Berkeley Art and Interreligious Pilgrimage Project

Featured Artist

Natnael Antonio, SJ

Each painting in this series manifests physical and spiritual movements represented by the various characters portrayed in the artworks.  The works were inspired by the graduate seminar, Art and Pilgrimage course at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University (fall semester, 2023).  I was able to showcase a total of six artworks displayed in the Manresa Gallery in Berkeley in winter/spring 2023-4. 
 
The artworks comprise a series of four canvas oil paintings with a theme of pilgrimage in the scriptures, but with a visual vocabulary of textiles and iconography from my native East Africa. There are two single images of St. Ignatius and the Life of Marianne. Each artwork is accompanied by a short, simple description and a question for reflection.  

As the two disciples travel to Emmaus, their hearts heavy with disappointment over Jesus’ fate, he unexpectedly joins them on the road. Despite physically moving away from Jerusalem, Jesus guides them on a spiritual pilgrimage through the scriptures, revealing prophecies about his death and resurrection. During the breaking of bread, their eyes are opened, and they recognize him. Filled with newfound understanding, they hasten back to share their transformative encounter with the other disciples.

In life, we often embark on personal pilgrimages driven by disappointment or a desire for renewal. In these moments, Jesus meets us, reigniting the flame within us.

It’s crucial to remember to share our stories, for in the act of sharing, particularly our experiences, the true significance of pilgrimage unfolds.

Zacchaeus, recognizing his stature, endeavors to climb a tree for a better view of Jesus. In this earnest attempt, he unknowingly sets the stage for a life-altering encounter. Jesus, acknowledging Zacchaeus by name, declares his intention to dine at his house.

This seemingly brief pilgrimage, represented by the act of climbing a tree, becomes the catalyst for a profound transformation in Zacchaeus’ life. The narrative illustrates that the length of the journey is inconsequential; even a short pilgrimage undertaken in the pursuit of clarity can serve as a compelling reason to redirect the course of our lives.

After making his life choices, the prodigal son experiences a self-realization that prompts him to return home, recognizing the unparalleled significance of home.

However, the narrative also introduces the paradox of being physically at home yet spiritually lost, as exemplified by the elder son, who resents his father’s acceptance of the prodigal brother.

Reflecting on our own positions-whether physically distant or present at home-becomes a transformative pilgrimage. This introspective journey prompts us to scrutinize how we may have become lost and explores avenues for returning home. Home, in this context, symbolizes a state of communion with ourselves and others, urging us to seek not only physical proximity but also spiritual and emotional connection.

Consider the Samaritan woman, choosing the solitude of noon to draw water, strategically avoiding interaction to escape judgment. Laden with life’s burdens, she encounters Jesus waiting at the well, initiating a transformative conversation. Through this exchange, her burdens are lifted, and she boldly testifies to others, integrating into the community of faith.

At times, pilgrimage requires detachment from our perceived realities, allowing Jesus to redefine our identity. In narrating her story to the Samaritan woman in a novel light, Jesus establishes communion, sparking a transformation that not only frees her but inspires her to bring others into the fold of faith.

In response to his calling as a pilgrim, St. Ignatius took the initial step by shedding his knight’s attire and donning a sackcloth—a symbolic act of discarding his former self and embracing a new identity.[1]

Reflecting on St. Ignatius’ transformative moment, consider: What is the one thing hindering you from embracing a new self? In this iconographic representation, St. Ignatius’ illumination is vividly captured as he sheds his old self and adopts a new identity in Christ.


[1] Ignatius and George E. Ganss, Ignatius of Loyola: Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1991), 17.

“The Story of Marianne” is a painting crafted in honor of Marianne, inspired by a poignant encounter in Nairobi. After sharing her cannonball moment of losing her husband, Marianne embarked on a pilgrimage to various places. Her life’s journey, filled with undulating high and lows, was metaphorically translated into an electrocardiogram, symbolizing a cross.

This painting, a response to Marianne’s request, invites contemplation. What is your cannonball experience — a moment that crushed you, forever charging you? What are the ups and downs in your life that yearn for resolution upon the symbolic cross? Through art, Marianne’s story resonates, encouraging self-reflection on the transformative power of our personal journeys.

Melissa Parhm

Melissa Parhm for the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA, 2023

Melissa Parhm, currently enrolled in the Chaplaincy program at the GTU, is a classically-trained artist who works in oil, watercolor, metal point, fiber, sculpture, ceramics, fresco, and fresco restoration. She portrays the depths of her understanding of nature, patterns and illuminations, the human spirit, her connection to the environment, and her spiritual practices.

https://www.melissaparhmfineart.com/

The following article describes Melissa’s experiences of pilgrimage as it relates to the creation of these artworks, which continue to inspire her art, spiritual formation, and life.

 

Wind, T’so Pema, India | Oil on Canvas | 48” x 36″; While on a Pilgrimage with H.H. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche in the Himalaya Pradesh region of India, I visited the “Lotus Lake” or Tso Pema, where the wind fiercely blew the prayer flags. Suddenly I saw a monk take his seat under the trees. The contrast between the meditative stillness and the movement of the wind through the prayer flags was striking. I stood still in awe. As I reflected on this moment, the poem from the book, “Magic Dance,” by H.H. Tinley Norbu Rinpoche came to mind. Here, he is reflecting on the five elements and precisely the element of air. “You are so light. Whoever wants to rise, If you don’t exist, Cannot rise, Whoever wants to move, Cannot move. Whoever wants to smell, If you don’t exist, Cannot smell. Whatever our actions, You are always moving Weightlessly without complaining. But we envious beings are always ungrateful, Fanning you, Calling you Air.”

While on a Pilgrimage with H.H. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche in the Himalaya Pradesh region of India, I visited the “Lotus Lake” or Tso Pema, where the wind fiercely blew the prayer flags.

Suddenly I saw a monk take his seat under the trees. The contrast between the meditative
stillness and the movement of the wind through the prayer flags was striking. I stood still in awe. As I reflected on this moment, the poem from the book, Magic Dance, by H.H. Tinley Norbu Rinpoche came to mind. Here, he is reflecting on the five elements and specifically the element of air.

“You are so light. Whoever wants to rise, If you don’t exist, Cannot rise, Whoever wants to move, Cannot move. Whoever wants to smell, If you don’t exist, Cannot smell. Whatever our actions, You are always moving Weightlessly without complaining. But we envious beings are always ungrateful, Fanning you, Calling you Air.”

Wind: Tso Pema, India

One morning at Rigdzin Ling Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche said he thought it would be a good idea to go on pilgrimage again. When asked how soon, he replied, “I think now going!” This began a mad rush of plans to visit many of the holiest Buddhist sites in India and Nepal—tracing significant events in The Buddha’s life in India and Guru Rinpoche’s holy sites in Nepal. About a week later, Rinpoche and a dozen students landed in India. To Rinpoche, “pilgrimage” is a verb, a manifestation of his ceaseless activity and intention to create merit and benefit for others.

I had little understanding of pilgrimage, but I knew that it has always been very important to Rinpoche, and so I wanted to join him and see what it was all about.” [3]  

I had the privilege of traveling with His Holiness Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche from 1999-2000; he continuously emphasized that this was a precious opportunity.  He not only took us to very sacred places but also to meet many amazing teachers.  We lit 100,000 butter lamps both at the Bodhgaya Stupa in India and 110,000 at the Great Stupa of Boudhanath in Nepal. 

He repeatedly emphasized generosity during our journey. Both physical generosity and the practice of visualizing offering to others, a method to offer with our minds all of the precious things we saw on our journey and whatever else our minds could conjure. We recited both together and individually hundreds of thousands of repetitions of an aspiration prayer for the benefit of all beings.

He took us to many holy pilgrimage sites, including the famed Guru Rinpoche caves and the Tso Pema (Lotus Lake) in Rewalsar, India. Here is where my painting, Wind, was conceived.

“At Parping we performed tsok, a sacred feast ritual, outside the Asura Cave, where Guru Rinpoche took monastic ordination and where he left his handprint in stone outside the door. In response to their requests, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche gave refuge vows to the children on the pilgrimage. We also visited Chatral Rinpoche’s gompa and Yangleshod Cave, where Guru Rinpoche bound the Vajrakilaya protectors to an oath of allegiance and requested that they protect the dharma.

In remote mountains far from Kathmandu are the Maratika Caves, where Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava attained the siddhis of longevity and deathlessness. The voyage is arduous—either a six-day hike or a long ride on a helicopter. We chose the ‘copters, and I thought I was somehow getting off easy with a ride through the air and then a day in a cave with Rinpoche. What a surprise when our ’copter circled above a huge crowd of people and landed in their midst … The local Hindus, who also hold the caves as a power spot, were amidst two days of fervent prayer  and offerings.” [4]  

There were hardships to endure, sickness, and even a minor bus accident. Yet, for me, the pilgrimage with His Holiness Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche was magical. I survived and thrived, even after drinking chai tea, which I later noticed, was served out of an empty paint can! On pilgrimage or at home, nothing phased Rinpoche; he went out of this way to guide us to many sacred sites and meet and practice with many masters of the Buddhist lineages, including the young rebirth of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, Sangye Pema Shepa, and Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche.

After the pilgrimage ended, I stayed and continued on my own personal journey, including meeting the young reincarnation of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. I was invited to tutor the young Dezhung Rinpoche IV, and I journeyed alone to the Annapurna Himalaya to trek the Annapurna Circuit. I then returned to Bodhgaya to receive teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

My New Year’s Eve flight to Bodhgaya was in itself a pilgrimage, and I was in heaven, for there were many excellent teachers who were traveling to attend the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Arriving at the teachings was profound; giant banners hung that quoted His Holiness, stating, “wishing happiness for others is the cause of all happiness; wishing happiness for oneself is the source of all unhappiness.” These words sum up the essence of pilgrimage for me.


[3] John Swearanger, “Pilgrimage in Nepal”, Windhorse Archives, Summer 2000.

[4] John Swearanger, “Pilgrimage in Nepal”, Windhorse Archives, Summer 2000.

Graphite on Paper
12″ x 16″
New Dehli, India 1999-2000

Odsel Ling Stupa: Sacred Space #1 Big Sur, Ca.

I’m inspired to create art that reflects sacred spaces. I was asked to design a stone stupa for the Dharmata Foundation’s retreat center, Osdel Ling, in Big Sur, CA. The retreat center fell victim to the wildfires in 2016. I created a watercolor painting for the foundation that reflected my vision and inspiration for the reconstruction that included this sacred structure for the land.

The painting Tibetan Prayer Wheel is a contemplative work that draws from my training in the French- Dutch tradition of painting. With this painting process, I honor what I am looking at, pointedly and objectively, painting without any concepts or preconceptions that I am painting an apple; just working with what is and through the juxtaposition of color and value, I can create the illusion of form on the painting surface. I found the antique prayer wheel in Manhattan. I incorporated it as part of a traditional Western still-life composition to bring conscious prayer into my work.

Deborah Lanino

The pilgrimage that inspired the painting, “Two Angels”, began in 1985, when artist Deborah Lanino traveled to Italy, and saw the churches and museums and an exhibition in Vercelli, commemorating 400 years since the death of her ancestor, the Renaissance painter Bernardino Lanino (1512-1583). 

Deborah, based in Los Angeles, is known for her contemporary use of color and classical techniques such as chiaroscuro and sfumato. Her recent series: “Faith” features “Two Angels”  and many more works inspired by that ancestral and art-infused pilgrimage. www.deborahlanino.com

 Two Angels by Deborah Lanino-Acrylic and charcoal on paper (2021)

Jenna Nielsen

Come with us!

we plan to go

most itinerantly, shuffling

or rapid as our longing takes us

with our eyes fastened on every-

thing our feet wander us past

scallop shells pinned

like hearts to our sleeves

sleeves flapping open

cuffs of our jeans muddy

at night in circles lit by fire

we tilt our faces to the stars

and sing

we are loud offkey fierce

come morning

the earth has soaked up

everything we shed

the day before