The Heavens and the Earth
What you see: The inspiration for this piece is 12th century opus sectile work, which is made of hand-cut marble, and often decorates the nave and sanctuary of churches. But this mosaic is made with pieces of photographs which are printed , cut up, and collaged with beeswax and resin. The general look and small infill patterns come from the medieval Great Pavement at Westminster Abbey, which I traveled to London to study, but the overall geometry of this mosaic is based on the floor plan of the Chapel of the Holy Family at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder Colorado, a square cross-shaped room with a round altar in the center. (click the image below, and you can zoom in to look closer.)
What you don’t see:
In Autumn of 2003, I was taking a class in Contemplative Art, and my teacher and mentor challenged me at one point to find some kind of spiritual practice that I could do every day for the remaining two months of the semester, and a way to make a mark or record of it as an artist. My first reaction was “I can’t possibly do that; I’m too busy!” (I was working two jobs and going to school as well.) But as I pondered her assignment, I remembered something I had read a few years before about the Jewish practice of making baruchot, or blessings, and the way I remembered the blessing prayer was “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the heavens and the earth.” (The last part of which became the title for the piece of art.) There are many many variations of this in the Jewish tradition; prayers for waking up in the morning, prayers for different things you might see, or eat, or experience, a prayer for washing your hands after using the bathroom, and so on. They are a beautiful way of remembering that God is behind everything, and according to the Talmud, it is considered a theft against God to partake of any worldly joy without thanking God for it.
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheynu,. Melech ha Olam borey..”
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates…
So I began to make my own blessings, using that format, and write them down. (Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the purr of my cat… Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the thunder and lightning…) This turned out to be a great spiritual practice, and something that I could easily do even in the midst of my very busy life. For several months I collected the blessings, and over 500 of them are transcribed in gold ink on the paper that forms the foundation for the mosaic. Photographs of some of the everyday things mentioned in the prayers are used to make the collage, including moss, rust, weathered wood, and snow.
This prayer has been very influential in my spiritual life; making me slow down and pay more attention to the world around me, looking at every little thing as a gift from a generous creator. Looking at the world with the eyes of thankfulness re-sets my priorities and makes me open to the presence of God all around me. It also challenges me to find ways of being grateful and seeing the presence of God in things that I experience as difficult or negative; a traffic jam, hearing bad news, the pain in my ankles.