Monday, October 1, 2007

Story Telling Sadhana


The first time that I attempted a series of wall murals narrating the Gospel stories, was in the “All Saint’s Church” in Kashmir. Here I attempted to relate three design elements to the process of story telling. First of all, there were four windows, or doorways, where Jesus was presented in an opening that represented a way into his life. Here there was a link between Jesus as teacher, and his disciple as worshipper.

These door openings were then related to a series of Mandala designs. These Mandala patterns were the basis for a series of images on the Parables and Sacraments of Jesus. They symbolize the inner meaning of the story, the way that the story leads into another world of significance. Often Mandala designs are made on the threshold of the door in traditional Indian homes. They are invitations, but also invocations for a blessing on the home. It is in that sense that they are also related to the Mantra, or word formula, which is used as a blessing. The Mandala is a circular design, and can be understood as representing a “chakra” or wheel, but also a “mala”, or garland.

Finally there was a sequence of four narrative frieze pictures, which like the two frieze panels that I painted in the refectory of the Holy Cross Fathers, represented the journey of Christ—his Marga, or life as a Way. In the Srinagar murals in the Church of All Saints, I tried to show Jesus as walking in the landscape of Kashmir. The idea behind this was the notion that we find Jesus as we walk with him on the Indian Way.

Underlying all Christian art is the concept of the Immitation of Jesus. Jesus is not only the person who lived historically in the middle east, but he is the Lord who is also present in each person’s heart, and therefore continually incarnated into the lives and homes of those who remember his story.

In the Art Retreats that I started to develop as a narrative approach to “finding the story within our hearts”, I structured this way of the imagination, by using mandalas and stories as a “sadhana” or spiritual journey. This included looking at the way that the life of Jesus, and his story, could help us understand other story traditions in other Faiths. There is, in Indian thought, an “ocean of stories”. Stories are like living streams that flow together, and often meet and intermingle. That is a way of also thinking about the symbol of “Sangam” in Indian thought, which is the meeting of rivers, or streams that are also present in the great ocean of spiritual experience.

Stories help us in a process of dialogue with other story traditions, which are the basis for other Faith systems. As mentioned earlier “story” was originally related to a series of windows, as we find in a “storey of a building”, through which we look out on the world around us. They are also a series of windows that we can look into another “living space” to understand better those who are inside other households. As Jesus himself said: “My Father’s house has many mansions” by which we could understand that God’s House has many stories. The word “dialogue” comes from the Greek term “dia” which means to enter through. In fact transparencies that we use to project images, are also called “dias”. So the images in a story are “dias” that can help in our “dialogue” with those who share in this journey of going along the way of story telling.

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