Circle Drawing

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The last time I drew circle drawings in this way I was in the midst of the worst period of my life; the separation and eventual divorce from my now ex-husband. That the divorce happened was a huge surprise, and then very quickly, quite inevitably, I became quite unwell for some time. The stress of this period exasperated my already-significant fibromyalgia. Circle drawing is something I had done a bit of before and developed into one of the very few things I could do for a while outside of simply survive. Eventually, circle drawing led to other drawings and creative engagement and the divorce had to become something that I became used to. But for a long while, the focus and intensity of the small circles was one of the very few things that allowed my brain to rest within this terribly encompassing experience from which I could not escape or change no matter what I did.

Recently, I have begun circle drawing again. In fact, I have somewhat ambitiously begun the largest one I’ve ever attempted. Never fear though; I am, kind of surprisingly, doing very well and not at all in the depths of despair. Nothing terrible is happening in my life but I have come to recognize that the pull back to the practice of circles this time is a practice in reassurance.

Although I’m not experiencing any great turmoil, there are a number of things in my life that do require great deliberation and that I feel I must get ‘just right’. The most significant of these being that I have a short while left in which to develop and define the PhD question which I will be researching for the next three years.

And I think this is why I decided to resume circle drawing. Circle drawing provides a creative practice that is restful and that is unrushed. Lots of creativity is about constant decision-making – something I do often find enjoyable and enlivening. But at the moment, this large decision is constantly, and at times subconsciously, being wrestled with and circle drawing provides containment. It confines the creative decisions through paper size, type of pen, even the choice of pattern. It also provides a, perhaps lengthy but foreseeable, conclusion. It is finished when the paper is full.

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The process is also one that insists on me being present and moving slowly. I sometimes draw while listening to the TV or a podcast, but never something that I need to pay attention to – something that washes over me. Circle drawing requires I move slowly and peacefully in order to create neat circles. Even though I’ve been very conscious of this, I still often end up rushing and some of the circles aren’t quite what I would prefer. But they are also part of the larger whole and so I’ve accepted it and so I either stop and come back when I am able to settle myself, or I take the time to settle myself, reminding myself not to rush and to lean into the practice of taking it slowly.

I must also hold the pen very loosely, not grip it tightly, or my hand quickly becomes very sore, something I must pay attention to given the amount of typing and computer work I also do – repetitive work requires healthy practices. So I sit and deliberately release the tension in my hand.

Circle drawing has provided an ongoing creative project that seems to compliment the deep thinking I do during the day. At the same time, it provides an ongoing creative project. And I am conscious that this time around, this is a ‘large’ project. The paper chosen this time doesn’t allow for this piece to be done on my knees sitting on the couch or bed the way the previous ones were. For a long time, I only did anything I could do in bed or on the couch. But this is different, it requires being seated at the table. This tells me that this round of circle drawing is actually quite different to the last – it is more ambitious, more considered, and will take longer – both in the amount of time but also in proportionally, I am simply not spending as much of my day on it. But there are also great similarities in what the practice of creativity offers: the opportunity for focus and flow, for moments of rest, and a space to consider what is happening in work, study, and life, as well as being a creative outlet. At various times it allows me to focus and at other times to allow my mind to wander and sometimes even pray and maybe, just maybe, to help me create a lifestyle in which I can do what needs to be done and make some decisions.

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Karly Michelle is a mixed media artist currently doing a PhD researching biography in palliative care. She is interested in stories of life and faith and her creative work often focuses on rest and repetition. Her current ‘One A Week Psalm Project’ explores creativity as spiritual practice. Karly lives with fibromyalgia, which affects life in varying degrees at different times. Karly lives on Wurundjeri land. Find more about her arts practice at http://www.karlymichelle.com.

Towards the Quest for an Australian Jesus

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Queenie McKenzie, People talking to Jesus in the Bough Shed, 1995. Christof Collection of the Diocese of Broome. This painting was the theme image for Catholic celebrations of NAIDOC Week 2019.

HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, a South African-based open-access journal, has just published a little piece that I wrote:

‘“A Pretty Decent Sort of Bloke”: Towards the Quest for an Australian Jesus’. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 75, no. 4 (2019), e1–e10. (HTMLEPUBPDF)

Abstract

From many Aboriginal elders, such as Tjangika Napaltjani, Bob Williams and Djiniyini Gondarra, to painters, such as Arthur Boyd, Pro Hart and John Forrester-Clack, from historians, such as Manning Clark, and poets, such as Maureen Watson, Francis Webb and Henry Lawson, to celebrated novelists, such as Joseph Furphy, Patrick White and Tim Winton, the figure of Jesus has occupied an endearing and idiosyncratic place in the Australian imagination. It is evidence enough that ‘Australians have been anticlerical and antichurch, but rarely antiJesus’ (Stuart Piggin). But which Jesus? In what follows, I seek to listen to what some Australians make of Jesus, and to consider some theological implications of their contributions for the enduring quest for an Australian Jesus.

The article can be accessed here.

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JASON GORONCY IS A THEOLOGIAN, ARTIST, AND folk festival tragic WHO LIVES AND PLAYS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

 

One a Week Psalms Project

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I have an odd relationship with my body. It doesn’t have the stamina I would like and I feel like it lies to me quite regularly. But it doesn’t lie. Rather, it whispers in a way that requires an intense listening. Slowly I feel that I might be learning the full-bodied type of listening required that creativity has been helping me learn and that I have been trying to be intentional about this year. It has come as the result of a reluctant road I’ve followed due to ill health. Late in 2005, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by unexplained pain, insomnia, and what is commonly referred to as fibro fog – a deep, grey and constant unclearness, or fogginess, of mind. It has become an underlying pillar of my life, providing an unsteady platform on which to construct my thoughts about life and faith.

While my health is somewhat improved presently is still requires management. This life has thrust to the forefront the importance and necessity of a slower paced approach, steering me in the direction of contemplative spirituality and a deep appreciation of ritual. I have a deepening and growing appreciation for the sacramentality of creativity, as in the past few years just about any moments of grace have been felt through some creative engagement.

I feel like I have to constantly fight against my body to not feel uncomfortable. And by fight I mean carefully and deliberately care for it in a way that I was not taught would be necessary. I must consciously and deliberately spend time at the end of the day encouraging my body to let go. An evening is sometimes the very least amount of time it takes for me to ‘come down’ from the day. Many days I can physically feel and hear the ‘buzzing’ of my blood as it races around my body and into my brain as though hyped up on a constant new influx of fizzy drink by direct injection.

Ritual has become a path to follow and a direction to face myself towards. One of the most recent for me is ‘The One A Week Psalms Project’. The premise is to reflect on one Psalm a week and engage creatively as a spiritual discipline. At the moment I have an A4 journal that serves as the basis of the creative practice along with a writing journal and I do any combination of read, pray, write, sit, become distracted, draw, scribble, make, glue, and stare at the page.

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At the moment, only just six months in, I think I am learning to practice a type of listening I now realize I tentatively began a few years ago. I spend a lot of the Psalm Project time listening to, and with, my body. And in this process I have discovered some of those grace-filled, sacramental moments. I sit and read, and think, and feel, and then decide with my whole body what I might like to try ‘doing’. The gestures that feel drawn from me, or to me. What marks do I want to make and what process do I want to engage with: Precise circle drawings? Free repetitive lines? Random scribbles? Colour? Black ink? Cursive letter drawing?

It can be difficult for me to realize how it is that I actually feel underneath my fizzy blood and what I am thinking in my buzzed up brain. This process encourages me to wait, with a small blank page, and small expectations. It is becoming a spiritual discipline that is surprising built around a growing awareness of my longings – not frivolous wants or desires – but deep physical and feeling longings to sit in the quiet and desire to learn to listen to God’s words through, around, above, beneath, and within me. It is teaching me to be integrative, incarnational, to not divorce aspects within myself, and instead to try and be as honest as I can.

It is in these moments that I am learning to wait. Waiting is difficult; I have plans and ideas and things to do. But that is not how my life can be lived. It is not wrong, rather it is different to my expectation of how I would live my life. It is also not a waiting for everything to just fall into my lap without participation. It is an active waiting; a waiting until waiting can be done no longer. This creative and spiritual practice bleeds into the rest of my life and I find that I am slowly, and with many failures, learning to be active and still with an ear more tuned towards God. I am learning also that God is there in the waiting, life is not passing me by in the waiting but is the actual life. We live and do and be and all while we wait upon God.

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In this space of engagement with the Psalms I am continually invited to reflect on who I am, and who God is. I’m not any more certain of anything, but I think I am learning to sit within the uncertainty. All I can do is hope that I am able to continue the practicing. We both practice and live life simultaneously in this weird, public, performance art rehearsal space.

The Psalm Project is not meant to be the entirety of either my art or spiritual practice. It is simply a way of practicing. It is a place to begin that builds on what has come before. It allows me to sit within the pains, the busy mind, the uncertain thoughts, and sometimes to simply stare at the page and the psalm and wonder yet again, why these psalms are so upbeat and joyful, why they are so violent and bloodthirsty, why they are so depressing and lamenting? How do they depict what I am feeing, and also what I am not? Whatever life is at the moment, it is something I am learning will be enough so long as I am facing towards God, often with a pen, or pencil or pastel in my hand but always trying for some stillness.

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Karly Michelle Edgar is a mixed media artist, trained in theatre, with an MA in Church Practice. She was formally the Lecturer in Art at Tabor (Vic) and is currently working as a lifestyle assistant in an aged care facility. She also lives with fibromyalgia, which effects life in varying degrees at different times. Karly’s creative work focuses on the need for rest, repetition, the search for beauty, and creativity as spiritual practice. This is a version of a paper originally presented at Vessels: Art & Theology Symposium, Woy Woy, 2019, titled ‘The Space Between Breathing: One a Week Psalms Project’. Karly LIVES ON WURUNDJERI LAND.