Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Sewell, Karen - VM - Karen Sewell

Karen Sewell: Awakenings I


by Karen Sewell

Just days before New Zealand went into full level 4 lockdown due to the COVID-19 virus, my husband Graham and I spent an evening in a warehouse in Central Auckland, shooting this work titled Awakenings I. What we experienced that evening was surprising, strange, and otherworldly. As we worked in the dark with a video light, the huge transparent rainbow PVC balloon and organza mesh transformed. It became a levitating partially concealed object of uncertain substance radiating, dancing, shifting fields of colour and light that changed as we moved around and under it. The immediate encounter evoked a sense of wonder, acting for us as a threshold into an experience of the numinous.

Since that evening, I’ve wondered at the timing of this work; of how God might want to be at work in me and in others during lockdown; of the possibilities waiting for us to be awakened to in these unusual circumstances.

'Numinous' means something mysterious, awe-inspiring or supernatural, unknown or unknowable. It speaks to everything within the realm of our experience which cannot be quantified, explained, or contained. Our intuition, and our sweeping feeling-states. Our connection to the cosmos, and sense of the divine. The German theologian Rudolf Otto in his book The Idea of the Holy (1923) explains it as a ‘non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self’.

Artistically my interest is in the intersection of art and spirituality. This interest has led me to seek and receive inspiration (often through prayer and contemplation) and then to mediate the creation of spaces for audience/participants to engage with and within. The spaces are an effort to open up the potential for a viewer/participant to explore and experience the terrain of the numinous, including an awakening to a sense of wonder and liminal moments of encounter with the divine.

A sense of awe and wonder is closely linked to our deep feelings and emotions and is excited by something strange and surprising. With my work I aim to provide a sense of awe and at the same time create a calm atmosphere, a sense of a place to just ‘be’; to observe, to explore, to create, to be present in the moment, to just breathe. It can be about connecting with nature, with others, with our feelings, and developing a sense of things unknown outside of ourselves.

As Albert Einstein once put it: ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. S/He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead – his/her eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true spirituality.’


Karen Sewell, Awakenings I, 2020. Installation, Helium balloon, organza mesh, mirror, soft resting elements, 2.5m x 2.5m x 3.5m. Photograph supplied by artist.

Karen Sewell is a visual artist who lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand. She is interested in the intersection of art and spiritual experience. She works across multiple media including sculpture, installation, painting, drawing, and photography, specialising in installation practice. She was the recipient of the Premier Award in the Waitakere Trust Art Award in 2011 and has exhibited work across New Zealand, with a highlight being Wonder Tree, 2019, at Splore Festival in February 2019. In addition to her creative practice, Sewell founded The Bonfire and now facilitates this national artist network. The aims of The Bonfire are to assist and support the thriving of other artists, through online blog posts and face-to-face regular meetups involving workshops, retreats and events.

First published on Art/s and Theology Australia,



by Luci Shaw

How shall we sing the Lord’s songs

in a strange land? The old rhythms,

the melodies of praise, strangle

in our throats and the words

fall to the ground like leaves in autumn.

The air feels thick with suspicion and doubt

and who’s to say, any more, what

is true enough to last, to prevail?


Isolation feels like a punishment

for offenses we never enacted.


Let us trust, now, the ground under

our feet--that which has proven steady

for generations. Look up. The heavens

are still there, unclouded, beatific.

We breathe, even though masks clothe

our faces. Prayer surrounds us, close

as our skin, weaving for us garments of

trust and solace. Even in our isolation

we are joined in love, never alone.


Born in London, England in 1928, Luci Shaw is a poet and essayist, and since 1986 she has been Writer in Residence at Regent College, Vancouver. Author of over thirty-seven books of poetry and creative non-fiction, her writing has appeared in numerous literary and religious journals and in 1913 she received the 10th annual Denise Levertov Award for Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. Her new collection, The Generosity , will be released in August, 2020, by Paraclete Press.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 26 April 2020