Wednesday, July 26, 2017

To Read Only Children's Books

To read only children's books
To cherish only children's thoughts.
All grownup things to disperse far away
And to rise from a deep sorrow.
Osip Mandelstam 
trans. Dmitri Smirnov

This past week I began re-reading the Odyssey, in Robert Fagles magnificent translation.  As I've been reading, I've been reminded that my initial introduction to Homer was not so much textual as visual.  

As a child I was fortunate indeed to have come across the Golden Book Illiad and the Odyssey that immediately captured my imagination.  Even as a child, (or perhaps, particularly as a child) I must admit, many children's books seemed to me to be, well, childish.  Either clumsily drawn and painted, cloyingly sentimental or both.  More what the illustrator thought a child should want to look at rather at than what a child would actually want to see. 

But this book was different.  

Superbly illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen (not that at the time I paid any attention to who the artists were),  I was immediately drawn-in. I was enthralled by the wonderfully vibrant and dynamic line work and bold, expressive painting. 

By the flawless page composition . 

The large folio format of the book. 

And as a nine-year old, I loved the charioteers and heavily armored warriors with swords and spears fighting each other.
Inevitably, I suppose, beginning with the death of my sister, I learned more about deep sorrow than I'd ever thought possible.  I had to quickly put away children's thoughts.   

But that child's book which I was reminded of again this week, I continue to cherish.  

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.