Once upon a time, Jesus sat on the bank of the Jordan River, enjoying his surroundings. An artist, filled with hubris, rushed to his side and commanded his attention. “Jesus!” he shouted, “look at the beautiful thing I have made! Truly I am the greatest artist in the world!”
Ignoring the dancing, gesticulating artist, Jesus calmly scooped a handful of mud from the bank of the river and molded it in his hands. Working swiftly, he sculpted a tiny bird and brought it to his lips, blowing on it softly. After a moment, the bird shook its head then fluffed its feathers, working bits of mud from its body. It glanced quickly around, then launched itself from Jesus’ hands and flew into the sky. Turning to the stunned artist, Jesus calmly stated, “When you can give what only God can give to your work, then you will have the right to be proud.”
I love this Sufi story from the life of Jesus. First, because I am an artist – and he certainly put the boastful artist in his place! And second because it is a solid reminder of where our proper attitude should lie. All of us are given gifts of talents, abilities, experience and wisdom; we are given these things not so we may revel in our superiority but so we can become better people ourselves and that we may use our gifts to bless those around us. Whether or not we identify with a Supreme Being, talents and experience are best used when they are used to bring joy to others and expand awareness of our world and our own place within it. Creatures of faith are also aware that each of us are made for a specific reason, and that reason includes finding excuses to do good for others. The gifts we are given carry something of an ironic blessing – when we focus on using our gifts for the betterment of others, and searching within for Divine direction in their use, our gifts grow and flourish into the best they can be. In service to others or the Object of faith, the unique abilities we possess are magnified and fulfilled.
Conversely, by exploring and expanding our own unreasoned pride – an expanding sense of ego at the expense of others’ – the use of our gifts becomes self-absorbed, narrow-minded, and cledalistic. Pride forces us into using only our own resources, while opening our hearts and minds to Inspiration expands the field from which we can draw to truly infinite proportions.
The shape is a lesser stellated dodecahedron. The dodecahedron is the Platonic solid symbolizing quiddity, the universe, or the matrix within which all things are manifest, and the stellation represents expansion. Each side is etched and painted blue for the evening sky, and framed in each clear circle is a bird design mixing elements of both naive drawing and flowing calligraphy. Inside the structure is suspended a ball of various sizes of metal wings. The bird imagery is used for two reasons, the first pointing to the story related above regarding Jesus. The second comes from another Sufi story shared by Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr in his book (one of my favorites) Islamic Art and Spirituality.
The Sufis teach of all the animals in creation, birds are closest to man. The greatest difference between us is, unlike our brothers the birds, our wings are wings of spirit.