I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Amy Livingstone’s reflection on creating beauty in a broken world:
“Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.” – Terry Tempest Williams
Being present to beauty and the sacredness of the creation is the ground of my contemplative and creative life: a cobalt blue, handmade ceramic teacup; rainbows twinkling on a canvas from the crystal hanging in the window on a sunny day; reading poetry under the Sweet Gum tree; or a tiny spider weaving her web on the fading hydrangeas.
Silence, solitude, and stillness are the holy trinity that nurtures my work as a contemporary sacred artist and spiritual activist. Though I live within the boundaries of an urban landscape, I am surrounded by a bountiful amount of trees, a wild garden, and abundant birdsong, and am deeply aware of how blessed I am to inhabit this sanctuary space where I live and work—gratitude for this “one wild and precious life” to borrow from Mary Oliver.
My morning practice begins with silent sitting, reading of a sacred text or poetry, and contemplating the beauty of the creation, followed by art making which is a process of devotion for me. I begin my time in the studio with a ritual of lighting candles and incense as an offering, and I dedicate my work to the healing of all beings and our beloved planet.
Though my work as an artist invites long solitary hours in the studio, as a monk in the world I am called to bring my message out to a wider audience—through what Andrew Harvey defines as sacred activism. Exhibiting my paintings, creating an ineractive installation, leading nature-based ceremonies, speaking, writing, and offering workshops all contribute this calling to serve the healing of our world.
The larger vision for this soul path has been to raise awareness of the ecological crisis that I believe is born of our separateness from each other and the living body of earth. Drawing inspiration from all our religious traditions and from the earth-based wisdom of our ancestors, the intention for my sacred art is to communicate a new cultural narrative that is grounded in our innate interconnectedness in the web of creation and reverences the earth as holy. The overarching message being that no matter what faith we choose or inherit, including science, we are all born of the earth.
Having long been concerned about the plight of endangered species, some of my paintings address this critical issue including my recent painting, “Prayer for the Birds,” that includes some of the North American birds threatened by climate change. This painting is one in a four-part series called “Where I Stand is Holy” and is inspired by illuminated manuscripts.
Like most of us, my life didn’t start out this way. It was an underworld journey through grieving after the death of my brother from AIDS followed by the sudden death of my mother when I was 30 that was my initiation into this new consciousness, though it took a decade before I found the courage to answer the call of my soul. To quote Rumi: “The wailing of broken hearts is the doorway to God.” Though I had been making art in some form since a child, fifteen years ago at the age of 40, I left behind a high-stress, graphic design career to work professionally as an artist and to pursue this spiritual calling.
Once I stepped through this threshold, new pathways appeared that have contributed to my contemplative life of art, spirit, and service. The most significant of these included a training with environmentalist Joanna Macy, completing graduate work in our world’s spiritual traditions, and a pilgrimage to Peru where I learned the ancient ways of the Q’ero who continue to live high in the Andes in deep reciprocity with the natural world, Pachamama (mother earth).
As an introvert, I am most at home in the warm embrace of my sanctuary space and garden, but I am called to step through fear as it emerges and trust that this is what is being asked of me during this lifetime. I believe we each have a gift to offer our world and it is vital to do so during this evolutionary time in our human history. At the heart of all my work is a deep love for the earth and profound grief for all that we are losing with the escalating ecological crisis including climate change. Transmuting my grief by “creating beauty in a broken world” to quote Williams, is my gift and my prayer.
Amy Livingstone, MA, and founder of Sacred Art Studio in Portland, Oregon is an award-winning contemporary sacred artist and spiritual activist. In addition to creating art on commission, her work has been exhibited widely around the Pacific Northwest, resides in many private collections, and has been featured in numerous publications.
Thank you Amy for this beautiful post. Formed in Ignatian spirituality, I strive to find God in all things and to be a contemplative in action. I started a blog site last year after reading the morning newspaper over breakfast. With every page I turned I was bombarded with bad news and I decided that I wanted to step back from this and take time to look for the good and to notice the beauty that abounds in creation and in the people I meet. And so my blog was born, ‘noticing beauty in a troubled world’. I share your grief for the damage we are inflicting on our beautiful planet. I live in the state of Queensland, Australia and we are fighting a losing battle over proposed mining and export of coal from the vast deposits in the ironically named Galilee Basin. Nine mines are proposed and the coal will be transported through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. I shall however, continue my search for beauty and today I have found it in your post and your beautiful art. Oh, and I also love Mary Oliver!
Thank you Ann for sharing what is alive in your heart and for bringing beauty into our troubled world. (I’ve found your blog). My heart breaks for the nine proposed mines and transport through Great Barrier Reef area. As Terry Tempest Wiliams writes: “To bear witness is not a passive act. It can lead us to acts of consciousness and consequence.” Holding both the light and the dark becomes a spiritual practice indeed. Blessings to you, Amy
Amy, feeling blessed by what seems like another holy trinity of beauty – your words and their weaving of threads from many large tapestries, your beautiful work (I am especially taken by the second one included here which might be your ‘Prayer for the Birds’?) and by your vocational decision and daily commitment to live as a ‘contemporary sacred artist and spiritual activist’. I completely agree that it is vital that we all engage in the evolutionary call of our times to mend, repair and restore our relationship to Mother Earth – ‘of whom we are all born’ as you say. Best of good wishes with your inner and outer work.
Thank you Judith for such a beautiful reflection on my work and this sacred calling to serve mother earth. Yes, the painting you are referencing is the ‘Prayer for the Birds.’ Bow of gratitude. Amy
Dear Amy, Thank you for sharing your journey through art, healing, spiritual awakening and commitment to Pachamama. I am inspired by your deeply spiritual and engaging path. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother and mother in such short order. The power that art has offered you as a spiritual and contemplative practice is exquisitely visible in your paintings. I have also been deeply moved by the work of Joanna Macy, and am working on my PhD in Art Education, with a focus on contemplative practices for nurturing ecological care. It would be lovely to meet you and share perspectives and ideas.
Thank you Leslie for your kind reflections here and grateful to have connected via email. Namasté, Amy.
(I just figured out how to reply to comments here)