Monday, March 13, 2017

Come to the Aid of Our Weakness

I've found over the years that I really do pray better when I'm working on an icon.  Or rather, that my ability to be at least minimally raise my heart and mind to God and remain personally present despite indiscipline, laziness and distraction improves when I've got a brush or a pencil in my hand.  I don't really understand why, except to say that perhaps the concentration and attention required in drawing and painting provides a kind of scaffolding for the mysterious work of prayer itself.

Or perhaps it has to do with the movement involved in drawing and painting.  Or perhaps the act of taking up the pencil or stick of conte crayon or paint brush is, after so many years in the studio, a summons to recollection, similar to the act of passing a rosary or prayer rope through one's hands.

On the face of it, it might seem that what both drawing or painting and prayer have in common is that they are mimetic.  A drawing or painting is, in most cases, an attempt to render a natural form or in the case of icons, a canonical pattern.   Spoken prayer, in many cases, is the act of articulating received forms or patterns of prayer, the Lord's Prayer to be sure, but also prayers such as the rosary or the Jesus Prayer and of course, the psalms.

But I wonder too if perhaps drawing or painting and prayer have this in common: both seek to give expression to inchoate thoughts and feelings that we struggle to adequately render or articulate. The words of St. Paul about prayer in his Letter to the Romans, could, at least from my experience, be applied to the work in the studio as well.  "In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings." (Romans8:26)

I'm in the beginning stages of a large icon of St. Anne, Mary the Mother of God, and Jesus, and over the course of the past couple of weeks has slowly come together.    

Just like every other time, this icon has required me to shake off the distractions and excuses and to simply begin, knowing that the whole enterprise may end up as a disappointing failure.  I've needed to be patient with the fumbling about, false starts and erasures as I've attempted to put all of the various pieces together in a coherent, pleasing  way.  It has required perseverance, so as not to give up when discouraged by my (inevitably) awkward attempts to place the forms on the panel.   And humility  when the final work (inevitably) falls short of that impossible to articulate but real feeling that originally inspired the work in the first place.  

Yet the discoveries and surprises have more than made up for the sting of not quite ever being able to accomplish in reality what was envisioned in the imagination.  

All of which reminds me of what happens (for me, at least) in prayer, where even a fleeting moment of genuine and authentic communion with God is worth whatever had to be endured to bring me to that point.    

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