Category: 99 Names Project


45-Comprehender (Al-Wasi’)

Etched, painted, and fired glass sewn with hemp

It is always easy to think according to appearances, and refuse ourselves or others the benefit of the doubt because of weaknesses we perceive.  The Creator is beyond the constraints of mortal perception and even our simplistic understanding of time – He sees each of us for the entirety of who and what we are, and still miraculously loves us.  The proof of this is all around:  the entirety of the universe from before the moment of creation was made not just for all of humanity, but for each individual as well.  There is something in each of us worthy of God’s love and attention, and our jobs as mortals is to respect that in ourselves, and search for that something in everyone we meet.  When Samuel was searching for the next king of Israel he was ardently reminded of this:  For the Lord seeth not as a man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

Photography by My Cell Phone

Calligraphy by Sufism.org

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The Cathedral Church of St. Mark in Salt Lake City, Utah, is hosting this year’s national Episcopal conference, and they asked me to share some of the work from The 99 Names Project in their undercroft for the conference.  The also asked me to write something about the Project for this year’s conference:

99 Most Beautiful Names of God

In the Bible well over 100 names are used referring to God – like “Mighty”, “Counselor”, “Prince of Peace”, and many others. This is a uniting thread throughout most religions, the desire to draw closer to God through appreciating the many facets of Divinity. Respectfully learning the Names by which other faiths understand God can also help us to learn more about our neighbors and friends, and helps us gain greater perspective on the many things we share.

The 99 Names Project is one Christian’s attempt to learn about our Muslim neighbors through an honest and respectful examination of faith, using the tradition of Asma al-Husna or the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God. Islam and Christianity are different, but as with any two groups there are also many points of similarity and convergence – building on those points through an exploration of these Beautiful Names of God, we find common ground as well as areas of separation deserving of respect. Interestingly, this process also finds our hearts expanding to encompass our neighbors and a deeper appreciation of our own faith grows.

I am a Christian glass artist and minister, and I continue to learn about the faith of my Muslim brothers and sisters – expressing the beauty I find through glass sculpture. At times I wonder if my friends see my sincerity in exploration. Thankfully, the head of Islamic Studies at Duke University said about the Project, “In a sense what he has produced is Islamic art, while remaining a Christian. It is another reminder that there is a common Origin from which all beauty originates, and that origin is none other than God”.

God is the Creator of us all – what better way to celebrate this common Divine bond than work to discover the beauty He shares with our brothers and sisters? We all have the choice to either focus on that which separates or celebrate those things which bring us together. And if that celebration makes us better friends with our neighbors wherever they are in the world, so much the better.

–Andrew Kosorok, 2015

Over a year ago, I was asked to write a short piece about The 99 Names Project for The Fountain Magazine, a US-based arts and humanities magazine.  I did, they were super nice, and I didn’t hear back.  Then yesterday a friend emailed me to tell me they had published my bit, with some truly wonderful editing.  Although only the first two paragraphs are available without a subscription, they were cool enough to include the full audio of the article, read by a truly wonderful narrator.

Please check it out here.

Thursday last week I was invited to go to the KSL Radio studios for an interview about the upcoming visit to Dixie State University, with Nkoyo Iyamba and Whitney Evans of Deseret News.  I got there very early, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they had also invited my friend Imam Mehtar of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake.  He is unfailingly gracious and nice about everything, and it is always fun to visit with him.

Nkoyo Iyamba does a weekly series on faith and culture in Utah, and both she and Whitney asked us questions about my 99 Names Project and Islamic New Year (I fielded the questions about the Project and Imam Mehtar handled those about the Islamic New Year).  It was a great interview.  I’m trying to get excerpts of the interview, but until then here is the site for Nkoyo’s program, and here is the link for the interview (it actually starts at about 3:20 in from the beginning).

Great Stellated Dodecahedron Image from Wikimedia Commons

Great Stellated Dodecahedron
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Three of the Names in the next part of the series – Al-Basir (Seer), Al-Khabir (All-Aware), and Ar-Raqib (Watchful) – are based on the great stellated dodecahedron.  These Names remind me of the power of stars, but with a little twist.  We view the stars primarily as sources of light, sending energy far across the universe, and I started to wonder if the stars can perceive all that which their light touches.  And I started considering, what if they see in the process of giving light?  So the source of light becomes also a metaphor for seeing.

And with how much fun the grinding is, I thought I’d share a wonderful slide show of a short part of the process:

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Now, only 174 more little triangles to grind!

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.

Holiness brings to mind purity, commitment, and devotion.  From a human perspective, I appreciate how these qualities are expressed – but how are these qualities shown from a Divine perspective?

In 99 Names traditions, the awareness is that these are not really names as we perceive the word.  They are traits or features of the Divine, called Names because that’s a relatively simple term.   The Creator is the ultimate Source of whatever the specific trait is and is seen through all the permutations of that trait and its associations; by calling to mind the trait, dedicating ourselves to its perfect expression (or as close to perfect as we can get), and allowing the trait to fill our minds – somehow we are elevated.  The infinite expansion of God’s mind is still far away, but we can get to a point where we can appreciate and open ourselves to the unfolding of that trait.  A tiny window is made, and we can begin to see.  As in Plato’s allegory of the cave, we are blinded at first and can only see shadows and reflections, but then we can see more – and the trait becomes part of our fabric.

With the trait of Holiness and Purity, I thought of these ideas as well as the concept that the Creator is the Originator of holiness and all its attendant permutations.  The whole universe was created with the single-minded intent, devotion, and commitment to our ultimate well-being, by a Being of infinite capacity.  How do we approach this?  With words, it’s impossible – every word spoken hides all the others, and can bring us further from ultimate understanding.  This is true, I imagine, for every made thing.  But doing something without the limit of speaking (poetry, music, meditation, etc.), asking/calling for something beyond the capacity of the doer (Divine inspiration), can open the doors for an expanding awareness; it’s still not entirely adequate, but it’s better.

This is a reflection on the process of approaching – the layers of our experience give space to doorways for the path, and the occlusion our awareness lays over the Truth is part of the process of understanding.  We are limited and temporal beings, but however inadequate we feel ourselves to be, the purity of our intent as we continue the journey – that’s what gives place for a union with the Divine.

 

Appreciation of the Infinite, I believe, is closest approximated by the open-ended process – because, quite simply, if it could be completely understood by a specific, limited act It would no longer be infinite.  The open-ended process with a goal but no conclusion, the long life lived with intent and desire to commune with the Divine for example, becomes a simile itself for our comprehension of the limitless expanse of the Divine.  As the Buddhists say, The journey is the destination.

Thank you to all supporters of the 99 Names Project!  I am forging ahead on Names 26-50, with hopes of completing the sculptures by the end of April.  I have a full time job, but since I’m not also teaching this term, there’s more time to focus on these glass pieces.

In this selection of Names (I’m using lists at Sufism.org and Wahiduddin.net – both of which use very similar lists with slightly different translations), there are a lot of resonances where two or three Names seem to vibrate together as complimenting facets of the same idea.  For example, Al-Basir (Seer), Al-Khabir (All-Aware), and Ar-Raqib (Watchful) feel like they belong to each other and support each other.  It’s difficult to articulate in words how I can “hear” them corresponding with each other in my thoughts, but it’s there just the same.  I’m excited to be able to finish them.

Here’s a couple pictures of the pieces now:

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Thank you for supporting the 99 Names Project!

Thank you!  We made it (in spite of my computer crashing this morning)!

And the 99 Names Project is moving forward, thanks to the kindness and generosity of so many people!

There is still plenty of artwork left, and you can commission new pieces, too – please come by and share the Project with your friends!

The 99 Names Project is having a real impact – transforming distrust and fear into understanding and appreciation.  We are so close!  We are now 86% funded to finish the next 25 sculptures and the book 99 Names 26 – 50, and we only need $1050 more!

Bring an exhibit to your community, celebrate your child’s or grandchild’s name in glass wall art, bring a beautiful fused glass pendant to a loved one, or buy your own unique, one-of-a-kind glass sculpture of one of the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God – or commission your own gallery of 10 unique sculptures of the Names!  We only have 12 more hours, and I can’t do this without your help.

Save the 99 Names Project – we can’t do this without you, and time is running out!

Thank you!

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