M. C. Richards tells the story of being at a beach in North Carolina and awakening to racism when she saw segregation at the water fountains standing in contrast to the light that shone on everyone and everything such as the waters equally. She exclaims: “How can we not see what our eyes behold? As our perceptions become more and more coordinated, we grow in justice.” By deepening our perceptions art sensitizes us to the suffering of the world.
Richards tells us that “the craftsman works from an immediate life sense.” It is this life sense without intermediary that we call ecstasy and mysticism–an experience of Unity with the Whole.
Richards insists on how all art is bodily. In art as meditation the body is not forgotten but rather integral to our meditation experiences, just like yoga is. “It is in our bodies that redemption takes place. It is the physicality of the crafts that pleases me: I learn through my hand and eyes and my skin what I could never learn through my brain.”
Because art as meditation is about doing, it is about materials. Therefore it involves matter and the transformation of matter and the transformation of energy by way of matter. Richards cautions us: “Realize that we do not win our depth and our inner form and our texture and our truth of being without the fire. Ordeal by fire. There is no substitute for transformation of the body.”
Art as meditation, being bodily, cuts through the dualism of body versus soul that so much ascetic spirituality preaches. Richards celebrates the “bodying forth” that occurs in Art as meditation when she writes: “Incarnation: bodying forth. Is this not our whole concern? The bodying forth of our sense of life?…That is what form is: the bodying forth. The bodying forth of the living vessel in the shapes of clay.”
The prophet Isaiah presents us with a picture of the Creator as a Potter of potters (Isa. 64:8). The prophet does not begin with the suffering of the world but with the excitement of beauty and the joy of life–as does the artist. As Heschel puts it, “What the prophet faces is not his own faith. He faces God. To sense the living God is to sense infinite goodness, infinite wisdom, infinite beauty. Such a sensation is a sensation of joy.”
Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Deep Ecumenism, Ecojustice, and Art as Meditation,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 227-231.
 Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, 143.
Banner Image: “Inside Wood-Fired Kiln,” photo by Crystal King, Crystal King Pottery Studio
Queries for Contemplation
“Ordeal by fire.” How is that a positive thing? Consider your ordeals by fire, be with them, welcome them back into your heart. What have they taught you? What are they teaching you now?
Our “sensations of joy.” Call them up. Listen to what they are telling you. Can art as meditation bring more such experiences to life for you?
In one of his foundational works, Fox engages in substantive discussions with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets on today’s social and spiritual issues on such challenging topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interspirituality, and more.