Ahambra at NightImage from Wikimedia Commons

Ahambra at Night
Image from Wikimedia Commons

For years I had been studying stained glass–design, techniques, materials–and really responded to a beautiful association between glass and spirituality.  Glass has a fluid, gem-like quality that lends a transcendent air to this otherwise mundane material.  Romans loved worked glass so much they included glass beads and vases with precious gems and metals in burial mounds, and used decorative glass in spiritually themed mosaics of mind-blowing intricacy.  In Western culture, stained glass windows have had a tremendous weight of religious association from the 600’s onward, gorgeous glass enameling has graced Eastern cloissonne and copper plaques for centuries, and ancient cultures like the Egyptians and Babylonians mimicked the mysterious depths of human eyes with lapis and other glass-like materials.  And the reverance shown this material is paralleled across the broad spectrum of cultures which discovered glass as an art material.  I can’t but resonate with this tremendous momentum of illuminating uplift associated with my chosen medium.

My Bachelor in Fine Arts work was designing, constructing, and displaying a series of windows I had intended for a hypothetical Navajo Cathedral.  I grew up with three Navajo foster brothers and my Shoshone sister, and wanted to share the impact their stories had on me.  A Navajo cathedral, I reasoned, would have images reflecting a story sacred to the Navajo, so the story I used was the most often repeated to me–Arrow to the Sun.  The imagery was taken from cultures which shared similar sacred story traditions, and I struggled to show my appropriated symbols with reverance and proper context.  Although each window only stood six feet high, I built them as if they were the full twenty feet I had imagined, fasting, meditating, and agonizing over every detail.  But this foray into respectfully exploring the faith of another opened the window into the theme of my Master studies.

I struggled to articulate exactly what I set out trying to do with my growing degree studies; I was desperately trying to both identify my own half-formed thoughts and communicate my desires to others, pleading for feedback and help in clarification.  Dr. Nasr’s writings opened the door to my own Christianity as an artist, and prayerful study opened my mind.  One night, I was meditating–trying to hold remnants from the Bible, Qur’an, Vedas, and several lesser-known works of spiritual guidance in my head all at the same time without losing anything–and aching for clarity.  I fell asleep at some point surrounded and covered by books, and opened my eyes to a brightly pealing bell with a Muezzin calling in harmony:  this was the beginning.

Realizing I was standing at a windowsill, I shook my self and looked out on a marvelous cityscape.  I could feel my weight pushing through the soles of my light indoor shoes, and I smelled the glorious aroma of breads, stews, and incense from dozens of places around the world.  The street outside my second story vantage point was cobbled and worn but clean, and I saw several groups of excited, animated people enjoying the morning.  I realized these groups were sharing time with each other in that peculiar way we witness among the very best of friends, and that they were from all walks of life and every corner of the world.  Saris and skirts, thobes and shalvars were all equally represented in clean and vibrant colors, and I realized that although every person wove in and out of several different languages everyone understood each other, laughing and touching as only those who truly enjoy each others’ company do.

The wonderful smells drifted through the crisp air, and as I looked over the wondrous skyline the morning sun seemed to hit all the buildings at once and at just the perfect angle–sparkles like diamonds sprang from all the windows, and I realized I was in the City of Heaven.  As the light grew brighter, the vision left and I opened my eyes to the dim lamp under which I had been reading, with my books and notes again surrounding me.  But for that brief moment, I had the unique blessing of seeing what a perfect society looked like, filled with uniqueness and difference but united by purpose and honest compassion.

Mme. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky wrote about this society of the pure in heart in her work, The Secret Doctrine, and this hope for a perfect society vibrates through the scriptures of the world”s religions.  So, as a response to my vision and the resonance of Mme. Blavatsky’s writings, my Master thesis was formed.  In my ignorance I would select five roughly-define groups of people with beliefs and traditions different from my own, and study them for only a semester each–a period which I thought was reasonable for someone who wanted to learn without immersion.  At the end of the time period, I would share what I discovered through my chosen medium.  Some pieces were more successful than others, but it dawned on me that through the process of respectful contextualization, I was healing the wounds of my own ignorance.  And I realized a startling truth.

Regardless, societies are linked by a few common bonds.  Each of us care about our children, all of us want the brightest of possible futures for them, and all of us wish desperately for someone to try–perhaps not succeed, but to sincerely try–to appreciate and understand us for who we truly are.