Thursday, March 29, 2012

Viking Compass

The Viking compass, sunstone, or Vegvísir was supposedly a magical bit of technology that allowed sailors (or pillagers, depending on how you want to write history) to find their way even on foggy days, when the sun was hidden. Visit Pantheon for a nice historical summary of the Viking compass. 

Regardless of the Vikings' behavior, you have to admit, they were brave, sailing around in the fog and the cold. It takes courage to follow a little compass when there's nothing but water around you and you have no view of the sky above. 

I think the Vegvísir a beautiful symbol of the philosopher's stone, which I would say is a beautiful symbol for something else. (But what that is, I'm not saying.) Visit Jeff League, who seems to get the connection, for some beautiful art featuring antique maps and encaustic painting. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

3: Self-Sufficiency

Pyramid in Space, by Nick Nelson
via Society 6

Welcome to the third installment on my series of numbers, based on The Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe

One of the reasons I love The Beginner's Guide is that it is filled with great factoids that make me feel like that little boy in Jerry Maguire. For example, did you know our pelvis acts as a keystone on top of our legs, supporting our body? Just like keystones in arches? You did? Well aren't you a smarty-pants. Go visit the website above and see how many other facts you already knew.

The ability for triangular shapes to support themselves in space leads to several interrelated principles, such as an emergent unity out of opposites. You can see this on the level of the human self, as the whole "spirit-soul-body" cluster that we like to break ourselves into. We could even invent new human self trinities. How about "beauty-delight-action"?

But there's no need to stop with the human self as self-sufficient living thing, because really the human self isn't self-sufficient. There's also the self-sufficient universe . . . I wonder what kind of trinitarian name you could give for that. Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Postmodern Hymn: Droit Devant

by Emma C.

I'm having fun listening to French musciennes on Spotify these days: Camille, Rose, Marie-Pierre Arthur. I have to say, there are lots of songs I thought would make lovely hymns, but then I actually paid attention to the words and realized that maybe the ideas didn't fit with my idea of a hymn! For me, a hymn needs words or the absence of words pointing to particular alchemical method.

So, I present "Droit Devant" by Marie-Pierre Arthur. It made the cut and provides a nice focus for meditating on French hymns. 

"Droit, droit devant
Mes yeux cherchent la lune
Je marche pour changer le temps
Pour m’effacer dans la brume

Bye bye,
M’en aller loin, loin
Bye bye

Par delà,
Toutes les peurs et les silences
Les mots dansent
et mes pensées se balancent"

I hesitate to provide the translation, but here it is, courtesy of Pearl Kleppin:

"Right, straight ahead
I am looking at the moon
I walk to change time
To erase myself in the mist

Bye bye
I go far
Bye bye

All fears and silences
The words dance
And my thoughts sway"

Friday, March 23, 2012

Alchemy of Sleep

Alchemy of Sleep, by Brad Kunkle

"The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach."
    —The Meaning of Pscyhology for Modern Man, Carl Jung

I've had the pleasure of visiting a child care center at nap time and getting to listen to a dozen little bodies breathing while they dream and sleep. Hearing them sleep so soundly was a good reminder of how restorative a good sleep can be. When I have a good sleep, it really does become spiritual experience.

How early can you get to bed tonight? Good travels to the "primeval cosmic night" await.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

At Home, At Sea

At Home at Sea, by Timothy Karpinski

I'm still thinking about the sea these days. Timothy Karpinski's art captures the question I think I've been asking, which is, Can I make a home and a place of steadiness in a constantly changing life? Can I be comfortable in not knowing much at all?

"On the Sea-Shore. I would not build myself a house (it is an element of my happiness not to be a house-owner!). If I had to do so, however, I should build it, like many of the Romans, right into the sea, - I should like to have some secrets in common with that beautiful monster."

    —The Gay Science, #240, Frederich Nietzsche

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dancing with the Water

Behind the Surface, by Nadaia Moro
via trendland

I've been having lots of watery dreams lately, so these pictures by Nadia Moro really speak to me. In my dream space, water brings non-differentiation and returns what's not important to prima materia

If water dissolves the irrelevant, the key to living joyfully is to identify with what is lasting. (Not that I'm saying what that is.) 

After this dissolution comes the dance. Recognize you're part of something powerfully creative and join in its creative song.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

2: The Moment of Creativity

Earth Prayers, by Francene Hart

In this second installment of my numbers series, based on The Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe, we will look at the vesica piscis as the symbol of duality.

A visica piscis is created by drawing two circles, each of whose center point is on the circumference of the other. Drawing a vesica piscis allows you to draw a line, and then triangles, squares, and so one, if you're following classical geometry.

"This almond space is the crucible of the creating process. . . . It brings forth shapes and patterns from the archetypal world of ideal geometry. . . . For this reason it has also been called the womb of Chaos, the womb of the Goddess of the Night, and the mouth that speaks the word of creation."

What's amazing is how much art and architecture uses this shape. One of my favorite examples is the doorways of gothic cathedrals. Doors in this shape symbolize a passing through from one world to the next. Check out the link to the Beginner's Guide above to explore more examples of this shape.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Gods Speak of God

by Stephen Mackey

I'd been thinking about God and I'd been thinking about poetry, and then this poem appeared:

It doesn't interest me if there is one God 
or many gods. 
I want to know if you belong 
or feel abandoned. 
If you know despair or can see it in others. 
I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world 
with its harsh need 
to change you. If you can look back 
with firm eyes 
saying this is where I stand. I want to know 
if you know 
how to melt into that fierce heat of living 
falling toward 
the center of your longing. I want to know 
if you are willing 
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love 
and the bitter 
unwanted passion of your sure defeat. 

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even 
the gods speak of God. 

    —"Self Portrait," by David Whyte  

(I've posted a bit on David Whyte before, when I talked about Irene Belknap's art, so I guess I'm a fan, although every time I encounter his work I think it's the first time I've discovered him. What a wonderful feeling, to keep discovering someone I like.)

When I was thinking about God, I was wondering if I could verbalize what I believed to anyone, and if that someone could accept what I said without needing to hear her own view reflected back to her. So this poem affirms something that I feel deeply, that the question of God isn't as important as all that gets tied up with God, and that God is a word that means something more than God. Thank goodness for poets and poetry; I always feel so relieved to find someone who can artfully say what I feel.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

1: The Seed Point

Circles, 1926, by Wassily Kandinsky
via Bauhaus

Welcome to a new series. I'm reading The Beginner's Guide to Creating the Universe, and I will be posting a little segment on each number 1 through 10, as I work through the book. I love this book because it incorporates myth, art, science, and geometry, and it encourages you to "create the universe" with your compass and straightedge. By mindfully creating simple shapes and recognizing patterns, perhaps I can live a little more harmoniously in the world.

Here is Michael Schneider's meditation on drawing a circle, the symbol of unity:

"To construct a symbolic universe, begin with a point, the circle's essence. . . . A true point is impossible to draw, having absolutely no dimension, not length, width, or height. . . . The point is the source of our whole of wholes. It is beyond understanding, unknowable, silently self-enfolded. But like a seed, a point will expand to fulfill itself as a circle. . . . Ponder the point as a seed enfolding a sacred mystery."

In this post-modern world, points and centers aren't very fashionable, but I like the idea of the center being illusory and unknowable. Is our center an unsolvable mystery?

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Look out for spring!

And Then It's Spring is Philip and Erin Stead's latest book together. I think the video captures the feeling of waiting for spring so well. Isn't there something primal in the faith it takes to plant seeds and wait for them to sprout?

This year, spring has come early for our part of the world, so there was less faith involved and more wonder at the sudden signs of life. I walked outside one morning, and suddenly the trees were white and cloud-like.

Nevertheless, the video has me thinking about sowing seeds and tending my garden. What habits would you like to cultivate?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sacred Space: Anshe Kenesseth Israel

via Really Borning

Some places of worship find themselves in disrepair, in neighborhoods without the funds to renovate them to their former glory. Some churches get transformed into apartment buildings or offices, but others are simply demolished. This seems to be the future for Anshe Kenesseth Israel in Chicago.

I find myself circling around the idea of reusing spiritual ideas for this particular time and place, and I find myself wishing that buildings like this could also find a new life. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dance Till You Feel Better

I remember watching this clip from So Think You Can Dance years ago, and I still think it's one of the best moments from the show. When I watch Will Wingfield dance this solo, I feel like I'm listening to a gospel choir. His dancing has a beautiful synchronicity between between the music and the lyrics, and it really does make me want to get up and dance.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Postmodern Hymn: Bowl of Oranges

Today's hymn comes from Bright Eyes, an indie group headed by Conner Oberst. I love Bright Eyes for the bravely earnest lyrics and for the creative melodies. "Bowl of Oranges" is one of their more uplifting songs: 

"And we'll keep working on a problem we know we'll never solve 
Of Love's uneven remainders, our lives are fractions of a whole. 
But if the world could remain within a frame like a painting on a wall. 
Then I think we would see the beauty. Then we would stand staring in awe 
At our still lives posed like a bowl of oranges, 
Like a story told by the fault lines and the soil."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lent and the Conditions for Happiness

by Jose Manuel Ferrater
via Sebastian

We're now in the second week of Lent, for those who are counting. Growing up, I learned that Lent was a time for sacrificing something (usually, something that gave me pleasure, like chocolate) and that somehow my abstaining from a bit of food was like Jesus's temptation in the wilderness.

But since the onset of adulthood, I've found this practice of fasting to be unhelpfully negative. Wouldn't it be better to commit to a positive practice, like an increased regimen of prayer and meditation?

Enter in my latest thoughts on Thich Nhat Hanh and conditions for happiness. Over and over again, he stresses the joy that can be found in the breath, and in simply noticing all that is well with your body. His view is a rather dramatic opposition to figures such as Augustine, who are so sure that the body is the way of sin.

So this Lent, I'm practicing the joy of the body, not in some hedonistic, let's get drunk and have orgies kind of way, but in the simple way of noticing my breath and noticing my body and taking pleasure in that. Will you join me? I think it might prepare us for a fantastic rebirth on Easter.


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