“An Artist Looks at Prayer” has returned to our worship area! Thank you to all who contributed.
As an artist I am intrigued by how words and images fit together. Hearing and seeing a familiar memorized prayer, in a language foreign to my eyes and ears, opened a journey of discovery for me. Creating visual representations of the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, referencing an Aramaic translation by Neil Douglas-Klotz, began in this way.
I wrote the prayer on a large chalkboard in my studio. The Aramaic translation was written first, then a more familiar English version. The Lord’s Prayer is loved, prayed, and honored by people throughout the world. The process of imaging the petitions, inspired by the Aramaic translation, transformed a memorized English version, into a dynamic living prayer.
The First Petition
O Creator, the One who gave birth to the universe, you are the sacred source of our being.
Our Father who art in heaven,Heaven is translated in Aramaic as the universe. Creating a visual representation of the first petition involved a process of layering. Using photographs taken by NASA’s Hubble Telescope as a guide, I stretched raw white silk on a frame. Hand dying and then painting the silk, I created an artistic representation using the color descriptions provided by NASA. “Crab Nebula” images in a mosaic style a six light year wide expanding remnant of a star’s supernova explosion. Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine Abbess (1098-1179), defined prayer eight centuries ago as “breathing in and breathing out the one breath of the universe.” As I visualized a star’s expansion and explosion within the Crab Nebula I felt the breath of the universe. The Crab Nebula is located in the Milky Way Galaxy in the constellation Taurus. The colors within the nebula represent the differing elements in a star’s supernova.
The Second Petition
Focus your Light within us, make it useful, as the rays of a beacon show the way.
Hallowed be Thy Name
One way to create an inner altar where God’s name is holy is by keeping an inward sacred silence. The second petition is asking for the Creator’s help in forming this place within us. The petition asks for light, the same light that was spread throughout the universe in creation, to now be focused within us where God’s name is holy. Images of light flooded my imagination: lighthouse beacons guiding ships to safe harbor, Northern Lights illuminating the horizon, a simple candle burning in a dark room, a campfire burning in a dark forest, and car headlights on a dark road. The abstract oil painting “As a Beacon” is meant to encompass light that comes into darkness and reveals “a way”. It is a way through, a way over, a way beyond, a way to be, a way of prayer.
The Third Petition
Make us useful for your purposes here on earth, so that your desire and our lives become one.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.Taos New Mexico is home to Picuris Pueblo. Within the pueblo is San Lorenzo Church. The church, and the pueblo, hold many stories of the people working together to honor their culture and embrace forgiveness. This church holds within its walls decades of prayer from those who desired to have lives that honored their Creator. I heard the echoes of these prayers when I was in this space. San Lorenzo Church is a visual reminder that being useful for God’s purposes here on earth requires a journey of forgiveness.
The Fourth Petition
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight, subsistence for the call of growing life.
Give us this day our daily bread.The Aramaic understanding of subsistence includes both bread for physical life and insight for spiritual life. Watching herons hunt for food is a lesson in single mindedness. They scan the water intensely focused on their goal. Herons move slowly, if at all, for long periods of time waiting for the opportune moment to catch a meal. They are symbols of focus and purpose.
The Fifth Petition
Loosen the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of other’s guilt.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,
Visually, for me, the Aramaic translation of the fifth petition contains the most powerful words of the Lord’s Prayer. Pondering this petition I pictured lives full of complex relationships, tangled knots of past experiences, and tombs of un-forgiven offenses. These knots and tombs profoundly affect every heart and every relationship including our relationship with God and our relationship with the earth. We are bound by knots and tangles that become so intertwined they have the potential to be impossible to understand, recognize, or unravel. In my mind’s eye I saw unreachable tangles of knots embedded in my spirit. These tangled knots are like brain neurons with billions of connections that produce conscious and unconscious thought. When I choose to hold onto old hurts, mistakes, frustrated hopes, and failures, it affects my thinking and then has the potential to affect my actions. “Loosen the Cords” is a mixed media visual representation of the cords wrapped around our neck like a noose slowly choking breath. The lightning bolts flash like brain neurons firing rapidly repeated messages like an assault rifle into our conscious and unconscious thought. The towers are tomb-like edifices growing unimpeded and unrestrained. Often our knots and tangles have a pleasing appearance; after all, our psyche has bought into the idea that presentation and branding are important. All these cords and strands are very difficult to sort, untangle, and unknot. The prayer of releasing (release the strands we hold of others guilt) is a call that forgiveness needs to be a consistent and regular part of our spiritual life.
The Sixth Petition
Do not let surface things delude us, snare us and lead us away from You and Your purpose.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Surface is a noun defined as the outer or topmost boundary of an object, the superficial or external aspect. When we pray “do not let surface things delude us” we are asking to not be deceived by the way something might appear at first glance. This petition asks us to be deeply thoughtful and deeply receptive in prayer. Be willing to go below the surface of appearances. The image “Migration” is one of nature. I stretched raw silk on a frame, dyed and painted it. The silk was then cut apart, sewn together in a quilt like fashion, embellished, and mounted on canvas. I thought of the sun which is not distracted from its course…ever. I thought of birds migrating and hunting for food with singularity of purpose. The universe has its way, its understanding, and its purpose. In appearance nature can have a beautiful simple presentation. But the complexities of nature proceed deeply and consistently; sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent, sometimes creative, and sometimes destructive. The image, “Migration,” suggests that beneath surface appearances are complex layers of systems. If we only see the surface of nature we are not getting the whole picture. If we only see the surface of ourselves or others we do not understand the depths and complexities of the human experience. Surfaces appear real but often give false evidence; or at best, only rudimentary knowledge.
The Seventh Petition
But free us from what holds us back, give us power to live as you intended and created us to live. Ameyn
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.In the time this prayer originated Ameyn was a solemn oath that sealed agreements and guaranteed the honoring of promises made. The image of the seventh petition “Kingdom” is a batik painting picturing a grove of trees, strongly rooted in the earth, yet dancing in the wind with the joy of being. I learned from a TED talk by Suzanne Simard that a stand of trees communicates by their massive root systems. The trees in “Kingdom” are connecting both what is below and what is above as they communicate with each other. The grove is placed in a circle forming a mandala. Mandala, a Sanskrit word meaning circle, is an important symbol in many world religions. Religious and non-religious disciplines alike believe mandalas are meant to hold spiritual or psychological significance. At the corners of “Kingdom”are pockets honoring the four directions; north, south, east, and west. Many Native American peoples use the mandala form in medicine wheels, or sacred hoops. These circular forms often embody and honor the four directions. The directions can symbolize stages of life, seasons of the year, elements of nature, or aspects of life.