. We dump our backpack and walk across. It is only a few steps.

On entering the space we notice the candles situated at intervals around the walls. Light is flickering across the many frescoes. It is so, so impressive. Light and shadow tap dance across the vaulted ceiling. Many people have gathered for the evening Mass. We bundle in with them. They smile and nod.

Towards the front of this section of the Basilica, four steps lead up to the altar. Across the front of the altar and dripping down the sides are cascades of white flowers. If only Redon were here to depict this flower composition. More candles flicker among them.

Behind the altar, in the choir stalls, a group of friars are chanting. We are enveloped in the glorious atmosphere of the place. The beauty takes us back through the absolute splendour of our day excursion.

No words can say it. We look around us; we feel very much at home here. We are
surrounded by so many images and yet another image arises before us. It is Redon’s Sacred Heart. Again closed eyes, the image conveys a sense of the humility of Christ. This is a Jesus who is humble and meek of heart. At the same time Redon is showing us an unfolding or flowering love. A figure radiating divine light and energy. As Fr. Thomas tells us, God is always happening.

Right here we see the thorns transcending and transforming into the flowering of a mysterious beauty. All is inclusive. The abstract haloed light reflects and joins with the radiating and unfolding heart. Gently the swirling movement draws us into the mystery of this process.

Circles within circles. Melting, emerging and unfolding. In Redon’s work we see flowers and forms harmonised. Divine love burgeoning and flowing within the images and so within us.

And already another image is emerging. It is Virgin with a Halo. Redon says of this work: “Dark brown sky, with purple and red clouds, at the left, a haloed figure in a boat, with golden sheaves at its prow, and over the water, a sort of phosphorescent blue, like a playful fire.”

Once again Redon takes us into the world of the indeterminate. And still we know that Redon’s forms convey a real sense of progression. He says: “Every time a human figure fails to give the illusion that it is going to step out of its frame, as it were and walk, act or think, there is no truly modern drawing.”

We feel that we are in the boat with this haloed figure, moving surely into enchanted waters. The golden sheaves of light fall to illuminate the way. Stella Maris - star of the sea.

Redon realised that the life that unfolds can also reveal joy. He was aware that a creative activity is manifest in life itself and in the way a personality develops. He worked always for a higher goal. He tells us: “the original intuition thus combines and summarises everything, seeking support in the past and in the present in order to give to the contemporary work a new organisation, a temperament, that is ceaselessly rejuvenated in the continuous development of human life. He shows us that there is always a progression. That nothing is static but relentlessly moving forward.

We sit here in this wonderful basilica with these two images. The perfect harmony of earth and sky that we experienced on the mountain, is reflected in these recalled pictures. We know that the artist used regular practice and dedication to attain his level of artistic proficiency and that is what he is offering to us right now. The glimpse of a real possibility.

The entering of a process that involves thorns and flowers.

The process is a measured one. Wilber suggests three strands will be the guide through the delicate world of the deep interiors; the within of the Kosmos; the data of the Divine, where they will help us to separate the dependable from the bogus.

Wilber’s terms are; Injunction, illumination and verification. We could also say; doing, seeing and checking.

Wilber adds, with the eye of contemplation Spirit can be seen. With the eye of
contemplation God can be seen. With the eye of contemplation, the great Within radiantly unfolds.

And in all cases, the eye with which you see God is the same eye with which God sees you: the eye of contemplation.

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.

The voice whispers on:
Never forget the Good
Never forget the True
Never forget the Beautiful

In years to come, if we dare to take up the challenge, we may catch a brief glimpse of the faces of our deepest Self.

And if so, Redon’s art may just have aided us, in this process. From thorns to flowering divine love.