Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Calligraphy as a way of soothing yourself

I was glancing through a magazine called The Fountain http://www.fountainmagazine.com/ last night and ran across an article about Turkish calligraphy. The article explored the work of a contemporary calligrapher named Osman Sahin who creates his calligraphic art in Arabic script.

I have always found Arabic calligraphy (and all forms of calligraphy for that matter) extraordinarily beautiful.

Something I hadn't thought about was the mending nature of the act of making calligraphy. The article indicates that for centuries, Turks have known that calligraphy (called Hat and pronounced "hut")actually serves to salve our hurt and our brokenness. Above is a simple, soothing calligraphic drawing I made the other day in my visual journal.

The article I was reading was written Nisa Nur Terzi. Here's what Nisa has to say:

During the Ottoman era, some of the sick were treated by using fine arts like Hat together with soothing Sufi music and the art of Ebru (water marbling) drawing.

The beauty present in Islamic-Turkish calligraphy is said to be a direct reflection of the inner soul of the calligrapher. As Osman Sahin himself says, “Whenever I am stressed, I pick up my pen and draw. This is because the art of Hat has a therapeutic aspect to it.

The origins of Hat date back to the early Islamic era when manuscripts of the Qur’an were being recorded and handwritten. However, at that time there was little emphasis on the style of writing but greater emphasis on the message being revealed. It was centuries later, during the Ottoman Era, that Turks focused on the style of writing.

It is a common saying among Muslims that “the
Qur’an was revealed in Mecca, recited in Egypt and written in Istanbul.” The Ottoman Turks produced and perfected various styles of script that were passed on throughout the Muslim world.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother Wisdom Speaks

This weekend I led a retreat just outside of Bardstown, Kentucky. We gathered to work on the idea of learning to read our life stories as "holy text" after the fashion of the medieval Christian practice of Lectio Divina. Lectio is a technique that uses four steps (reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation) to go deeply, prayerfully into scripture when we read it.

We were gathered at Bethany Spring, an extraordinarily peaceful, quiet retreat house one mile down the road from the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, the monastery where Thomas Merton spent nearly all of his adult life.

Bethany Spring (www.bethanyspring.org/) is operated by the Thomas Merton Institute for Contemplative Living. Bethany's director and guiding spirit is Jonathan Montaldo, former president of the International Thomas Merton Society and editor of several volumes of Merton's journals, including the exquisite Intimate Merton.

As we shared the intimate life stories about events that led each of us to feel broken, Jonathan shared with us a poem he had recently encountered.

It is a particular balm for those who suffer. Here it is:

Mother Wisdom Speaks

Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will make you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.

I will hollow you with knives.
I will not do this to make you clean.
I will not do this to make you pure.
You are clean already.
You are pure already.

I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this for the space that you will be.
I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.
People will find their way through you. A bowl.
People will eat from you and their hunger will not weaken them unto death.
A cup to catch the sacred rain.

My daughter, do not cry. Do not be afraid.
Nothing you need will be lost.
I am shaping you.
I am making you ready.

Light will flow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light.
Your bone will shine.

The round, open center of you will be radiant.
I will call you Brilliant One.
I will call you Daughter who is wide.
I will call you Transformed.

By Christin Lore Weber

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spiritual Advice from Dirty Harry

Sometimes words of spiritual wisdom come from the most unlikely sources. A case in point is a quotation from the actor Clint Eastwood in the role of the ultra-violent and vengeful detective, Harry Callahan.

In the movie, , he says, "A man's got to know his limitations."

That's advice I have learned to take seriously lately.

Because of my role as an interfaith leader and my new persona as the author of a book on spirituality, I am occasionally asked for advice or spiritual direction.

I can speak from my own experience, but I am not a trained therapist, spiritual director or clergyman. So, I am learning to set boundaries.

I can answer questions on some matters, but when friends or acquaintances come to me with serious and deep problems, I am learning to direct people to therapists, social service agencies and clergy that I trust. I also reference the section in my book on "emotional first aid," advice provided by my partner, art therapist Fran Englander.

We all need to know our limitations. And respect them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reversing our Haikus

In his fascinating and compelling book, The Exquisite Risk, cancer survivor Mark Nepo tells a story about reversing the way we view reality.

He begins a chapter this way.

"In the 1660s , the Japanese [haiku] master, Basho, spoke profoundly to his student Kikaku:

We shouldn't abuse God's creatures.
You must reverse your Haiku, not:

a dragonfly,
remove its wings---
pepper tree.


a pepper tree;
add wings to it---
We need to keep that in mind as we look closely at our own life stories. Many of us who are broken can only see the negative in our circumstances. We can and should explore ways to see the gift in our brokenness. It might be one of those gifts that you open and say, "You shouldn't have." But it's still a gift.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Wonderful Insights from Thomas Merton

Each week I receive an e-mail from the Thomas Merton Institute for Contemplative Living with a short "insight" from the late, great Catholic spiritual leader whose name the institute bears.

Merton was a Cistercian (or Trappist) monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky from 1941 until his untimely death in 1968.

Merton gained an international reputation among Catholics, Protestants and persons of all religions for his deep insights in at least three key spiritual areas: contemplative prayer; inter-religious dialogue; and peacemaking.

In this week's insight Merton talks about his one and only experience driving. He was lent a jeep at the monastery and in just a short period of time managed to bang it up pretty badly. He was never allowed to drive again.

He talks about his driving failure with self-deprecating humor.

It's an important lesson to learn, especially for those of us who feel broken. Our circumstances may seem dark and even overwhelming, but seeing humor in our failings can be a balm.

Here's a link to this weekly insight.

If you want to sign up to receive the weekly insights please e-mail: