Living in the earth-deposits of our history
Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate.
Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power.
FOR NOW WE SHALL SEE THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY; BUT THEN FACE TO FACE: NOW I KNOW IN PART; BUT THEN I SHALL KNOW EVEN AS ALSO I AM KNOWN
(I CORINTHIANS 13.12 KJV)
Sometimes my seeing gets very darkly indeed. In the grip of depression, or in the claws of a seizure, I often feel completely blinded – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, visually. It is hard to hold onto the hope of St Paul’s repetitious phrase to the Corinthians above: ’but then… but then …’. There will always be an after. This too shall pass. Didn’t I write only a few days ago that ‘continuing on the infinitely open-ended pilgrimage into eternal life: this is what I commit to for the coming year’?
This eternity today might include blindness as well as revelation, pain as well as relief, rest as well as activity, purpose as well as lostness. In all of this God is with me; in all of this I can be in the presence of God. I find something of these connections in the last lines of Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Power’ (above):
her wounds came from
the same source as her power
Several times in my life I have had the experience of knowing that the more vulnerable I can make myself in the presence of others, and the more vulnerability I can communicate truthfully to them, the more others feel able to share their fears of their own vulnerabilities. At the nadir of our weakness before one another, we become strong. At our lowest point, communion, belonging, is found and shared. It is in that space, where we are known and loved as we are, that the fears recede at least one pace, and a place to take a breath is found.
As some of you may remember, I call Epiphany ‘the contemplative photographer’s feast day’. A day to celebrate and recommit to the attentive waiting and watching: for the ‘thisness’ of the thing or person to be revealed before me; the ‘hereness’ of the place in which I sit; until I can press the shutter as a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude for the seeing of that moment. I recently stumbled over an article by photographer David Ulrich discussing his experiences of photographing the sacred lands of Hawaii:
The resonating challenge presented by turning my lens toward Kaho‘olawe became a stringent, personal test of the many lessons I learned through losing an eye. I needed once again to find the right balance between active intent and surrender, self-confidence and humility governed by a deep trust in the integrity of the creative process. Simply stated, my hard work created the conditions for the process to unfold and helped open me to the guiding visions and synchronous moments that arose from a deeper place than my ego’s desire or its habitual practiced ways.
Kaho‘olawe taught me a great deal about “right seeing” and the necessity of staying open to the process itself, rather than seeking results. The dark sacredness of the land challenged us to go beyond our artistic intent and individual styles as photographers. In respect for the power of the island, I learned finally that higher energies must not, indeed cannot, be called upon merely to serve our own creative, personal needs. Rather, we need to stand humbly in service of a larger purpose. Though creativity may nourish us profoundly as it makes its way through us, we are the vehicle, not the destination.
from ‘To Honour the Sacred’, David Ulrich
‘To stand humbly in service of a larger purpose’: I am seen through by God, I am God’s vehicle of seeing. This then is the celebration at the heart of Epiphany: the yielding of all I am and all I have and all my abilities and possibilities. All of my image-making, my painting or printing, my poetry or my prose or my photographs #actsofdailyseeing, no matter how well or ill I am when I receive the words, ideas and pictures, no matter my skill or lack of it: if God can use it, let the Spirit come. The act of yielding, surrendering, a gift, is as important as the gift itself.
I return, as I did several times during Advent, to Annie Dillard’s words:
“You were made and set here
to give voice to this,
your own astonishment.”
Risking turning up at the blank page and the blank canvas and the unfocussed lens, is not done so I can produce something beautiful, however often my ego deceives me into thinking that. No, the risk is made again and again because the Holy Whole might just be revealed to others through me: this is the power each of us has.
It is essential to human beings to fall apart, to fragment, disintegrate, and to experience the despair that comes with a lack of wholeness. To what can we turn, then, in this moment of crisis? I believe that it is at this critical moment that the possibility of creative living arises. If we can let go of our previous identities and move into the experience of the void, then the possibility arises for new forms of existence to emerge. Poiesis, the creative act, occurs as the death and re-birth of the soul. The integration and affirmation of the psyche are one and the same. But this new identity only lives in the actuality of the creative process. We are called upon to constantly re-form ourselves, to engage in what James Hillman calls “soul-making” . . .
(Stephen K. Levine, Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul (page xvi))
It does not matter what living creativity leads me to: making space to listen to a stranger’s story on the bus, or being commissioned to paint a chapel ceiling for the Pope. In the moment of crisis, whether it is a migraine or an angelic visitation, when I am at my most vulnerable is when the possibility of creative living arises; out of each crucible of despair there is an opportunity for soul-making, even if I feel I remain seeingdarkly.
Epiphany may be a sudden revelation of a sigle event-horizon; normally it is gradual and imperceptible. The gift of strength to keep walking eternally through the impact of the next wound seems utterly beyond me most of the time, yet I often discover, at the end of another day, month or year, I have taken one step onwards anyway … and so, once again, and I am reminded:
My task is to live.
I bless you with the innermost beating of truth,
and the raising of truth that is love.
I bless you with lights turning on in your soul
and the pure-silver lining of dreams.
I bless your green hopes to grow bravely on
and your waking faith to glisten.
I bless your grieving with tears that warm
as you pray with a kneeling of prayers.
I bless you with courage to allow beauty
to pray with you each living day.
I bless your mind to ease into change
and to hold things sacred-lightly.
I bless you to feel your Belovedness,
and to deepen your feet in soft grass.
I bless your face to be seen face to face
even when you are wearing a mask.
I bless your song to be sung like a key
that is used for wide-opening doors.
I bless your feet with a baptism of dew
and to walk in mocassins of peace.
‘A Blessing for 2021′
soul-making. (iPhone image)