“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.” — Charles De Lint
I read a statement by a cyclist somewhere, recently, that claimed one of the best reasons for riding was that while doing so the mind has free range to wander where it will. And sometimes, in that wandering, it takes one someplace wholly unexpected. One beautiful afternoon last week, as I rode along the bike lane on Portland Avenue, just as I crossed the heavily trafficked Lake Street, I became aware of my own wandering thoughts. Aware that I had been in an almost meditative state, allowing thoughts and images to float into and back out of my mind without comment, without judgement.
Oftentimes, once you become aware of that semi-meditative or flow state, it’s over. Your very attention to it brings you out of that moment, carries you back into self-consciousness. Occasionally, though, something different happens and you, instead, find yourself in a state of heightened awareness. I felt myself entering that state of hyper-awareness – I felt my tires connecting with the road, the warmth of sun on shoulders, the scent of freshly mown grass in my nostrils. The traffic noises receded, and I could hear only the blood in my veins and my own breath.
That’s when Meinrad Craighead popped into my thoughts.
At a time in my life when I was open to new ways of thinking, I happened to pick up a book called “Seekers of Wisdom: Women Mystics of the 20th Century” by Anne Bancroft. The book profiled a number of spiritual seekers; their lives and words had a profound effect on my own thinking and worldview. The chapter about Meinrad Craighead struck me as particularly powerful. In it, Craighead shared a story about experiencing (as a child) something very like what I felt that afternoon on my bike. ” I held the dog’s head, stroking her into sleep. But she held my gaze. As I looked into her eyes I realized that I would never travel further than into this animal’s eyes. At this particular moment I was allowed to see infinity through my dog’s eyes, and I was old enough to know that.”
As I read Craighead’s story, punctuated with long quotations from her own writings, I found myself drawn to her discussion of the feminine face of God, to her view of our lives. “Life,” she said, “is radically more than the experiences of a lifetime, it is an invitation to a journey back to our origin in God, and our own personal memories form the unique stuff of that quest.” An artist, Craighead became known for her dreamlike imagery and mystical themes of the Divine Feminine. At one point in the chapter, it was mentioned that she had attended an all-women’s Catholic college. I had attended a previously all-women’s Catholic college and remember having the passing thought that it would be cool if we shared an alma mater. It was a fleeting thought, and it soon passed out of my consciousness, though Craighead’s words remained with me.
A few weeks later, I received an invitation to a special series of events on my college’s campus celebrating the anniversary of its founding. Headline billing was given to world-renown artist and alumna, Meinrad Craighead. I was stunned – I’d never even heard of this woman until that spring. And once I had, I certainly did not expect the possibility of meeting her to arise. I was beyond excited, and I made plans to attend her guest lecture and the opening of her retrospective art exhibit on the campus in my hometown. I had never seen any of her paintings – this all took place early in the development of the internet, and a great deal of information was simply not yet available to the world. Meinrad Craighead’s lecture – part explication of her theological and mystical beliefs and part treatise on how these informed her work as an artist, was truly mind-blowing. Slides of her work appeared on huge screens as she discussed each piece. Each one was beautiful, deeply symbolic, and epic in scale.
My head swimming with the ideas she presented, I left the lecture hall and went immediately to the gallery where her work was on display. There I discovered, much to my surprise, that most of Craighead’s paintings were quite small. Their amazing use of color and the degree of detail took on new significance as I realized the discipline exercised in working on such a diminutive scale when the subject matter was infinity itself.
That there was more than mere chance involved in the timing of these events I have never doubted. The encounter with Craighead, through her words, her work and her presence, has continued to inform my own beliefs and perspectives. This was synchronicity in its truest sense – meaningful coincidence, rather than random happenstance.
As I rode my bike, I looked in front of my tire and saw the white painted lines which delineated the bike lane stretching straight ahead of me to the horizon. And in that moment, I realized that I was riding not only toward the Minnehaha Creek path but also into my own future. Every experience I’ve had has propelled me toward this moment – just as this moment adds strength to the forward momentum of my life. I haven’t yet become the person I am meant to be precisely because that person is the culmination of a life’s activities and experiences. As surely as Craighead saw infinity in the eyes of her dog, I saw it stretching before me in the bike lane.
“At the source of our deepest self is a mysterious unknown ever eluding our grasp. We can never possess it except as that mystery which keeps at a distance. The heart’s quest is toward this unknown. There is no respite in the task of getting beyond the point we have already reached because the Spirit stands further on. She stands at the end of every road we may wish to travel by…We never ‘catch up with’ who we fundamentally are.” — Meinrad Craighead
NOTE: Please check out Craighead’s website http://www.meinradcraighead.com so you can see her work. Adding to the touch points between us, I learned that Craighead is a resident of the bosque in Albuquerque, New Mexico – one of my favorite places and certainly influential to her work and both our lives!