Photography by Hawkinson Photography
As I began focusing on the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God, I reached out to scholars and clergy who write and teach about the Names.
One of my fears regarding this project is that Muslims will be offended that a Christian is trying to learn about their faith and express what he learns through art. I thought that my motivation would be misunderstood, that somehow it would be perceived I was trying to “Christianize” their treasured beliefs or, worse yet, come as an unlettered scholar and announce I knew Islam better than Muslims. However, I found very quickly that my sincerity and honest desire were accepted at face value and those I approached went out of their way to help me on my path of appreciation and understanding. One Imam was grateful when he saw I was also trying to find ways to apply the principles of 99 Names traditions in my own life, and find parallels with my Christian beliefs. Imams, Mawlanas, and Sheiks of many different paths of Islam responded. One teacher in Egypt had written a book on the 99 Names – he found one of his congregants who knew English, and had him translate and email the book to me. A Sheik in Azerbaijan, who also didn’t know English, had one of his congregants translate the blessing he gave to me to guide me in the work. There have been, and continue to be, other stories of people opening their hearts as they realized I was sincere.
One friend, Besim Bruncaj (who works with World Interfaith Harmony Week), connected me with the internet arm of WISE University in Jordan, Qibla (known as SunniPath at the time). I was told they were just considering a class focusing on the 99 Most Beautiful Names when they learned about my project and they took it as a sign – they gave me a scholarship to study Islam theology and the 99 Names for a semester, which deepened my appreciation immensely. The teachers and students were incredibly supportive of my work and I actually did a pretty decent job in the class.
With this learning, a few principles in Islam really struck chords with me. One is the concept that as infinite as the universe is, it was all created for us. Another is although we can only see a small portion of reality at a time, we are all part of something much greater and we all have a necessary role to play – it is our purpose of life to discover what our role is, and to play it well. These principles rolled nicely into meditations on Humbler.
This Name has two faces, as it were. One is the role God has to help remind us that He is the only One justified in His pride, and it is dangerous to our souls when we inflate our own worth at the expense of those around us. The other face is the fact that we are constantly surrounded by the evidence of the Creator’s magnificence and love for us, and awareness of this helps us realize we are literally nothing without His grace.
The sculpture is a dodecahedron, the twelve-sided Platonic solid representing aether, or the medium within which all things exist. In each face I used hermetic geometry techniques to find a ratio of circle to pentagon which felt and looked appropriate. Sources were online directions for constructing pentagons (one of my favorite here) and one of my favorite books, A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael S. Schneider. I used his book and the Little Wooden Books Sacred Geometry by Miranda Lundy, The Golden Section by Scott Olsen, and Ruler and Compass by Andrew Sutton to evenly space the two to thirteen tying holes around the larger center hole in each face. The holes on the edges (to tie the structure together) were spaced far enough from the edge to provide maximum strength when tying.
Each side is painted indigo to remind us of the night sky and space, and each facet is tied with stars of differing numbers of points. In the center is a small clay bead to represent the human element. This serves as a reminder, as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said, God didn’t make us because He needed to, but solely because He wanted to.