Leap of Faith

Carrie Foulkes is an artist, writer and researcher working in the intersections of culture, spirituality, politics and ecology. This winter and spring she will be based at Arteles Creative Centre, Finland.

it will find its form
in the writing
of it

//

Or so I hope. It just gets bigger and bigger. I keep waiting until I know enough to start writing. But the longer I wait the more there is to say. The more impossible it seems. So the only thing to do is begin.

//

I remember where I was on 7/7.  Staying with a friend near the Edgware Road. We heard right away. Phones were ringing all morning. We spent the day watching the news, eating takeaways.

//

I moved to New York the following year. I went to a service marking the fifth anniversary of 9/11. I cried with such intensity strangers came to comfort me. I felt guilty, I hadn’t known anyone in the towers. Afterwards I walked the unfamiliar streets in a daze. I knew no one in the city. That first year I felt invisible. It was like I didn’t exist.

//

Mum and Dad got together as teenagers. There was a party in Eden Park, Cincinnati. Mum fell into an empty reservoir. Dad took her to the hospital. I don’t know where I got this story from but I cling to it. Eden. A fall. What was gained and what was lost.

Dad once told me he never loved her, he was too young.

It can’t be true.

A friend tells me it’s silly to feel anxious about getting caught up in a terrorist attack. If it’s my destiny there’s nothing I can do, she said, or something like that. She believes in karma or an approximation of it. I can only understand karma in terms of debts. What must be paid for, what is owed.

Is an easy life a reward? If so, what for?

//

My grandpa fled Germany with his parents and siblings in 1938. They applied to several countries for asylum. There was nowhere to go. In a refugee camp in Belgium grandpa’s little brother Erwin developed stomach pains. No doctor would come. He died of a burst appendix.

Shortly before, they’d been offered five tickets on an upcoming boat to Australia. Without Erwin they were now a family of five.

//

When I was small I had terrible stomach aches. I would cry and clutch my middle. At night I’d curl up with a pillow stuffed under my shirt. I called the pain my ‘hungry ball’. Our GP in London couldn’t find anything wrong.

//

Not long after we moved to Germany a playground accident caused the undiagnosed tumour in my abdomen to swell up. I was rushed to hospital where I had an operation.

//

Later Mum told me she’d never forgive Dad for not paying for me to see a private doctor when we could have afforded it.

//

Another thing she’d never forgive him for: the car accident in Scotland when I was a toddler. He’d come back from a business trip. India I think. Mum suggested he rest for a day at home in London and then drive up to meet her and my baby brother, who had flown to Scotland ahead of us. He didn’t rest. He drove straight up with me. Somewhere on a dual carriageway he fell asleep at the wheel.

//

I’ve not heard Dad speak in terms of forgiveness. But I imagine that for him there are also things that can never be forgiven. My mum’s turn to total a car came a decade after Dad’s collision. It was just before Christmas. We were driving home to England after visiting Dad in Germany. Mum was drinking. It happened quickly but I remember it clearly. We swerved, we went off the road. Somewhere near Brussels.

//

Both my parents failed to protect me. From their actions and inactions and their anger towards each other. For a long time I thought this meant they must not love me. I must not be worthy of love.

//

I’ve read a lot about cellular memory, the things the body remembers. A friend of mine is a craniosacral practitioner. During a session with her I was transported back to the German hospital. I’d woken up in the night, after my operation, and I was scared. I pressed the illuminated nurse bell. Someone came and started talking to me. But I didn’t know any German yet. I couldn’t understand what she was saying.

//

It was different than ‘remembering’. I relived that forgotten experience. I felt again the overwhelming sensation of being alone and afraid. It made me wonder what other memories are submerged in my tissues.

//

I have a feeling that memories are passed down in bones and blood. We are carriers of our ancestors’ experiences.

//

Milan Kundera writes that our lives are composed like music, guided by pattern, repetition. All our disparate moments are woven together – an ever-changing narrative, structured by recurrence.

Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence … into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life … Without realising it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.

//

We make connections, join the dots, bridge the gaps. With our stories and our dreams.

//

If I believed things happened for a reason, if I had a religion that provided a framework and guidance for my existence, I might feel less apprehensive. God is a great consolation.

//

My German great-grandfather Albrecht wrote an account of his Holocaust experiences in which he said:

My deeply religious wife was able to maintain greater peace of mind than I. She asked me whether it was not possible for me, as well, to believe in and to trust in God’s will in this dark hour. My answer was ‘No’. I told her that I could not imagine a personal God who either countenanced or was unable to prevent such distress.

//

I love churches, temples, holy places and seek them out as places of peace and refuge. It’s the stillness and sense of collective contemplation. High ceilings, colourful stained-glass light, candles, prayers.

//

In Whitechapel there is a mosque that was once a church that was once a synagogue. In southern Spain there are churches that have been repurposed multiple times, bearing the architectural marks of both Islam and Christianity.

//

I was confirmed aged 13. I did it because I wanted to talk about philosophical issues, things that seemed pressing to me: the meaning of life, the purpose of effort, the nature of God, how to know right from wrong. I relished Bible study and debate, was pleasantly surprised to encounter religion as a site of ongoing enquiry rather than prescribed doctrine. I still didn’t believe in God per se but I believed in loving others as oneself and in being kind. It seemed sensible. The confirmation itself felt like an opening.

//

I feel more Jewish than Christian, I feel more Buddhist than Jewish. Recently I spent an hour talking with a group of young Muslim men positioned outside Stratford station with a cart covered in flyers. One of the men gave me a free Qur’an.

I asked him how he knew for certain that God existed. He pointed at the station, said: What would you think if I told you this station appeared on its own?

Obviously I’d say that’s impossible.

Exactly.

He was gentle with soft brown eyes and I didn’t want to give him a hard time. I thanked him and was on my way. I wasn’t the only one reading the Qur’an on the 276 bus.

//

In philosophy, Truth and Validity are distinct principles.

The premises of an argument may be true and the argument invalid.

An argument may be valid without the premises being true.

It’s often much harder to determine the truth of a premise than it is to assess the validity of an argument. Validity depends on the conclusion following logically from the premises.

Here is an example of an argument in which the truthfulness of the premises is easy to accept but the conclusion is not logically valid.

P1: I exist
P2: Nothing can come from nothing

C: God exists

I call this leap from premises to conclusion: THE LEAP OF FAITH.

//

Then again, maybe something can come from nothing. I don’t know.

//

[and here is a VALID argument that is not necessarily TRUE]

P1: Everything that exists was created by God
P2: I exist

C: God created me

//

When I see passengers with their malas or rosaries or prayer books on the Tube I feel a connection to these people wanting to make contact with something.

//

There’s always a leap of faith. Faith leaps from intuition. Or from necessity.

//

Suicidal feelings are a failure of the imagination, a friend once told me, when I said I couldn’t picture any future for myself, didn’t know how to go on.

//

I’m a pluralist, I’ve decided that’s what I am, if anything. All religions are merely fingers pointing at the moon. I have no patience with exclusive beliefs. Surely the only being capable of omniscience is God.

//

I lived with a German family in Berlin during a university exchange. They invited me to the Catholic confirmation service of one of their daughters. The service as I remember it focused on the importance of prayer for the souls of ‘unbelievers’. The words hell and damnation were used. I was appalled by this. I couldn’t think of the family the same way after that, knowing they would think of me as someone in need of saving.

//

I said that to the young Muslim in Stratford, I don’t need to be saved, but later I wondered if it was true.

//

To save, in my mind, means to keep for later. To save something is not the same as valuing it. I keep too much. I can’t throw things away. I’m so afraid of losing my memories. I used to write everything down. Everything. It interfered with my life.

//

I’ve not written my diary in months. Something about anxiety, slipping out of linear time, losing track of my story, my place. Though I’ve felt sort of placeless forever. Despite having two (soon three) passports. Or maybe because of that.

//

What does it mean to be a citizen of three countries. What does it mean to be a white American. A first generation British person. A recently recognised German citizen. I feel responsibilities too large to name. They are to the entire world.

//

Perhaps the urge to die is an urge to escape the pressure of my privileges. To feel good fortune is no karmic payout but pure good luck and undeserved. Not that I am without trouble. I have plenty of it.

//

When I think about what my grandpa endured and then consider the branches of our family tree spreading across continents and oceans I realise the fact that this single person survived brought all of us into existence. Dozens of people wouldn’t be here, would never have arrived if he had died.

//

And then there is the thought if he hadn’t escaped to Australia and met my grandmother. If Mum hadn’t fallen in the reservoir. If I’d been on an Edgware Tube. And I’m flooded with a sense of what I can only refer to as magic. Whether by chance or design, my life is a miracle.

//

Albrecht fought for Germany in the First World War. He was awarded medals in honour of his bravery in action.

There’s a family story about how he threw these medals out the window of a moving train into a river while fleeing Germany some twenty years later. Recently I was talking with my father and I brought this up. Yes it’s true, he said, but Albert actually kept the papers documenting his awards. It wasn’t so easy for him to renounce his past, his service, his connection with Germany.

//

Albrecht changed his name to Albert. My grandfather Ernst became Ernest. Our family name Fuchs was anglicised to Foulkes.

Announcement published in Sydney Morning Herald Nov 1939

Many German Jews had animal names. Fuchs means fox. The fox has always had significance for me.

//

There’s a fox that appears regularly in the car park behind my flat in Canning Town at night. I sense his presence. We have a connection. The fox is here I think, before looking out the window to confirm. Sometimes he sits on my car, a protector deity, leaving his paw prints all over the windscreen and bonnet. Other times he rummages in the rubbish behind the Indian restaurant. On countless occasions I’ve driven home at night to find him sitting there in the alleyway between the main road and the car park. I wait for him to move. He moves when he is ready.

//

In the Musée de l’Orangerie, eight painted panels are housed in two ovular rooms. Monet designed the spaces to provide the optimum environment for his water lilies cycle. The paintings embody the shifting qualities of light from morning to night in his Giverny water garden.

The presentation of the works is not arbitrary. These paintings, if hung any other way, would lose something of their magnificence. The circular space echoes the arc of the sun overhead, the circular journeys of all things in orbit.

These panoramic pieces are devoid of horizon and perspective – you are confronted with an expanse of liquid colour, punctuated by the floating water lilies that appear as a musical score. This is a chapel of flowers forever blooming. A place that despite the clamour of its visitors retains the sanctity of a church.

//

In 2009 I came home to the West Country in a state of crisis. Desperate for something to lift my spirits, to restore a sense of hope. One day Mum took me to a seal sanctuary. I remember crying, looking at seals. I was asked if I wanted to throw a fish. A seal surfaced immediately, gobbled up the offering and stared at me a moment before disappearing underwater. That eye contact, although brief, shook me.

//

Years later, another low. I’m in the woods, listening to the rain drumming on my car rooftop. I have a bottle of wine and a plan. I drive deeper into the forest along the single lane road. It’s dark and foggy, I can barely see where I’m going.

I notice lights in the distance, an approaching vehicle I presume. But then the lights multiply. I slam on the brakes. Deer. Standing in the road, static in my beams. Their eyes reflect my light back at me. So many shining eyes. I kill the engine, put my hazard lights on and wait.

//

I often used to drive from Cincinnati to Asheville, down through Kentucky into Tennessee and across the Great Smoky Mountains, traversing Appalachia at night. The lorries in the slow lane, crawling up the slope. Stars vivid spirals overhead. The steady ascent, the heady descent. All those hours alone. In winter, the roads were covered in snow and ice. Blizzards came – it was impossible to see the road. I followed the red tail lights of the car in front of me. I called it faith driving.

//

In the States I had a 1995 Nissan Maxima called Nugget. I bought it in New York off Craigslist, paid in cash on the street. It was a dodgy transaction, a dodgy vehicle, but it served me well. In just over a year we covered 30,000 miles together, all terrains and weathers.

Now I have a 1997 VW Polo called Steg. He’s on his last legs. Every year the garage says this won’t pass the MOT.

My cars, like me, run on miracles.

//

When I became ill I assumed I just had to find the right doctor and then I’d get better.  After ten years, I no longer equate healing with cure.

//

Sometimes I feel sure that I am dying. If this is the case, I wonder if my role is to somehow lead the way into death for those who love me. So that they may follow my tail lights into the darkness.

//

Are you sick because you miss your country? a Romanian waitress asked me when she found me doubled over in pain crying in the kitchen of the restaurant where we both had summer jobs.

//

My grandmother Valerie missed Australia terribly. I know this somehow. She was sick for much of her adult life, which she spent in Ohio where my grandfather had relocated to work as a scientist.

The skin cancer was likely caused by a childhood under Australian sun, with the fair skin I’ve inherited. The leukaemia probably a result of the chemotherapy that extended her life well beyond what was expected.

//

I have so many questions for her now. About homesickness. About illness. About perseverance.

//

When she died we scattered her ashes in the forest in Cincinnati. There is a bench bearing her name in Eden Park. I wanted to lay her to rest in Australia. Some piece of her heart was always there.

//

Some of my happiest early memories are of summers in the basement with Grandma, making paper.

//

In the summers when the cicadas swarmed she would collect the dead insects and use their wings in her paper.

//

I recently inherited a large collection of her handmade papers. Within the bundle I found an unfinished letter. A barely started letter. Grandma’s handwriting is unmistakable. I don’t know who Laurie and Jim are. Otherwise I would send them this letter, in which so much is still possible.

//

I sent a package of paper to my friend Imogen in Sydney with some instructions.

Imogen later wrote to me:

I searched your grandma’s name online to see if I could find any information about a suburb she may have lived or been born in to give me a clue about where best to go. Unfortunately I didn’t find that information, but I did see that she passed away on October 1 2006, exactly 10 years ago yesterday. And so it felt fitting to carry out the exercise then.

Yesterday, on the 1st, Tess and I went to Elkington Park in Balmain. It had been a sunny but blustery day and we arrived late afternoon as the golden hour was approaching. The spot itself represents all that is beautiful about Sydney. It is a piece of headland that looks out over the Sydney Harbour. There’s bird life, boat life … and we were lucky to find it quiet and secluded despite it being the Saturday of a long weekend. We managed to find shelter from the breeze enough to burn some sheets of your grandmother’s paper – but that same breeze was helpful in allowing the ashes to then lift off into the water when we released them.

Restitution Exercise photograph courtesy Imogen Eveson, www.imogeneveson.com

//

Artist Statement

RESTITUTION EXERCISES / RENUNCIATION EXERCISES

The Restitution and Renunciation Exercises are an ongoing series of proposals and happenings, gestures and symbolic actions.

The Exercises seek to nurture an awareness and acceptance of ephemerality and suffering, while giving agency to individuals to respond to perceived wrongs or painful events (current, historical or future) in a meaningful and compassionate way. Appropriate rituals are devised and enacted in a peacemaking spirit.

The artist may employ the assistance of agents in order to carry out the Exercises on behalf of herself or others.

The Exercises have many applications and embody an ethos of restorative justice and healing. They are scalable from the personal to the social and environmental.

//

In India I had the opportunity to shave my head and temporarily ordain at the monastery where I was living. I declined. I didn’t actively want to do it. I was uneasy. Bald heads to me signified concentration camps, sickness, death. I also feared I’d be ugly.

Some eight years later, my hair begins to fall out. Thick clumps in the shower, in my hairbrush, on my pillow in the morning. It comes out in my hands. I knew it could happen but it horrifies me. All my talk about not fearing death rings hollow. I can’t bring myself to throw the hair out, so I collect it in a plastic bag. For future art projects, I tell myself.

//

I make candles using beeswax and strands of hair. I wish to float them down the Thames as a Renunciation Exercise.

I imagine they will be swiftly extinguished by a wave or swept into some filthy eddy. It’s better in my mind than it could be in real life.

//

The lessons from India keep coming. They’re still unfolding.

//

In Varanasi we joined the nightly Ganga Puja, setting candles loose on the dark waters. Oil, wick, a cardboard holder. Five flames – one for me, one for Mum, three for my younger siblings. Two candles raced ahead – my brother and me, already flown.

//

In the Ganges I saw a bloated corpse, blue and green and yellow, floating on its stomach. I was in a riverboat. The oarsman lifted his oar and prodded the body, which was wedged between a moored boat and its anchor line. He jabbed it repeatedly, until it became dislodged and flipped onto its back. It was a man. I couldn’t guess his age. He was naked and decayed. The current caught him quickly and carried him off downstream.

//

At the burning ghats I cried. My Indian companion scolded me: Why are you crying? She is liberated from suffering.

I couldn’t stop the tears. He became cross: You’ll attract the bad spirits. The only thing to feel here is joy.

//

People come from all over the world to die in Varanasi. This is a charged place, like Bodh Gaya, said to be a karmic magnifying glass. Every event brings 50x the consequences.

//

In Bodh Gaya I was warned: Everything you do matters. You can generate a lot of merit with your actions here, but you can also accrue a lot of bad karma. When I killed mosquitos I wondered if this was good or bad – killing is bad of course, is against the Buddhist Dharma, but what if the mosquito carried malaria? What if my action stopped the spread of disease?

//

If you could give your lupus to Donald Trump, would you? asks a friend.

I want to say yes. Yes, anything to be rid of this. But instead I say: I don’t think I could live with the guilt. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

But you’d be helping the world, she persists, if he became too sick to be president…

//

Do not itch, the teacher instructed us in the meditation room. It was boiling hot, my cotton clothing clung to my skin. The mosquitos feasted all around me. Do not move, he said – just think, ‘there is itchiness here’ or ‘itchy … itchy …’

//

When I think about the sacred it inevitably appears in the form of a duality – that which is sacred and that which isn’t. Faith so often presents a dichotomy – those who are included and those who aren’t.

//

I sense the presence of histories, events, beings unknown to me. I know so little about my own life, the way it’s shaped by others.

//

Sometimes I look around at the objects I’ve accumulated. The objects and the hopes. And I think about how once I’m dead all these things will shed their significance. I am the only one who knows their context.

//

In Helsinki there is a silent chapel made of wood. The round room has no windows, is brightened by sunlight spilling in through the narrow skylight that runs the circumference of the ceiling. You feel held in this space. It’s very much like a womb. You can hear the roar and drone of city life just beyond the walls, but you are buffered. The sounds lose their meaning.

//

In Finland I met a woman who told me about her visit to an anechoic chamber. What I knew of anechoic chambers I learned from John Cage. That what we think of as silence is never really silence. The pulse and hum of our bodies, usually inaudible in environments oversaturated with mechanical sounds, is a constant symphony, the soundtrack of our lives.

This woman told me she went into the chamber with someone else, and not only could she hear her own whirring but that of her companion. I could feel his pulse, she said, it was as present as my own.

I thought to myself how different the world might be if we each were to have this revelation – that our blood is moving, circulating, driven by a heart beating 60-100 times a minute, regulated by an electrical charge. And not only that, but each human we see is also a living, breathing, heartbeating being. Empathy would be the only thing to feel.

//

I felt at ease in the Kamppi Chapel. I’d like to live in a round space. I feel safe in such places.

//

In Finland there are more saunas than churches. I’ve heard it said that political decisions have been made in these heated rooms. I find it very moving, bathing with others. I’ve always loved public bathhouses. You are a body among bodies, nothing more, nothing less.

//

At Le Blé en Herbe, a permaculture project in France, I learn that in nature there is no waste.

All the elements of the garden are designed to be in harmony with one another. The land is viewed as an intricate system of patterns and interconnected parts. Agricultural methods are derived from observing natural ecosystems. Permaculture can be practised in all areas of life. It embodies a central ethic of care that orients action.

//

It was at Le Blé that I was bitten by a tick as a teenager. A red bullseye rash appeared on my arm. I thought nothing of it. Now I’m back here aged thirty and hear about the widespread Lyme disease in the region. Contested and difficult to treat. It’s long been a suspicion of mine that something triggered my autoimmune disease, that it couldn’t be so inexplicable as my body self-destructing without cause.

//

In this abundant place I remember the Musée de l’Orangerie. And I feel that Le Blé is the ideal environment for me. Nothing is without purpose. Nothing is wasted. Everything is beautiful.

//

I sometimes have a craving to be barefoot so intense that it sees me detouring to the nearest city park and taking off my shoes.

//

I long to lie down
and let the grass
grow through me

//

There’s a circular structure on Orkney called Maeshowe. It’s a prehistoric chambered cairn. A long narrow passageway leads into the mound. For a few days each year, around the winter solstice, sunlight passes directly down the tunnel, illuminating the round room, the tomb beneath the grass.

//

I see circles everywhere.

//

My breath and blood, the sun and moon, my eyes, the tides, the cycles of seasons and menstruation, memories of walking round and round the Mahabodhi temple.

//

I can still feel the cool dusty tiles beneath my circumambulating feet, see the racks of pilgrims’ shoes and sandals. The silence that was not silent. The mantras and prostrations and sense of something vast and ancient, an ocean I was dipping a toe into.

//

Lupus means wolf. Since a young age I have had dreams of wolves. I sometimes feel the presence of a large animal beside me. The animal is part dog, part wolf. It could be a husky. It was a turning point for me to recognise this creature as a companion rather than a threat. I feel it is protecting me.

//

There are certain things I can never have. My body is a repository of shocks and incisions, losses and fears.

//

My mum had a sister who died. Catharine. I’m not sure of the spelling. She was an infant, died of cot death at a Christmas party. Mum was born the following December. Mum’s parents didn’t stay together.

//

When I think of my maternal grandma Margery, I remember someone sad who loved me.  She lost a baby, and a brother to suicide.

On the day she died I was in Scotland painting a spiral on a tree stump in an area of felled forest. I found out after. I had a strong impression of her on the other side. In a clearing. With light streaming down and warming her face.


//

I hear my grandfather Daniel’s voice from time to time. He was a historian, dead now. I saw his body. It was pale and waxy and not him. I watched it lowered into the ground.

//

his life
a flame
still burns
in me

//

The people in my life who are dead have only become more present. Their absence is sometimes more present than their presence ever was.

//

Why? I say, over and over.

Why do you need to know? asks Isla. This stumps me.

Because I feel powerless, I reply. I want to understand. I want things to be different.

Sometimes it helps me to answer my own unanswerable questions by sayingwell, I guess it’s a mystery’, says Isla.

//

In an ayahuasca vision I saw a bright light connecting everyone around me. A colourful glow emanating from each forehead. It was the third night. The first two ceremonies were agony. I shook and heaved and grieved. On the third night I was freed.

I saw my birth and that I was adored. I saw my death and I was without fear. I saw spirits in the trees and they looked like wolves.

I stood and felt roots growing from my feet into the earth.

I felt a profound love for my parents and started to forgive them. They too carry their pain. Their unseeable, unsayable burdens.

//

I believe in something, I’m not sure what. For me, faith is less about belief in things known and more about an enduring belief in things unknown. What I’m sure of are the undeniable limits of my mind, of all minds. I know I don’t and can’t know everything.

So that leaves plenty of room for God.

Dark Mountain: Issue 12 – SANCTUM (PDF)

The Autumn 2017 edition is a special issue of essays and artwork on the theme of the sacred.

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