Prayer [on DR Thursday]

Prayer copy 2

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Naming paintings is problematic for me. I’ve never been good at it. Sometimes I bristle at it. People project their own meanings into the images I paint (as it should be) and sometimes the name I’ve given the piece gets in their way.  A favorite quote from a Joseph Campbell lecture: “If the artist doesn’t like you he will tell you what the painting means.” At openings, when people ask me what the painting means, my standard response is, “What does it mean to you?” I like most people though most people dislike my standard response.

Nowadays Kerri helps me find names. I ask her what she sees. We talk about the paintings and usually a phrase or name that I like floats to the top.

This one is simple and obvious. Prayer.  One who looks inward and entreats.

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read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER

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prayer ©️ 2017 david robinson & kerri sherwood

prayer – designs & products ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Chicken Marsala Monday

Chicken Marsala thoughts from the melange to help you start your week:

MASTER assumeawe WITH EYES jpeg copy 2.jpg Almost every spiritual tradition offers a form of this thought: make no assumptions. Sometimes it is called ‘detachment.’ Sometimes it is called ‘the middle way.’ Often, it is referred to as ‘presence.’

It sounds so simple. Be where you are. Be here now. Aspirations always sound easy but are never easy to realize.

In my past life as a consultant/facilitator I regularly issued two “caveats” prior to beginning the work of the day. The first was, “Have the experience first, make meaning of the experience second.” The idea of opening to an experience, that they might actually be capable of stepping out of their roiling story of assumptions, was a revelation to my clients.

And, that’s the point. The revelation, the insight, the heaven-that-you-seek is just on the other side of the story-fog that obscures your experience of life. That is why it shows up so often in all-practices-spiritual. Quiet your mind. Make no assumptions. Open to what is there beyond what you think is there.

However, we are human. That fast running inner monologue, that incessant storying of experiences, pre-and-post occurrence, is what we do. So, a good first step toward the quiet mind, toward the suspension of assumptions, is to make life-giving assumptions. Our runaway minds chug down a track so why not put that train on a generative track: assume awe.

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metal wall art

 

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read Kerri’s thoughts about Assuming Awe on Chicken Marsala Monday

 

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assume awe ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

 

 

 

Stay Fully Alive

a more recent smaller painting: In Quiet Prayer

Horatio issued me this challenge: do something new, something you’ve never done before. Paint something different, something that boggles you.

I love this challenge. In other words, step out of your comfort zone. Dare to not know where you are going. Make a mess with great gusto and intention. Court chaos and wrestle it into something that resembles order for you and no one else.

Horatio might have said, “Dare to see again, purely, with no filters, knowledge, or preconceptions.” He might have added, “What might you see, who might you be, if you stepped beyond the safety of your ideals, your beliefs, and great mass of weighty and important knowledge?”

The child in me, the one not yet accustomed to sitting in a desk or raising my hand or waiting my turn would loudly sing the answer: You’d be fully alive! I’d be fully alive.

from a few years ago, a larger piece: Meditation

I’ve always appreciated how similar are an artist’s path and that of a spiritual seeker. The aim of the exercise is the same. A meditation practice to still a busy mind is identical to an actor’s training to be fully present on the stage or a painter’s pursuit to see purely (to see without the disruption of interpretation). On both paths, truth is a fluid thing. Truth is what is happening right now. What happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow are distractions at best. They are stories that get in the way. They are of no consequence to this moment of living, this moment of aliveness. It is, an actor learns, a fool’s errand to attempt to repeat yesterday’s performance.

Horatio’s challenge is relevant for every human being wrestling with the big questions or trying to stave off or make sense of the chaos. Dare to dance with what’s right in front of you. Dare to drop the questions.

Picasso famously said that every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once he or she grows up. He might well have said that every child is fully alive. The problem is to remain fully alive once he or she grows up.

playing around with simplicity. This one is hot off the easel and not yet named.

this is how she looks in a frame. Magic!

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Surrender And Surrender Again

I’ve grown accustomed to this sanctuary. I come here when Kerri has meetings in the church. It is quiet. As I sit here alone, I easily become quiet. The evening sun pours through the stained glass, the symbols shimmer.

When I met Kerri I told her that, if we were going to have a relationship, she needed to understand two things about me: I don’t sing and I don’t pray. I imagine that was stark news for a woman who works as a minister of music. I imagine she rolled her eyes. It is a running joke with the folks that know the story of my proclamation that I now sing in the church choir and band. I love to sing. As for the praying, well…, I’ve always been a meditator and that counts. Quiet is a delicious form of prayer. I was hung up on definitions. I talk to the universe all the time. To-mAaa-to, to-Mah-to.

I have, all my life, believed religion most often gets in the way of a true spiritual experience (life). “Prayer” was for me, at the time I met Kerri, a word of religion while “meditation” was a word I associated with a spiritual life. One night, not long after my move, Kerri and I had dinner with Heidi. She asked me about my faith and laughed at my reflections, saying, “You are one of those many-paths-one-mountain guys.” Yes. And, to truly be a many-paths-one-mountain guy, I’ve had to challenge some of my long held defenses, walk into some of my long held prejudices.

Yesterday, Bill said a simple, beautiful thing about faith, grace and spiritual journeys. It reinforced something I have known (for myself) for years. He said, “The problem with religion is it is heavily invested in having answers. It becomes invested in being right (righteousness), being “the way” as if there was only one way. A true spiritual life,” he said, “is about walking into the questions.” Life, the real crackling, shimmering life, is always experienced in the questions. Awe is rarely experienced in something so constructed and contained as an answer.

I brought to the sanctuary an outline/book of a class that I intended to teach years ago but never got around to offering. In the introduction a previous-version-of-me wrote this: The premise is simple and ancient: when you change your story you change your world. All stories of transformation begin with an attempt to control the uncontrollable: transformation in a story happens when the main character surrenders their illusion of control, strips their armor, walks into their fear, and meets their dragon. There are many variations on this theme. What is important to grasp is that empowerment follows surrender….

Were I writing that today I would never use the word “empowerment.It is an overused and abstract word like “presence” and generally misunderstood as something to achieve (or sold as an answer). Power is irrelevant after a dragon is met.

When I met Kerri I was terrified to sing. I’d been shamed more than once for opening my mouth, thus my proclamation. I learned, as I sang the fear from myself, that the only thing that follows surrender is more surrender.

And, in surrender, there is shimmering quiet.

Have A Conversation

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

Yesterday I learned that my conversation with the stained glass window was only on hiatus. Several months ago we simply stopped talking. In the silence I thought the conversation was complete. For almost two years we had a weekly chat. I took lots of notes.

I recognize that one is not supposed to have chats with windows – at least not admit to it. Master Marsh teased me saying, “There’s help for things like this.” I’ve decided that my conversation with the window is more ordinary than odd: plenty of people around the world talk to statues. Most of us have had silent reckoning with the sky. I’ve witnessed mechanics talking to their tools and bakers wooing their dough. Who hasn’t cursed the object of a home fix-it job-gone-wrong (plumbing regularly gets a tongue lashing from me!) or praised a project done well? Traffic gets a regular talking to. In this region, at this time of year, more than a few brides make deals with the weather. A soul in exchange for sunshine.

Who hasn’t, in a moment of turmoil, looked inside themselves and asked for help? Who hasn’t uttered a quiet thank you or asked for guidance or made an appeal? Call it prayer, meditation, epiphany, catharsis, intuition, gut instinct, reading the signs, hearing the call, or communing with nature, it’s a conversation.

I’m not the only artist – or scientist for that matter – that, in moments of flow, feels as if something bigger is coming through. In that sense, all of my paintings might serve as the record of a conversation with something bigger. Writers often speak about having the experience of the characters writing themselves, of following rather than creating. Following, surrendering, allowing, listening, responding, getting out of the way. Play the chords long enough and you no longer need to think about them. In the land beyond thinking about it, music becomes possible. It’s a conversation.

Sitting on the chancel, listening to Kerri play, I stared as I often do at the morning light pouring through the colored glass. I studied the symbols. Birth and death. Tree of knowledge, Tree of Everlasting Life. The Grail standing between two flames. It’s a repetition in symbol of the same idea. Born into an experience of duality and distinctions, a world fighting over its differences, we have the opportunity to walk the middle path, the unity consciousness, the “something bigger.” “Between the two, one,” I the heard the window whisper. “It’s simple, really.”

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

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Seek Solitude

from my Yoga series of paintings

from my Yoga series of paintings

It is easier to sail many thousands of miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being alone. ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I remember watching a documentary of the painter Lucien Freud. He said he couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to be a painter because the choice meant living a solitary life. His comment struck me as odd because, for me, solitude was necessary for the muse to come through. I often yearned for solitude. I always looked forward to my time with the muse.

More than twenty years ago, for a period of time, I was painting exclusively. I had an abundance of solitude. Each evening my dear friend Albert would show up at my door, force me out of the studio and take me to a coffeehouse. He told me that he feared my isolation, that without human contact and conversation, I might twist. His fear, although probably valid, also struck me as odd.

A solitary life can be quiet, prayerful; it can be full. A solitary life can also be lonely and empty. The difference, of course, is in the presence of a relationship. Most painters that I know, most artists, feel as if they are a “channel to something bigger.” Something comes through and it is in the solitary moments that the channel opens. It is in the solitary moments that the relationship becomes available. The relationship with the muse can be full, rich, and three-dimensional. I imagine monks, nuns and ascetics of all spiritual traditions know this relationship, too. Solitary need not be lonely just as, paradoxically, the loneliest place on earth can be in the middle of city teeming with people.

The exploration of the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being is the province of the artist. The relationship with “something bigger,” with the muse, is the seed from which all art forms grow. The seed is visible in the adornments found in pyramids, in the harp of Orpheus, and in the paintings of Marc Chagall. It is present when children with gusto run their fingers through paint or dance all alone in the grass just because it feels good.

 

Play For The Light

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

I’m hanging out listening to the handbell choir practice. I meant to bring my ipad so I could write while hanging out but I forgot it so I had to go old school and find a pen and some paper. The pen was easy but the only paper I could find was the back of an old church bulletin. I opened the bulletin and found the language for the communion celebration, “…he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it saying, ‘Take this and eat. This is my body, given for you….”

In reading the words I was thrown back in time (a meditative handbell soundtrack is very useful when being cast backwards in time). Many years ago, just after I moved to Seattle, the Makah tribe attempted to revive their traditional whale hunt. The entirety of their traditional ritual life stems from the hunt – the whale is their central god much as the buffalo is central to the worship of the plains tribes. In the early 20th century the Makah voluntarily suspended the hunt because European whaling techniques had devastated the whale population. Consequently, with no central ritual, their community fell into disarray. The revival of the hunt brought intense opposition and a media circus of epic proportions.

At the time, I was taking a masters degree in systems theory with a focus on Cultural Mythology and Transformational Art and, so, was enrapt by the collision of cultural perspectives. Through one lens, the hunt was an unnecessary slaughter of a whale. Through another lens it was a communion meal; the hunter is deemed worthy and chosen by the god (the whale), the god gives his life to nourish the people (spiritually and literally), and the people, in turn, perform the rituals of rebirth that bring the god back to life. It is a cycle of death and rebirth, the god nourishing the people and the people revivifying the god through their rituals and attention to life.

The central word is “communion;” to commune with the divine – regardless of faith tradition. And, in the end of the day, when the shopping is all done, isn’t that what this season is about? Does it matter how we mark the return of the light, the winter solstice, the return of the god to eventually bring life to a barren winter landscape (I’m writing metaphorically, too), the fulfillment of a prophecy, as long as we truly experience communion with something bigger than ourselves? It is an awesome responsibility to revivify the god – especially when the return depends upon how we live our lives and perform our rituals.

The handbell choir is working extra hard. Although they play each month, this preparation is for something special. They play with a sense of stress and excitement and desire a perfection that they usually do not entertain. This performance matters more than the others because they know, just like this time last year, they are playing for the return of the light.

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