Mandalas (Part 2)
In Part One we explored the mandala as sacred circle and its appearance as rose window, labyrinths, and rosaries. Mandalas also appear in the visions of some of the great Christian mystics.
The 12th-century German Benedictine Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen, began experiencing visions at the age of five and at forty-two heard God's voice commanding her to write them down. She wrote three books of visions in all, which were also illuminated with rich corresponding images, and so we are left with visual keys to the way God was revealed to her. These visions were essentially instructions on how to achieve salvation and were very rooted in the apocalyptic worldview of her time. Several of her visions appear in mandala form including an image of the Trinity, the choirs of angels, and the human person in relationship to nature. In other illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, the universe is often depicted as a series of concentric rings pointing to the sense of wholeness nature evoked in medieval hearts.
The 16th-century Spanish Carmelite mystic Teresa of Avila's most well-known work is the Interior Castle. This text is the description of the soul's journey of faith toward deeper intimacy with God. She compares the soul to a castle with seven successive interior rooms or dwelling places. A person enters the castle through prayer and meditation and the journey through each successive room is marked by different stages of maturity in the spiritual life. The castle is in the shape of "a most beautiful crystal globe" and in the seventh and innermost chamber is the dwelling place of God, radiant and luminous. The closer one gets to the center, she writes, the more intense the light becomes.
Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes in contemplative practice and creative expression and pilgrimages to Ireland, Germany, and Austria. She is the author of eight books on monasticism and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and her forthcoming book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey (Spring 2015, Ave Maria Press). Christine lives as a monk in the world in Galway, Ireland with her husband of twenty years.