Friday, May 30, 2014

The Loom of the World

Seeing patterns in things is a reassuring thing. It comforts us to feel that something, some experience, has an underlying purpose, even if that purpose is not clear to us at the time. We trust that it is so. All across the world, in different places and in different cultures, women are weaving. Women have been doing so for thousands of years, creating cloth from the wool of their herds or from other plants and animals to make into clothing, or baskets, or blankets. They might be spinning on a simple hand-held spindle while they watch over the same herds which provide what they spin, or they might be sitting outside using a portable back-strap loom, or using a large frame loom in their house. I myself have done my own share of weaving at the loom.

All of these women, wherever they live or have lived, are creating different things, using different patterns, distinctive to their times and cultures. But perhaps there is a sense in which they are actually creating the same thing. The activity is the same, however it is produced. What connects these women is that they are all weavers. They are all familiar with the warp and weft of the loom – the vertical and horizontal threads which create the weaving.

We readily recognise this warp and weft which creates the weave of our own life’s experiences:  pain and pleasure, loathing and delight, sorrow and rejoicing, regret and anticipation. Darkness and light are also part of this pattern, and the pattern tells us that the weaving would not be possible, would not even exist, without both of these experiences. But what is the weaving?

Perhaps a network, all-unseen, connects all women who weave, and who have ever woven. The common activity is in itself enough for a connection to be made. Perhaps through this connection one vast weaving is being created, a weaving whose mysterious form we might glimpse through the creative activity of all these individual women. And not just of all these women who weave, but of ourselves and our experiences. We are all weavers, weaving at the loom of the world. From our sorrow and our joy, from pain and forgiving, from all the darkness and the light, the weaving of love takes form.    

Copper Cascade by Donna Sakamoto Crispin

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ascension Day

Ascension Window Taizé.
Stained Glass made by Brother Eric.

In the story of my own soul, 
I can see the Light at work. 
Through stained glass it may sometimes appear 
to be patched and variable, 
but even so that Light is very real indeed.
Wishing you all a Happy Ascension day.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Girl in a Kimono

She was born in 1877 in Zaandam, in the province of North Holland. When she was 16, Geesje Kwak moved with her sister Anna to Amsterdam to settle into the safe young ladies' profession of milliner. There, among the ladies' hats and bonnets, ribbons and bustling clients, she might have remained in obscurity, her name - and her features - unknown to art history. Except that one day her path crossed that of the artist George Hendrik Breitner.

Breitner, already something of a name in the art world of the time, had recently acquired a studio on Amsterdam's Lauriergracht (Laurel Canal), one of the prettiest spots in the city. In 1892 the artist had visited an influential exhibition of Japanese art in The Hague (which had also inspired Vincent van Gogh, among others), and had enthusiastically acquired several kimonos and some decorative room screens as a result. A year later, the artist's chance meeting with the young milliner seems to have lit a spark of inspiration, and Geesje found herself being asked - on a paid professional basis - to pose as a model in the kimonos. Breitner seems to have been meticulous about details. There is an existing notebook in which he recorded the various dates and hours when Geesje posed for him, and the amounts which she was paid for her time.

The notebook suggests a methodical, business-like approach to the model sessions, but the series of paintings which resulted reveal a special alchemy. Breitner's brushwork in the canvasses shows extraordinary verve and confidence, as if nowhere was it necessary to go over the same brushstroke twice. They are images which indicate that the artist knew exactly where he needed to go to achieve the required result, and what he needed to do to get there, and Geesje seems to have been the catalyst. Posed either in a red or in a silvery-white kimono, Geesje is there in the canvasses as a tangible presence, even when only her face and her hands are visible. Breitner never allows that presence to be swamped by the surrounding patterns of kimono, carpet and room screen which swirl busily around her; the balance between the naturalistic treatment of the model and the eddying patterns is always perfectly held.

Always a restless innovator, Breitner was among the first artists to use his own photographs as references for his paintings.  And indeed: among his collection we also come across his photographs of Geesje, apparently made by the artist for this very purpose. One photograph by Breitner in the Leiden Museum print collection shows a thoughtful Geesje posing hand-on-chin. This gelatine-silver print offers us perhaps our clearest look at the girl who inspired the artist. What must Geesje herself have thought about it all? Was she bemused? Was she flattered by the unexpected attention? In any event, she did not feature further in Breitner's work. There are two reasons for this.

The first reason is that, incomprehensibly, the series of paintings featuring Geesje met with either an indifferent or a scoffing critical reception when they were exhibited. The critical reaction was cold enough, apparently, to discourage the artist further in this direction, and he went on to other themes and subjects. The second reason is Geesje herself. Two years later she emmigrated with her older sister Niesje to Pretoria in South Africa, where she sadly died before reaching her 22nd birthday. But this young death of the girl who became Breitner’s model and inspiration offered its own transcendence: the mysterious immortality which art can grant, even to a young unknown milliner. 


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Homecoming

Corals spread wide like open fans of lace, purple and red anemones unfold like flowers, reaching with delicate tentacles towards the dancing sun’s rays that filter down from above. And through these watery gardens swim schools of blue and yellow fish like flights of tropical birds. Long fronds of sea plants wave gracefully to the half-silent, half-forgotten echoes of sea shells: the music of the deeps… and I float between them, adrift from the world of the land, from the breathing of air, from the heavy and difficult walking on unfamiliar legs, from earthbound cares and sorrows.

Here, far beneath the surface waves, beneath the tug and turmoil of the world above, is where I was born. I do not know, cannot remember, the first moment of my existence. Perhaps my becoming was a gradual thing. What I do remember is a first awareness, a consciousness of my being. Perhaps I was created by an unknown other, or perhaps, in that new awareness, I created myself. I only remember those distant times as times of drift and darkness. Then later, much later, an emergence of a lesser dark as, still drifting, I rose slowly from the deeps.

For millions of years my body drifted. The seas around me changed, became less barren, were now sown with new growth: gardens and forests of sea plants that waved gracefully with the currents, amphora-shaped sponges that among the age-old corals clamped fast to their rocks in a world of muffled light and silence. Now the subtly-changing song of the sea shells tells me that I have reached another ocean, and I drift over gardens of flowers that are really animals: delicate sea lilies that turn their tentacles to the winds of this watery underworld, as flowers turn towards the sun in the world above.

This is my world: a world inhabited by water spirits and nymphs, sirens and sea maids: beings invisible to those of the land, as invisible to them as the pathways we travel across these great oceans, drifting in a deep sea dream of endless blue currents. I drift with them; am myself one of them, ever drifting in this world of blue silence beneath the waves. We never leave the sea, would never wish to, for the sea does not experience departures, only returns. Whether you believe in my existence, whether you believe or not in my slim and spectral sea maid body, one day you also will return, for our mother ocean is home to us all. And I and the others of my kind will be waiting to welcome you home.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day

We need only remember her. We need only call her by the heart-name every human being has set into their very souls before they ever came to earth, that one word each of us knew before we could even feed ourselves, before we could even walk. The very first word inscribed into the hearts of all of humanity across the entire planet:


Text: Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Painting The Soul of the Rose by John William Waterhouse

Thursday, May 1, 2014



Are you hungry, my Little One?
Never mind - soon it will be time to eat.
Look: Mamma is putting yams in a pot to boil;
you can eat them mashed,
that way your mouth will not hurt
the way it does when you have to chew.
Why don’t you lie down and rest now?
When you wake up, it will be time for dinner.

My Little One, my Beloved, watches me,
sees me take yams from a basket,
sees me place them in the cooking pot.
I make a show of putting the pot on the fire,
cleaning pans, busying myself
with preparing the meal to come.

From the corner of my eye I watch.
Little eyes grow drowsy at last with waiting.
Little eyes fall closed at last, still wondering
when the meal will be ready to eat.
I look down at the stones
which I have placed in the pot.
The water is boiling at last.
I let it boil. My Little One will sleep now,
and I will let my Little One sleep.