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Fellowship Spiritual Art

A work of art is spiritual when it helps promote presence in the viewer. Along with a beauty that derives both from inspiration and mastery of its medium, an artistic creation may contain specific information, in the form of symbol, theme or illustrative material, which expresses a facet of the experience of presence or the struggles to be present. In this way a visual impression can distill a psychological understanding to a single point. Learning to look at and appreciate the visual language of the esoteric helps deepen one’s understanding of presence and the moment-to-moment efforts it requires.

St. Peter Delivered from Prison by an Angel
Salvatore Rosa (1615–1673)
oil on canvas

Our prison of sleep is imagination. The combination of our own inner work and the presence of the higher self momentarily free us from this prison and bring us into the moment.

17th century Italian Baroque
gilt carved wood

Flying Angel (Spiritual Art)
An angel often represents a thought or emotion within us that strives to rise above the combative world of our mechanical psychology.

Wooden angel 1
Wooden angel 2

Christian Imagery

The sophistication of the visual and plastic arts have given us works that embody the subtlest shades of psychological meaning through elaborate ornament and detailed craftsmanship. And yet artistic periods of simple iconography, rooted in the essence of esoteric work, speak the language of the soul with a directness that bypasses all but the simple truth of the Self in the present moment.

Byzantine Ring (Spiritual Art)

Gold Ring with Christian Motif
6th century Byzantine

This cross with eight flared ends surrounded by six dots is a cipher of internal effort and internal reward. Since numbers are everywhere to be found, their simple combination in lines and circles recalls the student to confine his efforts to simple, precise steps.

Christian tapestry (Spiritual Art)

Tapestry with Angel and Mary Motif
Early Christian

Angel and Virgin Mary represent the active mind and passive heart that must work together each moment to induce presence. This repeating motif reveals itself slowly to the eye after continued gazing, permitting us to experience the value of persistent effort to see what is before us.

Garden Mosaic (Spiritual Art)

Mosaic with Cross and Petal Motif

Early Christian

Dating back to prehistoric times, a cross of equal length and breadth was for millennia man’s most common symbol. Nestled in a blossom of circles and petals, we find a simple representation of the eternal in time.

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3 Buddhist monks Blair
Three Monks
18th century Tibetan
gilt carved wood

The monk within us abstains from the delights of imagination and devotes his life to labor in God’s name. The gesture of the three monks illustrates the tremulous symmetry of a moment of presence, at once giving and receiving.

Meditating Buddha (Spiritual Art)
Meditating Buddha
18th century Chinese
gilt carved wood

The pearl on the Buddha’s forehead emerges from the inner friction to awaken. The lowered eyes ignore inner and outer distractions, while the upraised palm hails the achievement of a moment of presence.

Small seated Buddha
Seated Buddha
18th century Chinese
blanc de chine porcelain

The jolly rotund Buddha, seemingly a contradictory image for ascetic practices, represents a steward filled with presence, satisfied with the moment and wanting nothing more.

Door frame Shiva
Krishna Dancing with the Milk Maids (detail from a pair of doors)
19th century Indian
carved wood

A dancing figure symbolizes presence achieved, the momentary lift from the habits of sleep to the lightness of one’s Self. The maidens—the ‘I’s in us that work to achieve presence—must learn to dance to the measure of Krishna, the god within.

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Quan Yin
Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy
18th century Chinese
blanc de chine porcelain

Guan Yin is the Chinese version of the bodhisattva of compassion and mercy. Along with many other female figureheads in both Eastern and Western religious traditions, Guan Yin represents the open, emotional nature necessary for inner development.

Quan Yin 18 arms

Guan Yin with Eighteen Arms
18th century Chinese
blanc de chine porcelain

In esoteric works of art, a multiplicity of limbs, animal figures, or decorative elements often represents “control of the passions,” the moment when presence steps forth and the chaos of imagination recedes. Here the eighteen arms of Guan Yin each perform their designated function without interfering with her serene comportment.

Feast of the Gods (Spiritual Art)
Feast of the Gods (detail)
18th century Chinese
carved ivory

The gods, like the angels, represent our higher feelings and aspirations, at continual service to the higher self. Gods at play represent a sequence of successful efforts to elicit presence from everyday life.

Foo dogs
Foo Dogs
18th century Chinese
carved ivory

Imperial guardian lions, or Foo Dogs, are mythic, unsleeping sentinels that guard the entrance to Chinese Imperial palaces and temples. In our own inner work, we strive to develop guardians of our own inner temple, watching each external impression or fleeting thought that may take us from the moment.

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Bust of Queen Nefertiti
Egyptian, about 1350BC
modern copy of the original in the Altes Museum, Berlin

Nefertiti literally means “a beautiful woman has arrived,” and when presence—the Beloved—emerges, the arrival of such beauty crowns for a moment our efforts to BE.

Diana, Roman Goddess

18th century neoclassical Italian

Diana looking to the left (Spiritual Art)
Diana looking to the right (Spiritual Art)

Diana, and her Greek counterpart Artemis, was both huntress and goddess of chastity. She symbolized the purity of emotion that desires presence above all else and that actively controls those parts in us that have no interest in awakening.

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