Saturday, October 29, 2016

Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria

Pope Francis has asked Christians and other men and women of faith to fervently pray on October 31st for an end to the war in Syria.

As modest aid to prayer I'm offering once again this rosary, which meditates on the Flight to Egypt by the Holy Family.  This way of praying the rosary has enabled me to meditate on how Jesus and his family were refugees; to intercede in prayer for peace and for Syrian (and Iraqi) refugees and to ask God to attune my heart in mercy to their plight. 

Below are how I’ve ordered the five meditations and prayer intentions. You may wish to pray the Holy Father’s Prayer for Peace in Syria and the conclusion of each decade or at the end of the rosary.

A Rosary for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

1. Herod Orders the Massacre of the Innocents.
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious.  He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.  Mt.2.16a  
Prayer Intention
     -- for an end to the war in Syria and for all of the victims and perpetrators of violence in Syria and Iraq

2. In a Dream the Angel Warns Joseph to Flee with his Family.
Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.  Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Mt.2:13
Prayer Intention
    -- for all those forced to abandon their families, friends and  neighbors, homes, livelihoods and homelands.

3. The Holy Family Make the Perilous Journey to Egypt
 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt Mt.14
 Prayer Intention
-- for all those are risking their lives crossing the conflict zones, deserts and the open ocean.

4. Jesus, Mary and Joseph Find Refuge Among the Egyptians
He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Mt.2:15   
Prayer Intention
-- for all those who have opened their countries and homes to refugees or working to comfort, assist and welcome them.

5. The Holy Family Are Able to Return to Nazareth
 When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”  He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. Mt.2:1-21  
Prayer Intention
-- for an end to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and peace with reconciliation between all of the parties to the conflict.

This is just a way that works for me in prayer.  You may or may not find it useful for your own prayer.  But in whatever way you choose to pray, please  join the Holy Father tomorrow in praying for the refugees and for an end to the war in Syria. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Brilliance of Eternal Values

"By using [the perspective of importance], Byzantine painting accentuated the holiness of the persons represented.  Their individual and temporal aspects were thus clothed by the brilliance of eternal values, and the image itself receives a function other than that of a simple drawing.

The way that an icon grasps, understands, and draws its subject cannot be based just on physical vision but must be interpreted by thought.  In the same way, its optical effect undergoes a change; by enlarging the proportions, the main person seems to move out from the interior of the icon toward the spectator.  The focus is thus inversed.
Pere Egon Sendler SJ. 'The Icon: Image of the Invisible


For an iconpainter, the representational conventions of Byzantine painting are so familiar  that it is easy (at least for me) to lose sight of how peculiar those conventions are that depict the human form in space.   I've been sketching out the cartoon for an icon of St. Anne, with her daughter, Mary, the Mother of God and Mary's son, Jesus.  I first encountered this image of mother, daughter and son in the work of my teacher, Pere Igor (Egon) Sendler, in the photograph of a fresco he painted in the 1980's.  As in many icons, Mary is depicted both as the Mother of God (that is to say, as an adult woman with her son, Jesus), and as the youthful daughter of St. Anne, symbolized by her diminutive stature in comparison with her mother.  

Which is a reminder for me of two things.  First, that drawing is always a way of seeing and thinking about the visible and invisible realities that we seek to perceive, comprehend and depict.  Second, that when it comes to what Pere Igor speaks of as those realities that are "clothed by the brilliance of eternal values", our ordinary, natural ways of sight and perception are inadequate to fully represent the subtle and elusive mystery of a world tranfigured by divine Grace.  Paradoxically, the more painstaking the attempt to enclose such realities in the garb of naturalistic realism, their luminous brilliance simply fades from sight.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Ahead of the Weather:There and Back Again


Well, the weather did, in the end, clear up enough to get to Pelican (see aerial view taken this morning on the return flight home).  Grateful to have been able to make a pastoral visit this weekend and glad to be safely home again.  Wondered if I'd be spending a few more days away from home when it began snowing early Sunday morning (see view of the village and Lisianski Inlet yesterday.)


Now that I'm home I can resume the drawing for the triptych I've designing for the prayer corner in my studio.  On Friday, just before I started getting ready for the trip out to Pelican, I pinned up the cartoon in the corner to see how it looked.  


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Weather Permitting

 I'm packed and ready to board the daily flight out to the village of Pelican, about an hour away from my hometown of Juneau by floatplane, weather-permitting.  And that's the operative word in Alaska, 'weather permitting'!  Snow is predicted all day, which means low-clouds, reduced visability and maybe (probably?) no flight today to Pelican.  But who knows?  It could be sunny and clear an hour from now.

So perhaps we'll all have to wait, until next weekend, or the weekend after that. I try to go out to Pelican monthly to lead a Sunday service for the faithful in the village, which has about forty-five year round residents(the number fluctuates from year to year.)  Its a mixed group that shows up on Sunday (weather permitting) made up of Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and the occasional person of good will.  I'm always grateful for the welcome and warm hospitality I receive whenever I'm there.

No one wants to wait or particularly likes to wait, but in the spiritual life I think that patiently waiting is a great virtue and essential to growing in holiness.  Today is the feast day of St.Teresa of Jesus (aka of Avila), the great Carmelite reformer, mystic and Doctor of the Church.  My understanding is she endured a long period of spiritual dryness that lasted for years, in which she experienced little, if any consolation in prayer.  Yet this dynamic, passionate and quite active woman had the patience to wait out a long patch of spiritual rough weather.  When the skies eventually cleared (God is faithful!), she soared!   

Friday, October 14, 2016

Stars of the Heavens, Bless the Lord


Here's an amazing scientific discovery to provide a little perspective on our obsession with contemporary events (such as the increasingly squalid run-up to the November elections.) The Astronomical Journal reported today that scientists who study the cosmos report that they have seriously underestimated the number of galaxies in the universe.  It turns out that the universe has two trillion more galaxies that previously believed (a galaxy being a cluster of millions or even billions of stars.)

Despite our sheer insignifigance, living as we do on this tiny world tucked away in a distant corner of a non-descript galaxy, I'm awestruck by the wonder, and the beauty of this universe we inhabit.  I can only repeat the words of St.Paul, who famously wrote: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Romans 11:33

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Weathering the Storm

Catholic Relief Services reports: "Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm has caused massive devastation and flooding in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has yet to fully recover from a catastrophic earthquake in 2010."  Heavy flooding is also reported in southern Cuba and in the Dominican Republic.  The storm is passing through the Bahamas and is threatening Florida.  (For more information on the situation and on how you can help, go to )

A Prayer for the People Affected by Hurricane Matthew

Compassionate God,

We pray for all those in the Caribbean 
affected by Hurricane Matthew, 
and offer these words of Psalm 29:11;

"May the Lord give might to his people;
may the Lord bless his people with peace!"

Lord, give might to those who need your strength to carry on.
Fill their troubled hearts with your peace,
and move us with your compassion 
that we may respond generously to those in need.

(Prayer courtesy of Catholic Relief Services)

The One Thing Necessary

In this age of Skype and Facetime, I suppose its somewhat behind the times for me to have carried on a twenty-five year long correspondence with a friend whom I have never met in person (and who, this side of heaven), I probably won't have the opportunity to meet face-to-face. (Although I hope to someday!)  My friend is a Carthusian monk (and a fellow iconographer) now living in a Charterhouse (Carthusian monastery) in Spain.  Letters from him are few and far between -- I'm pretty sure that the number of personal letters he is permitted to write in the course of a year are limited -- but always welcome.

The Carthusians live a semi-eremetical life.  Each choir monk lives in complete solitude and silence, joining with the other monks twice daily, for the night office and the conventual Mass.  Each week they come together for Sunday Mass, a shared meal and a period of recreation (which involves talking to each other).  Periodically their rule requires them to join in a day long cross-country hike outside the monastery.

Its an austere and demanding way of life and few are truly called to their unique vocation to prayer, solitude and silence. Nonetheless, their life together is a reminder of the one thing necessary, to create space and time and stillness in one's own life for the encounter with God.

On this feast of St. Bruno, the 11th century founder of the Carthusians,   I'm grateful for their challenging example and reminded to continue to hold my friend and his companions in prayer.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

There Are No Violent Solutions

Wood engraving by Ade Bethune
The fragile cease-fire collapsed last week in Syria and so the war continues to go on without letup. The beautiful city of Aleppo (and so many other towns and villages like it) has been bombed and shelled into rubble.  Innocent civilians, especially children, who have been unable to flee the fighting are being killed every day as all of the sides in the civil war compete to see who can be the most heartless.  And because there is no political will to end the violence the war is now in its sixth year.  
There are no violent solutions to this conflict.

Friends, let us continue to hold close to our hearts the suffering people of Syria, those inside that unfortunate country and the millions who have fled as refugees, seeking safety and shelter in the neighboring countries, in Europe and in our own nation.  Let us continue to pray for peace in Syria, that through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, the fighting might  finally end.

Prayer for Peace in Syria
Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion,
the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope.
Hear the cries of the people of Syria;
bring healing to those suffering from the violence,
and comfort to those mourning the dead.
Empower and encourage Syria’s neighbors
in their care and welcome for refugees.
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms,
and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
O God of hope and Father of mercy,
your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs.
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence
and to seek reconciliation with enemies.
Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,
and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
For more information about the Syrian civil war, the refugee crisis and the efforts to assist refugees, go to Syrian Refugee Crisis. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Getting to the Start Line

I love to draw but its a steep climb getting to the start line.   For me, at least, despite years of experience drawing, I still need to get through the "preparatory rites" before putting pencil to paper.  Today, I took the entire day off,  ready and eager to draw.  Which I did, but only after praying, reading, three cups of tea, doing two loads of laundry, straightening up the living room, taking out the trash, sweeping the floors and putting clean sheets on the bed.  Pondering throughout the icon cartoon I intended to draw but it was early afternoon when I was actually at the drawing, ready to begin.

I've learned over the years that what I first considered procrastination is in reality an oblique way of getting myself in the undistracted frame of mind that, for me at least if I'm to pay attention well enough to grasp forms and the relationships of the forms to each other and draw them.  So what would appear to be distractions are, it turns out, at least for me, a way of deflecting distraction.  

This drawing is the central image of Jesus and Mary for what will eventually be a triptych icon.  Am still pondering and praying about what the images should be on each of the wings.  That's for the future.  In the meantime there is always laundry that needs to be folded.