Monday, July 17, 2017

Ora et Labora


The past four days my son and his fiance have been smoking and canning fish to give away as presents to their wedding guests.  They asked if they could use our house to do this, which we agreed to after getting firm assurances that they wouldn't inadvertently burn the house down in the process.

 Every room in our house has been given over to processing, smoking and canning sockeye and king salmon.  Including the studio, which was transformed into a place to air-dry salted salmon strips in preparation for smoking.


Which coincided with the urgent task of completing an icon of St.Therese as a gift from my daughter and her novio to the parents of a young woman who lost their daughter and her friend in a tragic accident a year ago tomorrow.

In the end (as in, this morning!), I managed to finish St. Therese's icon and get it on the plane to Fairbanks (I'm assured by the good people at AlaskaAirCargo that it will arrive tomorrow morning at the latest.)

All of the labora didn't interfere too much with the ora : I managed to work my way around the racks of drying salmon when I needed to pray or work in there.  Fortunately, I don't find the smell of salmon and wood smoke offensive, which is a good thing, because I suspect that my studio (and oratory) will smell that way for a long time to come.



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Liu Xiaobo, Rest in Peace




Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo died today of liver cancer . Chinese authorities denied him permission to seek treatment for his advanced cancer in Germany and the United States.  Instead, he was confined to a hospital room in the city of Shenyang and kept incommunicado and under constant guard.  

He is the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate to die in custody since 1938, when the German anti-Nazi and pacifist writer and journalist  Karl von Ossietsky died of tuberculosis while in police custody in Berlin. 

In 2010 I published this post (on an earlier blog) about him.


Liu Xiaobo is serving his fourth prison sentence for the non-violent expression of his conscientiously held beliefs in free expression, democracy and government accountability.  He is the author of Charter O8, which calls on the Chinese government to move towards democratic freedoms and to end the repression of citizens with dissenting viewpoints.

 On December 10th, 2010 in Oslo, Norway, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia. 

Below is the preamble to Charter O8.

This year is the 100th year of China's Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. 

A "modernization" bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a "modernization" under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Good Month's Work


On Friday I completed a month long tutorial with Indianapolis artist and art teacher Julie Perigo in an immersion introduction to iconpainting.  Working side-by-side, we completed three icons: the Holy Face (icon of Christ Made-Without-Hands); Christ the Savior and the Donskaya Mother of God (a variant of the Eleousa or Merciful Mother of God icon).  She was introduced to pretty much every essential aspect of the process, from preparing the wooden panel and the levkas/ true gesso ground; watergilding and gold burnishing; composition and drawing and egg tempera painting.   And the theology of the icon, the spirituality of icon painters and of course, prayer together and individually.

 It was pretty relentless - Monday through Saturday from 8:30am till 5:30pm, bookended with Morning and Evening Prayer.  We took Sunday's completely off and Julie had the opportunity to get out of the studio and see some of what our part of Southeast Alaska has to offer.  She visited the glacier, the Shrine of St. Therese, and had the opportunity to observe humpback whales bubble net feeding.

As I return to my full-time work in ministry at the Diocese of Juneau, I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to work daily in iconography with such a receptive, talented and prayerful student.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Who Are These Children Dressed in White


 "Who are these children dressed in white?  They must be the children of the Israelites." 

As I ponder the estimated ten thousand migrants and refugees rescued last week from the Mediterranean, I keep coming back to the story of the Exodus, as these many peoples risk their lives to be delivered from the bondage of war, persecution, famine and poverty, with Pharoah in hot pursuit and the water blocking their way.

Middle Easterners, South Asians and Africans, Muslims and Christians are all mixed together in the millions of refugees and  migrants whose exodus is unfolding daily before our eyes.  So taking my cue from the words of the African-American spiritual, "Wade in the Water", at least for this stage of this icon, I have depicted the refugees and migrants dressed in white.  

Let us continue to pray for them, that through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Refugees and Migrants, all of her children may find deliverance and safety, especially those in peril on the sea.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Mary, Mother of Mercy, Pray for Them!



Ravensburger Schultzmantel Madonna
I'm beginning my fourth and final week teaching in the studio (and on retreat) while taking annual leave from my regular job at the Diocese of Juneau.  It is always a welcome opportunity to quiet down, reflect and pray.   I've been particularly praying for  refugees,(who are fleeing either political or sectarian violence and war) and migrants, who are trying to escape poverty, drought, crop failure and famine.

Its hard for me to understand the difference.  On one side of my family, my Alsatian ancestors were refugees, forced out of Alsace after the German defeat of France in 1870.   My Irish immigrant economic migrants, trying to survive the very real threat of starvation during the Great Hunger and hoping for a better life.  Both families made the perilous journey by sea to America and found asylum  (if not, in the case of the Irish, welcome) in the New World.

This past week, more than 20,000 migrants from Africa and Asia were rescued attempting to cross from North Africa to Europe without authorization (legal immigration is closed.  They are desperate and vulnerable and the traffickers who prey on them are unscrupulous and greedy, packing them by the thousands in unseaworthy ships and  rubber rafts.  Over 5,000 drowned in 2016 and 1,985 to date in 2017 when their boats were swamped or capsized.

It is a humanitarian and human tragedy that will only get worse, in a world in which 65.3 million people are refugees.

As I've noted in earlier posts, I pray better with a pencil or a brush in my hand, and as I was praying for those desperate people in peril in the Mediterranean and those rescuing them, the image of Mary the Mother of Mercy came into my mind.  Made popular by the mendicant orders such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans, the Mother of Mercy is depicted extending her cloak over those seeking her protection and prayers.  There are many, many variations.  The Ravensburger Schultzmantel Madonna is a well-known example.
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And thus, this initial drawing for an icon of Mary, Mother of Mercy, Mother of Refugees and Migrants.  



Mary, Mother of Mercy, extend your protective mantle over refugees and migrants everywhere, especially those in peril on the sea!

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Month Away on Retreat (Without Leaving the City Limits)




I'm taking annual leave for four weeks to work in the studio with a student, Julie Perigo, who has come to Juneau for an intensive tutorial on icon painting.  We've already completed almost a week together and she has begun work on the Holy Face ('The Icon of Christ-Made-Without-Hands)


This icon is best starting point to introduce the theology of the icon and the spirituality of the iconographer and a good place to begin painting as well, as the composition is very simple.



She is also getting hands-on experience (no pun intended) in the craft work of making wooden icon panels and preparing the levkas (the gesso ground for the board) as well as water gilding and egg tempera painting.

I'm grateful to have the leave time to devote to working with her and being in the studio.  It is as much a spiritual retreat as work time, as I tend to pray best with a brush (or a piece of sandpaper) in my hand.

Friday, May 26, 2017

What A Gift

 In Southeast Alaska where I live, the landscape is overwhelming in size and scale.  Endless vistas of mountains, forests, water and clouds.  
Yesterday, while watching a whale (another enormous creature in every respect) while it was feeding offshore, I was given the more intimate experience of seeing a fawn on the beach.  It was crouched motionless in the rocks.  Its mother had been startled by some people walking the beach and had run off.  The fawn instinctively froze,waiting for its mother to return for it.  What a gift to be close, even for a few moments, to such a beautiful, wild creature, in such a place and in such a setting!