Today is not such a good day for me. I am enduring a great deal of discomfort, and what seemed like light for me a week ago has diminished, at least for now. Pain can certainly bring darkness into the soul, and suffering, which is much deeper than physical pain, also assaults the psyche. One can wonder whether or not the light will ever return, whether pain and suffering will subside.
I must admit I am wondering that today, with my faith and hope feeling a bit shaky. Yet, quite often I stumble upon grace-filled truth just when I need it most. Today grace-filled truth seemed to come out of nowhere to teach me a fresh lesson about pain and suffering, light and darkness.
From the Facebook page, “A Sanctified Art” I found this nugget of comforting truth.
Light can travel endlessly through a vacuum. Light waves won’t diminish no matter how far they have to travel. Can you imagine that? Perhaps that’s God’s nature and constant posture — endlessly traveling through time and space just to reach us.
For this day it is such a blessing to know that light pierces through the darkness and that, no matter how far light travels, it does not diminish.
Thanks be to God.
On another note, please pray for me as I recover from my kidney transplant at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to rea the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:
A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:
On many fronts, I am troubled today by the appointment of Paula White as head of the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, a successor to previous administrations’ faith-based office that coordinates outreach to religious communities. The news reports point out that she is neither seminary trained nor qualified to hold this position, and yet the president identifies her as his “pastor.” I cannot help but wonder: When did it become acceptable to evangelicals to tolerate a woman as their president’s pastor?
It appears that Donald Trump has employed a Pentecostal televangelist from Florida, an outsider whose populist brand of Christianity mirrors his own conquest of the Republican Party. She is in many ways a quintessentially Trump figure: a television preacher, married three times, lives in a mansion.
And like her president, Ms. White has survived accusations of financial misconduct and ethical improprieties. Among Christians, she is a divisive figure because of her association with the belief that God wants followers to have wealth — commonly called the prosperity gospel. This theological perspective is highly unorthodox, and is also considered heretical by many Christians.
The Rev. William J. Barber II, who organized the Moral Mondays protests in North Carolina and who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, calls White’s appointment “a very ominous sign” and signals that “Christian narcissism” has come into the White House. He said this:
The so-called prosperity gospel is a false gospel that can be compared to the theology that justified slavery because of economic prosperity. It is an attempt to interpret the gospel to be primarily about personal wealth and personal power, which is contrary to the theology of Jesus where the good news was always focused on caring for the poor, the least of these, the stranger, the sick.
I just spent five paragraphs trying to show Paula White’s face to the world when what is infinitely more needful is showing Christ’s face to the world. With that in mind, I feel compelled to switch focus to the theology of Jesus that insists upon caring for the oppressed.
Some of you may know that I am an iconographer and one who is very interested in the theology of icons and their call to holy introspection. An iconographer colleague of mine gave me this wise counsel:
Look at the eyes first and see the light that shines through them. Stand reverently and quietly before the icon until the image speaks to you.
Icons hold a spiritual effect, a history and a message. So in thinking about caring for the oppressed, I turn to two icons depicting the Mother of God and her Son.
The first, an icon by Kelly Latimore, is Mother of God, Protectress of the Oppressed. Russian Christians for centuries have called Mary the Protectress of the Oppressed. While some icons embrace traditional forms, this one has been re-imagined. It reflects current political morés related to the treatment of refugees and migrants at our southern border. Christ has assured us that He will always be found among the poor and oppressed. In that light, this depiction of Mary is a refugee mother and child behind the fence our government has erected to separate them from “God-fearing Americans.”
The second icon, written by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, is Mother of the Streets. Each year, larger numbers of homeless people live in the streets of our cities — jobless workers, battered women, the untreated mentally ill, or simply those too poor to get by. They tend to be “invisible” to us. This icon depicts the Mother of God as the mother of those on the streets. Her garments, and those of her Son, are covered with jewels and gold decoration, making manifest the hidden worth and dignity of street people, who are living icons of God. In 1984 the Catholic bishops of the U.S. declared, “To turn aside from those on the margins of society, the needy and the powerless, is to turn aside from Jesus. Such people show His face to the world.”
It matters whose face we show to the world. It matters whose face we see. We can choose to “see” the Donald Trumps and Paula Whites of the world, or we can turn our eyes on Jesus. It matters whose face we “see!” And it really matters whether or not we will be found in the city streets, on the border and at the fences, at the margins of society where so much oppression holds sway. It really matters whether or not our every day, holy acts of compassion show Christ’s face to the world.
May God create in us compassionate hearts. Amen.
On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant currently scheduled for November 12th at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:
A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link
Yesterday, I mused on the tenderness of this season of Advent. The waiting. The darkness. The need to linger in the season with a sense of mindfulness.
To be honest, I want to shop with reckless abandon and find fun toys for my grandchildren. I want to bake all manner of Christmas cookie. I want to decorate every corner of my house, and if I had my way, ours would be one of those houses that people drive by at night to see all the twinkling lights.
But on that outdoor winter wonderland, I definitely do not have my way. My husband’s days of hanging lights on the gutters, placing a Santa on the roof, and wrapping the trees in tiny, twinkling lights are over. He has happily passed out of that season of his life.
For me, yesterday was baking day, and I made a new discovery about mindfulness and cookie baking. The two activities pair well. Dropping cookie dough by the spoonful onto a baking sheet is slow work. It gives one time to ponder. And pondering a is a good thing to do in Advent days. Good lesson learned, with the added bonus of having 200 cookies in the house!
While dropping cookies, one by one onto an old, scratched up baking pan, I pondered. Some thoughts hinted at my inner sadness. Other thoughts were of friends who are very ill and are walking this Advent journey in darkness. Other friends have lost people in their lives, and on this day, they find themselves in mourning.
As I do in most Decembers, I find myself, along with others in my family, feeling the sadness of having lost my youngest brother, Pete, to cancer. It happened many years ago, yet the hurt remains.
No doubt, this Advent journey can be a tender time. Yet we journey into the days ahead, not with a spirit of despair, but with a glimmer of hope. Even in the darkness, we begin to awaken, knowing that something new will be born in us just as it has every Advent. This is the season when we wash our faces and rub our sleepy eyes until we wake up, eyes wide open to the Light that sleeps in a manger.
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
— Luke 2:19 New International Version (NIV)
Like her, I am spending my Advent days pondering — moving in mindfulness while holding tender feelings, heart longings, mourning in the soul.
And, of course, I’m waiting in the darkness. But I know, without a doubt, that light will shine. It always does.
I seldom talk much about the spiritual disciplines that have given me strength. A private retreat — just me and God — in a beautifully isolated hermitage was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life. While there, I also practiced another of my spiritual disciplines — iconography.
Iconography is not merely a visual art, it is Christian sacred art, and has been an integral part of the worship and mystical life of Christians since apostolic times. Referred to in the Eastern Christian tradition as “windows into heaven,” icons have inspired and uplifted millions of the faithful, and have at times been the instruments for demonstrating God’s miraculous intercession in the life of humankind.
In describing the purpose of icons, the early Christians used the Greek work anagogic, literally meaning “leading one upward.” Photios Kontoglou, a renowned modern iconographer, expressed this perfectly: “Icons raise the soul and mind of the believer who sees the icon to the realm of the spirit, of the incorruptible, of the kingdom of God, as far as this can be achieved with material means.”
So to appreciate iconography fully, we must approach it as a liturgical art form whose function is essentially spiritual. Since the creation of an icon is itself a sacred activity, the iconographer must be a person of prayer, not merely a technician. If the iconographer’s work is to inspire and illumine others, then it is essential that she leads a life of prayer and fasting that she may be inspired and illumined by the Holy Spirit, that her iconography becomes itself an expression of her spiritual life. Kontoglou writes: “The iconographers painted as they prayed.”
My love of iconography resulted from the prompting of my dear Aunt Eirene. She was an artist extraordinaire and a gifted iconographer. She studied and practiced to hone her skills and each year, she went to an intensive iconography workshop at a beautiful retreat center. One year, she persuaded me (forced is a more accurate term) to go with her. Of course, I was extremely reticent to try this new art form.
At first, I called on my artistic skills and was doing a barely decent job. But then a lovely nun who sat next to me said words that literally imprinted on my heart. She said, “Your rendering of the Holy Child is beautiful. Look into his eyes. When you see the Light coming from them, you will fall in love with your icon.”
She was so wise. I began to think more about the Christ Child’s eyes than my own art, and within a day, my iconography transformed from a painting to a prayer. It was worship, meditation and reverence. It touched my soul as I added color to the board, layer upon layer. It was an incredible experience to see the Light. I share with you here some of icons I created, as I remember the experience I had with each of them that opened my soul to the Light.