Imagine if you will

…watching in rapt attention as an artist completes a live painting in front of you, serenaded by diverse singers and instrumentalists and inspired by quotations like this:

Can you paint upon the page of the world

the ideal pictures of the Celestial Concourse?

The pictures which are in the ideal world are eternal.

I wish you to become such an artist.

Man can paint those ideal pictures upon the tablet of existence

with the brush of deeds.

The holy, divine Manifestations are all heavenly artists.

Upon the canvas of creation, with the brush of their deeds and lives

they paint immortal pictures

which cannot be found in any art museum of Europe or America…

But you find the masterpieces of these spiritual artists

in the hearts.

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Sunday was the first of our ‘Encounters of the Spirit’ programs in Nashville. Titled ‘A Hollow Reed: Exploring the Spiritual Power of the Arts,’ it was a combination of music, visual art, and gems from the Bahá’í Writings and other sources regarding the higher purpose of creativity. Our goal was simply to intimately experience the work of diverse artists in a spiritual context – and to spend some time getting to know one another in that space.

There was not a whole lot of time to plan this event, so I wasn’t sure how the whole thing would shape up… but as usual, there was no cause for doubt. Teamwork won the day. Melissa, one of the members of the planning group that formed a few weeks ago, took on with gusto the task of contacting visual artists, and we ended up with about 10 paintings, which were covered with beautiful scarves and revealed gradually throughout the program. This gave everyone in the room the opportunity to focus on them one at a time, as well as feel a bit of the playful anticipation of being in a room full of covered artwork. Click on the image below to see what it looked like.

Encounters 1

‘A Ladder for your souls’

We have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high… - Bahá'u'lláh

Stationed with their instruments among the easels were, of course, the musicians. After hearing each profound quotation about the arts and seeing another painting unveiled, one of us would launch into a musical piece. We had ambient meditation music from multi-instrumentalist Massood Taj, who records each sound and layers them live as he plays; Alex Commanday performing Bach on the cello; Lani Nash singing one of her uplifting songs accompanied by Kevin Schlatt on djembe; Eric Dozier and me doing ‘Free Yourself’ from Badasht Vol. I; and vocalist Karen Renee Robb performing an emotive solo piece. The program culminated with the entire group singing ‘Hollow Reed’ together – including the New Jubilee Gospel Choir – with the various instruments spontaneously layered in (for my part, I coudn’t help but rip into some electric guitar for this one… a first for me at the Nashville Bahá’í Center).

Meanwhile, a blank canvas was slowly transformed into a beautiful work at the hands of painter Heather Vosburg. At the end, seeing the not-yet-dry painting, titled Infinite Love, among the works of fellow artists Shidrok Ardestani, Andi Seals and Karen Renee Robb (who also sang, as mentioned above), was a feast for the senses and the spirit. Kevin Schlatt was also doing double duty – in addition to drumming, his photographs were projected on the wall throughout the program.

When thy fingers grasp the paint brush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple. - 'Abdu'l-Bahá

It was a great afternoon of beauty, inspiration and fellowship. But what really struck me was that I’d never met most of these folks before Sunday – we became acquainted as we helped each other set up. Many of them had never heard ’Hollow Reed’ before, but that didn’t stop them from singing.

Lani & KevinThough our venue was the Bahá’í Center, this wasn’t about a religious congregation looking inward – this was a true community collaboration, where the participants made it what it was in every sense. This is how I would like to offer the spirit of this Faith to the world – as a two-way conversation, a spiritual jam session.

 - – - – - – - – -

 photos by Maxwell Eblaghie