It’s been extremely difficult if not frightening to try to paint lately, during this incredibly potent , magical and nightmarish time. Like so many others, it is overwhelming to be witness to a time in history when the barbarians are not only at the gate, they are in the gate.
The psychiatrist and visionary John Weir Perry, among others, has noted that during times of great upheaval, when the entire edifice of our shared collective belief system is threatening to crash at any moment, that is the time when the artists, visionaries and writers arise to help us navigate and name that momentous pivot point in our evolution that can be called “The Changing of the Gods”
Perhaps it is not so much a literal changing of actual Gods, as it is a reimaging of the Great Story that has defined us.
The Great Story is really the culture’s myth about who they are and why they are here.
In our western culture this is called the Judeo-Christian myth, and it reflects a certain image of God the Father with a long list of manly attributes. For the last 400 years this myth has been modified by the scientific revolution, which it seems has given religion a rather material and mechanistic bent.
Even so, for millenniums this myth has been a vital if not brutal face of who we imagine ourselves to be, what we collectively believe to be reality and where our place in the universe actually is.
But now this Great Story has lost its power. The function of any cultural myth, any Great Story, has always been to renew and heal. But slowly, over hundreds of years, it has fallen into a cynical view of power that justifies harming and killing. The visionary power of Christ that electrified human beings has been organized, diluted, institutionalized and dogmatized into impotency.
Thus, the Great Story is no longer capable of renewing itself or the people. It has increasingly fallen into the hands of those who want to rule the world.
When Great Story becomes co-opted to serve the petty needs of tyrants it becomes deathly ill. No one can save it. This is the meaning of the phrase, ”Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
What happens next is the onset of decay. We can witness the rise of fundamentalism, the justification for torture, the mass incarceration and the consolidation of wealth into the hands of a few. There is crime, depression, anxiety, terror, suicide, and addiction. The entire web of mutually benefiting relationships begins to break down, and brother turns on brother. This is the metaphorical story of Cain and Abel. As in the myth of the Fisher King, the earth goes fallow and the people begin to die, spiritually and physically.
All this points to a time of chaos. Although the function of chaos is about course correction and not about punishment, it can certainly feel like punishment. But if we look at our present predicament like a spiritual emergency, that is, a rapid, chaotic psychological and spiritual transformation, then the symptoms have a trajectory, one whose potential leads to healing and a more expanded awareness of the unity of all life.
The manifestation of chaos in our time has some potent shamanic elements. We are collectively being dragged kicking and screaming into our own collective underworld where the entire image of who we are is being dismembered and deconstructed by forces we are powerless to influence. Practically overnight, we find ourselves on the path of the ordeal.
This is the realm of the archetype of the hero’s journey. It’s about the soul finally stepping forward in order for its needs to be acknowledged and attended to so that a gift might be released. Because when the soul steps forward, the limited ego has no choice but to step back and this can be extremely painful. The soul wants to have a say now in what is most true, beautiful and magnificent about who we are as human spirits.
So first, there must be a death, an end to the old story and to the illusion that we are separate beings. That can feel like a Dark Night of the Soul. We can feel lost, utterly abandoned by God, angry, confused, and horribly alone. We no longer care about the things that used to distract and entertain us. Our relationships change. We feel despair and unspeakable grief. We long for the presence of comforting Spirit in our lives.
Yet, even as the old story within us is dying, a new story is on its way. It is being birthed right now, even as we speak. This is like the myth of the Phoenix.
In the birthing of the new Great Story that I see, we are the co-creators of it. By definition, the new Great Story informs us that we are not alone in the universe but are in fact altogether linked into one cosmic web of intelligence, one unity of life. We are in partnership with the divine intelligence and that source is in us.
War becomes unthinkable. The idea that some beings are entitled to rule the rest becomes ludicrous. The new Great Story is a conviction that what we do to the other we do to ourselves. It is about living the truth that everything is alive and therefore sacred. Overpowering the earth with pollution and exploitation in the name of private profit is seen as a form of insanity.
The new Great Story is about each of us allowing the Divine Intelligence to return to its own creation, not as religious dogma, but as a living presence in us. God is no longer “out there” but in here. And one of the signs that the Divine Presence is returning is that all the rules about what is possible start to change. And then we do too.
So as an artist, how does one express this? How can one express the unseen presence of Spirit that is our essence?
My own purpose in doing art at all commenced more than six years ago after a personal spiritual emergency that forced me to find some sort of order in the chaos, some sign that behind my own personal pain there was loving intent and not punishment. It forced me to try to grapple with the ancestral conditioning of a vengeful, wrathful, insane God who cast people into hell for even looking wrong in the lineup.
The art that emerged for me during this time in the form of the geometric mandala was a kind of personal proof that there was a living presence of beauty and love in the universe that was beyond my limited understanding and conditioning. I viewed the art that emerged as actual evidence of our divine origins and the fact that we are already saved. If God is us and we are God, how can God cast himself into hell eternally and not die Himself?
This was no easy insight. For me, with my own entrenched ego, it has involved a long ordeal of terror, anxiety, panic, body somatization, and painful doubt. It has involved moving through the conditioning of my own traumatic past and the religious conditioning of my Mormon ancestors.
For me at least, it has been no small matter to stand before the inevitable confrontation with death that seems built into accepting the true power of our own spiritual nature.
So how to face the burning bush, like Moses on the mount? How can something be so beautiful and terrible at the same time?
It is true that my practice of art right now is really difficult. It’s hard to put into an image what I’m saying here and yet, I feel I must try. Like many others, I get terrified. I have my sleepless nights. I have my illness, my chronic pain, my doubts. And like many others, I have that experience of my heart permanently breaking at the senseless violence of our times.
The purpose of this post is to share with you that the art that I do, that was born out of an intense and almost unendurable crisis of the soul, has been urging me lately to speak in words about this process and share what my experience is of living through these times.
It is all about the reimaging of God and thus ourselves, so that peace, renewal, prosperity and life can once again return to this planet we call our home. It is about the right to thrive and claim the gifts awaiting us when we attend to the needs of the soul.
It is about love, pure and simple.