Going to the Light: A New Year’s Visual Contemplative Offering

Today is the first Sunday of the month when we share guest posts from people living and teaching the Contemplative and/or Celtic Christian way around the world. One of the beautiful things about the internet is that people doing amazing things in isolated parts of the world can learn from one another and grow together. We hope this article inspires you to dive a little deeper into what it means to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors while looking forward to what kind of world we will leave for our grandchildren.

Rev. Kari Lindholm-Johnson currently works as a visual artist, spiritual director, and independent contractor for art and spirituality. Kari has served in various roles at different institutions, including artist in residence, chaplain, interim pastor, associate pastor and guest lecturer. She is married with two grown children. She finds great delight in the Wonder of this world and connecting people through art and faith.  You can see more of her artwork at www.KariLindholm-Johnson.com

I offer a series of 9 paintings to you for contemplation at the start of 2022.  I felt as though the paintings were speaking and calling to me, and that they still do. During these days as the earth calls to us, I felt it was important to paint with materials that could return easily back to the earth, so I made them with products from ground and seed. 

Painting these panels felt like a communal process – ground, wood, seed and earth in a dance together with friends, family and me; at one moment while painting I felt a Presence akin to what I’ve felt in taking communion.  The grace of incarnation resounds all around us.  I am hoping that the structure of this article will also be congruent with the intent of the paintings, that it may be communal, an invitation and dance with the Light. I painted in conversation with friends and family.  I felt like I wasn’t painting them just for myself and that there was a call to contemplatively offer them to others. 

There are so many fears that surround us these last two years.  Underlying circumstances have caused immense suffering.  Some of these crushing systems have been brought to Light and are in need of continued illumination.  Also, circumstances of Covid-19 have caused different responses.  How do we live together without separating into opposing ideologies, yet live into our understanding of revealed truths without crushing one another? These were questions that went into the enactment of this series for me.  Pulling out the different shapes from the same underlying pattern helped me to be a better listener when other people were expressing differences of opinions.  Pulling out the shapes with the central theme of light helped me to find my balance in the Light.  It helped me to breathe and be able to ask, “What is a loving response?”

Another crucial thing in the development of the series was a dream. In my dream, after a series of events, a group of bats were flying through the illumination of a fluorescent light while in a chain linked enclosed paved parking lot.  As they flew over the fence into the moonlit woods they transformed into owls.  This dream symbolized for me that when we try to sequester off things in our lives we chain them off, but when we offer any element of our lives to the grace of God we relent a destructive force to the transformational power of grace. What we have hidden in darkness is transformed.  This force of fencing things in can be released to beauty and flight.  What we viewed as darkness could lead to revelation.  There is a central, healing motion of going to the center, the single point of our beginnings, the continually transforming and loving Light.

 I made a painting of this dream with 8 circles overlapping for the underpainting and basis of the painting. After I completed this painting, for some reason, it was calling to me to make 9 overlapping circles with three vertical lines and three horizontal lines and to do a series of 9 paintings.  One of the things that confirmed that call to nine circles was Justin’s article about Columbanus and the nine virtues and the nine vices. 

The paintings all started with the same pattern of 3 vertical lines and 3 horizontal lines overlaid with 9 intersecting circles.  I mention this now in the introduction to provide a visual clue for you as you look at the paintings.  

 I chose the colors I did in the series of 9 because they were earthy colors, yellow, orange and red ochre, raw and burnt umber, French turquoise, titanium white, ultramarine blue, ultramarine purple and Mayan Red.  The dry pigments came from Natural Earth Paint company and I mixed them with linseed oil from Chelsea Classical Studio who filters the linseed oil in clay.  I painted on wooden panels and felt the dance of the materials together while I was painting. It called me to look and watch the elements, to see what they were doing and how they responded to one another.  

Within the geometrical pattern I used Titanium White mixed with Raw Umber for the underpainting.  There is something very earthy, very grounding about Raw Umber.  The pigment looks like soil and to use that in the “ground” of my painting felt right. This is central in my understanding of the Incarnate Christ, God’s love made manifest, Light which the darkness did not, does not, will not overcome, I AM who is with us in the very elements in which we exist. This understanding of the Light has also been enhanced with studies in Jewish mysticism with Rabbi Charna Rosenholtz.

Key to this series was body movement and the dance of making the circles.  I used a compass to paint them, moving around a central point, practicing centering in our beginnings and the transforming power of the One who was and is and ever shall be.  Resmaa Manekem advocates strongly in his book My Grandmother’s Hands the importance of body awareness and transformation as we work for healing not only in ourselves but also in the healing of destructive systems. It is my hope that the centering movement is a healing dance in all who contemplate these paintings.  

  The first painting has a green force traveling infinitely in a Celtic knot pattern. I was surprised to find this shape from the underlying pattern that I was working with.  I “found” it when I was tracing the inner lines.  Many of these shapes felt like they “appeared” to me, like it was a listening process.

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 The second painting interplays with spheres of light bouncing off of one another.  Notice the interaction of the circles and how they speak into one another. The curvatures reflect the progressive blue, red, orange and yellow to each other on the inside mandorla shapes. A mandorla is a liminal space that happens when two circles overlap. The mirroring of light that this mandoral space shows can speak into the importance of being able to mirror another’s perspective in the listening process.

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The third painting emphasizes to me the creative forces that rise from the earth. Life springs up and resounds outward, forming responsive shapes to that life force of incarnation.

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I felt the power of extrapolation and its forces as I painted the fourth painting.  There is power in our choices, and necessary movement back to the center.  The fish shapes have rings that flow out from them, yet they are not detached from the center.  If we follow our extrapolations and rings of influence creating a separate universe without going to the center, we can lose our connection with one another.  When we return to our center we find our beginnings and connection.

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The fifth painting speaks of mystery to me.  I attended to the forces that overlap one another as I painted, yet I wanted them to remain with some distinction while the underlying pattern is still allowed to be seen.  

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The sixth painting below spoke highly to me of the choices that we make.  The red rings spoke to me of the power and muscles that we use in how we decide to respond to Light, whether we allow it in or block it out.  The green circles spoke to me of that “greening fire” or “viriditas” of which Hildegard of Bingen spoke.  That “fire” can be seen rising up in all the greening of nature around us and within us.  After I completed the painting, I was delighted at the unexpected and unintended energetic cross that appeared in the interaction of these different forces.  It feels like it is an energetic representation of Christ’s incarnation.

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The seventh painting spoke highly to me while I was painting it of the Light that flows from above, moves and returns.  The welcoming of the Light grounds and empowers.  

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The eighth painting spoke highly to me of going to seed, growing and expressing our created selves and a constant response to turn toward the center, grounding, rising, returning and again growth.  

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Peace resides for me in this final painting. The forms float and speak into one another in the midst of the deep blue of infinite space. The deep orange serves as a complementary color to the deep blue, opposites on the color wheel yet enhancing each other’s beauty

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In this new year, may these paintings be to you like a blossom opening at dawn, responding to the Light which the darkness has not overcome.  May you feel the blessing of the Light as you center in the One who gives us life. May Love come in the midst of dissonance to form patterns of life and peace for you, for those around you and for the Earth.

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