Thursday, November 14, 2013
But just as I can't give into discouragement at the slow pace of opening up the icon, I can't allow myself to get discouraged avout being a work in progress in the spiritual life either. God is working to open me up, to fill me with the clarity and beauty of his holiness.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
But yesterday afternoon while I was sharpening my woodcut tools, I thought about the way in which the tools of the spiritual life, get dull and need to be honed and sharpened. Some of the carving tools I was sharpening only needed to be honed to cut properly. Others were dull from long years of use, which required sharpening them with a whetstone. But there were a few that were (I'm ashamed to admit) so neglected and rusty that I needed to grind out the damaged sections of the blade and put an entirely new edge on the tool.
But at the end of the day, just as a tools needs to be cleaned, sharpened and put away, in readiness for the next day's work, there is the need, the necessity, really, for recollection. Without recollection, without solitude, silence, reflection and prayer, at least for me, the tools of the spiritual life get dull and rusty. It is easy for me to somehow see recollection as something to engage in when I have the leisure time for it, when in fact, it is a daily discipline that I neglect at my own peril.
Friday, September 20, 2013
I am grateful for that reminder of the natural world when I pray and work there (grateful as I am to be in a dry and warm studio!). For the same reason I keep objects like rocks and shells and fossils in my little prayer corner, alongside the icons and prayerbooks. I like to keep before me a visible reminder of the infinitely varied, intricate and ancient order of creation ( a kind of natural icon) A densely black piece of shale picked up on the rocky beach, which may be 300 million years old helps me to remember and appreciate the immensity of geological time, measured in millions of years and my own, our own brief time in life, measured in decades, days and minutes.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
I was getting ready to begin singing the Te Deum this morning when I realized that I had a lot to praise God for this morning. Only a week ago it appeared inevitable that the United States governmnet would launch an attack (or a series of attacks) on Syria, with the risk of escalating the already brutal and intolerable conflict there. Just a week ago we were on our knees storming heaven with prayers for peace, asking our good Lord for a miracle.
Being in the midst of events, it is impossible to know with certainty, but yesterday's diplomatic agreement to begin the process of identifying, securing and destroying Syria's chemical weapons, looks a lot like a miracle to me. Or, if not strictly miraculous, in the sense of the waters parting, loaves and fishes multiplying, the dead being raised, the weeks events appear to be the answer to our prayers, a miracle of grace for which I am grateful.
I know it's too early for THE Te Deum: the war in Syria hasn't ended after all, an estimated six million Syrians are internal or external refugees and a cease-fire leading to a negotiated settlement is still a long way off.
But I think it is also important to rejoice and to thank God at every step along the way, including for this answer to prayer. So my Te Deum this morning, sung each Sunday in praise of the Lord's victory over sin and death in his sacing death and life-giving resurrection, was in thanksgiving for this amazing turn of events.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Allende was the first of thousands to be killed in the coup that overthrew his government on September 11th, 1973, forty years ago today.
Marxism is rightly discredited: how can people be forced into paradise? But from the confines of the dark woods of a world where half of the people in it struggle to live on less than $2 a day, there are far worse guides than a doctor who became president of his country to give milk to poor children.
Monday, September 9, 2013
In calling for this day of prayer and fasting, Pope Francis condemned the use of chemical weapons and their possession, cautioned against any escalation of the violence or widening of the war and called for a ceasefire and urged all parties to seek a political and not a military solution to the crisis.
None of which is unexpected coming from the Vatican. The Holy See (and by extension, the Catholic Church) can be relied upon to always recommend peaceful rather than a violent solutions to international conflicts and disputes.
But in his call to prayer and fasting, Pope Francis spoke of the moral duty of every person of good will to pursue peace. In his announcement, he wrote:
But then, building on the foundation of a shared humanity and our ability using reason to arrive at natural truth (in this case, that we bound as human beings to pursue peace in every situation, he became a powerful evangelist.
At the same time, by gathering to pray, we were, despite our own frailty and sinfulness, witnesses to the transforming and incandescent love of God, revealed most fully and perfectly in the Person of Jesus, which illumines the darkness of sin, suffering and death. His light, his truth, his peace and his love, embodied and incarnated in the earthen vessels of Christians and all those who seek dialogue, reconciliation and peace, are a shining beacon of hope for those who are hopeless and cynical and in despair.
Let us entrust ourselves and each other to our loving God, for whom nothing is impossible, and may the peaceful witness of our lives invite all men and women to faith in Christ, our Savior and our Hope.
(The detail of the face of Christ is from an icon by the 20th century Russian iconographer, Leonid Ouspenski. The icon of Mary is the Syrian icon of Our Lady of Saidnaya.)
Saturday, September 7, 2013
It's impossible to grasp exactly all that is at stake in our President's apparent decision to intervene in the Syrian civil war or to predict what sort of new world we may all be living a week or a month or a year from now. But the necessity to ask the Lord to " convert the hearts of all who have taken up arms" seems more urgent than ever.
The truth is, to quote (inexactly) Pope Francis, there are no violent solutions. Violence, as we have seen at every turn in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and now Syria, begets suspicion, fear, distrust, wrath, hatred, a desire for revenge and more violence.
A mother and a child. Powerless against the powerful and their armies and weapons. So true, yet, their embrace is both a sign and the embodied reality of love. About which another Pope, Blessed John Paul II famously said: ' Only love is creative.'
The love of this Mother and Holy Child is the lifegiving love of the Blessed Trinity that holds humanity, our world and the entire cosmos in being. Jesus, God's love Incarnate, depicted in the icon as a weak and vulnerable child tenderly embracing his loving mother, on the Cross overcame forever the powers of sin and death.
Tomorrow we will unite ourselves in prayer and fasting to the Divine Love, which overthrows the powerful, disarms the violent and raises up the lowly. May God strengthen us to persevere in prayer for the beloved people of Syria.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Tonight, when I felt myself being pulled down into that confusing place I was grateful to discover that the theme of the psalms and reading for Evening Prayer were all about humility. Although the important thing is simply to pray -- Lord have mercy is just fine -- the psalms tonight reminded me to trust in God's faithful love and leave it at that.
So I went back to finishing the icon. I completed the faces of Mary and Jesus and painted-in the inscription that translates "Our Lady Queen of Peace". (Thank you to Deacon Greg Kandra who supplied me with the Arabic text!)
Tomorrow I hope to complete the other inscriptions and the borders. I hope to be able to have the icon available at the Cathedral in Juneau for the Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria.
Monday, September 2, 2013
Aid to the Church in Need began a week of prayer for Syria that began on August 30th. The prayer they have proposed was my prayer today as I painted the faces of the icon of Jesus and his Mother this day.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
He invited Christians of all denominations, as well as believers of other faiths to fast and pray for peace in Syria on that day as well. I welcome his call to be in solidarity with all of our brothers and sisters subject to the scourge of war and its attendent disasters, to pray for them and to pray for peace.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have been with these pilgrims as they prayed the prayer Jesus taught us. We are in the midst of a deepening crisis for all of the people of the Middle East but especially for the ancient Christian communities there who are faced with grave threats to their continued survival in their countries of origin.
May our prayers be joined to theirs and to those of all people of faith and goodwill to deliver the people of Syria and the region from the evil of war.
Friday, August 30, 2013
I hadn't thought about it quite this way until this morning but I've been a reader of his for decades. His voice has been a steady presence in my life and I'm grateful for his writing and the witness of it, especially during the 'Troubles' in the north of Ireland.
The eleventh canto from his 1984 poem "Station Island" is one of my favorite poems by him. For me, it is a poetic meditation not only on the poetry of St. John of the Cross but on the fathomless depths of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, that overflowing wellspring of life and love.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
I used a big brush --the biggest brush I could manage-- to float the bole on the icon. I don't know why exactly I held back earlier and applied it with a smaller brush, but I did and it made a difference. So the first layer of bole is back on the board and we'll see how it all turns out.
When I look at her calligraphy I am reminded of her beautiful spirit. But I'm encouraged both by the words of St.Teresa and by my friend's example of perseverance in prayer and the hidden life of Carmel, not to give up on the 'one thing necessary', which is always communion with Christ in prayer.
My temptation in prayer which I readily admit to succumbing to more often than I like to admit, is to cut corners, to rush, to let my mind wander and then get so discouraged that I give up altogether.
So in the life of prayer, as in the work in the studio, there's no other remedy but begin again.
But to his left, clinging to the wheel with all his might, another man is being slowly raised up and the man ahead of him reaches for the prize.
I too managed to take a ride this evening on the "Rota Fortunae" . Of course, my turn on the wheel involved (what else?) gilding. The wheel started turning as I began carefully applying gold leaf to the bole of the halo of the icon of Christ that I have been hard at work on for the past couple of days.
After over an hour of painstaking work, I applied the final piece of gold leaf. There I was, the fellow reaching expectantly for the crown and orb, which appeared to be just within reach. After waiting for the requisite length of time , I began gently burnishing the gilding. That was when Bella Fortuna gave the wheel a turn -- the halo wouldn't burnish! And then she gave it another turn -- each stroke of the burnisher was scraping off the gold leaf!
Something, it soon became evident, was wrong with the bole, which meant that it had to come off. All of it, which involved soaking the bole, scraping it all away and then cleaning off the muddy red clay mess smeared on the icon.
So I'm ready to climb back on the wheel. I plan on hanging on tight and hoping that I'm on the upswing as I get ready to gild that halo again.
Is it my imagination, or does Fortuna have a slight smile? And isn't she supposed to be blindfolded?
Friday, August 23, 2013
In returning to it again, for a more reflective re-reading, I was struck by this sentence by Ms.Yazykova concluding the introductory chapter:
"We will explore together the icon's path of development within contemporary culture-- a culture so often referred to as post-moder, post totalitarian, and post Christian-- and see that icons continue to be windows onto eternity, and, within a world torn by grief, the constant testimony to divine joy and the inexhaustibility of hope."
We are confronted daily with "a world torn by grief". During recent days, of course, there are the appalling reports from Syria of hundreds (possibly thousands) of Syrian civilians killed and wounded by nerve agents, presumably at the hands of the Syrian government. And the flight of tens of thousands of refugees from Syria to Iraqi Kurdistan (only the most recent wave of refugees trying to escape the murderous violence of the civil war in their country)
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Then I quickly press the gold leaf onto the bole and gently rub on the back of the paper that the gold is attached to.
These last few days have also been a time of prayer. I'm grateful that my studio is also my oratory.
The reading, from the Letter of St. James, gives me much to ponder.
"Wisdom from above is first of all innocent. It is also peaceable, lenient, docile, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruits, impartial and sincere. The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace."
May it be so, in our hearts and in the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Egypt.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
I had planned to spend this coming week in the studio with my friend Sharon, who is also an iconography student of mine. however, she is not coming because a dear friend of hers, who was in the last stage of a terminal illness took a turn for turn for the worse and died this past Wednesday. Understandably she decided to cancel her trip to Juneau and remain with her family and friends. This is a sad time for her.
Despite this change in Sharon's plans I will be in the studio next week, barring any developments at the diocese or parish that require my attention.
I hope to complete two icons -- the Korsun Mother of God and a second icon of Jesus during this coming week. They are intended for use at the Cathedral.
My colleague Barry, at the diocese had a great idea a while back which he shared with me. On the first friday of each month the art galleries and museums in Juneau have opening receptions for exhibits. they usually go from 4:00-7:00pm. what if, he wondered, we offered a different sort of art experience at the Cathedral: the opportunity to spend some quiet time in front of an icon. A time for quiet reflection and prayer with an icon after the exhibit openings were over.
That seemed like an inspired idea to me and I volunteered to provide the icons of Christ and of the Korsun Mother of God. My thinking is that with two we'll be able to alternate them each month.
This afternoon I began work on the cartoon for the icon of Christ. I'll be working on it and the Korsun Mother of God this coming week. Sharon and her friend Karen and her family will continue to be in my prayers.