Icons - a path to Contemplation, part 2
Writing an icon is a challenging learning process, as many of you know by experience. To learn of the canons, the symbolism of the colours, etc…
But what impressed me most, was the Presence in that image as I brought to birth, so to speak, Our Lord or Our Lady, on the board.
As I prayed and struggled with pigments and brushes, a very real relationship grew up between myself and the person I was praying, struggling with.
“It is your face, O Lord, that I seek, hide not your face.”
the psalmist cries out, enkindling in me a great desire for THE Presence.
Mary, our exemplar and teacher, ever devoted herself to the contemplation of the face of Christ. Her gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, never leaves Him, as Pope John Paul II tells us.
Could this be a way of introducing us to Centering Prayer? Sr Fionnula Quinn, in her handout, calls this method of movement into prayer, a growth in a relationship with Christ. I quote :
“Usually, Centering Prayer presupposes an established prayer life on the first level of relationship and is a means to move from the level of friendship to intimacy. As in human relationships, our relationship with Christ deepens from friendship to intimacy, following a natural progression from consent to surrender.”
An icon is a window into heaven. It is not I who find a Person there, but a Person finds me.
A second path to prayer
In the icon of the Transfiguration, we have the contrast between darkness and light ; between earth and heaven. The apostles are seen weak, fearful, limited, in a prostrate position. In contrast, in the heavenly court, Moses and Elijah, and of course Christ, stand upright. Christ with his hand raised in blessing, and radiant as He comes through the mandorla, symbol of the divine glory.
“Now the son of man has been glorified and in him, God has been glorified.”
Is this the Father’s answer to Jesus’ prayer ?
“I thank you Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my lips. I sing your praise and give thanks to your name, for your love and faithfulness. You answered me when I called, your kindness endures for ever.”
In the scene of the wonderful glory of Christ, the Blessed Trinity is present. The voice of the Father is heard :
“This is my beloved Son. He enjoys my favour. Listen to Him.”
revealing to me the relationship between Jesus and Himself, and pointing out to me the way to heaven.
As in the scene of the Annunciation, the overshadowing of a cloud is an indication of the Holy Spirit, the bond of love and unity in the Blessed Trinity. The disciples are bathed in the Holy Spirit. Would that that be my experience too!!!
“And the glory coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his very likeness, in an ever greater degree of glory.” (2 Cor. 3 : 18)
I found this prayer many, many years ago :
“ Gathered into the current of love which bears your Son towards you, O Father, I feel myself irresistibly drawn into you, to be lost in your fatherly love, as you, yourself, draw me into your love for your Son, to contemplate his beauty, his wisdom, the splendour of your glory, your perfect image. And caught up by your Spirit, in whom both are united, I let myself sink into the flood of your happiness. And now would know no other joy…. unless, perhaps, it were to bring the same into the lives of my sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus. Amen”
A Third path to prayer
I cannot live my life on Mount Thabor anymore than Jesus did. So what does this mystery of the Transfiguration teach me, as I go about my daily life ?
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His love endures for ever.”
I suggest that praise and thanksgiving are a transfiguring, or resurrecting, prayer, if I may call it so.
“I make all things new”, says the Lord. Yes, God lives in the eternal now, and we, because God the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, are drawn into the mystery and life of Christ. “As the Father loves me, so I love you”, Christ tells us. Many, many are the gifts of the Spirit with which I am blessed : God’s choice of me, Christ’s giving of himself for me, my baptism, my faith in the Church, the sacraments, my religious vocation, etc…etc… The list is unending and calls forth a sense of wonder and awe at God’s goodness.
The following verse “Echoes” by Fr Michael Golden SPS, catches what I can only express very poorly :
“I awoke this morningdripping with the dew of creationChrist’s hand resting on my shoulderreluctant to let go.A dawn, a beginning,God caught in the making.”
This is reality, a new thing that, at this very moment, is happening. Oh ! if only I had eyes to see the beauty of a human person, the myriad miracles of nature. God caught in the making of every person, word, deed, circumstance, event.
“We praise you, we bless you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory!”
Even in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. God brought forth, from the terrible sufferings endured there, a work of Transfiguration, of Resurrection, the making of a monstrance for Himself, from the scraps of wood and nails found around the camp. A material thing, you might say, but what a manifestation of the burning faith, hope, love, dedication and courage, it portrayed in the men who made it.
An identification in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His great love has no end.”