Tag Archive: Islam

There are three aspects to the Celestial Garden which make it resonate as a beautiful symbol of hope.

There is something about planting and tending a vegetable plant, then eating the crop you raised yourself.  The process allows us to play an active, inside role in the cycle of life.

There is the knowledge that all of us, and every thing in the universe, are vitally and inextricably connected.

The garden is also a metaphor for abundance and fecundity in the Celestial realm.  Mortal life is temporary and fleeting, but life in Paradise is lush and vibrant.  In Islam this imagery is especially significant considering the area in which the Revelation was received.

The Arabian peninsula is one of the largest inhabited areas on the planet in which no significant natural bodies of water survive all year round, and the extreme rarity of life-giving oases were tangible miracles of Providence.  Lush and succulent plants, cool flowing water, and similar vibrant imagery helped propound the concept that Paradise is a world of beauty and abundance, profoundly removed from the everyday, ordinary life of the desert-dwelling nomad.

Poets described the growth of these preternatural Platonic gardens and artists showed it – the mosaic scenes of the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus are imaginal windows into wonderful vistas of the eternal oases in Heaven.  The Dome of the Rock – built as a reverent shelter for a stone spiritual significant to all the Children of the Book – holds stylized vines and flowers, celebrating vibrant growth.  Plates and carpets, homes and mosques, were decorated with the delicate, intricate, colorful designs of fantastic plants, trees, and flowers.

As we move towards the hot and sticky parts of summer, it is a wonderful image to hold in one’s heart.

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Images of Umayyad Mosque of Damascus and Dome of the Rock courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Six Sufi Masters Image from Wikimedia Commons

Six Sufi Masters
Image from Wikimedia Commons

On November 15th and 16th, the Jung Society of Utah hosted Dr. Tom Cheetham, Fellow of the Temenos Academy, for a discussion and workshop on Mystical Islam as seen through the eyes of Dr. Henri Corbin, a prolific scholar and intellectual bridge between the mysticism of the East (Sufism) with the ethical philosophies of the West.  My friends Machiel Klerk and Cheryl Forester invited me to come and bring some sculptures from the 99 Names Project.  I brought Holy, Victorious, Maker of Order, Shaper of Beauty, Knower, and Constrictor, hoping they would be appropriate to the setting.  I was very excited to meet Dr. Cheetham because of his work and connection with Temenos Academy (one of the first organizations to offer words of advice and encouragement as I began the 99 Names Project) and I prayed all day that I would not embarrass myself, him, or my friends with the Jung Society.  There was no need to worry – Dr. Cheetham is super cool in person and great fun to visit with.

Dr. Cheetham is a biologist who found the ideas of mysticism and the work of Dr. Henri Corbin so compelling, he’s devoted himself to sharing what he finds with others, and has written several books about Corbin and Islamic Mysticism for Western audiences.  The discussion Friday, and going more in-depth in the workshop Saturday, revolved around the adjustments in world-view that allow us to first, open the door to understanding and appreciating Islamic mysticism, and second, learn the tools to open our own world of experience.  He spoke about the Zoroastrian  conception of angelic beings, how they represent intelligences that become bridges between things and whatever is closer to the experience of Divinity, and that every thing perceptible in our world of experience has these things, angels, or bridges.  One question was asked by a documentary film-maker, “If everything has these ‘angels’ to act as bridges in the direction of the Divine, may we as humans also serve that function to beings further away from the Source than ourselves?”  That was a great question, and Dr. Cheetham had a lot of fun thinking about it.

These angels are not creatures of the order we think of as angelic beings from Abrahamic traditions – super-human ministrants with wings and paranormal powers; this concept is more a device through which to view the world.  Every thing we come in contact with as human beings we, on some level and to wildly varying degrees, give personality to and respond as if the thing has its own identity.  Many people, for example, name their cars, and all of us can identify with computers or machines we feel respond to us as if they have minds of their own.  We understand these things may not actually have free will as we appreciate it, but we still personify them, or give “person-hood” to them.  When we apply Plato‘s world of the Ideals to this, we recognize that the things are real as things themselves, but also exist as signs or bridges of sorts to the Ideals ‘behind’ them.  Then, we can imagine the Source ‘behind’ that world of the Ideals – this allows us to see these ‘things’ as the sort of ‘angel’ being described; the bridge between us and something infinite.

One thing that I felt was particularly wonderful about the presentations comes from Dr. Cheetham’s background.  His discussion was not central to any particular religious tradition, but he has found this can apply to the world view or cosmology of anyone.  We have a tendency to look at things through a tube, and see everything as being near or far, left or right, up or down, better or worse, when in actuality the universe is an ever-expanding, edgeless sphere exploding from us as the center.  We only see the up and down, and give little regard to the rest of the volume in this soup of infinite experience.  This recalled to my mind Dr. Bernie Siegel’s comments on optimism:  “The optimist will live longer with a better life than the pessimist in any given situation, even if the pessimist’s view of the world is more accurate.”  Regardless of whether or not we choose to believe in a personal God, angels, or anyone’s religious cosmology, the concepts Dr. Cheetham shared were invigorating, enlightening, and expanding – it’s healthy and hopeful to believe that everything is linked and can help lead us to something better, and that each of us is important enough to something for everything in existence to possess bridges drawing us closer to the Source of creation.

Friday after the presentation I stood by the sculptures answering questions and visiting with people.  One young lady and I shared views on Dr. Tariq Ramadan‘s book The Quest for Meaning, another couple and I visited about what happens when we choose to grow from our interactions with people far different from ourselves, I met a Muslim couple interested in learning about Christianity as a way of gaining greater appreciation for their own Muslim faith, and I got to meet a remarkable man – Dr. Rasoul Shams of the Rumi Poetry Club.  He is deeply spiritual and excited about everything that can draw people together as friends, and has more energy than some of my kids.  He grew up fluent in Farsi and has recently released what I hope will be the first of a series, his personal translations of the writings of Jalaluddin Rumi, Rumi:  The Art of Loving.

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It was a terrific opportunity for me to reconnect with my friends at the Jung Society of Utah, meet several truly remarkable people, and get my horizons stretched.  I told Dr. Cheetham afterwards that I was very grateful – he opened another door in my mind I had no idea existed, and the vista through the door way (as is often the case) is beautiful.  Everything in the universe is connected, and it’s wonderful to have our vocabulary for expressing these things expanded.

Mustafa Akyol Image from Wikimedia Commons

Mustafa Akyol
Image from Wikimedia Commons

A good friend of mine was giving me his opinion about world affairs.  “It is heartbreaking that so many soldiers go into harm’s way, get wounded and killed, just trying to protect children from insane people.  American soldiers will go into Iraq and stand guard around schools their friends have built, protecting the children inside from snipers – snipers who sometimes are related to the children going to the school!  The US, the UK, all these other countries should not have to police the world from crazies who call themselves Muslim!  We should be policing ourselves!”

Yes, my friend is a Shi’a Muslim, emigrating here to the US to escape oppression and injustice – from other Shi’a.  Muslims in the US are horrified by terrorism the same as anyone else, and came to this country to flee the atrocities we read about regularly.  “The biggest problem is we don’t complain about our own!”  Me friend went on, “Muslims have a history of closing ranks and shielding each other from those who are different, regardless of the twisting of religion these others do.  Those who commit violence in the Name of Allah can no longer be called Muslim, but we have a huge cultural momentum to protect them.  It makes me sick.  Young American men and women should be in college and starting families, not policing what we should police ourselves!”

This view and others like it is not well represented in the national media, but is swelling in strength.  In a series of congressional hearings, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca testified that 7 of 10 recently foiled terrorist plots in the US were stopped specifically by Muslims reporting on those who claimed Islam, but who chose a path of violence.  Although imams like Fethullah Gulen and Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri of Minaj USA have issued fatwahs and numerous statements denouncing terrorism and all its attending behaviors, the voice of Muslims against violent “Jihadists” seems to be a soft one.  However, this is changing (Hadia Mubarak, Dean Obeidallah, and Imam Zaid Shakir are such voices, and William Saletan writes about others).

Another such voice of change is the respected journalist Mustafa Akyol.  He is an outspoken proponent of moderate Islam  and has spent his journalistic career speaking out against extremist Muslims, training his literary lenses on those who justify the use of violence to serve righteous ends.  The Qur’an states that if someone kills even one person, “it would be as if he slew the whole people (Qur’an 5:32).”

Mustafa Akyol (born 1972) is a Turkish writer and journalist.  He received his early education in Ankara, and graduated from the Istanbul Nisantasi Anadolu Lisesi and the International Relations Department of Bogazici University.  He earned his masters in the History Department of the same university with a thesis on Turkey’s Kurdish question, which he later extended to a popular book titled:  Rethinking the Kurdish Issue:  What Went Wrong, What Next?

Akyol writes regular columns for two Turkish dailies, Star and Hurriyet Daily News, and has written for Huffington Post.  He has criticized both Islamic extremism and Turkish secularism.

Over the years, he has given seminars in several universities and think-tanks in the US and the UK on issues of Islam, politics, and Turkish affairs.  he also spoke at TED, giving a lecture on Faith versus Tradition in Islam (link here).

Mustafa Akyol’s articles on Islamic issues, in which he mostly argues against Islamic extremism and terrorism from a Muslim point of view and defends the Islamic faith, have appeared in publications like Foreign Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Forward, First Things, Huffington Post, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Times, The American Enterprise, National Review, FrontPage Magazine, Newsweek, and Islam Online.

Akyol is also author of the English-language book Islam Without Extremes:  A Muslim Case for Liberty (link here).  This, according to the publisher, is “a desperately needed intellectual basis for the reconcilability of Islam and religious, political, economic, and social freedoms.”

(Bio gleaned from Wikipedia)

Mr. Akyol will be traveling from Turkey to speak at the invitation of some friends of mine, Pacifica Institute Utah, on November 10 later this year.  It will be invigorating listening to a voice my friend has been longing to hear, and he will certainly receive a warm welcome by people of all faiths.

2012 inside LA

All blessings flow from the same ultimate Source, and sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that somehow we are the ones triggering the blessings.  When pride rather than rejoicing gratitude is our state of mind, I believe that can turn the heart of the Giver away.  At any moment, the wonderful things we have and experience can be withdrawn and our world can shift dramatically, so this mindset of gratefulness for the blessings we receive is vital to our constant welfare.

Job and Jesus were both examples of the best mindset to receive.  Job, through a twist of fate, had everything stripped from him, but he retained his dignity and faithfulness – and was ultimately rewarded with blessings far exceeding what had been taken away.  Jesus gave up the blessings of his family’s position and wealth to live the life of an itinerant preacher, always mindful of the many blessings surrounding him without the trappings of wealth.  In Sufi tradition when Jesus was asked how he felt being poor, he responded by confidently declaring he had all he needed, “My shoes are my chariot, the moon is my lantern, and the morning sun is my winter’s fire.”

To become the creatures we are created to be, we must open ourselves to the Divine will, and being caught up in our blessings or thinking that somehow God “owes” us these things is a dangerous, prideful attitude and closes our hearts.  “Pride goeth before a fall (from Proverbs 16:18)” is a principle consistent with our growth cycle – to “reopen” our hearts to His presence, sometimes we have to be reminded of the proper attitude and our blessings are stripped away.  Jesus, First Among Saints, gave up his material blessings in voluntary abasement as an example to those around him; Job was abased because, I believe, he was a trusted servant and God required an example for Job’s contemporaries.  Both proved that material blessings are to be accepted with grace and humility, and that true blessings are beyond this material world.

In my personal reflection, I believe this Name has to do with keeping a hedge about our proclivity to pride.  Our Creator has built the entire universe just for our well-being, and His desire for our welfare means we deserve rich blessings, but the moment we act like attention-starved selfish children and whine to the heavens that somehow God “owes us” something, we begin to weaken our channel with the Source and sour our relationship.  By remaining aware that, at any moment and quicker than an eye-blink, our fortunes could be reversed and our haughtiness brought to abasement, we can be motivated to remain in a grateful state of mind.  And, if abasement comes although we maintain the right attitude, I believe it is because our Creator trusts that we’ll have the strength to deal with it and be a good example to those around us.

The shape is a truncated dodecahedron, modeled after a popular lamp imported from the Middle East during the 60’s and 70’s, inspired by a lamp made by my friend David n. Sterling of The Mall of America Religious Council.  Each pentagonal face has a representation of the numbers 1 through 12; in the bottom are ashes (reminding us of the example of Job) and hanging from the top is a polished moonstone (symbolizing the story related about Jesus).  The ashes are from prairie oak, Russian olive, and cottonwood branches (naturally fallen from their respective trees, growing around the areas I’ve lived in – and with some alchemical significance).  The indigo and blue paint are to remind us of the expanse of heaven.

All of us have our stories of abasement, and I pray that we have the strength to remember to offer gratitude for the blessings we receive; I’m also confident our Creator hears and is greatly pleased when we thank those wonderful people who surround us, who give us His blessings through their own hands.

My friends at Pacifica Institute Utah, a Turkish-American community service group, were excited about the new book on the 99 Names Project.  They invited me to come to this year’s Interfaith Iftar dinner and speak about the ongoing Project and my experience as a Christian learning about Islam.  A friend who is a nurse also spoke about his experience as a medical professional in Turkey and among his new Muslim friends.  The food was wondrous, the company was delightful, and it was a wonderful evening.


Praise ye the Lord.  Praise ye the name of the Lord; praise him, O ye servants of the Lord.

Psalms 135:1

Bismallah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

To Pacifica and friends, thank you so much for coming and joining in celebrating this wonderful holiday season.  Ramadan is a time to join with family and friends and reflect on the many blessings we have received, as well as a time to remember those around us who may not be so fortunate.  Kimse Yok Mu has been responsible for blessing those in need around the world with tens of thousands of meals this season, giving fresh hope and encouragement to thousands of families in the most dire of circumstances.  This in addition to the many, many humanitarian efforts  Hizmet/service groups continually perform wherever in the world they are called to serve – out of their love for others regardless of situation or need.  Selfless service for others is the most wonderful fruit of the faithful regardless of belief, and a beautiful activity in which we all can share.

Once upon a time, the five wisest magi in the world were invited to come and experience a mysterious creature which they had never before witnessed.  These five magi were blind, and the creature was an elephant.  These five men and women were guided to stand around the patient elephant, and stepped forward to feel and learn.  The first touched the trunk, the second touched an ear, the third a leg, the fourth the elephant’s great heaving side, and the fifth the tail.

“An elephant is a great wrinkled snake!” the first magi declared.

“It is a tremendous fan!” the second stated.

“An elephant is a marvelous tree!” said the third.

“It is a great leathery cliff” cried the fourth.

“An elephant is a twitching rope” observed the fifth.

In this story each of the wise men and women were right – the part of the elephant each experienced was exactly as they described.  However, we can also see each experienced only a portion of the whole.  How much greater would their understanding be if they spoke to each other, shared what they learned, and listened to each other with open hearts?  The views of none would be diluted, but each would be deepened and enriched.

Although this is an ancient story shared by many people from around the world, we can all see the relevance today.  Looking at our neighbors and those around us, it is obvious each of us see the world and view our relationship with the universe and our Creator in different ways.  Several years ago I was confronted with this concept, as many were, in a very dramatic way.  When the tragedy of 9/11 happened and 3000 lives were ended because of the heartless actions of two dozen men, many Westerners were forced to admit we had little understanding of world religions.  Populist US media portrayed the faith these two dozen claimed as a twisted religion pushing for the extermination of Americans and the destruction of the West.  It was hard to believe that one and a half billion people wanted my family and me to suffer, but that is what we were told.

As a Christian – as an American Christian – I realized I was terrified of Muslims.  And when I recognized this it shocked me.  This country is founded on principles of freedom and religious freedom is one of the most sacred of these – so it became vital to learn what these neighbors of mine truly believed.  Rather than being ruled by my media-induced fear I decided to confront it, and I quickly learned how very misleading fear can be.  Mohandas Gandhi said, “I may be many faiths, but before I am any of these I am first and foremost human;” and I recognized that with whatever other gulfs may separate us, being the children of Adam and Eve is one thing all of us share.

I read the Qur’an, I read the Hadith, I visited via email with Imams, Sheikhs, Mawlanas and laity from around the world.  I learned that Islam is not a great monolithic organization bent on world domination, but rather is an intricate web of men and women observing their faith in a rainbow of expression.  Mohamed taught that God does not feed off our prayers, but created us because – as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said – He wanted to, and religious expression is not meant to fetter our lives but to help us become better people.  These strangers who were supposed to want me dead love their families, treasure their friendships, and want the best for their children.  This was in stark contrast to common media portrayal.

Some fourteen hundred years ago a man dedicated his life to healing the spiritual rift between Christians and Jews, and prayed intently for guidance from his Creator.  Then one night a profound miracle happened and the angel Gabriel – the same who announced the coming of Jesus to Mary – appeared to Mohamed and begun the recitation of the Qur’an.  The angel’s visits to Mohamed continued for years, and the recitations restored knowledge lost to the world for generations.  Mohamed’s spirituality was recognized by those around him, and in 622 he was invited to Medina to broker peace between rival religious groups.  Guided by the Spirit, Mohamed created one of the earliest constitutions in the world guaranteeing rights of women and minorities in a representational government.

As an artist, it seemed appropriate to share what I was learning through art and I wanted to do so with something that also recognized our common ground.  Several of the men and women I emailed mentioned the 99 Names, which sounded very interesting.  I learned that when Mohamed was asked how a person could get into Heaven he told them they needed to learn the Names of God; when pressed on how many there were Mohamed responded that there were 99.  This really resonated with me, so I began to study the Names and respond to them through glass sculpture and the 99 Names Project was born.

The list of Names is not identical when we look at different traditions, but there are some things that all the Name traditions share.  These are not to be understood as names like Roger, Jill, or John – when speaking of the Most Beautiful Names of God it is recognized that these are eternal aspects of Divinity, and that the aspects of God are truly infinite.  So the Names are really an index of the characteristics of the Divine to be respected, revered, and emulated by the faithful.  They give focus to prayer and personal growth, give guidance in difficult situations, and provide subject for meditation.  Each person responds to different Names in varying degrees, opening themselves to spiritual guidance according to each unique circumstance and situation.  And the Names are open to all.

Just as Jesus shared the Beatitudes and Buddha the Eight-Fold Path, the Islamic tradition of the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God (or Asmah al-Husna) gives a framework for self-improvement and hope.  And they also serve as an ideal spine on which to hang the study of another faith; these are Divine principles, shared by every belief system, and can be used by anyone within the framework of their own faith.  Almost every chapter of the Qur’an begins with an invocation to God as the Compassionate and the Merciful – reminding us that not only does God define and perfectly emulate these qualities, but that each of us must also show these traits if we ourselves want to receive them.  While some Names describe traits required of the faithful other Names remind us that only God has the right to certain things, like pride, and we must respect this.

As I shared my intentions with the spiritual leaders and laity with whom I was emailing, I was receiving some very positive feedback.  Then in rapid succession several Muslims from around the world gave me identical advice.  “This is a wonderful aspiration,” I was told, ” but if you’re going to do it you should do it right.  Study each Name, ponder it, pray about it, compare what you learn about our faith with your own, and ask God how He wants you to express His Name.  Take it seriously, take your time, and do it right.”  Sometimes I don’t do that – I’ve spent a hundred hours building something I thought would be really cool, but in the end the “coolness” has little to do with the Name and it has to be scrapped.  But when I listen the designs and pieces of glass flow together to create something which is balanced and feels right.  When my friend the imam at BYU can look at a new sculpture and tell me the Name it represents, it is truly wonderful.

Twenty five sculptures have now been completed, and the images of them have been collected in the first book documenting the project.  In addition to photographs of the sculptures, this book shares my observations about each Name and the overall process.  The sculptures share three considerations which represent traits of Islam I have grown to admire and respect- architecture, bookbinding, and geometry.  The architectural features in the sculptures are to recognize that Muslim faithful believe they have the responsibility to begin building heaven here and now through strong families and nurturing environments; from the earliest times mosques were built as spiritual centers for communities, and the ones constructed in Medina were for the use of Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoastrians alike.

I learned bookbinding from a rare and medieval books curator; the processes of bookbinding are used because of the tremendous value Islam and Muslims hold for books and education.  All books are sacred, one imam shared with me, for two reasons – they are symbols of the Divine gift of knowledge, and on some level all books are symbols of the Holy Revelation, the Qur’an.  Historically Islam is the most literate religious culture, and the honorable imam Fethullah Gulen reminds us that people are not saved in ignorance – we were created with brains, and we honor our Creator when we use them.

The third consideration for the sculptures is geometry.  The order and math of geometry are symbols of Truth with a capital “T”, and all truth is recognized as coming from the same ultimate Source – regardless of the language of transmission or whether or not we understand how it fits together.  The sciences of today, from math and medicine to sociology and psychology, were treasured and transmitted to us from ancient times through the largest libraries of the world, of which many of the greatest and most important just happened to be Muslim.

There is another aspect of this project which is interesting to me.  The process has really deepened my understanding and appreciation for my Muslim neighbors, but something else has also occurred.  The process of learning about another faith through exploring fair parallels and listening to those who honestly, earnestly strive to live its ideals has neither diluted my own faith or converted me to Islam – but rather it has deepened my own beliefs and has made me a better Christian.  One of my favorite passages of the Qur’an comes to mind:

O mankind!  We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other )).

–Qur’an 49:13

This journey of the 99 Names Project has helped me come to a valuable realization.  God in His infinite wisdom has made us all, and we are different because He has made us to be different.  We grow closer together through the process of learning to respect and treasure our differences.

A year or so ago Ozkur Yildiz from the national Pacifica organization came and spoke with us here.  He said that in his home town in Turkey and after years of disuse, the churches in the central square could finally be cleaned and used.  Everyone came and helped clean each of the three churches – a Muslim mosque, a Jewish synagogue, and a Christian chapel.  The members of every faith helped with the sacred buildings of the others, and everyone in the community participated in the holy celebrations and holidays of each religion.  He said that a miracle occurred – as the doors of each church were opened to the others, every heart was opened to its neighbor.

When we live our faith and support our neighbors in living theirs, as Allen Bachman has observed, all of us will rise together.  This also shows what happens when the people feeling the elephant approach each other, listen, and respect each other’s experience.

The intent for the 99 Names Project and the book is my personal response to the story of the elephant.  Each of us have felt a part of the elephant, and now it’s time to share.

I would like to end with one more observation.  Islam means “submission to God,” and Muslim means “one who submits to God,” or one whose heart belongs to God. This group tonight is made of people from many parts of the world and a multitude of religious traditions, but there are two commonalities.  All of us are, as Gandhi said, first and foremost human.  This group is also made of those who, calling Him Allah, Eloi, or God, have given their hearts to our Creator.  Regardless of our differences, all of us may call ourselves Ones Who Submit.  We can no longer separate ourselves as US versus THEM; all of us are just US.

May the most wonderful blessings of Ramadan be upon us all.

(Link to pdf text)


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.


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


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

24 - Bestower of Honors (Al-Mu'izz)

24 – Bestower of Honors (Al-Mu’izz)

Photography by Hawkinson Photography

This came as a result of two ideas that seemed contradictory, but I believe reflect the aspects of human expectation versus Divine reality.

First, I was thinking of the tomb of Tamerlane, a Ceasar of the Muslim world, and his gentler reflection in the liberator Sundiata.  These men forged huge empires of political might, and continue to receive honors and recognition from their descendents and those who remember them.  They were conquerors and among the mightiest of men.

Then, I considered what this Name might also refer to.  What is the greatest honor the Creator could give?  Adam was honored to be, alongside Eve, the progenitor of Humanity and the bringer of the gift of mortality to the whole world.  God cared about Adam’s loneliness, He made Adam the first prophet, and guided Adam to build the first structures on the planet (including the Qa’aba).  In the Bible and Qur’an, the most honored men and women are those who have opportunity to visit with God, and in the New Testament Jesus says the most highly favored people will be blessed to live forever in God’s own house as His neighbors.

The structure draws from some of the forms of Tamerlane’s Tomb, but rather than using any color I thought the reflections of the woven lines etched in the glass would symbolize something beyond our normal experience.  Resting in the box, the geometry of which reflects the proportions of the Ark, are worldly acknowledgements of achievement – from fire-brigade membership pins and paratrooper medals to Boy Scout merit badges.  The simple and open architecture was used as a strong contrast to the colorful awards, in hopes the viewer would think along with me about the fleeting quality of earthly acclaim compared to eternal friendship with the Divine.  The open arches owe their geometry to Muslim way-stations, where large arched openings were designed to redirect the flow of cool air to refresh travelers.

Rather than riches, acclaim, or accolades, the greatest honor the Creator gives to his creatures, by contrast, is His friendship.

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