The invisible is made visible in fascinating ways. Vibrant energy is popping all around us and the act of creation is the life-giving flow that stimulates more life and opens the floodgates of grace to produce more beauty.
I once heard that Picasso would look at a blank canvass for over twelve hours. He wouldn’t even touch a brush, twelve hours. He just stared at the blankness. Then when he was inspired, he would paint and the image appeared to him. What a meditative practice. What a powerful result. He would see the picture unfold all around him and use the tools at his disposal – brushes, pallets, paints, sponges and scrapers — to make the energy of the art come alive. The invisible was made visible.
It may have been a technique he learned from Michelangelo. The great Renaissance artist would stare at a block of marble for hours and wait until a figure emerged in his mind from the block. He would literally free the figure from the rock, and the artist demonstrated this in his work.
One of the most powerful art experiences I’ve had as a spectator of art was at the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy. There was a series of pieces in a few galleries – a build up of art images that lead up to viewing the masterpiece “David”.
The art pieces look like raw, unfinished works of art with touches of perfection as the viewer can see forms gradually emerging from various rocks and marble. The viewer is witnessing a naked image emerging – sometimes just a torso, sometimes a head and torso with knees and feet still in the rock. The pieces are titled, “Prisoners or Slaves”.
It looks as though the artist gave up, but Michelangelo was intentional in doing this.
At the Academia, they tell the viewer ahead of time that Michelangelo believed the sculptor was a “tool of God”. He doesn’t create the piece so much as reveal it. An artist chips away at the rock and frees the figure from the stone.
The concept was called “non-finito”. As you are viewing these pieces, you see the statement he’s trying to make and the message is clear. The flaws of chipping are made bare. The chisel and mallets reveal blemishes and roughly hewn crusts of dust cling to some of the images giving them a look like a sand sculpture.
Knowing this concept of non-finito, on closer examination of the pieces, there is an incarnational feel to this strategy. One by one, there are beings that are trying to do their part with the artist and free themselves from the rocks that hold them back. Its almost as if there is a symbiotic relationship happening in the process. One of the pieces was even entitled, “The Awakening Slave”.
Conceptually speaking, the figures appear to be empowered in the process of emerging. Powerful!
When you finally arrive at the masterpiece of “David”, the viewer sees a being present in his perfection and knows it. David is free. David is a conqueror. He’s faced the greatest “Giant” fear of his foe tribe, Goliath of the Philistines, and has emerged a victor.
Michelangelo was making a statement about humanity. We are evolving. Some of us are stuck in the rock. Some of us are waiting for the creator to free us and others are helping the creator create and manifesting a form to be seen. Some of us are on the verge of bursting forth like a butterfly from a cocoon. Others are right there, but can’t get the legs out. It is as if they are tied to that piece of rock.
It begs the question, what is the rock that is keeping us from emerging in our lives? What are the tools we use to free us from the rock? How much have we made manifest our own spiritual image to help the process?
Some of us emerge from the rock and recognize our perfection. Others are still stuck. Still others have emerged from the rock and perfection, but can’t see it. We’re stuck. We look for understanding in the rock and miss the view in front of us.
Maybe the pieces of rock that hold us back are insecurities and fears. Maybe those pieces of rock are the society that holds us back or the perceptions of limitations that we believe society imposes on us. Maybe it’s our age or an infirmity and someone who has their grips on us emotionally. Maybe it’s the past.
Nevertheless, we must emerge from the rock. We must endeavor to free ourselves from fearful thinking and do that in any number of ways. Sometimes we just have to chisel away at our problems. Sometimes we need to sit with them and work on finding the strength to continue chipping away. We all need to find the tools that help us emerge from the rock. The tools and techniques we use make all the difference in the world.
But I would submit that there is a process for unfolding. Every great artist finds a technique that works for him. Every great piece of art is a feeling made visible and we are no exception to that rule.
Scripture is a tool that helps us chip away at our infirmities and fears. It is just one tool to help the process. Prayer is another. Mindfulness is another. Ritual is another.
When a sculptor chisels, sometimes he uses a mallet on the pointed chisel. He strikes it and sometimes sparks of fire emerge in the banging. The dust slips away to reveal an image that needs to be sanded and polished.
Who is the sculptor helping us? Moses? Jesus? A saint? A mystic? A teacher? A parent? A friend?
The meditative practice is much like this. We need to sit and be present to making our form known through silence. The fire within forms the figure and meets the fire outside. A synergy forms between figure and sculptor. It helps the creator to see the obstructions and free the rock. The great Sufi poet Rumi said, “we are dancing flames of dust”. In other words, there is a light within us that is flickering and mingling with the death of this world that needs to be shed.
How do we fan the flames of that fire to make that light visible?
Contemplation forms the figure. It helps us articulate who we are and why we are here. It helps us define our part in the process. Our interior work helps in the process. We become co-creators in the process of life.
If our thoughts and actions are informed by a strong moral foundation, then we are working with the creator to free ourselves from the rock. Attuning to the presence of mind in what needs to be freed, we help the creator through our own actions, chisel away at the rock that imprisons us. We are empowered in the process. Noticing our own inner beauty in the process polishes the rough parts away.
And so we emerge.
There we are standing in our perfection like David, the conqueror, having struck down the mighty giant that taunted us. But there is still more to consider. What did the battle mean? What did the process mean? We see a few blemishes from the experiences, maybe a few chips and work through dealing with them. The ego is in check.
Thus begins the next step in the process. Emerging from our understanding, we know that there is more here than meets the eye. Now what?
Like Michelangelo, we are “tools of God”. We go to work and help others free themselves through their own process. We reveal them to the world. The creation becomes the creator. The artist liberates the art and the art frees the artist.
We look to the rock and share in the process of liberation and take great pride in doing so, but careful not to cause harm and break any pieces in the process.
Once again, the invisible is made visible.