Enter Into Joy

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How do you translate wind to words?

OK - so how do you take something that flows like a river, or blows like the wind, and translate it into words, so that you can speak about it and persuade others  that it deserves to exist? That's been my challenge, in breaking down the experience of creating the 29 Pieces of art that make up the 29 Pieces project and then framing it up in bits and bites, so that others understand and respond. Not everyone needs persuasion . . . many people walk into the space where the art is displayed and deeply get it without me saying a word. That's the best reaction. Their questions have to do with the particulars, and the stories of each piece of art. But, how about when I'm not in the room with the art . . . when I'm just talking about it? How do I describe a compelling, convicted experience, and become a catching force for those who I want to invite to come on the boat with me?

This is proving to be an art form unto itself. Break it down . . . first the story behind it, then the art itself, the artist, the vision, the cost, the context. As Ghandi said, "One bite of the elephant at a time." But even then, something feels uncomfortable in the process . . . like I'm trying to tame a wild panther, and then look into his eyes and worry that I've betrayed him in my desire to shape him.

Every step of the way on this journey is into the unknown. Without packing a suitcase, I'm on the biggest, most life changing trip of my life.
— Karen Blessen

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We are not alone

Painting by Charles Burchfield
I would like every one of you to remember this: we are not alone.  This is not a world of chance.  We are surrounded by creative powers, as surrounded as we are by air and light and gravitation.  It is only when we fail to ally ourselves with the forces of light that they are unable to support us.  If we give our wholehearted support, love will triumph. 

This remembrance brings faith; it brings hope; it brings the certitude of victory.
— Eknath Easwaran

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Theology Matters

DugDownDeep_Carnahan.mov from Covenant Life Church on Vimeo.

The Roots of it All

Family Tree of Religion by Kelly Nash
I thought, with Buddha being a Hindu, in the way that Christ was a Jew, there must be a Family Tree of Religions somewhere. Looking for it in books and on the internet, I was surprised to see that I couldn’t find one, so I drew my own. It’s far from perfect, but it kind of illustrates that when we go to a church or temple, we’re usually with people who are perched on a slender twig that is their sect, when sometimes we need to get down to the roots.

As a child I followed my family around to a variety of churches. We started out with the Lutherans, then the Presbyterians. We tried a Unitarian church, but two weeks later they closed for the summer. We settled on a Congregational church, where my folks found a home. Then I went to college, and became a pagan, a socialist, and then an agnostic. It’s funny that years later, I have so many friends who are ministers.  

I know someone who says “I’m against all the isms”. Certainly some terrible things have been done in the name of religion, but also some miracles. I think now I appreciate all of them….Most people believe they’re religious, or spiritual. Both words have been twisted around so much we get squeamish when they’re brought up. But anyone halfway conscious would like some answers to the big questions.

At the trunk of our tree, we start seeing some similarities. Jesus said: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12). That’s the Golden Rule of course; many of us can’t seem to remember it. Confucious put it another way: “What you do not want done to you, do not do to others.” And Muhammad, said: “None of you is a believer until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself”. The Buddha said: “Do not hurt others with that which hurts yourself”. Rabbi Hillel said: “what is hateful to you, do not do to others”.  And the Hindu epic Mahabharatta says: “This is the sum of all duty: do nothing to others which, if it were done to you, would cause you pain”.

Let’s start turning the tree upside down in our mind. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says: “Sages speak of the immutable ashvatta tree, with its taproot above and its branches below. On this tree grow the scriptures; seeing their source, one knows their essence.”  In Jewish Kabbalah, an inverted tree called the Etz Chaim represents the nervous system - the root is the mind, with branches spreading throughthe body; it also represents the Torah - rooted in heaven, and the branches being all of the manifested world.

Number 17 from 29 Pieces: Enter Into the Joy
So we try to get to the roots. And what’s at the roots of all religion?  I suspect it’s the mystical experience, perhaps summed up as “Joy”. One way it can be achieved is by long practice of meditation. Many paths were passed down by mystics like St. Augustine, who said, sometime in the 4th century: “if the mind should cease thinking about itself …would this not be what is bidden in scripture - Enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” 
- Kelly Nash

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What is inside your heart?

Mahmud Shabestari said that if you cleave the heart of a raindrop a thousand oceans will pour out.
I often wonder what would happen if you cleaved the heart of a teardrop, or the heart of a bead of sweat, or even, just simply, a heart.
If I cleaved my own heart what would pour out?
Would I be able to know everything about who I am and everything about who I was?
Would I be able to know what parts of my personality make me who I am like which elements compose the flesh of my body?
What percentage of myself is an eagle scout? What percentage a prep school kid? Do I have trace amounts of bad boy, saint, sinner?
How much of myself is poet, painter, frat boy, politician, business man, friend, lover, player, beloved, enemy, superstar, nobody.
If all of these oceans poured out of my heart would I be able to float about them?
Would it be as pleasurable and tubing down the Brazos River?
Or would I find myself drowning, caught in the riptide of my own personality?
Maybe my spirit would rise up like a mountain and I would sit from its peak, looking down at myself spread out like an ocean, and realize that I have no horizon.
Maybe the sun would still be shining so brightly until I realized it was the Son, and sunbeams of grace would evaporate the waters of myself until clouds formed.
Maybe these clouds would drift over the mountain of my spirit and I would become sad and confused and wonder why I could not see the sun anymore.
Then maybe the clouds would break and it would rain and I would feel that all hope was lost. And I would feel abandoned. And I would feel alone.
Then maybe in a moment of desperation I would cleave the heart of a raindrop and a thousand bits of me mixed with a thousand bits of God would pour out.
And in that moment I would realize that if I cleaved my own heart what I would see is the divine.
For I am a man, and I am made in His image, before I was born my soul resided with Him, and after I am buried I will return to His buxom.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
– Darryl Ratcliff

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Beautiful Struggle

“We must move past indecision to action. Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. King is telling us to begin, to commit ourselves to knowledge and action – whether referring to civil rights, peace and justice, or to the world that transcendent art manifests. The work may be a struggle sometimes, but it is bathed in beauty . . . in the beauty of the encounters along the way, the surprising generosities, the explosive unions and luminous personalities of those we meet.

I wish Dr. King would’ve left out the ‘long and bitter’ phrase. It’s all perception. Is it bitter, or is it beautiful? Or both? It’s like Don Quixote – the adherance, beyond reason or immediate result, to ideals and hope. It’s a radical, knowing, active optimism.

I spent September 21, the International Day of Peace, in Los Angeles this year, as the guest of Lisa Schultz, COE (Chief of Everything) of The Peace Project and The Whole 9. Lisa is a force of nature, and has pulled together an amazing project, including but not limited to a competition and exhibit of 150 pieces of peace art (over 600 artists entered work), photos by Pep Bonet of victims of conflict in Sierra Leone, and a peace wall in Los Angeles. Let me catch my breath . . . Lisa also traveled to Sierra Leone, where she worked with local artists to create a peace wall, and, being an irrepressible businesswoman, talked with folks about ideas for a start up endeavor in tomato farming. (Read about this on her blog.) All this is quite simply amazing in its force and hopefulness. The exhibit will move to San Francisco and then New York. If you would like to support The Peace Project, please go to www.thewhole9.com.

I was invited to be a guest on the KPFK Pacifica radio show Beautiful Struggle, with hosts Michael G. Datcher and Kimberly King. Michael is the author of the best selling book of poetry, Raising Fences. As we see from the quote above, the show’s title ‘Beautiful Struggle’ comes from a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King. KPFK’s Beautiful Struggle is focused on African American social and political issues. Since I am literally about as white as they come, I was honored to be invited to talk about my work with Jeremy Gilley on the book Peace One Day, and about our work in Today Marks the Beginning with children in the MasterPEACE program. Michael’s first question to me was “Do you think peace is possible?”

Well, I know that It may feel discouraging at times, as though human beings will never be able to table or repress their negative, greedy and impulsive cruelties. 

But is it possible? Yes it is possible. Anything is possible. 

Why not dream BIG?
— Karen Blessen

Friday, September 24, 2010

It’s a gut feeling

When I look at these 29 creations and visualize them in their finished form, even without understanding their content entirely I get a visceral feeling of their worth on many levels. I got this when I first saw them 2 years ago and still get it after having seen them many times since. It’s a gut feeling, its how I judge all the art that I see and I have seen more than most. That’s what got me involved in this project, that and the commitment of its creator, that’s all it takes, for me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It’s the real thing

Number 4, from 29 Pieces: Lovers must have solitude
– St. Therese of Lisieux

(First off, the handful of friends who actually read my first post here may wonder if I’m the same guy they remember from the ball game or the tavern. Well, I don’t want to convert anybody, nor have I joined a cult. I’m just trying to keep an open mind, taking what I need, and what I think will last. I’ve agreed to post something weekly on this blog, and I may need to refer back to this disclaimer from time to time…)  

Lovers must have solitude. A heart-to-heart lasting night and day.” The phrase is from a poem by St. Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun who died at the age of 24, and whom Pope Pius X called “the greatest saint of modern times”. So right away, you know we probably aren’t talking about the kind of love affair you’d see on TV. The poem begins with a reference from the Bible (John 14:23): “On the evening of Love, speaking without parable, Jesus said: "If anyone wishes to love me all his life, let him keep my Word.” Therese calls it the “uncreated word, word of my God”. 

I just finished The Way of the Pilgrim, one of those great books that is profound and entertaining, written by an anonymous Russian peasant in the 1850s.  He wanders through Russia looking for someone who can tell him how to “pray without ceasing”, as urged by the apostle Paul (in 1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Eventually, he finds a monk who instructs him in the use of “The Jesus Prayer” – “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” The prayer has been used as a form of interior prayer – much like mantram meditation - by millions of Eastern Orthodox and other Christians since about the 4th century.  The monk tells him to begin by silently repeating the prayer, thousands of times a day. It’s a painful process, but eventally the prayer continues on it’s own, with no effort, in the pilgrim’s heartbeats, and he begins to see miraculous results during his travels. 

Few of us make a concerted effort to be careful about what enters our mind. We try to eliminate pesticides and saturated fat from our diet, but our day is filled with messages that are junk food, or worse. A 2007 New York Times article was headlined “Anywhere the eye can see, it’s likely to see an ad.” According to research cited in the article, the average American sees 5,000 ad messages a day. The article quotes an ad executive, who says “We never know where the consumer is going to be at any point in time, so we have to find a way to be everywhere. Ubiquity is the new exclusivity.”  So many surfaces are used for moving product that it has all started blending into the landscape.

I think that’s partly why so many people seem to be captivated by 29 Pieces. One result of the project will be a series of striking, large sculptures, representing words of timeless wisdom, carried forward by faith traditions over thousands of years, but now nearly lost in the noise of modern life.  Therese said, “I don’t desire to possess other goods. I want to be set on fire with his Love.” That message probably isn’t going to be coming from an ad agency.

— Kelly Nash

Monday, September 20, 2010

Peace Day is tomorrow

Peace Day 2010 is tomorrow.

If you haven’t already made a commitment for Peace Day, Jeremy Gilley has the perfect opportunity…the Peace One Day Celebration 2010 webcast will be streamed online on Peace Day, Tuesday 21 September - evening playouts in multiple time zones: 21:00 US EDT; 21:00 US PDT. Anyone in the world can view the webcast, even if you are not in one of the targeted time zones.

Hosted by Jude Law and Sharon Stone, the concert features performances from Patti Smith, Youssou Ndour, Vanessa Paradis, Charlie Winston, -M-, Yodelice and Ayo.

Tickets cost $12.75. All proceeds go to the non-profit Peace One Day to support us in reaching 3 billion people with the message of Peace Day by September 2012.

For tickets, go to: http://peaceoneday.theconcertchannel.eu
Join Jeremy Gilley and please spread the word!
Peace Day is tomorrow
Peace One Day, by Jeremy Gilley and Karen Blessen

Saturday, September 18, 2010

You are so beautiful. To me.

Originally written August 6, 2010. Hot in Dallas - over 100 every day this week. But beautiful. Big puffy clouds, blue sky. Quiet mornings writing in the journal.

The moth on the spiral staircase.
This past Monday, I was walking up the steps to the studio, and stopped to look at a simple tan + dark brown moth that was resting on the rail. It was perfectly still, and it stopped me with its beauty. It was not a showy swallowtail, or even a monarch - just a plain brown moth. And it was so beautiful in its perfection from every angle - this side, the other, the top, the bottom - that it moved me to my core. The browns blended into one another in a way that would put to shame an exquisite Turkish textile. Just a moth - one we might brush away. We barely stop to really look at the flashy ones anymore.

I thought to myself - I wonder if he looks at me and thinks - You are so beautiful.

And then I thought of 29 Pieces - Each piece is going to have to be that Self-possessed — that entirely beautiful from every angle. Not like stage design or party props - but fully conceived, and as breathtaking as this moth.
– Karen Blessen

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wave, water, drip, or drop?

“… babe, you’re just a wave, you’re not the water.”
– From Just a Wave Not the Water, by Jimmy Dale Gilmore

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Science and Spirit

“Science without Religion is lame. Religion without Science is blind.” – Albert Einstein

Conflicts and dialog around “science vs. religion” are so prevalent that there are journals on the subject. I often have trouble distinguishing between them - maybe I’m so primitive each seems like magic. But they’re directions for life, and both have taught me by direct experience. Religious folks have questioned belief in evolution; scientists have questioned “superstitions” that can’t be proven. Somewhere in the middle seems best. 
For most of my life, an interest in science prevailed over religious pursuits. I didn’t really understand prayer until I took up meditation about five years ago. But much earlier, I had glimpses of an unseen world. Before I was out of high school, I was a fairly avid hunter. One day, walking down a cornrow, hoping to scare up a pheasant, I came face to face with a deer. His round black eye, not three feet away, stared into mine for a moment before he turned and melted back into the corn. I saw something magical there - I saw myself. I didn’t shoot anything but tin cans and clay pigeons after that.
I went to college and studied geology. Standing at the base of a cliff, I learned that each layer, not much thicker than the page of a book, formed over a long winter, when ice covered the surface of a lake. The water was still, and the clay that washed in from summer storms slowly settled to the bottom. Roots from trees way above me ended in layers that formed before written history. Digging my pick in the clay, I found snail shells unlike any existing today - that species didn’t survive. The idea of time stretching back to eternity began seeping into me. The spirit in that deer’s eye was placed in a time context. But where is it going?
At the first Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, 1893, Swami Vivekananda, representing India and Hinduism, created a sensation. His words, beginning with “Sisters and brothers of America…” had seven thousand people on their feet. Although steeped in Hindu tradition, Vivekenanda stressed the importance, and spoke with the conviction, of direct experience. On evolution, he said:  “If you carry evolution to its logical conclusion, there must come a time when that power that was in the amoeba, and which evolved as man, will have conquered all the obstructions that nature can bring before it, and will thus escape from all its environments.”  Pure spirit. 

– Kelly Nash
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Is God good?

We yearn for life to be simple.
We wish that there were quintessential American values; we love to romanticize the past, we need to believe in “good ol days”, the belief that there was a time when people had it all figured out.
We need to believe in an ideal – some beauty that will make our lives become perfect, some longed for thing that is just around the corner.
We like to believe that by our hard work and ingenuity, we can create some paradise on this earth.
We strive so hard to pretend we have control over our lives.
Yet we never have as much control as we would like to believe.
We are constantly reminded of how fleeting this life is.
Sometimes the reminders are far away – an earthquake, a tsunami.
Power acts of nature that reminds us of how small and fragile our flesh is.
Sometimes they are close – the rape of a friend, the murder of a brother.  In an instant our entire life is changed.
One day we thought we knew who we were, the next day we are left completely confused – dealing with emotions and feelings we have never faced before.
Sometimes the reminders are in our very own hearts and souls. We become depressed. We lose hope. We are anguished. We are suicidal.
Sometimes all we can do is scream – Naked I came into this world from my mother’s womb and naked I shall return.
We cry and no one can console us.
And this is our life.
This is the environment in which we must find joy.
It makes me cry to simply write about it.
However even after painting such a stark picture of the reality of life – I still come back to two questions.
Is God good?
And will you praise him?
The sun is shining outside right now. My bare feet on top of each other are warm. I am able to type and move my fingers. There are people on this planet that care deeply about me. The earth continues its silent path through the universe. The sun still feels a little hotter coming through the car window.  Truly goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
Is God good?
You created the universe, hold up the heavens and the earth, preside over thousands of years of blips who call themselves men, make plants grow and rain fall, every good and pleasurable thing in this world comes from you.
Yes – God is good.
But will you praise him?
When all is lacking control – when you are lost – when the world is cruel – will you say even though I would rather take a knife and kill myself – you are the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, I praise your for who you are, for what you have done, and for what you are going to do. 
How hard it becomes to praise our God in times of trouble. When we are suffering how difficult it becomes to let out a hallelujah.
Yet, when we are broken is when our praise is most sincere.
The only way to find joy in this world is to be able to give praise when we feel out of control.
Even if the very world should stop, we must remember that we were always just visitors on this planet, always just specks of dust whose sole purpose is to praise him while we can.
Forever. And ever.
– Darryl Ratcliff

Cross the River Bravely

The Buddha, from The Dhammapada, Chapter 26: The Brahmin

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Full effort is full victory.

Full effort is full victory.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Here I am

Originally written 
July 23, 2010
(posted September 9, 2010)

"When You Call"
                  – From Isaiah

"Then when you call, the Lord will answer;
When you cry, He will say, Here I am."

Last week, Roy, who mows our yard, was outside mowing. When I heard his lawnmower, I went outside to move my car off of the driveway so that he could mow the grass under my car.

In the time it took me to walk to my car, move it, and then come back to the house, Roy stopped the lawnmower three times and walked over to talk to me. Each time, it was to tell me a short story about God's grace.

Story #1: Roy's truck wouldn't start the day before he came to do our yard. So he prayed, and said "God, I need my truck so that I can do my work. God, I thank you in advance for seeing a way to fix my truck. Thanks be to God. I do need my truck fixed by tomorrow so that I can do my work." That evening, Roy's nephew came over and got the truck running again.

Roy started his mower again, but before I could get into my car, he stopped the mower:
Story #2: "Karen, my weed eater broke. And I can't afford to buy a new weed eater. So I said - God, thank you in advance for providing me with a weed eater. I really do need a new weed eater, but I can't buy one. And you know what happened? That night, my neighbor was standing outside and said 'Roy, I bought a new weedeater. Would you like to have this one? It still works just fine.' So, I got a weedeater. God is good."

I moved my car, walked back toward the house, and Roy stopped the mower again. I could hear Mr. Patrick - our 95 year old neighbor - mowing in his front yard.
Story #3: Roy says, "Your neighbor couldn't get his lawn mower started, so he asked me what I'd charge to mow his yard. I said, I'll mow your yard, but let me see if I can get your mower started first. Which he did, and Mr. Patrick was able to continue mowing his yard - 95 years old, right there in the middle of a hot July day. I said, "It's amazing that Mr. Patrick can still mow his yard at the age of 95." Roy said, "Thanks be to God. It's a blessing of God. God is good."

So I thanked Roy again. He and I shook hands. He said, God Bless You and your husband." I said, "God bless you, Roy." And I walked in to the house thinking, OK, maybe I need to get as precise as Roy and his weedeater in what I ask for. And maybe I should try thanking God in advance.

So of course, my first thought is: we need $10 million for 29 Pieces. Roy thanks God in advance for a weed eater and I thank God in advance for $10 million. Doesn't feel right.

I came back in, got quiet, and wrote:

If I were to thank God in advance for what we need for 29 Pieces, for Today Marks the Beginning, what would that be?

For 29 Pieces:
A consistent, unwavering engagement with the process.
Other committed, passionate people
Fascination with the experience
Focus on the goal.
– Karen Blessen