Tag Archive: 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

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).

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The Seventh Annual Rumi Festival was held this year in the Anderson-Foothill Branch of the Salt Lake Public LibrariesJalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, or Mevlana (Beloved Master), was a spiritual teacher and poet in 13th Century Persia and Turkey.  His Masnavi is a collection of poetical allegories/parables he recited to his scribe, and is an exploration of the truths behind truth, or as he put it, religion behind religion.  His writings teach insights applicable to every faith.  I find his insights into the 99 Names remarkable and wonderful, and they help me approach understanding and appreciation of another faith while making me feel strengthened and sustained in my own.

One of Rumi’s heroes, and mine, was another Sufi poet named Farid ud-Din Attar who wrote an incredible poetical allegory of the journey of the soul, Parliament of Fowles or Bird Parliament.  All the birds in the world desired to elect a king and in their gathering the Hoopoe announces they already have a king, the Simourgh or mighty Phoenix.  Thirty birds are elected/volunteer to seek out the Simourgh, representing all the rest.  The Hoopoe leads his fellows through a journey of seven valleys which, while leading physically to the abode of the Bird King, gives opportunity for all the quest participants to transform into beings worthy of grace and enlightenment.

Rasoul Shams, translator of Rumi:  The Art of Loving, presented his article “Seven Valleys of the Soul’s Journey” from the Light of Consciousness Journal on Attar and the Bird Parliament.  Amir Mohammadi, a master of the Ney flute, played while some truly remarkable voices read Rumi poetry.  Florin R. Nielsen, a friend and remarkable contemporary poet, read some of his own work – it is one thing to “copy” the poetic style of another culture, I think that’s something akin to linguistic engineering, but what Florin does is get such a thing to work on a visceral, emotional level which is truly remarkable.  And I was asked to share some of the work from the 99 Names project inspired by Rumi.  Since Mevlana Rumi has subtly influenced my entire exploration of Islam, that was not a difficult selection to make.

Rasoul and I were interviewed for The Daily Universe and their reporter Annmarie Moore was very cool.

The librarians were totally cool, and we had a better turnout than anyone expected.  All in all a wonderful Saturday.

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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!

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Two of my favorite artists, Minerva Teichert and Alberto Giacometti, share something wonderful in common.  Their work shows evidence of their process – the paintings they make show the careful layering of lines as they find shapes, refine them, and gain confidence as their respective creations emerge.  In showing the process, the viewer gets a glimpse into their minds and this becomes a tangible part of appreciation for the painting.  In effect, we the viewer are also helping make the painting alongside these artists.  I love that idea.

The viewer does help make the painting (sculpture, thing, whatever).  Every time we experience the creation of someone else, we take part in its completion – because whatever it is, that creation has been completed only once it gets inside our heads.  Maybe “completed” isn’t the right term, more “closer to completion”.  The work matures and becomes closer to its ultimate aim when we have it in our heads, participating and grappling with it on the level of our inmost selves.

There are pillars of art, the factors which not only make art “art”, but which also make art worthwhile, and one of these is the connection with audience.  A work is never truly complete until that connection is made, and sometimes the audience may very well be only the artist herself, and many times the audience produces a work different (and hopefully bigger) than the work intended by the artist, changing as the audience changes but still having a deep and resonant effect.  I imagine the original audience for Michelangelo’s Pieta “completed” the work in a different manner than today’s audiences do, but the impact is still incredibly powerful.

By connecting with the audience, the artist is able to hold a conversation of sorts.  Art is a communication of many vocabularies, in a language outside of language, but when a viewer allows the artist’s work to impact him or her, and hold it in the mind, the conversation becomes a real thing deeper than words.

Of course this has little to do with these process photos – I just thought it would be fun to show the different stages of one drawing (kind of like with Merciful).

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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