adult learning, art, beauty, Creativity, failure, Faith, garden, Holy Spirit, Icons, Imagination, incarnation, Meditation, ministry, mystery, Painting, poverty, purpose, Reflection, salvation, Spirituality, Stations of the Cross, Strength, Work

PRAYER: Listening to an Icon

Most of us separate our lives into doing and being: we are creatures of comfort at times, and then we expend energy doing chores or work at different times. We live bifurcated lives, even if we’ve heard the admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), we work without prayer and pray without working. Then again, some of us have little connection with the spiritual at all, so we miss the mystery and the awe of the dimensions beyond this mundane world. We’re unable to see even the glory and beauty of the creation, since we aren’t connected spirituality to a life beyond this world.

Christ Overcomes the World

The iconographer is more than a painter or a writer: he or she is one who connects this material world with the spiritual world beyond. The icon is a window through which the heavenly and the earthly worlds communicate. It’s like a wormhole, of sorts, in sci-fi language, or a portal passage for direct communication. Of course, we can directly communicate with the Holy Spirit, but not being able to see the Spirit, we can see the icon’s representation of the image of Christ or a saint, and this helps us to focus our thoughts and prayers.

Golden Christ

Some say a candle would suffice, or a text from Scripture, and I agree. Yet not everyone is able to live such a spare life, reduced of images, color, and beauty. Minimalism isn’t for everyone! This is why we have zen gardens as well as romantic English gardens. Some of us need architectural modernism and others like quaint country clutter. The icon tradition comes from the ancient church, for Luke was traditionally ascribed to be the first iconographer, as well as one of the first gospel writers. He painted Mary “the God-bearer” and Jesus.

Mary Macaroni

Our art class is moving out of its comfort zone in the painting of icons. We can learn about the spiritual life in the art class every time we meet. In fact, every time we try something new or challenging, we learn about ourselves and the spiritual life. A close inspection of the gospels shows a Jesus who was always challenging the status quo. The only time he was comforting people was when they were dispossessed, marginalized, or disrespected. “Blessed are the poor…” was his first choice, not blessed are the rich or powerful!

When we are weak and powerless, when we struggle and fall short of success, and that will be. Every. Single. Day. In. Art—We are then most able to lean on the one who for our sakes became weak so we can become strong. Then we’ll come back and fail again and remember the times Christ stumbled on the rocky road to the crucifixion. What seemed like a failure to everyone gathered about, and didn’t make logical sense to wisdom seeking people, nevertheless served a higher purpose. By uniting all of our human failures and faults in one person, God could experience all of them in God’s own image, the icon we know as Jesus Christ.

Crucifixion

If there’s any reason to attempt a Holy Icon in this modern world, we paint and pray to unite our work and spiritual into one. Usually only the clergy have this privilege, and they can too easily burn out if they do too much and pray too little. Lay people underestimate the amount of prayers necessary for effective work. The older I get, the more prayer time I need. Of course, work takes more out of me now, but I’m a refugee from the dinosaur age. I used to be an energizer bunny back in my fifties, but working thirty hours a week painting and writing is enough for me today.

Any art work, whether a landscape, portrait, or an icon, can be alive or dead, depending on how the artist approaches the work. If we draw the lines, fill in the colors, and never pay attention to the energy of the art itself, we’re just filling up time. If we’re thinking about our grocery list, what to make for dinner, or the errands we have to run, we aren’t on speaking terms with our artwork. On the other hand, if we’re paying attention, sharing in the conversation, listening to what our work is telling us, we can respond to the push and pull of the conversation. Our work will tell us what it needs if we’ll only listen to it. If we trust and listen to the Holy Spirit, we’ll paint a true icon, and the window into heaven will open for all who want to listen.

Christ Blessing the World

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PROMISE OF HOPE

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Today is an official snow day here in our town. While other parts of our state got up to 5 inches of the fluffy white stuff, we got a mere dusting. However, our temperatures fell into the low teens with wind chills in the single digits. Those of you from our northern states might think we’re silly, but our schools don’t have heating systems adequate for these temperatures and our school buses don’t have special tires for icy back roads. I’m not leaving for nothing!

Today is a good studio day, since the sunshine is bright here in my sixth floor home overlooking the lake. I’m working on a new icon of the entombed Christ. These take a common form of the figure in repose, with the eyes closed as if in sleep, but the viewer reads the image as the sleep of death. The compact body lacks all physical power, so the truth of death is real. Christ doesn’t pretend to die, but suffers death for all creation.

We in the western world have limited the new creation to humanity, but scripture speaks of a renewal of this world at the Great Day of the Lord:

“But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” ~~ 2 Peter 3:13

Too many today are waiting for God’s destruction of this world so they can get on to the better world beyond. Instead, the icon of the entombment calls us to grieve over this world and hear the Easter call to make it new and fresh again.

When Good Friday’s sadness leads us to the joy of Easter’s resurrection, we discover the same cycle works out in our own life also. Most of us want only to go from joy to joy, but we forget the power of suffering. The prophets saw suffering as an opportunity for change and transformation, as well as hope. If we meditate on the entombment icon, we’ll hear the call to bring hope to the poor, justice to the marginalized, and joy to the suffering.

If we go from Christmas to Easter, we’ll always celebrate the festivities and parades. If we never look at the flight into Egypt, we miss the refugee holy family bearing the gifts from the three kings. If we only eat the hot cross buns, we dismiss the suffering servants of every age and every continent. If we only celebrate our success and prosperity in Christ, we are complicit in the suffering of our world and our failure to be God’s co-creators in the New and better world.

As an artist, I’m always creating a “new thing,” so perhaps this is why God’s message about humanity’s role in caring for the world and our neighbors, no matter where they are, is important to me. This painting will look different when I put the blues and greens on it, but right now it looks like a blaze of sunshine! I hope you will be a ray of sunshine in your corner of the world today.

Hope and Transformation 

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Happy to report this altar has found a home! It’s a one of a kind piece, made from found objects and items no longer found useful around my home. I found most of these items while walking around the local hospital, while others are from broken pieces of my jewelry and my mother’s old treasure hoard. The three matching pulls across the bottom are from the old kitchen cabinets of my 1965 era condo. For some reason, that huge block of wood called my name, as did the snuff pack and the bent radiator cap. Some one lost part of their hub cap, while I lost interest in a home improvement project for which those red acanthus supports were intended. 

While we often give up hope on the detritus of our life, only to throw it out the window or stuff it into a box, never to see it again, we still want something bright new and shiny. Many people today never speak of a struggle because they think it shows God isn’t with them or worse, God is punishing them. Yet the promise of Christ is for the hurting, the broken, the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. 

The message of this altar is Christ died to transform those without hope and for those we’ve given up hope they’ll ever change. As long as we breathe, we can hope. With our dying breath, Christ will complete us for glory if we believe in a redeeming God whose power is greater than our own struggle to rebel. 

You’d be surprised at the junk I find in the roadways and byways, but that’s where Christ did all his great miracles of healing, in the streets and fields of his world. Maybe this altar is calling us to bring Christ out into the world, instead of celebrating him safely within our sheltered walls. 

The Deisis Altar: The Handing Over

“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” ~~ John 19:25-27

Meaning of the Crucifixion

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Most of us have grown up on the teaching that Jesus is “The Lamb that takes away the sins of the world,” this is known as the Substitution or Atonement of Christ. He is the sacrifice instead of us, that sets us free from the bondage to sin and death.    

What if instead, Jesus were “The Bread of Life?” If he were the ancient scythe harvesting the weeds from our fields so that our grains could grow strong and provide us with the food for our rolls, our muffins, our flat breads and our pizzas, then he would be our provider of nourishment and strength. 

He would be feeding us, making us stronger day by day and building us up to be protectors of the weak, the needy, and the defeated of this world. If we hold to the substitution theory, we stay on the weak position always. 

We will always need God, for it is in Christ that we have our victories. As Romans 8:37 reads, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Because we have the victories, we are called to go out in power to defend the cause of the marginalized, the ones who have not found the power of God for themselves. We aren’t given this power to build our own mansions, enlarge our own kingdoms, or build up our own wealth.  

God gives us this victory to secure food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and care for the lonely. When we meet their needs, we meet the needs of the Christ who said, 

“This is my body broken for you.”

WATCHING FROM AFAR

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Watching From Afar acrylic on canvas 16" x 20'

Watching From Afar
acrylic on canvas
16″ x 20′

No one wants to be on the train that’s wrecking. Not many want to watch the disaster unfolding, but when you care intensely about a person, sometimes you cannot take your eyes off the pain and trauma. You watch from the cheap seats in the balcony, rather than paying the full price of orchestra pit, where you can get the front row view, up close and personal.

The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion tell us that the Temple leadership and the Roman soldiers had front row seats at this execution, but the crowds and the followers watched from afar.

Those that had an interest only in the spectacle left once it was over. Those who cared about the person hanging on the cross stayed even after he spent his last breath.

“And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:48-49)

This snow scene is the fourth in a series of a single tree representing the various stations of the cross. My personal banker, who’s a member oft church, jogs past this tree all the time. It’s near the Hot Springs Country Club at the corner of Malvern and Bellaire. I took several photos, played in Photoshop in my camera+app and went to work painting on 16″ x 20″ canvases. 

I divided the canvas almost equally into quarters and halves. The heavens and the earth are top and bottom. The Christ tree almost splits in two the right and left halves. 

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:51)

The quiet stillness of the snow reminds me both of the pause of death and the hope for the resurrection. Both are contained in the cross of Christ, but those who watch from afar at this moment do not yet have this hope. 

The people who live their lives as one train wreck after another want to get off this track, but don’t want to give up control of their lives to a power that can break the chains of death that have held us. “To die to our old selves” is to become a train wreck in the flesh. As we give up these old parts of us, old relationships are rent and have to be reformed in a new manner or we have to part ways with old friends and make new ones instead. 

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The good news is that the cross of Christ unites both heaven and earth, life and death, hope and despair, as well as peace and travail.