Encounters with God

I first met Sue Valentine during an extraordinary Icon workshop I taught in March, 2020, at Mt. Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara California. It was extraordinary for several reasons- first, we all were just beginning to understand that Covid was seriously dangerous, but our worlds hadn’t changed yet to quarantine measures. Extraordinary too, because sadly, Mt. Calvary monastery is now closed forever. And then there were the students- such an interesting and dedicated group, of which Sue was one. Recently I have seen how profoundly moving her icons are and they are developing in such a wonderful way that I invited her to share about her experiences with Icon writing and here is her article:

The Suffering Servant

While new to iconography, I have appreciated from the very first icon I wrote just one year ago how God is using icons to speak to me.

I have been considering God’s call to be a servant, and learned I both significantly misunderstood how highly the Lord thinks of His servants, and also how profoundly they suffer.  These days I ponder these things as I paint.

I find I am becoming used to the conventions in icons:  a blue outer robe representing Christ’s divinity and a red inner robe representing Christ’s humanity.  Then the Lord pointed out there is no blue robe in this icon, because as Philippians 2:5-8 tells us, Jesus voluntarily removed His blue robe when He came to earth to become one of us, to serve us, to suffer for us, and to save us.  Then, in Matthew 27:28, after Jesus was arrested and convicted, the soldiers stripped Him of His humanity, removing His red robe, and mocked Him, pretending to worship Him as a king, all the while spitting on Him and beating Him.

Jesus’ servant life and suffering stripped Him of both robes.

With the icon now complete, as I gaze on it, I’m feeling the robe I have painted on Jesus is somewhat jarring.  I’ve introduced alizarin crimson, a new color for me.  I can’t even remember why I chose that color.  Only later do I realize that when the soldiers stripped Jesus of His red robe, they put on Him a scarlet robe which is what I have painted.  This icon is the picture of Jesus, not robed in humanity, but covered with the soldier’s scorn for His kingship as they dressed Him in a scarlet robe.  With that realization, I see more fully what He suffered and the servant life I am invited into.

Jesus is no longer robed in scarlet, in red or even in blue, all of which I can attempt to paint as I am learning this new way to pray.  What I cannot capture or even attempt is what I know is true of Jesus now and read in scripture:  Jesus is finally robed not in finite colors, but in the splendor and majesty He deserves. 

John the Theologian

This is John the Theologian.  John is my favorite gospel, and this is the icon of the gospel writer John who had incredible revelations of the Lord later in life, and he wrote them down. 

He has an ink well at the ready, and an angel whispering inspiration in his ear.

The verse written in the book is John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

I have been wrestling with the Lord about how to live out my calling as a teacher.  The Lord has told me until those opportunities open up, I should write.  But writing seems less appealing to me.

So when asking the Lord, “Why this icon of John?”, He reminded me that this type of painting is called icon writing.  If this is the kind of writing the Lord wants me to do, then I’m very interested.  

The Lamentation

This is my first larger icon, 16 x 20”.  I chose it because my daughter was struggling severely, and I felt I needed to sit with many faces of grief, from the demonstrative Mary Magdalene with her arms raised to the strangely peaceful woman in green, as they mourned over the body of Jesus and as I mourned.

Just the process of painting a larger icon forced me to sit with those feelings of grief longer.  

The Disorientation

This is another 16×20” icon, and a sequel to “The Lamentation.”  Jesus is now risen from the dead, leaving only His graveclothes behind, so I am surprised this icon is never called “The Resurrection.”  Of the many renderings of this icon, I chose this one because Jesus was still visibly present, even though only one of the women noticed He was there.  Their focus was on the grave clothes, and so, largely, was mine.  I was feeling a kind of desolation, but at least Jesus was with me.

I found this icon very difficult to do and the larger format made that more plain to me.  There were long periods when I could not work on it at all.  I didn’t even know what I was feeling, and I sought the Lord for insight.  Finally, the Lord gave me a word for it: disorientation, which is how I titled this icon.  That word helped me unpack what I was feeling.  Things were moving very quickly in my life, I was under intense stress, deeply sad, and in shock.  I was just hoping that as I painted, the Lord would keep speaking.

The turning point in completing this icon came when the Lord told me that the graveclothes were my false self.  Like Jesus, I needed resurrection.  I needed to arise from those graveclothes and leave them behind.

As soon as He spoke that to me, the work accelerated and was completed quickly and set in motion the courage to make other changes in my life as I embraced what gave me life.

Sue Valentine is from Chicago.  She has a B.A. in Behavioral Science and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, has a certification in Spiritual Direction from North Park Theological Seminary, and is a licensed minister in the Vineyard Church.  She is a worship leader, teacher, contemplative, practicing spiritual director and aspiring iconographer.

That’s all for this month. If you have a suggestion for an article or wish to submit one, please contact me for submission requirements- we are always looking for articles that promote the joy of icon writing!

Blessings,

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com

Saint Patrick

St Patrick, kidnapped
St Patrick kidnapped into slavery

“He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals His thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth– the LORD God Almighty is His name.” –Amos 4:13

Saint Patrick of Ireland

Saint Patrick Icon

As a young boy, Patrick was kidnapped by brutal pirates and carried away to Ireland where he was sold as a slave.  For the next six years he was a shepherd in Northern Ireland.  This is where he learned to pray. “In a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly fewer.” The Confession of St. Patrick.

“I arise today

in a mighty strength

calling upon the Trinity,

believing in the Three Persons

saying they are One

thanking my creator.”

In the experience of slavery and exile, the young boy  discovered God . In the midst of this terrible alienation brought on  by his exile from family and country, Patrick experienced a deep abiding connection that enabled him to feel strengthened by God.

St. Patrick baptizing the Irish
St. Patrick baptizing the Irish drawing by Christine Hales

He is a legend in Irish history and spirituality.  Patrick’s story of being kidnapped by Irish pirates eventually gave rise to a remarkable inner transformation that led him  eventually to return to Ireland, serving the Irish people by bringing God’s love to them.

Like St. Francis, Patrick chose a lifestyle of poverty, preferring to single-mindedly focus on the Divine connection within.  “For I know full well that poverty and adversity suit me better than riches and delights.”

Saint Patrick Icon

One often sees Icons of St. Patrick holding a shamrock, an illustration of how he used the humble clover leaf to illustrate the Trinity- three in one- to the largely pagan population Ireland.  Pre-Christian Ireland was where God sent Patrick.  His spiritual story is told in “The Confession of St. Patrick”, along with many Scriptural references that relate to his experiences.

Patrick was born in Britain about  385, and began his mission  in Ireland during the early 400’s.He became fluent in the Irish dialect during his period of slavery, and despite much hostility and danger, he was very effective in bringing the Gospel to Ireland.

Saint Patrick founded many churches and monasteries across Ireland.

Saint Patrick Icon
Saint Patrick Icon

Holy Bishop Patrick,

Faithful shepherd of Christ’s royal flock,

You filled Ireland with the radiance of the Gospel:

 The mighty strength of the Trinity!

Now that you stand before the Savior,

Pray that He may preserve us in faith and love!

Icon notes for March:

The American Association of Iconographers now has a Facebook Page which you are welcome to join.  The rules of the page are that postings may be submitted by any member and the content needs to be of interest and benefit to Iconographers.

Video of Iconographer George Kordis beginning a Christ Pantocrator dome:

Blessings and Prayers,

Christine Hales

New Christian Icons

Icon Painting Classes Schedule for 2018

 


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Meditation and Contemplation

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

How do we meditate and contemplate God through the Icons?  A good question now that at least more than half the world I live in here in upstate New York associates the word “meditation” with Eastern philosophy.

IMG_0671 IMG_0680 IMG_0683

But Icons have a long history of being used in contemplation and meditation, and we specialize in bringing the valuable truths of the past into our present time.  Mystical Eastern spirituality has as its aim for the Icons “to open the heart in contemplative prayer to the transforming vision of God’s Glory.” The Glenstal Book of Icons.

Carl Jung wrote extensively on the power of symbols on our unconscious minds.  Symbolic imagery in Icons helps to bypass our intellect and send a message straight to our hearts. For example, I can’t see an image of Mary and the Christ child without immediately identifying with the the Christ Child, and sensing what it was like to be mothered by the gentle, sweet Mary, or identifying with Mary and deeply experiencing what it was like to hold Christ in her arms and nurture him so that he could flourish.  Whenever I see that image I think of my newest painting or Icon and ask in prayer, how can I be Mary to my painting? How can I be the Christ child in Mary’s arms to my art work?  Each time, in contemplation and meditation new facets and ideas come as a result. Ideas I would not have had otherwise.Top Met Paintings Before 1860 04 Duccio di Buoninsegna Madonna and Child

“Through the symbolism of the icons, access is gained to the absolute otherness of God in the silent union of mystical prayer: one goes through the sense of sight to the one who is beyond all vision. The meditative work demanded in absorbing the imagery of the icons is essential if  prayer is to reach such a state beyond ideas, images, and acts- beyond the work of the head.  Only thus can the prayer we make with the body and the mind become a real “heart work”, a deep transforming union with God in love. The mystical traditions of Christianity, East and West, all teach that such prayer is the only source of inner peace and stability.  It is the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, of which the Gospel speaks. Matthew 13:44-46″  The Glenstal Book of Icons, Gregory Collins, OSB    IMG_1580

The Saint Luke’s Guild of Iconography will be sharing our newest Icons with outreaches to the community this spring and early summer. We will try to share the stories of each saint in our Icons as well as have dialogue with the public about prayer and meditation with the Icons.  The first two venues are planned to be: Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, 1st Presbyterian church in Hudson. We plan to create a traveling exhibition so if your church would like to host one, and perhaps hear a lecture on Icons, let me know.  “Never forget the joy of spreading Icons throughout the world”!

RECOMMENDED SOURCE FOR ICON MATERIALS:

Natural Pigments  is an excellent source of tempera materials, gold leaf, anything you need to make Icons- they probably have.  They also have a section called “articles” another page on their website that is full of useful materials information.

UPCOMNG ICON WRITING CLASSES:

Albany, New York Westminster Presbyterian Church, Chestnut St., Monday evenings 6-9PM. Class size is limited-email to ensure space.

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY  May 6-8 Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon, Introduction to Icon Writing.

Here is a video that my husband, Michael who most of you know, made recently about art and the Creator.. Hope you enjoy it!

Until next month, be blessed!

Christine