Soul Food Archive: Spiritual Practice
Main Courses are offered on a frequently changing menu. Here are words and images to ingest and digest for inner nourishment. We hope these hearty meals invite you to taste and savor, to muse, reflect and remember, to journal, to create art...that is, to feast on food for the spirit.
Pascha #2, by Archimandrite Kiprian,
Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY*
Our current main course, below, is just one of several Soul Food offerings. Please visit, also, our buffet of Guest Caterer Specials and, for lighter fare, our Desserts & Snacks counter. And, to sample earlier menus, we hope you'll check out the Soul Food Archive. Like all who prepare foodstuffs, we hope to hear from those we serve! Space to leave comments, or read others' comments, on our cuisine follows each Soul Food offering.
Wintertime is, traditionally, a time for lights, as in this beautiful serigraph Festival of Lights,
by John August Swanson of Los Angeles.*
Drawn, as are so many, to candles and holiday decorations and clothing with a little ‘bling,’ we well may ask,
Why are shimmering, sparkling bits of light so powerfully attractive?
There’s no shortage of answers to this question—we’d like to offer one point of view:
Once upon a time, a favorite story tells us, some early Christians of the Nile delta found themselves longing to eat melons and squashes and oranges: golden fruits and vegetables! They believed, as did many others of the ancient world, that Divinity had been unleashed on the earth in the form of tiny sparks of light. Thus, ingesting foods with the color of light was one way to become permeated with Divine energy—and, literally, enlightened.
Do we 21st century ‘sophisticates’ smile at the innocence of this tale? Or…does something within us acknowledge that these seekers of golden foods were, intuitively, onto a profound truth? Perhaps “the sparks” have found a home in our own imaginations. Do lines about “letting your light shine” or “the body electric” slide into consciousness off and on? Or, to return to our original question, do the many wintertime lights speak to us and seem to carry weight beyond that of holiday decoration and festivity? To paraphrase the Delphic oracle’s words (later embraced by C.G.Jung): “Bidden or unbidden, God is present…” (in the form of sparks?). Perhaps Thomas Merton got it exactly right with his well-known sentence:
There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966)
Can it be possible that we are, truly, immersed in
“the glory,” the lumen, the Uncreated Light?
Jung’s study of alchemy and the scintillae confirmed this concept for him;** energy researchers have found ways to photograph our light-bodies or auras; today’s physicists even tell us that we really are made of ‘stardust’—or, in their language, sub-atomic particles
Many will say the idea of an unseen dimension saturated with shards of divine energy is a fanciful metaphor, more akin to science fiction (think: Star Trek’s transporter) than to daily reality. Still, over the centuries and around the globe, the alluring idea of the holy lights has surfaced and resurfaced, especially in the world’s spiritual systems. The Jewish and Christian traditions both honor the sparkling presence of Wisdom, known to Jews as netzotzot. India’s Vedas are layered with references to prana—spirit light which can be breathed in and out. From 17th century Protestant Silesia comes the voice of Angelus Silesius:
I am not outside God, God is not outside me.
I am God’s radiance—my light is Thee.
And, here, contemporary artist Frank Olinsky gives provocative visual form to the idea of an omnipresent, all-pervading Buddha-nature:*
Could it be that something as mundane as feeling—as a friend recently told us—that “My next car has to be a metallic color,” is a clue? Or, that meaning beyond the visible world is contained in someone saying, “What I missed terribly while living in Mexico was seeing sun on the snow on a clear winter day.” When such desires and longings surface, perhaps only in passing, they can be pointers to the soul’s leanings, our next steps. What lies behind my fixed idea of driving a metallic car? Why did I so badly miss the sparkle of a new snowfall? Or (if we lived in first century Egypt), why can I never get enough papaya and cantaloupe?
For those in accord with this (astonishing) idea, some questions arise:
- How can I remember that I’m moving in a sea of sparks? What tangible reminders could I use to help me stay conscious of this point of view?
- How can I remember that those around me are also containers of light—especially those who act in ways that belie such a high calling?
- Can I imagine what it would be like to spend an hour (or a day) intent on living in an ocean of sparks? Catherine of Siena used this example: As a fish is in the water and the water is in the fish, so we are in the waters of holiness and that water is in us.
Once upon a time (begins an old story), there was a princess whose life was made miserable by her father. Wrapped in a cloak made of a thousand furs, she ran away from home, and ended up a scullery maid in a palace, her face and arms stained and covered with soot from the stove. Among her few treasured possessions were three golden charms and, also, three beautiful dresses. One was of gold that shone like the sun, one was as silvery as the moon, and one glittered as the stars. She hid these dresses under her cloak of many furs, lest they betray her true identity. Then, one day, the king (whose heart she had touched) caught her by surprise and pulled back her furskin covering! Confirming his suspicions, under the dull and sooty fur wraps he found a beautiful princess, shining like the sun and the moon and the stars as she stood before him, shimmering in her full splendor!*
Now, a few more questions are raised:
Is not this story—told here in abbreviated form—a reminder of innate shining nature?
Must one be a storybook prince or princess to carry the shards of Divinity within?
- Were I to ”find myself in the story” (in the manner described by many Jungians, such as
Marie Louise von Franz), to what in my life would the many-furred coat correspond?
- The story places the shining princess among the pots and pans. Does this presume that
one can become a ‘shiny person’ in the midst of everyday activities?
- How can this picture and story illustrate not only the inner world of women and girls,
but also that of men and boys?
Read Others' Comments...
I hope you will add quotes from around the world that illustrate the sparks of divinity surrounding us all. Here's one, from "The Tibetan Book of the Dead:" Thine own consciousness, shining and inseparable from the Great Body of Radiance, hath no birth, nor death, and is the Immutable Boundless Light. Thanks for an interesting website--love all the pictures!
* Credits for this page:
~ Pascha #2 by Archimandrite Kiprian, Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY
A family in old Russia welcomes visitors with special Pascha (Easter) treats. Gratefully used with permission from Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY, 13361. This excellent website is the source for inexpensive traditional icon prints and mounted icons.
~ Festival of Lights, by John August Swanson, ©2000, used with the gracious permission of the artist. John’s art is found, among other places, in the Smithsonian, London’s Tate Gallery, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and the Vatican Museums’ Collection of Modern Religious Art. Search John August Swanson and click on “Catalogue” to read John’s comments on this artwork, and to see many more of his remarkable paintings.
**For Jung on the scintillae see, for example, Vol.8 of the Collected Works (The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche),
~ Interstellar ‘dust’ surrounding V838 Monocerotis, 20,000 light years from Earth.
~ Buddhafield, by Frank Olinsky, © 1994. This computer-generated work can be found in Buddha Book; introduction by Robert A. Thurman, text by Frank Olinsky and the Buddhist Ray (San Francisco: Chronicle Books LLC, 1997). Many thanks to the artist and publisher for granting us permission to reproduce this unusual artwork.
~ H.J.Ford’s illustration of “The Many-Furred Creature” is from Andrew Lang’s Green Fairy Book (first published c.1892, Longmans, Green and Co.; Dover Books edition, 1965). Used with thanks for permission from Dover. The fairy tale is Grimm Brothers #65, known under its German name, “Allerleirauh,” as well as titles such as “The Princess in Disguise,” “Furball,” and “Catskin.” Renowned folklore researcher Stith Thompson noted over 500 variants of this tale in Europe alone, and it also appears in African and Asian folklore (The Folktale; Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977; original ed. 1946). A 1971 French film version, “Donkey Skin,” starred Catherine Deneuve as the Cinderella-like heroine. To read the full Grimm Brothers’ version of the story, search for Allerleirauh on any Grimms’ Fairy Tales site.
Note in the upper border three magical golden (i.e., filled with the sparks-which-can-never-perish) charms which accompany the young woman through her trials: a ring, a spinning wheel, and a spool of thread. Each round object carries associations of union—the goal of the interior life. The story has all sorts of symbolic leads for our musing.
Here’s a photo from 1987, taken at St.Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo, CA. At a workshop on “The Many-Furred Creature,” Betsy of the Center staff has just met a guest wearing a many-(faux)furred jacket --not a cloak, as in the story, but otherwise similar.
The guest, who had no prior information that this story was being explored that day, graciously shared her wrap with others so that they could ‘put themselves in the story.’
One question all were encouraged to ask was, “…can I imagine the sparks emanating from each person wearing this many-furs coat?”
WATCH FOR OUR NEXT MAIN COURSE--IN march