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Bathed in Light by Loriann Signori

I've picked up another book by David White, author of The Heart Aroused,  whom I've blogged about in the past. In this book entitled, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, Whyte encourages us to view our work as the arena in which our selves are discovered and grow. He begins by referencing William Blake, the famous 18th century poet.

"William Blake, that unstoppable creator...seemed to have a direct and conversational relationship wtih the wellsprings of work. Over a lifetime he exhibited a continual inspiration, a profound vision and an indomitable ability, despite his poverty, to follow through with the tiniest details of his art. Blake called his sense of dedication a firm persuasion. To have a firm persuasion in our work--to feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at  the exactly same time--is one of the greatest triumphs of human existence."

But what about when our work is not suited to us, when "personal fulfillment"--that oft-quoted but rarely encountered entity--is non-existent? Whyte continues the chapter by saying, "To have a firm persuasion, to set out boldly in our work, is to make a pilgrimage of our labors, to understand that the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing the task." (my emphasis). 

I remember years ago, while raising small children, I determined that even if child-rearing was not my forte, and even if I felt like I was not engaging fully in my vocation, I had the opportunity to use those family years as a means of growth. In fact, I had seen many who had done valuable things--even on a worldwide scale--whose families and personal lives had become bankrupt. If I had to choose, I would choose to raise my children well, and to develop my soul; further influence could wait, or not come at all.

It's in the rough and tumble of every day life, whether in work, or "at home" that we are engaged in the process of making our souls. A few weeks ago, I was in Bethesda, MD, visiting a friend. Entering an art gallery, I was instantly drawn to the paintings of the featured artist, Loriann Signori. Her exhibition, entitled "Quietude," consisted of many beautiful landscapes, mesmerizing not only because of the colors which pulsated and glowed and almost sang, but because of the layers that were used to create the finished artwork. In her artist notes for the show (which you can find at her website), she, like Whyte, takes up the metaphor of a journey. 

Signori's creative process sounds eerily familiar to that of forming our own lives, themselves layered and textured. The art undergoes constant change, the paint may be glazed, then sanded, then glazed again, allowing a translucence to affect the next layer. Signori finds that even as she struggles to capture the image on the canvas, she needs to "surrender some measure of control and pursue the unanticipated." When she is finished, however, the paintings glow, infused with a magical luminescence. 

I like what happens when I layer Blake, Whyte and Signori. They shore up my firm persuasion to become something good, even as I seek to do something good. As a pilgrim, I embrace my life as a piece of art, layered, textured, in process, something over which I "must surrender some measure of control and pursue the unanticipated." And still there are stages in this journey, including opportunities to stop and reflect, - moments of "quietude" - when I can walk through the gallery of my life, reflecting on where I've been, what I've become, and relish the beauty that's been created.
 
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'Mary With Child'. oil on linen panel by Kay Eneim

The First Sunday of Advent, a liturgical season celebrated in many congregations, was yesterday. During Advent, Christians anticipate the coming of Christ, not only remembering his birth in Bethlehem, but aware that one day He will come again as King, to rule in peace and justice. But waiting characterizes much of the life of a Christian, for we find ourselves waiting each day for the signs of incarnation in us, for the quickening of that same spirit which overshadowed the young Jewess we know as Mary.

Waiting has its challenges. It is hard when you know what you are waiting for - a graduation, a wedding, a visit from friends or a long-expected vacation. But it is even more difficult when you don't know exactly what is in the future, only that things aren't now what they will be. For the past seven years, I've felt like that's been my story, as I've entered this period of life, waiting for something to emerge, waiting to become someone whom I don't yet know, and yet a person who will be more authentically me than I've ever been before.

In "The Heart Aroused," David Whyte quotes a poem by Rilke in which he describes his life as a rest between two notes. Here is a portion of the poem:

I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because death's note wants to climb over-
but in the dark interval, reconciled,

they stay there trembling.
        And the song goes on, beautiful. (trans Robert Bly)

Rilke sees the note before and the note to come as discordant, and in that uncomfortable clash exists a real danger that he will be overrun by death. Perhaps Rilke is not speaking so much of a physical death here, as the despair or depression that comes when one feels "out of tune", unaligned, fragmented. We feel that we have entered a dark night of the soul, and don't know what to do, or how to bring our lives back into harmony.

The tension of these dark times can be frightening, or paralyzing. But they offer us a challenge, an opportunity to go deeper, to reach a different level of integration. Donald Epstein has written on this in his book, "The 12 Stages of Healing." In Stage 8 he describes coming to the place of emptiness.
 
"Many people believe that emptiness is a lifeless void of nothingness that leads to emotional or mental paralysis. However, emptiness, when timed correctly in the healing process, leads to freedom...It serves as the space of transition..." 

The season of Advent is a season of waiting. It is a season of transition, of darkness, of longing for what is not yet here. But we need not be fearful. Instead we can learn how to breathe during these periods of our lives, to wait with patience and hope. As we approach these "advents" with expectancy, aware that something is forming deep in a mysterious womb, we can rest, knowing that, in the fullness of time, God's handiwork will be revealed. And the song will go on, beautiful.