One of my volunteering “gigs” is as a pastoral volunteer for art transportation. That sounds really, really odd but if you look hard enough, you can find fun ways to volunteer in almost any field. A minister friend of mine is also a gallery director for a private religious school, and twice a year he taps me (his interfaith minister friend) to travel and pick up or deliver works of art for various religious exhibits. On each of these excursions (we call them “Pastoral Volunteer Inspired Beauty Retrievals” – technically that’s what they are, but saying that when someone asks our business makes us sound important) we visit the small towns and landmarks we drive through, check out the antiques shops (we’re both sculptors and you find lots of cool stuff), and sample the local cuisine. On one such trip we checked out the incredible Colorado River. The dock we visited was smack dab in the middle of a desert wasteland – you turn off the highway, drive through dried out and dead tunnels of rock, then suddenly you turn a corner and life opens around you. It was astounding. The river brought growth, greenery, and animals to what otherwise is a starkly majestic wasteland. I had been thinking about As-Salam for a while trying to find just the right metaphor, and here it was – I went upstream of the little park area and waded into the current to take a sample; after the trip I alchemically prepared the small amount of water and the sculpture seemed to design itself.
When Mohammed received the revelations which became the Qur’an, the Arabian Peninsula was one of the largest inhabited areas in the world without natural bodies of water which lasted the entire year. Bereft of much of the plant and animal life plentiful in much of the rest of the world, Mohammed communicated the richness and vibrancy of Paradise through imagery he felt his listeners could appreciate – lush and succulent growth, the tinkling sounds of a babbling brook, the cool relief of an eternally plentiful spring. And these images still mark a great deal of what we see in Islamic art today – endless and vibrant plant forms, and rich hues of blues and greens. When I saw how much an effect the Colorado River had on the desert in its immediate vicinity, those symbolic representations of Paradise rushed into my consciousness.
The Name itself, As-Salam, is also interesting to me for a couple reasons. Hebrew and Arabic are languages very closely linked, and we hear the echo of the traditional Hebrew benediction, Shalom, in this Name for Deity. The most common translation is “Peace”, and the Arabic variant is also part of a traditional benediction, “ah salam a-laikum” (I can’t write Arabic – yet – so this is as close as I can get phonetically). An imam friend translated this to me as “may the Peace of the Lord and His blessings be upon you”; interestingly, this is also the most common benediction among the laity of many churches I’ve visited. As part of a worshipful life, the faithful seem to enjoy pronouncing peace on each other – regardless of their path of faith or language they speak. How cool is that?
As I was considering these things, the design of a sort of battery (with radiating fins like Sustainer) came. We use hydro-electric power quite a bit today, but long before this was a matter of course for most of the modern world, the power of Peace was recognized in many religions and among many thinkers (Mother Theresa, the Dali Lama, and Mohandas Ghandi are recent heroes which come to mind). Peace is a real power, perhaps not for light bulbs and microwave ovens, but it has changed the entire world many, many times. Holding sacred peace in the heart helps people through the most horrendous experiences and horrific circumstances, and committing to peace has rebuilt families and neighborhoods all over the world.
The designs etched into the glass panels are interlocking rings on one side of each fin, and an expanding star on the other, all growing out from the tiny vial of water from the Colorado. These things came to mind as I was thinking about Jesus teaching the woman at the well in the New Testament, and I believe are fitting. The Living Water from Deity is an odd thing – the more it is given away, the more it grows inside the giver. The peace this Names refers to is the same; the more we give and radiate peace to those around us, the more this peace we’re giving away grows inside ourselves. I think that is pretty amazing.
This sculpture is now part of the permanent collection of the Mall Area Religious Council – an organization in the Mall of America area committed only to building friendships and peace among people of all faiths, languages, and beliefs. Their only excuse for being is to find ways to show how much they like each other – what a wonderful motivation.