Category: 99 Names Sculptures


 

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The last knot was tied on Watchful (Ar-Raqib).  A lot of string was used on the last couple pieces because I had to make big loops to give room for my hands, then slowly “cinch” the string until the last pieces were seated correctly.  And I jabbed the back of my hands on the points a few times – whine, whine.

This is the greater stellated dodecahedron.  The sculptures for the Names of this second set, 26-50, have been emerging as reflections of pollen and stars, and this seems fitting.  Pollen spores help propagate life and stars guide and provide light, both nourishing growth.  This Name refers to the concept that the Creator is constantly viewing His creations, steadily vigilant, and supremely aware.  When I first remember hearing this in Sunday School I was in Kindergarten, and was so horrified that God was busy watching me all the time I refused to take a bath for a week, and even threw fits about changing my clothes!  My parents finally were able to pry from me why I was so mortified, and were able to explain that God is keeping His “eye” on me because He loves me, and this eternal awareness is not “spying”.

Viewing is normally felt to be a passive vocation, but the implication for this Name is that God’s sight is somehow an active awareness of all we do and are, not seeing individual actions out of context but seeing all we are as a complete creature.  This sight is expansive and penetrating.

On the human side, this Name reminds me of astrolabes and sailing.  Muslims are taught to metaphorically keep their hearts towards Mecca and Christians are taught to keep their faces towards the place of worship – not so each of us sidle around oddly as we try to do our daily activities, but to keep a place in our heart for our awareness of God’s place in our lives.  Keeping watch, so to speak, over the direction of our thoughts and all we do.

Moroccan Astrolabe From Wikimedia

Moroccan Astrolabe
From Wikimedia Commons

Ancient sailors and travelers used the stars to navigate their way across the world, and for early pioneers in North America the Big Dipper and Polaris were particularly important.  For some American religions this constellation became a beloved symbol for Christ and His teachings (one of my favorite songs, “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd”, is a reference to this same constellation in respect to the Underground Railroad).

Big Dipper and Polaris on the LDS Christian Salt Lake Temple Image from Simerg.com

Big Dipper and Polaris on the LDS Christian Salt Lake Temple
Image from Simerg.com

Sailors and travelers kept constant watch of the stars to steady their direction and navigate through life.  The metaphor applies to our lives as an overarching, steady and subtle awareness that success in life comes through watchfulness, responsibility, of our own actions and how they coincide/support Divine Will for our own well-being.  We are, all of us, created to be magnificent creatures; our watchfulness of our own actions can help us as we listen to the “still small voice”, ever present in the background but so very quiet, which guides and directs us to fulfill our intended purpose.

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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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How much does the Creator comprehend?  I’m pretty sure it’s much, much more than we can ever imagine.  The fact that He can see something in each of us worth saving is, for me, truly remarkable.  And a trait for which I am truly grateful.

The exterior side of each of the pieces is etched with designs echoing cloud images from several medieval-era depictions of the Miraj, the Night Journey during which Mohamed was able to see the vastness of Heaven.  And the interior of each piece is based on ceramics and tile designs evoking the abundance of growth in Paradise.

As the whole thing is moved around, shadows and light play on and through the shapes so at times we can see the lines inside, or they’re occluded by the clouds, and different forms are revealed on the surface.  I was thinking that many times our own vision is clouded by our preconceptions, prejudices, and misunderstandings so we are unable to see the interior of someone, and  new facets are constantly revealed as we shift our own vision.  I cannot begin to understand how much God truly sees, but I do know I have a long way to go before I can appreciate the hearts of even those I know.

Photography by Hawkinson Photography

This is a cube set on its corner, truncated so each side forms an octagon.  The beads on each face hold a small octahedron suspended in the center, and inside the octahedron is a tiny wire-close canning jar which preserves a miniature date palm tree.

One concern which continually resurfaces during discussions of faith or belief in higher powers can be summed up in the phrase “if God loves His creatures, why do we suffer?”  When bad things happen to good people, does God hide His face?  If God truly is all powerful and our Guardian, why does He not protect us from miserable things – or worse yet, is He unable to?  These questions and others similar to them danced in my head and echoed in my ears as I meditated on the meanings of Al-Muhaymin.

In the movie “Shadowlands,” Sir Anthony Hopkins portrays one of my very favorite writers, C. S. Lewis.  The title refers to Mr. Lewis’ discussions of our perpetual state of dissatisfaction – we wait to be happy until we are surrounded by light, telling ourselves “all will be wonderful when this happens, or this, or that” and we place ourselves in a state of forever-unrealized hope.  We live on the verge of happiness, dwelling in the shadows.  His character in the movie gives several presentations about why bad things happen to good people, while he himself travels the path of finding a family, finding love, and discovering deep and tremulous pain; and he himself is forced to confront that same questions head on, without the leisure of theoretical contemplation.

If God loves us, why do we suffer?  I believe there is an answer, and like everyone else I am still finding it.  “This is a matter of perspective,” I was told by an imam.  “If we lose ourselves in the present, the pain and loss are overwhelming – and of course a loving Creator would not want us to hurt any more than the most loving of parents.  But when we allow ourselves to open into a larger view, which may take years and miles to do, we find how that pain or trauma allowed us the opportunity and motive to become more the creature we were meant to be.  The kindest, most gracious people we know are usually those who have seen it all and been through everything.”

God does protect – there are many, many stories of miracles where people and special things were protected through amazing circumstances.  But this Name speaks to me on a slightly different level.  As Archbishop Tutu says, God created us not because He had to, but because He wanted to – and He is constantly aware of our individual journeys to become the creatures we were designed to be.  We are also created to be eternal beings; the promise of Paradise or Heaven is everlasting and the experiences of this life are only drops in the bucket of forever.  So the horrible things, the trauma, heartache and suffering are moments or flickers in lives that will continue until after the stars burn to cinders.  This doesn’t lessen the pain, but it helps me to get a glimmer of how it may become bearable.  The Guardian protects the embers of our souls from all those things we won’t find the internal strength to bear, from all those things from which we won’t learn and can’t recover, and begs us to reach out to Him for the power to continue – He knows we will make it, and is continuously present to help us through the pain.

The eight-sided structure is used in architecture to bridge the cube structure of the earth-bound building with the arching dome of the  heavens; in Christian architecture it is a symbol for the bridge of Christ between humans and Heaven, and in Islamic architecture is symbolizes the bridge of the Qur’an between mortals and Paradise.  Each octagon face is covered with a tracery of abstract vegetal design, using traditional plants in early Islamic medicine for health, healing and metaphysical protection.  The octahedron is the Platonic solid for the element of air and is used as a physical structure holding the canning jar – in a similar way to our awareness that even though we may not be able to grasp the reality of God’s protection, it is still completely present and very real.  The canning jar preserves and keeps things fresh, and the date palm symbolizes the human being – on the one hand very much in need of protection as all living things, and on the other capable of growing into something tall, powerful and majestic.  It is a reminder, too, that from the tiny seedlings that are the start of all trees, Muhamed built the first open-air mosque; from that humble beginning, the trees of that first mosque are symbolized in the support columns of every mosque after.

By the smallest and weakest of things – be it a tree or a human being – great and wonderful things are brought into reality.  The protection of the Guardian isn’t proof against pain, but provides the strength to live through the pain and grow into the amazing creatures we were meant to be.

Images by Hawkinson Photography

It is exciting for many to think of the Creator as the One Who Exalts; at the end of our mortal toil, there is the thrilling promise of being lifted into a well-deserved existence in Paradise where all desires, hopes, and dreams are crystallized and those who abused us in this life will be utterly flummoxed to see the star-filled creatures we’ve become.  This sits in my mind next to the “You just wait until my dad gets home”-system of dealing with bullies, and something feels to be missing.

Human beings may give awards and rewards to each other, lands and titles, even fantastic prizes, but these are all fleeting.  In weeks or months, sometimes years, all of this either disappears or the receiver is no longer around to enjoy it.  By contrast, the gifts of elevation coming from a Divine source burn the receiver’s heart and change him or her forever; all future experience is informed through the lens of these mystical transformations, and the change is forever bonded with the receiver’s soul.  The Admonition of Paul (Philippians 4:8), I think, is the guide for the right frame of mind.  But there is also, I believe, a simpler key.

The small brown item seen through the glass is a Turbah.  The Turbah is a small clay disc Shi’a Muslims use in their daily prayers.  It is not a relic or icon by any means, simply a tool to help a worshiper remember the true path to exaltation.  This clay disc is made with a bit of dirt from Karbala, and represents the dust of the earth.  During the worshiper’s prayers the forehead is touched on this small clay disc to remind the believer of his or her commitment to utter humility at the feet of the Divine.  “What can show more humility than our prostration in prayer?” one Shi’a friend told me, “and touching the forehead to the dust of the earth, held in this Turbah, reminds me of how truly humble I am in front of our Creator.”  The Turbah in this particular sculpture was given to me by my friend’s wife; she told me this seemed a completely appropriate use.

Three sides of the structure are made of 25 glass tiles, etched and painted with several floral designs.  Many times our intentions to keep a prayer in our hearts, or to keep other spiritual commitments, are diluted or redirected because of distractions and, well, the business of ordinary living.  The world is a truly amazing place filled with diversity and diversions, and one of the greatest struggles we have is to remember to keep our connection with Deity open.  I don’t mean praying every waking moment, going to mass all the time, or even reading from scripture as our only source of activity, but I’m reminded of what a Sunni Imam told me.  “God is very pleased indeed with those who memorize His word, as in the Qur’an.  He is most pleased indeed with those who have it written in their hearts.”  The life committed to humble prayer is shown by the examples of people like Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi, not because of visible and repeated prostrations, but because their very lives were prayerful, and their prayers were inscribed in their hearts.

The dome of the structure is carved with a star, and etched with lines to suggest the dome of Heaven – regardless of how far we travel or where we live, all of us are under the same sheltering heavens, and live within the world our Creator made just for us.  And the rear of the structure is etched and painted with richly stylized acanthus leaves, to remind us of the promise of Paradise.  This Name helps me reflect on the concept that to reach full realization of the purpose for our creation, and to receive the richness of blessings promised to the faithful – to be elevated above all mortal creatures – to receive this fullness, we must be entirely, thoroughly, completely humble, and give our heart utterly to the Being who gave it first to us.

The folks at Alpha Omega Arts and Sakina Design have both posted articles about the new book, 99 Names:  1 to 25 (A Christian’s Exploration of the Names of God from the Qur’an).

The article at Alpha Omega Arts is here.

The article at Sakina Design (a Muslim design firm) is here.

Please visit their websites and check out the articles.  And please be sure to check out the book!

Images by Hawkinson Photography

The meaning of “Islam” is “submission to God“, and this Name is the focus of that submission, Subduer.  This Name reminds us that God has the inarguable capacity to force submission, but when we combine this with Names like Forebearing and Forgiving that capacity is redirected a bit – God would rather us submit willingly.

Submission to Divine Will does not mean deciding to be a passive victim – bad things happen to everyone (The rain falls on the just and unjust alike) regardless of whether they have faith.  The difference is found in how a person reacts to what happens.  Do we rail against God and blame the universe?  Or do we look for the things we can be thankful for, grow from, or change?  Submitting to Divine Will, asking for direction, and determining to follow the Spirit remove us from the role of being the hapless victim and we become participants in our own active spiritual growth – engineers and alchemists of our own souls.  People always recover from trauma faster when they refuse to dwell on and relive it constantly; when we actively use our experiences as focal points to learn and look for the good, the burdens of pain and bitterness are much easier to bear.

When working on this I was thinking of a phrase I heard in the Bible belt of Alabama while I lived there, I have no idea who first uttered it.  “Man seldom stands taller than when he is on his knees in prayer.”  This kind of humble prayer is a symbol of the state of mind an actively submissive worshiper has – looking for opportunities to learn and grow, and participate in the molding necessary to become the being God intended.  The back wall is an image of the City of Heaven, not as the focus for prayers, but as a window of the future for the actively submissive worshiper; the path to ultimate Paradise, the highest order of existence, is found only through the humility of prayer.

Horrible things happen to everyone, good things, too – it is up to the spirit alchemist to use those experiences to grow and become the creature he or she was created to be.

08 - Victorious (Al-'Aziz)

08 – Victorious (Al-‘Aziz)

Photography by Hawkinson Photography

Victory means many things, and seems to imply something martial – winning through struggle or conflict.  My imagination was filled with images of water being victorious; rather than a rapid flood of water bursting through a wall of earth, my mind was filled with thoughts of water erosion from rain, or the slow meandering of a stream as it painstakingly carves its way into a riverbed.  The water “wins”, but does so over time and without sudden, violent force.

I was also considering the lasting impact of tiny, subtle things.  A very simple story in the New Testament refers to a widow lighting a candle and cleaning her house, another briefly mentions placing a candle where others will see it.  “Let your light shine” is a common phrase which grows directly from these two simple stories and fills the air when we offer support and encouragement to those trying to do worthwhile things, and to bolster the confidence of those struggling with issues of self worth.  Al-‘Aziz, Victorious, is a Name which carries, I believe, both the martial and subtle nuances of these ideas.  The strength of a Friend serving as champion, coupled with the certain victory of patience, time, and constant support.

The tetrahedron (four-sided pyramid) is the Platonic solid representing fire, and this sculpture is made with two of these shapes sharing a center.  Fire can be overcome by the hissing and sputtering, violent injection of water, or fire can be smothered and killed by the sudden introduction of earth; however, it seemed more appropriate to represent the Divine power over such a frightening element with more sedate and calming depictions of these two elements.  The transformation of fire into cooling, refreshing nature of water is represented with the blue tetrahedron, and its conjoined partner represents the transformation of fire into nurturing, abundant green earth.  But victory over fire isn’t just in the vanquishing of it, but also in the welcoming of fire’s positive, strengthening qualities.

In the center is a tiny lamp with a softly flickering flame.  With the display of power over destructive elements in the main body of the sculpture, it felt as if the tiny flame was welcomed and sheltered within.  My thoughts revolved around the idea that sometimes victory comes when the weak and wispy flame of hope is sheltered, strengthened, and becomes a beacon.  The light of every person, as weak and simple as it sometimes appears, can grow into a bonfire for others from which they may draw support, courage, and find their way – when, that is, that light is given the protection and nourishment necessary to overcome the many threats to its survival.

All those thoughts were bubbling and churning in my head as the sculpture was being built.  The designs on the surface were built of abstract vegetal patterns, to remind the viewer of the gardens in Paradise; thinking of this certainly helped calm the churning.  Victory rarely happens on a battlefield, but is a constant struggle in the tiny spaces in our chests and heads – regardless of circumstances, our position is relative to how we view the situation.  True victory comes through the decisions we make, how we help those around us, and whether we decide to listen to the tiny voice whispering to us.  The still, small voice which comes from the Being Who can command the very flames to do His will.

99 Names:  1 to 25 is on Amazon

99_Names___1_to_25_Cover_for_Kindle

The book of the first sculptures in the 99 Names series is done!  It is on Amazon.com as well as Amazon Europe for my overseas friends.  From the back cover:

Islam is a faith revealed to the Prophet Mohamed, whose motivation was to heal the spiritual rift between Judaism and Christianity.  The tradition of the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God in Islam is an index of those traits which make us all most uniquely human; although rooted in Qur’anic tradition the Names echo thorugh every faith wherever people aspire to the very best of humanity.

This is a Christian’s exploration of Islam and the 99 Names through sculptural stained glass – sharing the beauty found in another faith coupled with the reflections of an artist, minister, and teacher.

Check it out here.

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11 - Creator

11 – Creator

Al Khaliq

Al Khaliq

http://sufism.org/foundations/ninety-nine-names/al-khaliq-the-creator-2

11 – Creator (Al-Khaliq)

Etched and fired glass

The cosmic egg, the sphere of the heavens, the limitless sky.  There are hundreds of millions of stars in the night sky, and hundreds of millions of other planets like ours sprinkled throughout the universe, the night skies of which are filled with the same astounding view but with completely different stars.  This all began in a moment, when the Creator called for light, not with randomness and happenstance, but ordered in “measure and number and weight” (Wisdom of Solomon, 11:20).  Structured through light and dark, hot and cold, inspiration and reason – the principles of dichotomy or opposition are not antagonistic or destructive, but mutually strengthening and supportive, and cannot exist one without the other.  Everything fits together and within each other, both leaning against and supporting, intricately woven throughout time and space so each and every particle, fleeting or permanent, is taken into account.  A truly infinite array of being, within the bounds the Lord of Creation has set.  And all this creation, from the limitless stars to a single human hair, was created and planned for untold ages for a single purpose:  that we, mere creatures of clay and breath, may have the setting within which to grow and become the beings we were created to be.

Photography by Hawkinson Photography

Calligraphy Sufism.org

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