Monday, November 20, 2006

Book Report

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Terry Tempest Williams:

"I want to dare to speak
the language women speak
when there is no one around to correct us."

Williams has been hailed as one of Utne Readers “top 100 visionaries” and she is a frequent speaker at the annual Bioneers conference. She is an American author, naturalist, ecologist and environmental activist. The primary focus of her writing are the deserts of America’s West. She also writes about feminism, breast cancer and Mormon culture. She has also testified twice before the U.S. Congress regarding the environmental links associated with cancer.

“Terry Tempest Williams grew up within sight of the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake City, Utah. She says simply, "I write through my biases of gender, geography, and culture. I am a woman whose ideas have been shaped by the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau; these ideas are then filtered through the prism of my culture and my culture is Mormon. The tenets of family and community which I see at the heart of that culture are then articulated through story” (

Williams is most famous for her 1991 book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. She also edited the anthology, New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community and her latest book is The Open Space of Democracy.

For the assigned task of reading and sharing a spiritual autobiography I chose Williams, book, Leap!, having read pages 143-146 aloud during my spiritual autobiography presentation.

The focal point of the book is a triptych (three painted or carved panels that are hinged together) by the 15th Century Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch entitled El Jardin de las Delicias or The Garden of Earthly Delights.

When Williams was a child her grandmother had two of three sections of the painting over Williams’ bed, minus the erotic panel. Then as an adult Williams discovers the original painting at the Prado Museum in Spain and begins a long-term meditation that she documents in a stream-of-consciousness-style memoir / spiritual autobiography.

Williams examines the painting and its possible symbolism and meaning. Ever the naturalist and skilled and talented observer, Williams actually brings binoculars to her daily visits, much to the surprise of other visitors and employees of the museum! She is eventually able to identify 35 birds!

Using the painting as a lens, even an oracle, Williams reflects upon everything from art history to our relationship with nature, the institutionalization of religion, as well as going in and visiting the symbolically stimulated personal memories that surface. She also includes many wonderful quotes from such diverse sources as St. Theresa, to Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin.

At the end of the book, Williams concludes that painting can be a prayer and ultimately urges us to, “restore our sense of wonder, and recognize that we live in paradise, a garden of earthly delights that deserves our reverence and our love.”

Photo Credit:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tree of Life

The Sacred Grove by John Telford

This is a highly-stylized, abstract, minimalist tree. I wanted to buy green and brown tempera paint to create a tree-like background but the nearest craft store is 15 miles away and I have not able to use my car for awhile as it needs repairs and the local Target doesn’t sell any suitable paint…but there are trees composing the display board and in the paper that the images were printed on and the paradox of constructing a Tree of Life out of the death of so many trees saddens me which is why I have been an activist for the freedom to grow industrial hemp, in the past, and also worked for the East Bay Depot for Creative Re-use in Berkeley, which is where I would have obtained my materials had I been able to.


The roots of the tree are formed by pre-historic goddesses. They represent my ethnic roots in Europe, the Mediterranean, the Near East, and the Americas. From left to right:

Mexican Moon Goddess, Tlazolteotl giving birth to herself as “the old moon gives birth to the new.” Taken from Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor’s The Great Cosmic Mother, page 169.

Owl Goddess, grave stelae, Aveyron, France, from Sjoo/Mor, Great Cosmic Mother, page 83.

“Pregnant Goddess with Hands on Her Belly,” Achilleion, Thessaly, Greece. From Gimbutas’ Language of the Goddess, page 140, figure 218.

Inanna, from Wolkstein and Kramer’s Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Notice she is holding a leafy tree-branch.

Double Goddess with Egg-shaped Buttocks from Lespugue, France. From Gimbutas’ Language of the Goddess page 163, figure 252.

The Venus of Laussel, Dordogne, France. From Sjoo/Mor’s Great Cosmic Mother, page 83.

Mexican Winged Goddess. Terra Cotta from Pre-Columbian Colima culture. From Sjoo/Mor’s Great Cosmic Mother, page 224.

The trunk of the tree (from bottom to top) is composed of the following images:

“The Gumelnita Lovers,” conjoined female and male terra cotta statuette. According to Gimbutas, possibly portrays a sacred marriage. Gumelnita tell, lower Danube, Southern Romania, East Balkan Karanovo culture, circa 5000 B.C.E. From Gimbutas’ The Living Goddess, page 18.

“The Shiloh-Dynasty of the Holy Grail,” (Mormon artist) James C. Christensen, 2005, acrylic on board, taken from Dynasty of the Holy Grail by Vern G. Swanson.

Joseph and Emma Smith, founders of the Mormon tradition.

The canopy of foliage is composed of four of Mormonism’s sacred trees:

The grove of trees above Joseph and Emma (bottom-center of the tree canopy) is what Mormons term The Sacred Grove, where Joseph Smith experienced the initial theophany which launched the Mormon tradition. Photo of the same name by John Telford, taken from the Fall 2005 BYU Magazine.

The L.D.S. Church’s Oakland Temple, in the far upper-left, is a place where I have spent a great deal of time since I was born. The towers in the front are all adorned with the universal tree of life.

In the far upper-right, the painting of a family tree, “Genealogy,” by Mormon artist, Theodore Gorka. Taken from the Ensign, October 2006.

In the top-center, a painting based on an account of a vision of the Tree of Life in The Book of Mormon, “A Vision of the Tree of Life” by Carol Lind, watercolor on parchment. From the Ensign, January 2004.

Mormon scholar Daniel Peterson says that the tree represents the Goddess. See Nephi and his Asherah by Daniel C. Peterson