Visitors to New Mexico, and oftentimes artists, talk about a certain quality of light found there.  It’s a light that is strikingly different from one that exists in other climates or landscapes, and has to be seen in person to be experienced.  Even my photos don’t quite show it.  For me the quality of the place is more than the light– it’s in the vistas, mountains and mesas, the scrubby piñons, taller pines and Cottonwoods, the red dirt and striped rock formations, the smell after a rainstorm and the sage… I could go on.

There is something about this desert landscape that makes a person feel small, not insignificant, but in right proportion to the wildness of nature and the passage of time.  As a friend of mine once pointed out, standing next to a giant boulder that has existed for untold centuries puts life and one’s concerns in perspective.  If only the boulder could tell what it knows.

Being in this high desert landscape always does me good, settling me as I take it all in, a breath at a time.  It makes perfect sense, then, to move from this settled spot to exploring inner landscapes around art and spirituality, as our group of retreaters did  last week at Ghost Ranch.

On our second day, the exercise was to consider seven elements or aspects of spirituality and how we ourselves are in communication or conversation with those elements:  self, others, nature, society, God, words or texts, and things or objects. Again we chose from a selection of art pieces to meditate on, sequence, and arrange according to our own sensibility, kind of like a visual map of our inner lives.

Without over-thinking it, I selected pictures that spoke to me, and tried to stick with immediate impressions.  Then I sat down to get to know these pieces, and with my sketchbook, paints, and pencils in hand, created my own version of each one.

Here are my sketches:

self (after Rodin)

others (after Isaac Israels)

nature (after Charley Toorop)

society (after Ted Von Lieshont)

God (after Bettie Van haaster)

words, texts (after Mondrian)

church, worship (after Pieter Saenredam)

These images speak to me, and for themselves.  I’ll skip the personal detail, because it’s personal, but the exercise was a telling one.  For instance, I do a lot of thinking about objects and things, but for that particular element I came around to a different idea, one of a space inside a structure, a church.  The painting intrigued my eye, inviting me in and through, raising questions, leading me to imagine an attached narrative.  Later, in the centering and sequencing of my seven chosen pictures, I found that I could more easily draw out a description of my individual sense of spirituality, in part because of my response to the art.  What a rich kind of dialogue between art and spirit–that is, if we take the time to tease it out!

The day before, our instructor and facilitator, Wil Arts, asked us to consider a quote from Flaubert,  saying, “God is presenting himself overall… in the details, She is.”

Yes, overall and in the details, like the effect of this landscape on my spirit.