In Anatomy of the Spirit, author and scientist of medical intuitive Caroline Myss says like a scolding elder, "We cannot be casual about spirit practice!" If at first we meditate or pray or walk to attend to the habits of humility, reverence, and the disciplining of our minds, sometimes we crash and realize doing and naming our practice is spiritual mandate.
I am an artist, untrained by institution and initiated by the still small voice inside that kept straining to anoint my go-to habit of making things to process my wondering questions of life. It is only in retrospect that I have been able to appreciate that creative process and play for more than being a welcome break to the demands of the responsibilities we assume or endure. For years, and years (and years), I was in steady, high-functioning career mode of marriage, parenting, and creative community/religious leadership.
The creative process -- art -- became named as spiritual practice for me when life's circumstances put me in an unfamiliar and extended lower-functioning period. Fertile void as the expanse of doubt, pain and uncertainty following a shock to the system. Loss; failure; in whatever form.
When I’m there, all I seem to be able to do is go down to the discomfort of the basement. I idly and enter into a space of putting my hand on my what I’ve collected when also idle: rocks and fossils, branches, rusted metal, sea-worn metal, wire pieces, shards of glass and pottery, lost earrings, shells, exploded firecracker wrappers, and so much more.
Going down to the basement becomes the only thing I can do when I don’t know what to do and don’t have the capacity to recognize into which direction to go. This feeling of not having a choice is what first allowed me to be present to a process of co-creation.
I wrap, saw, cut, glue, smash, build, frame and repeat until. Sometimes something appears that I want to keep. This happens when the relics arrange themselves into a wholeness. That wholeness – the arranged collection of piece it becomes is the art made by sacred process of submission, lament, prayer, and learning to breathe through discomfort.
Over years I have learned why the life of an artist can be lonely and dark. That feeling of loneliness and darkness is what pushed me to claim a process that could serve me in that space. Fortunately for me, and us, we are in a community of meaning makers so have a language for this processing.
I journal also. Here is a passage from two years ago during a time I was immersed in a community response ministry at the El Paso border:
I walk the river, the road, the sidewalk. I wander the woods, the beach, the border. My pockets get filled with pieces of someone else's time. All the while, my time has been spent in idle movement, tracing lines of others' paths. This is the wandering work of the artist. I bring nothing and what I take away I am saving from infinite unknown. When I'm cleaning the pieces and saving them, arranging them with the others, the story of each time unit passes through my hands to what's in them. They talk, pieces of stories. Most often they just whisper of a snapshot. You can't even say how long it lasted. But you know how you felt, you know who you were with. You remember what you were talking about. The song that was playing stings your heart, in a good way, even if it was bad. The smell of creosote in the air means the ground was wet, but just for a flash. The pieces of wire themselves, I have brought home. Just like they cinch up the water of a rio grande, they hold the other pieces together. I tell the story into these pieces that went into my pockets and then see what poem is told when they are laid. I still have a single earring. It is so exquisite but it hasn't gone into an altar yet. It hasn't been called up. I figure it will be when somewhere far away, someone steps just next to the other one, pressed into mud. With their fingernail they will gently lift it out. They will think they found something that tells a story about a moment.
Some healing has happened for losses in my life. I’m busy, which is a good sign. Now I have to work harder to make sure I schedule time to go down to the basement. It’s dark and somewhat damp. It is there that I know I am praying.
Off to pray,