Tag Archive: 99 Names of God


 

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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

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.

Our family is weird.

Yes, it’s a shock.

We identify ourselves as being Christian, but each of our kids have come home from school and said something like the following:  “Only one other kid knew what Hanukkah was – that’s messed up.”  At work, I’m the only one whose daughter made him a Hanukkah card to hang up.

In a round about way this reminds me of a weekend I spent in a small Utah town over the summer.  I attended a beautiful church on Sunday and, as the meeting was getting underway, an elegant gentleman came in and sat behind me.  After the service, he was excitedly introduced to me because of my work with the 99 Names – he was Persian, and the other congregants thought he would enjoy my work.

We visited.  “Yes, I’m Muslim,” he said, “and I come here on Sundays.  There is not a mosque or even another Muslim for miles, as far as I know.  But they are kind to me.  Perhaps it’s because I’m exotic.”  He laughed.  “I read from the Qur’an, they read from the Bible; the pastor here is a wonderful woman, and I have only known male Imams.  Although the language of worship may be different, the message is the same – it is the message of love.”

I asked the pastor how he found himself into her congregation.  “I don’t know, but I am grateful.  We open our doors and our hearts to everyone – if we can’t do that, what good is the church?  And every time we welcome in a new person, we’re so blessed I have no words for it.  And he helps all the older folks with their cars!  (She laughed)  We are all children of the same Creator – of course he’s welcome.  He was welcome before he even showed up.”

Mixing traditions and celebrating the joys of each other is always a wonderful thing.  Every faith tradition has, somewhere within it, a notable dignitary saying about the same thing:  if all the world were filled with just one flower, life would be truly boring.

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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.

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!

Support the 99 Names Project

We’re in the last couple days of our fundraising, and we still have a little ways to go.

The 99 Names Project changes lives – seeing and talking about the artwork, neighbors of different faiths visit and are brought together.

From a colorful gallery filled with 10 unique, one-of-a-kind sculptures celebrating the Names of God, to pieces of a panel shared by other contributors all around the world, there are many levels to contribute.  You or your group can bring a display to your community, you can get a one-of-a-kind fused glass pendant, or you can get your own unique mini-sculpture from the 99 Names Collection.  At whatever level you would like to help, please come and support the 99 Names Project today!

Every contribution helps!

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