Mary Lou Weaver is an artist, a spiritual director, a retreat leader, and the caretaker along with her husband of Herrbrook Farm, a retreat center and farmstead in Lancaster, PA. I love their tagline: "an arbor for homecoming, hospitality, and art spirit." Makes me long for retreat just gazing at their photos.
All of the artists who I invite to participate in this series create gorgeous art. One of the great joys in this process for me is the journey of discovery of the layers and connections I encounter with their words.
I am delighted that Mary Lou has agreed to share her wisdom here with us. She has generously offered some of her vision of the integration of art and spirit.
Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition?
The creative act is a communal process. It is story . . . born of generational activity and relationship. My art-making is interactive, a reciprocal exchange which brings past and future into the moment. It is a conversation between the internal and external, the individual and the other. So I find all sorts of motley characters from my Anabaptist faith tradition inhabiting my art! Their feisty imagination stands at an angle to society in order to see “what is” and “what could be.”
What is your primary art medium?
Currently it is bamboo with mixed media. It offered itself to me as an art medium quite unexpectedly in August 2000 when I was designing a commissioned piece for a large vertical wall space. The lightweight strength and purity of form spawned all sorts of possibilities as I sketched and imagined; an insightful spiritual director remarked, “There’s your graduate art series!” “Thresholds of the Spirit,” the resulting 9’ high bamboo portals, came into being, inspired by the bamboo we had planted eleven years prior in the meditation garden near our retreat cottage at Herrbrook Farm. Through those years, the bamboo grew along with me as I spent hours in its presence—resting, journaling, praying. I have been creating with it ever since.
How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?
The Spirit’s energy breathes through our bones and brings to life things unimaginable for our healing. And so we paint, sing, write, dance, design, build, garden . . .
By honoring a spirituality that is holistic—comprised of every moment, relationship and event in my life—I learn a way of hospitality and creativity that is inclusive and sacred. My art pieces, like me, are works in process—a tribute to the community that continues to foster my own emergence as an artist.
What role does spiritual practice have in your art-making?
In 1998, I had written the prayer below which evolved from the previous nine years of intentional spiritual practice, yoga, art-making, and accountability with a spiritual director. It continues to be my intention as I bow before a new day at my east-facing bedroom window.
Creator Heart-Spirit, it is you who energize me and bring beauty into every aspect of my being. It is you who danced across the void, illuminating darkness historically and personally within me.
Your shining Beauty graces earth and her creatures.
Your shining Beauty brings life to dull eyes.
Your shining Beauty illuminates our myopia and self-centeredness.
You inspire me to restore your goodness and beauty to all parched places–bringing greening power to diminished spirits, connections of love to form communion.
I hear your call; to this end I bow and greet each new day.
What sparked your spiritual journey?
Surely it is through gardening that I first sensed an earth-based spirituality as a young child. It’s in my bones, this genetic passion passed on by the mothers of my family of origin. There was never a word which quite captured it, our gardening impulse, until my sisters and I visited the 300-acre indoor Amsterdam Flower Auction in Holland. Among that intense color we heard the term “Blümenlust.” Yes! That was it! We are crazy gardeners, filled with Blümenlust, longing to see beauty flourishing everywhere possible. Truly everywhere. My soul, all souls, blooming and flourishing with abundant life. Such good news . . . nurtured and watered, to be sure, by numerous theologians and writers—Elizabeth A. Johnson, Sally McFague, Grace Jantzen, Terry Tempest Williams, Alice Walker, Etty Hillesum, Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, oh, and of course Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, John O’Donohue, Wendell Berry, Matthew Fox, Stephen Nachmanovitch, J. Philip Newell, et al. Well, you get it.
What sparked your artistic journey?
It simply is, as Chardin describes it, the “boiling up of life,” I call it art-prayer—a creative response to contemplative prayer, sacred writ, the arts or ordinary experiences. Art-making as prayer is regenerative, bringing to life things unimaginable for personal healing. The creative process is an empowering dimension of my spirituality which connects me to Divine passion and imagination. Personally-created icons deepen my articulation, my compassion, and awareness. I listen and re-connect not only to God-within, but to all else in the earth community—God-without.
Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your creative work?
It is my life. I cannot separate the studio process from the rest of my activity.
Creativity seeps from every pore of my body,
The divine essence distilled . . .
And I wonder, is there no down time?
For when I sit, just being,
Creativity slips into every pore of my body,
The divine essence distilled . . .
How does your art-making shape your image of God?
These art images have drawn me from a world of external expectations to a place the Psalmist describes as “truth in my inward being.” Here is the place of divine freeplay and creative ferment where Lila, an old Sanskrit name for God, resides. Lila led me from my Mennonite milieu of earnest believers to my present calling on the exciting edges of spiritual quest, formation, and evolutionary awakening. While dipping back into our rich Christian monastic legacy, I also lean forward to where all of Creation groans and waits with eager longing for redemption.
Art from top to bottom: 1. photo of Mary Lou Weaver Houser / 2. Threshold of the Spirit 2, formation / 3. Threshold of the Spirit 4, transformation / 4. Bone of My Bone, motherline / 5. Bone of my Bone, and the breath came into them and they lived . . . / 6. Primary Colors 3, passionate experience / 7. Primary Colors 8, tending
With my own love of family systems and ancestry work, I was captivated by Mary Lou's very first statement above: "The creative act is a communal process. It is story . . . born of generational activity and relationship. My art-making is interactive, a reciprocal exchange which brings past and future into the moment." I think I will be reflecting on that insight for quite a while as well as Chardin's image of "the boiling up of life. I love everything else that follows, but especially her exquisite prayer ofthe divine essence distilled.
Make sure to visit Mary Lou Weaver's website, click on the galleries to see more of her art. My gratitude for her words that have drawn me deeper into the creative journey.
-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts