M. C. Richards on the Wisdom of Art, Body and Creativity

M.C. Richards, was potter, poet, painter, philosopher and a cherished teacher in my creation spirituality programs over many years.  In her classic work Centering, she tells us of the intimate relationship between throwing a pot on the wheel and meditation.

“Person Molding Vase” by Swapnil Dwivedi

Pottery can teach us the discipline of freedom, including the freedom to play. We must be able to have fun, we must feel enjoyment, and sometimes long imprisonment has made us numb and sluggish…. We become brighter, more energy flows through us, our limbs rise, our spirit comes alive in our tissues. 

In art, we learn to let go. 

We redeem our energies not by wrestling with them and managing them, for we have not the wisdom nor the strength to do that, but by letting the light to shine upon them.

“Oakland.” Anonymous artist protests police killings, 2010. Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

We also let things be themselves—including unpleasant things. 

The discipline comes in when we have to pay attention to what we don’t like, aren’t interested in, don’t understand, mistrust,…. when we have to read the poetry of our enemies—within or without. 

In art, we wed body and spirit so thoroughly that redemption comes in a bodily way. 

It is in our bodies that redemption takes place. It is the physicality of the crafts that please me: I learn through my hands and my eyes and my skin what I could never learn through my brain.

For Richards, art as meditation leads to seeing what is—and this has real implications for our work at social healing and compassion. 

Banksy protest image, Manger St, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine. Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

How can we not see what our eyes behold? As our perception become more and more coordinated, we grow in justice.

She talks about moral imagination that is developed by the discipline of art. 

From the child’s ability to imagine grows as well the adult’s capacity for compassion: the ability to picture the suffering of others, to identify. In one’s citizenship, or the art of politics, it is part of one’s skill to imagine other ways of living than one’s own.

M. C. tells the story of how one day a nine-year-old girl brought her an object resembling a curved plate to be fired in the kiln.  “What’s that, Lisa?” M.C. asked the girl.  “It’s art,” Lisa said solemnly. 

A young girl engrossed in her artwork. Photo by Ekaterina Novitskaya on Unsplash

M.C. comments:

Obviously, I’ve never forgotten that movement.  It was an epiphany, a revelation.  From the mouths of babes….Matter that bears spirit into the fire to be transformed: It’s art. How did she know that? 

It was, I believe, a totally intuitive, innocent, unselfconscious, essential wisdom.  And it came from a deep, innocent, unselfconscious, essential source, an essential Self.…an essential Self.  This essential Self, I believe, belongs to each of us, and is at the same time a network, a basis of communion: my self and the Self.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells, pp. 236f;

Also see Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet.

Banner Image: “The Pottery Lesson, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, India.” Photo by Shayne Inc Photography on Unsplash

Do you agree that it is in our bodies that redemption takes place?  What follows from that?  What are the implications for our work in the body politic? 

Do you too recognize how the moral imagination is key to our capacity for compassion?

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

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2 thoughts on “M. C. Richards on the Wisdom of Art, Body and Creativity”

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    When my teenaged, adopted daughter was “acting out” and at the same time withdrawing into her silent self, a friend invited me to participate in an art therapy group. We usually made collages, but one day my friend handed me two lumps of clay and said, “Make a mother and daughter.” I took the larger lump and made – to my surprise – a bird! I set the bird on a clay branch beside a clay nest. In the nest I put the second lump of clay, shaped into a baby bird with a gaping mouth. She seemed to be crying, “Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!” But what did the mother bird have in her beak? A tiny worm. I looked at the sculpture which my hands – and heart – had created, and saw how inadequate I felt to meet my daughter’s needs. As Walter Wink has said, “One’s hands know how to express what cannot be put into words.”

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