Some Reflections On Alex Grey’s Chapel of Sacred Mirrors By Matthew Fox ©
I like the idea of a chapel of sacred mirrors. I like the idea of anything dedicated to bringing a sense of the sacred back. In fact, nothing is more primal for the survival of our species than a renewed sense of the sacred. At least that is what a dream told me several years ago, one of those dreams so lucid and so powerful that it woke me up. A wake-up dream. A voice said to me in my sleep in the middle of the night: “There is nothing wrong with the human race today except one thing: We have lost the sense of the sacred.” And I woke up, startled.
If we have lost a sense of the sacred we can darn sure bring it back. And Alex Grey is surely doing his best to do so with his major gift of a chapel of sacred mirrors.
One thing that moves me regarding his Sacred Mirrors is that Alex Grey is locating the sacred in us! Imagine that! Such an affront to all those fear-based and guilt-based ideologies that tell us we do not have what it takes, that salvation or wholeness must always come from the outside. (Mel Gibson should be given a free escorted tour of the Chapel of Mirrors.) In contrast, Alex, like Hildegard of Bingen in the twelfth century, is proposing that our beauty and grace come from the inside—that we already have “all that is necessary inside us.” (Hildegard) It was there all along but we did not recognize it. Alex’ art allows us to recognize it. And not only to recognize it but to meditate on it and to contemplate it.
And what is the “it” that we contemplate in the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors? Is it narcissistic navel gazing? Certainly not. It is that “Buddha Nature,” that “Christ within,” that “Shekinah,” that “Goddess,” that “Imago Dei or Image of God,” that “Divine Spark,” that is in all of us. Just as Alex portrays the many layers of energy fields and many forms of embodiment that Incarnation (God-made-flesh) takes in us, he invites us to meditate on the unseen layers of innerness that are ours. We are such multi-layered beings. Physically, energy-wise, emotionally, psychically, spiritually, we are many beings all at once. We are our ancestors and our experiences of glory; we are our enemies and our experiences of abuse; we are Buddha and we are the Christ; we are everyman and everywoman; we are the perpetrator and the victim. It behooves us to pay attention, to walk the walk of these sacred mirrors.
And why “mirror”? There is an ancient mystical teaching, summarized as “speculative mysticism,” about us being mirrors of God. (The word for “mirror” in Latin is “speculum.”) Speculative mysticism has nothing to do with speculating: it has to do with mirroring who we truly are—our being “images of God.” A mirror presents an image after all. Saint Paul, on one of his better days, put it this way: “And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the glory of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect” (2 Cor. 3:18) Yes! We do indeed reflect the glory or doxa or radiance of the Cosmic Christ and the Buddha Nature and Alex assists us to experience this deep truth. But only if our faces are “unveiled,” that is to say only if we work out of our true (or inner) selves and not our outer or superficial, veiled, personas. We need to know ourselves honestly and deeply for this divine image to shine. But Paul is challenging us even further by suggesting that we grow “brighter and brighter” into our divine mirrorhood, into being true images of God. That is what life does to us: Its joys and its sorrows, it ecstasies and its disappointments, all render us more glorious and resplendent reflectors of Divinity. Or does it?
There is a cosmic sense to the sacred walk through the Chapel of Mirrors that Alex Grey has composed for us. This cosmic dimension to our spirituality provides good medicine and a profound healing for westerners who have been far too deeply tainted by Augustine’s introspective conscience and his “personal salvation” neurosis. When you add Augustine’s excessive introspection the modern scientific notion of rugged individual atoms making up our existence you begin to realize how the modern scientific era effectively destroyed our sense of community beginning with a sense of our kinship with the cosmos.
In contrast, Russian Orthodox philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev expresses this more cosmic sense of transfiguration when he writes: “The central idea of the Eastern fathers was that of theosis, the divinization of all creatures, the transfiguration of the world, the idea of the cosmos, and not the idea of personal salvation…. Only later Christian consciousness began to value the idea of hell more than the idea of the transfiguration and divinization of the world…. The kingdom of God is the transfiguration of the world, universal resurrection, a new heaven and a new earth.” It is this sense of cosmic transfiguration that Alex Grey regains for us in the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.
Still another healing that occurs in this Chapel is the healing of bad relationships to our bodies. Again, especially in the West, a remnant of Augustinian and Neoplatonic suspicion of matter, has pit matter against spirit. With today’s physics that teaches us matter is very slowly moving light (even “frozen light” in David Bohm’s words), we no longer have to set spirit in opposition to matter or spirit versus body. Body and matter are not obstacles to spirit—they are unique incarnations of spirit. This comes through strongly in these Sacred mirrors. It is in our bodies (not outside them or fighting them or in spite of them) that we recognize spirit in its multiple and beautiful variations. Truly, this is an incarnational spirituality, one that honors the holiness of flesh. Our flesh and that of all beings. There is a lot more unembodied light in the universe than embodied light. Therefore we beings who are privileged to exist as embodied light, far from denouncing our embodiment, ought to reverence it and utilize it in communion with other angelic and light beings. All of it a symphony of divine celebration.
In these ways—and many others—Alex Grey’s Chapel of Sacred Mirrors allows a sense of the sacred to return in every day things—such as the joys we feel at eating, nourishing ourselves, enjoying lying on the holy earth, playing with animals and plants, soil and one another. Sexuality becomes part of the sacred again as it once was in the West in the Song of Songs and as it is in other religions of the world.
Grey assists us in this primal task of reenchanting our existence—not by seeking addictions outside us but by relearning about the mysteries within. Thank you, Alex, for letting us see newly!