Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Meinrad Craighead: Divine Mother and Clouds of Invisible Witnesses

Jayden Cameron has a beautiful posting up at his Gay Mystics blog site right now, focusing on artist-mystic Meinrad Craighead. I recommend it for all kinds of reasons: it's a Lenten resource for those who keep Lent; and it flows together perfectly with some of the themes developed by feminist theologian Ivone Gebara to which I pointed in my last posting here--the need of women to articulate their experience of the divine in their own terms, the imperative need of a church whose governing structures are dominated by males to listen to and welcome that experience, the way in which women refashion male-dominated symbols of the divine handed to them by male religious leaders, the relegation of women's refashioned symbols of the divine to a feminine "little world," etc.

As I watch the video about Meinrad Craighead's life and work that Jayden includes in his posting, I'm struck by her insistence (echoed by women who have studied with her) that she's surrounded by spirits, and that her art flows from her encounter with the spiritual realm. At one point in the video, Craighead says that she has always known who and what her spirits are, and that she has to paint in order to remain in vital contact with those spirits.

The art she produces out of this matrix is art that reminds us that the entire world and all in it are alive with divine flame. Many of her works reach far back in time to some of the most primitive symbols of divine encounter to be found in various cultures of the world--the spiral motif so beloved by early Celtic art, for instance, as a symbol of the concentration and emanation of divine energy.

There are, as well, strong resonances of native American spirituality in her work--the sense that the divine manifests itself through the natural world in the form of animal spirits that become mentors for humans seeking divine encounter. At times, her work evokes Austrian artist Hundertwasser for me, too, with his off-center living spaces in which the natural and fabricated blend together with seamless unity, so that there is no enclosed human world separate from the outer world of nature itself.

I hear German artist Käthe Kollwitz, with her heart-breaking images of women cradling children and seeking to protect them from violence speaking all through Craighead's work, too, as I also hear the iconographic traditions of Christian monasticism reflecting her years as a Benedictine nun at Stanbrook Abbey in England. Ironically, though Craighead was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, as I was, too, I had never heard of her or her work until I went to Stanbrook with friends who have friends in that community a number of years ago.

Or is it ironic that one travels halfway around the planet only to find oneself unexpectedly at home? I suspect those with attunement to the spiritual energy of people like Meinrad Craighead might see no irony here at all--only further evidence that the fire of the Holy Mother burns bright everywhere in the world, when we develop eyes to see it.

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