Mandalas in The Year of Faith

In the opening Year of Faith Week many bloggers have been trying to find our way through multitudes of words and images.  It has certainly been a hectic week.

Some of my thoughts this week have revolved around what it means to being a "contemplative in the world."  

Many regular readers will know of my fondness for the work of Benedictine  Fr. Laurence Freeman and Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation.

 A previous post with Fr.Richard Rohr's ideas on the "contemplative stance" are here.

Then today, I came across this wonderful article and as we enter this weekend I hope you enjoy this link and find it as much a tonic for the soul as I do.

It is a wonderful article on Mandalas by the well known and talented Michael O'Neill McGrath , O.S.F.S., an artist and author who lives and works in Camden, N.J. His latest book, Saved by Beauty (World Library Publications, 2012), is a visual journey with Dorothy Day.

It's lovely to see how Michael O'Neill McGrath's most recent work on mandalas integrates with the lives of two new saints : Hildegard of Bingen who has also been made a Doctor of The Church and Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks. who will become the first Native American saint later this month.

It resonates with my interest in liminal spaces and thin places too, and I will probably replicate this post on my other blog, Thin Places too. 

(I started this new blog in June but my good intentions to post regularly on it have been somewhat waylaid. Hey ho ! That's life. )

 Left, Michael O'Neill Mcgrath's beautiful mandala
of  Hildegard of Bingen
Image source  

and right, his medicine wheel mandala for Kateri Tekakwitha.

I'm thinking too how wonderful synchronicities are in this life.

Shortly before seeing the article above I came across this quote from Carl Jung on my friend Fr.John Predmore's blog site.

" Christ is in us and we in Christ. 
 Why should the activity and the presence of Jesus not be real and knowable?"

Carl Jung was famous for his mandalas too, believing them to be representations of  the unconscious self, " 

 and helping humans to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises."

"The "squaring of the circle" is one of the many archetypal motifs
which form the basic patterns of our dreams and fantasies. But it
is distinguished by the fact that it is one of the most important
of them from the functional point of view. Indeed, it could even
be called the archetype of wholeness."
- from Mandalas. C. G. Jung. trans. from Du (Zurich, 1955)

"During a difficult period in his life in which he withdrew from his teaching position and devoted much of his time investigating the nature of the unconscious, Jung frequently painted or drew mandalas, but only learned to understand the mandala symbology many years after he had begun creating the images.

He understood only that he felt compelled to make the figures and that they comforted him, “Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is: “Formation, Transformation, Eternal Mind’s eternal recreation”. And that is the self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious, but which cannot tolerate self-deceptions” (MDR 195-196). W 9i 715).

Jung’s continuing practice of drawing and painting mandalas eventually leads him to understand them as symbols of the Self, that they are informed by archetypal forces in the unconscious that the artist is not aware of during the creation of the work." You can read more

Creating mandalas have a long and ancient tradition in human evolution in many faiths and cultures.

Another brief link on this here.

 So, it has certainly been an interesting day in this first week of the Year of Faith.

I am familiar with mandalas from when I did my training in psychotherapy many years ago.

The course had much on Jung and I remember when we had a fascinating visit from art therapists who used mandalas in their work and we all had a go at creating one. 

I do remember it was great fun and fascinating to see the endless variety of each others efforts. It also helped opened doors to communication in ways that words sometimes cannot do.


Celtic spirituality too has a rich legacy of mandalas in its spirals and diversity of whirls, shapes and patterns.


 These extracts from Michael O'Neill McGrath's article today certainly resonate with me.

 "Making mandalas allows one to paint and pray at the same time. The process leads the painter to deeper levels of self-awareness and to the presence of God within.
 When I am in the throes of grief or overshadowed by doubts of faith, I also create mandalas.

Instead of caving in to despair or allowing anger to consume me, I turn the energy of those emotions into something creative and life-affirming. 

The process helps me befriend the dark night that oppresses me and tell it that my faith, riddled with doubt though it may be, is alive and well. 

Making mandalas is a way to welcome growing pains, which eventually pass. When the going gets tough, an artist is inclined to create beauty, to turn grief and misery into inspiration and healing. These days, I feel like a mandala machine.

 When my attention turns from the miseries of church and state to consider which color works best beside another, then I know I am on a healing path where all will be well.

The mandalas described here are a few of those I have painted in recent years as personal prayers. The time spent creating a mandala is a mini-retreat that teaches me to be still and listen for the quiet voice within. 

                                                                Celtic heart mandala

As Teresa of Avila used to say, “God cannot rest in an unquiet heart.”

and these:

 "You do not have to be an artist or a visionary to create a mandala. And you do not have to be an art therapist to interpret one.

 You need only an open mind, a searching heart and an inner child with an ample supply of crayons, markers or paint. 

Cultivate your inner eyes and ears so that you can see and listen to the still, small voice within. 

The goal is not to create a frameable artwork, but to look at unfamiliar things for the first time and familiar things as if for the first time. 

When that happens, you come face to face with the Holy Spirit who tells you, 
“I will make all things new.”

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