A Sunlit Absence

Awareness itself, the very aware-ing, is never awareness of some thing, yet by virtue of its simplicity it grounds all things and therefore is never separate from anything. The gaze of the heart is always gazing into God, for this is quite simply what the heart’s depth does. R.S. Thomas states more clearly the inherent paradox of gazing into God:

Because it is not I who look
but I who am looked through, Gloria.

This undeniable luminous Vastness that slips out of any clothing that mere words can weave, but of which every tongue must tell, is not a physical light that occurs in space and time. Saints and sages throughout the tradition frequently warn us about thinking of it as a physical form. Saint Augustine reminds us that, while he was busy concerning himself “only with things that are contained in space, this light was not in space.” Evagrius says the demon “cunningly manipulates the brain and converts the light surrounding the intellect into a form.” Saint Diodochos warns that if this light “has a shape it is the product of the evil artifice of the enemy.” He insists that we should not take up a spiritual path “in hope of seeing visions clothed with form or shape; for if we do Satan will find it easy to lead our soul astray. Our one point is to perceive the love of God fully and consciously in our heart.”

Why the insistence that this inner light has no shape? Academic theology reminds us that this mystery we call God is beyond what can be grasped as shape and form in the way we grasp tangible things. Saint Teresa gets straight to the point when she says it is because “It is all about love melting in love.” Saint John of the Cross would suggest that this is not a blurring of identities but just the way things are. “It seems to such a person, that the entire universe is a sea of love in which it is engulfed, for conscious of the living point or center of love within itself, it is unable to catch a sight of the boundaries of love.” This realization is not a confusion of the discursive mind’s conceptual distinction of Creator from creature but creation’s ultimate clarity and consummation.

On the spiritual path “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2Cor 5:7). The full splendor of the sun of awareness reveals the most ordinary daily events to be transparent to David’s splendid gallery of light. The is the Fact: our liberating reduction to porous simplicity: the infinitely luminous expanse of right Now. “This light itself is one, and all those are one who see it and love it.”

(Excerpt from Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence, pg. 85-87)

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Back in September I made a yellow painting I was referring to in my mind as A Sunlit Absence, taking the title directly from Martin Laird’s book (who in turn is borrowing the phrase from the poet Seamus Heaney). In any case, I’ve been thinking about this painting again recently, which has been in hiding behind a stack of canvases in the studio. I’m thinking of returning to this realm and making more Sunlit Absence paintings.

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A Sunlit Absence, 60″ x 60″, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019

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I designed the window-light in the yellow painting from looking at the floor of a painting of St. Luke painting the Virgin. By using a floor tile design and making it into window light I felt like it made the yellow painting feel somehow outside the world, as if one would pass through the floor of the painting into the world of material. By turning the presences in the Mabuse painting into absences in the yellow painting it felt as if I was aligning my awareness with the spiritual teachings of Laird and the Saints he references. Here is the painting of St. Luke, the patron saint of painters, that I was looking at:

St. Luke

St. Luke Painting the Virgin, Mabuse, 1520

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After learning that Martin Laird took the title of his book from the poet Seamus Heaney, I tracked down a copy of the book North, that opens with the poems Mossbawn which I’ll post here:

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