I was touched by the beautiful connection that was made between the image and the celebration of acknowledging stewardship in our prayer gathering.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Matthew about his faith, art, and his work Notre Dame de silence.
Matthew has a centred presence; he attributes this to his mother’s influence and exposure to meditation from a very early age. He reflects on gathering with his brother and mother in a community church hall and engaging in spiritual practices of chanting, meditation, contemplation, and silence. During his late teens when he started to intentionally explore his faith, he returned to these practices which he felt provided comfort and nourishment. Being involved in the Quaker faith tradition for over 15 years, Matthew is attracted the centrality of silence in the gathered meeting for worship. It is after the long periods of silence that the gathered speak communally through, prayer, scripture, or other writings. It is the silence which often breaks open a special ministry or calling which one may feel a drawing too, this process is finalised with another period of silence for nourishment.
Matthew would have never referred to himself an artist ten years ago, but through the experience of loss and grief he has been drawn to create to make sense. This has been a surprise for Matthew. He finds the process of creating interesting through the discovery of the effects of different mediums. He is also deeply connected to the works created as they are a reflection of himself in the act of giving. He will often reflect and contemplate on his half-finished works in the living room for several months before their completion.
Matthew is a trained spiritual director and during a retreat in Lindisfarne in Northern England in 2013 a silence icon was shown to him. This image stayed in his mind’s eye for several years until recently when it took on a new life. Reflecting on the fire which broke out in Notre Dame de Paris cathedral in 2019 and the silence icon shown to him on retreat, Notre Dame de Silence was created.
Growing up in WA and having a Father as a botanist Matthew’s journey has been always been connected to nature and the land.
In Notre Dame de Silence he explores movement into a greater sense of kinship with spirit, country, cosmos and a growing appreciation of the sacred feminine. In both scripture and later monastic traditions, Mary is a deeply contemplative figure. She is the one who ‘treasures…and ponders in her heart’ (Luke 2.19). As such she embodies the contemplative stance and a new way of seeing. When we treasure something, we do not necessarily use words. Mary treasured her son which was expressed in actions.
Only later did Matthew discover the image: Our Lady of Silence. The recent fire of the great cathedral Notre Dame de Paris he was reminded that Mother Earth is the true cathedral. Notre Dame de Silence is immersed in a cosmic context with the Sun behind and Mother Earth the focus of her contemplative attention. The blue ring represents the cosmic womb which nurtures the earth to fruition. Mary is here depicted as a woman of colour. Perhaps she carries both Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritages and seeks a realised unity. One of her hands indicates the need to be still, quiet, listen and be contemplative while the other hand acts as a support and embraces the earth.
Faith always presents an invitation to look in and outside of ourselves. Looking at art through the lens of faith not only can assist the maker develop a deeper insight into the yearning they have to give to the world, it can also encourage the viewer to see through different eyes.
In the shadow of Grandmother Sun,
Womb within womb within womb,
Notre Dame de Silence is a gateway,
To the luminescence of your heart within Heart
Now, to see Reality as it is,
To treasure Mother Earth as she is,
To enter the fecund silence of this old land,
And to enter the vastness and the intimacy.
She is a lover of all things
She brings forth this One New Thing:
May you be her gesture of silent seeing
May you be her gesture of embrace and cradle.
© M. Lamont March 2020