Click on each title and be transported to my living room for a cosy chat about icons in this new venture.
If anyone can tell me how to get rid of the noise of my laptop fan from the videos I would be eternally grateful as I am completely baffled by video editing software.
April 12, 2013 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Ruminations, Talks, Uncategorized | Tags: icon board, iconography, icons, Madonna Hodegetria, spirituality, videos, YouTube | Leave A Comment »
A new Pope called Francis I who calls us to pray through the icon of Mary. An advocate of the contemplative life and a man of compassion. May Christ’s love shine through him and spread throughout the world.
My joy is complete.
This image of the Madonna Hodegetria written by the iconographer can be found at All Saints Fulham London.
March 15, 2013 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Artist in Residence, Commissions, Meditations, press etc, Thanksgiving | Tags: Christ, icon of Mary, joy, love, Mary Hodegetria, Pope Francis I | Leave A Comment »
So I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above.
All of us who are spiritually mature should have this same attitude. But if some of you have a different attitude, God will make this clear to you.
Philippians 3 v14-15
Becoming an artist was a struggle. It was always inside me but I found it hard to just put a mark on a piece of paper or a canvas. There was a time when a composition I had in my head would take months to realise and then I would look at it and be filled with horror at the inadequacy of my work and the lack of skill. But this is the artist’s disease, we are always dissatisfied with what we do to some extent. The trick is to learn to let that negativity go and move on to the next piece.
The image above is a very old painting, not expertly rendered but I love it because it sums up my driving force in life. The original painting I had been working had filled me with despair – I had spent months on something only to squeeze paint directly onto the canvas and scrape it all off with a palette knife. This was the moment of enlightenment. The residual image imprinted on the canvas was of a figure in motion moving towards an area of light. Immediately I saw it I started working with more oil paint directly onto the canvas and with a knife, sculpted the image as it appear above. It took no more than half an hour.
I had my epiphany.
From that moment on I knew that if I was serious about becoming an artist I needed to work at it daily even if it was only half an hour. Not doing it for months and weeks was no longer an option. To see it as an adventure. To follow where it led. I had to be diligent and industrious, go to classes, learn more skills and develop, little by little. Most of all it was to be a joyful experience.
That latter was not so easy as, in myself, I felt this overwhelming weight, like I was walking through thick black molasses every time I wanted to do some work. It was the strangest and most unpleasant feeling but my inner determination and my lady running to her door of higher consciousness, as I called the painting above, gave me the inspiration and energy to overcome this weight.
I adore St. Paul. Not everyone does. Not everyone agrees with some of the things he says. But he is my boy and I love him for what he went through and suffered yet continued to do the Work. He was one person but he became another. His old life was transfigured into a new life, through Christ, and the skills he had before and used for worldly matters and for persecution of the church, were utilised anew with the same zeal for Christ in a different way.
My work as an artist developed and is still developing. It is transforming in itself into new things and new ways and new opportunities. The underlying force is transfiguration of the soul and the image above is synonymous with the process. We pass through doors or spheres of consciousness and each time it is a tricky passage but once through the door we have a new world to explore.
Paul left behind the past and focussed on what he was doing in the present. He kept his mind on the goal. Union with Christ and doing, through Christ within. When this happens it is incredible what one person can do; there is an energy and lightness to everything. A feeling of giving of the self not for others’ approval but solely for Christ, to serve Him. The Work – that is the work that Christ wills us to do is more important than any other consideration. It is a joy because we know it will happen whether we mess up or not. God’s Plan is relentless and He weaves in our idiosyncracies and mistakes, as an artist uses the mistake to create something new and something better than they had thought of originally.
So God bless St. Paul for his total commitment, even after imprisonment and many beatings and near drownings. He kept his focus on the goal. May we all learn to do the same to bring something brighter into creation.
Pax et bonum
January 25, 2013 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Ruminations, Ten Top Tips for Spiritual Evolution | Tags: art, Christ, conversion, epiphany, Higher Consciousness, religion, spirituality, St. Paul, theology | 8 Comments »
Recently I was invited to join an internet group that is generally patronised by people from India. It is probably the liveliest and most interesting group I have looked at and taken part in since immersing myself more fully into the world that the internet gives us access too.
What makes this group so lovely is that the participants are actively looking at how the spiritual impinges on their daily lives. I am like this too but in the UK spirituality is not something discussed as part of a normal everyday conversation but for special times, places of groups.
So I actively look forward to some amusing, enlightening and wonderful posts. Those whom I have so far interracted with have been generous, warm, funny and welcoming but also extremely wise. I am learning a lot.
For instance a thought from VK is, “to think less brings much happiness, to not think at all….bliss!” I read this and, for someone with a very active mind, surprisingly, was drawn to testing it out. The old scientist in me is ever present. Well the moment we tell ourselves not to do something we immediately do it more. Music and art is very helpful. When I am painting I have realised my focus is so great that I am literally not thinking about what I am doing it just flows – comes with hours of practice over many years.
Listening to music has the same effect but even easier as I just put in headphones and am transported. So I have been actively not thinking whilst listening to music and for one day this week it was just as VK said, absolute bliss. I went to two meeting directly afterwards and both people, whom I know well, remarked at the difference in me, very positively, even they were affected by this deep peace and joy and quietness.
Later I was walking, with headphones duly plugged in, blissing along when I stopped to watch the starlings doing those wonderful patterns in the sky as they fly in flock. Incredibly they seemed to be in sync with the music I was listening to. Birds are amazing creatures and I love to watch them busily going about their life. How marvellous it must be to just fly anywhere without worrying about a baggage allowance, passport and possessions. Johnathon Livingstone Seagull here I come.
So what has the Big Bang got to do with all this bliss and birdy heaven? Well, kapow! Just being in this state for a few hours seems to have unravelled something within and quite unexpectedly this has led to a big change of being in some way. My attention and my pattern is altering. A way of being I have wanted to attain, is being forced upon me by my own self and own process but what I could not do with thinking and intellect, I am now being led to do through this power of emptiness and bliss. It is not actually very blissful when the obstacles that have stood in the way are being cleaned out, but this is a necessary beginning before something new in the self starts. It is a time of rapid expansion and new creation. I wonder what it will bring? I have a sense of anticipation this New Year.
Conceptualising everything may be a way of limiting ourselves. I propose non conceptualisation as the new way of evolution for human beings!
January 10, 2013 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Ruminations, Ten Top Tips for Spiritual Evolution, Uncategorized | Tags: art, being, big bang, birds, bliss, conceptualisation, deep peace, evolution, non-thinking, silence, spirituality, thinking | 4 Comments »
Thinking about Mary I would never have equated her with freedom. She is the epitome of surrender and submission to God’s will. She accepted the message of Gabriel with quietude and humility. “I am your servant.” Is that freedom? Yes. It is the ultimate freedom.
In this world we do not appreciate the power that is inherent in true surrender and submission. We like to be seen to be in control and achieving and sorted and organised and and and…. Such a stressful and tiring way to live and to maintain an illusion – for that is what it is. An illusion calculated to give the significant others in our lives the impression of how well we are doing. Facebook and other social media abound in this illusory claptrap. I think I might start posting all my failures and stupidities on a regular basis – it would be the Franciscan, topsy turvy way of doing things. Turning the tables, as Christ did in the temple to rid the holy space of worldy focus and preoccupation.
Not in a self deprecating way – that is not what I mean, but perhaps in the way of the self reflection I am working on with regularity to turn over those parts of myself that are less than delightful. The exercise is fruitful on a personal level – I feel a sense of freedom from a long held, musty smelling burden each time I sit with my King and share with him my list of lifelong crassness. I am so grateful he has an unending supply of unconditional humour.
Working with this icon of Mary earlier in the year was the start of a painful process of self examination and of finding friendship with some unlikely people from the US – women and mothers who are blighted by the perception the world has of mothers and how they should be despite the abuse they receive from spouses, partners, children and relatives. These brave and long suffering women are treasures of common sense, reality and support for each other. They cry every day and one, who has become a very special friend to me, is now out of contact and I am worrying about her and praying every day for some news. Sometimes the pain is simply too much to bear for one more day and this lady may have had too much suffering to continue. I hope it is not so.
The tyranny of self righteousness strikes many blows on every level in all and every place in society and those who do not fit into this narrow part of the spectrum called ‘socially acceptable’ are marginalised and pushed to the edges of ‘normal’ society. It has always been so, especially for women in many cultures. Yet in the West we pride ourselves as having respect for women and hearing their voices but it is all nonsense. Furthermore, women themselves have a lot to answer for when it comes to helping other women. They keep each other down rather than enable; become envious and coveting rather than enjoying the successes of their peers.
One of the rules of the iconographer is to be joyful of the success of others as it is a success for all. This attitude is Unity of Spirit – do we not all say we are one spirit because we all partake ion the one body of Christ? If we criticise one another it is like looking at our big toe and saying, “Well you ugly digit, I do not want anything to do with you.” Well Big Toe will have the last laugh – try walking without one and it would feel very odd indeed. We need our Big Toe. I am a Big Toe for God.
Overcoming self and the desires and passions that assail us is a lifetime’s work. Working with women who are positive and giving without expectation of receiving is a joy. A kind of magical feeling surrounds such times. My novice guardian tells me this is when the Kingdom of Heaven draws near. I believe this to be the truth – I can feel it with every cell of my body and on the outside it is almost like there is a big invisible bubble enfolding proceedings. Nothing can defeat those who work in such a bubble. This is true freedom. The protection that comes from the Almighty for those who are willing to let go of everything for the sake of his Crucified Son, who demands much of us.
When you live in material poverty for years you learn to depend on God for the next meal and the next rent payment.
You do not fear lack of resource, as a result.
Material wealth loses its allure.
Money means less and less.
The desire for it weakens and a new desire to give replaces it.
More freedom of spirit.
More love enters the heart.
Thoughts begin to change to new ways of being and thinking.
The ego begins to lose its grip.
More love enters the heart.
More awareness of the divine in operation opens up the mind.
The need to be accepted by limiting groups of others disappears.
Freedom to be who you truly are.
More love enters the heart.
Your eyes become clearer and see more than what is visible.
You begin to ‘see’ in other ways and it is all beautiful.
The love entering the heart is unconditional.
You are able to love those who hate you, who despise, injure or criticise.
You see them from the Jesus perspective.
You do not worry about the politics and machinations others are involved in.
You are far away from being moved by such things because you know you will be provided for.
This is a revolution.
It is freedom of spirit by being poor on many levels.
The only thing that is important is this love and the nurturing of it more and more.
More love enters the heart.
Who and what in the world can destroy this love?
This is Christ crucified.
This is Mary’s ultimate surrender to the sword that pierced her heart through her son and the pain she feels for all those who are suffering.
Only love is left.
You have to be brave to allow yourself to walk this path. Like St. John of the Cross but that is for next time.
December 9, 2012 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Meditations, Ruminations | Tags: Christ crucified, freedom, human-rights, Mary, poverty in spirit, religion, society, spirituality, submission, surrender | 2 Comments »
It seems forever since I last penned a blog but for a while I have not felt I had anything especially interesting to say. A little bit of fasting from blogging and all computerish activity is enlightening. It has given me time to reflect upon my Franciscan journey and to look at what is most important in my life. It would be very easy and perhaps glib to say that God is the most important, and Jesus. They are, but just how are they most important? How do they really impact on my life? How do I allow them to impact on my life? How much of it is what I think and how much of it is the reality? I am not certain I will or can answer these questions but I will explore a little of it through my growing love for St. Francis and St. Clare. Having just spent a few days a Freeland in Oxfordshire on a Franciscan retreat with the Order of St. Clare has brought these gentle and loving saints to the centre of my heart again.
The icon of Francis above, was a delightful commission for a special lady whom I have the utmost respect and love for. She is a treasure and I look forward to our weekly chats in St. Mary’s. She has an honest take on everything she experiences and feels about religion, life and the world in general. It is refreshing to meet someone who says it like it is for them and who does not say what they think you would like to hear or some kind of popular notion. Francis and Christ were also two such beings – they said it like it was. An artist has to do this, too. To see the reality and discern it from the imagined or from some construct of mind that can colour the vision. How often do we find ourselves at odds with others because they have a view of us that is so far removed from the reality we are living. It is like they see us through a cracked mirror. It is not anyone’s fault. It is a matter of perception.
Perception gets clouded by prejudice, negativity, stereotyping, dumping our own imagined ideas about others on them without checking in with them if this is the truth; speculation, gossip etc. etc. the list is endless and tiresome. We have so much going against being able to see with clarity that it is no wonder the world is at odds and war and conflict reign supreme.
When, Lord, are you going to root out your Almighty spray can of polish and dust us all off? Isn’t it time the world had a good spring clean? That sounds painful! Ouch! It is. It is the process of transfiguration and occurs little by little – very slow for me as I am stubborn and stroppy and my mind is mighty strong at times. But I am getting a new sense of being cleaned out big time through this Franciscan journey.
More recently I have been pondering Francis’s love for Christ. It was sublime and total. He would be so fixed on his contemplation of Christ that he would be travelling along and all kinds of everyone would be snipping bits off his habit for relics and touching him. All the while he would be oblivious. He frequently counselled his friars not to wait around for any glory in their work but to remove themselves to far flung places where they were unknown and to start their work again to avoid the trap of ego. He was not interested in book learning – not because he was anti-intellectual but because it is a source of puffing up of the ego. The same way we use status to puff oursleves up, or clothes, or technology or what food we eat even. It would seem any opportunity we can find for lording it over another we find it and use it. This is the root of all prejudice and hence all the ills that spring from that.
St. Clare was rather good at including novices into discussions as she was well aware that God uses those who are often overlooked by those others who feel they are more significant or experienced. We would do very well to look in unusual places for all kinds of interesting things. We miss Christ every time we pas someone by and dismiss them in some way.
But what of this love for Christ, Francis had? It was all encompassing and filled with light and joy. He would turn to him for everything and anything. His thoughts were continuously focussed on Christ not on self. His critics would not understand and pull his experience down to their own level of understanding. What we understand of him is limited by our limitations not his. I would like to experience some of this complete focus on Christ.
My journey is split into three monthly intervals and this present quarter is for the purpose of contemplation of our man Francis in love with Christ. I have explained to my novice guardian that I do not want to write notes or study but to live the experience of Francis as much as I am capable. So it may be that I will be completely misunderstood but as I am endeavouring to keep my eyes on my Beloved Christ, I will not care a whit! There are so many situations to offer up to him and to ask him how to respond and he never fails to give the answers. All I have to do is ask him, to make that decision to ask him how do I respond to this or deal with that? Even the most trivial of things can sometimes lead to stupendous awareness. I guess this is like the Christian version of paying attention to all and everything around us.
Being in love makes us oblivious to many things, being in love with Christ makes us oblivious to the things that do not matter but aware of the things that do. What an exciting journey – there is no need to worry about anything when you can ask the divine for everything.
December 2, 2012 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Artist in Residence, Meditations, Ruminations | Tags: centre of my heart, Christ, contemplation, cracked mirror, Franciscanism, journey, love, St. Clare, St. Francis | 3 Comments »
The students of St. Mary’s Icon School are going to be doing nine mini presentations at the end of term. This school is a new venture and the students are ordinary people who have come along to try their hand at learning about icons, the spirituality and the process. It is the start of a great adventure and this will be their opportunity to share a little of what they have learned.
Please do come along if you are local and if not send your prayers for the students, the school and St. Mary’s church in Aylesbury.
The St. Mary’s Iconography School presents:
8 SAINTS AND A PROPHET
Wednesday 28th March 7– 9.30
at St. Mary’s Aylesbury
All are welcome to come and listen to 9 mini presentations by the
new students of St. Mary’s Icon School.
Come and view some of the work we have begun, meet the students
and tutor and learn a little hagiography.
February 21, 2012 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Icon School | Tags: aylesbury, Elijah, great adventure, hagiography, iconography, icons, prophet elijah, prophets, Sacred Art, saints, St. Mary's Icon School | 2 Comments »
That cheeky Elisha just manages to snatch Elijah’s cloak as he is taken up by the fiery horses. I loved writing this icon as the great fiery globule was a reminder of the immense power of Almighty God. I am certain that Elisha would have had some broiled fish for supper.
Sometimes one could also be forgiven for imagining he was abducted by aliens but as a lover of sci-fi I would think that.
When I used to exhibit on the railings by Hyde Park I would sometimes take my icons along as an antidote to all the materialism. I was amazed and reassured at how many people stopped and loved to talk about them and the spirituality behind them. This Elijah was a particular favourite and many Russians would come and translate the text even though it is archaic. I have forgotten the exact translation so if anyone would like to have a go and submit it to me I would be grateful and can then add it to the post.
Have a brief look at the rays emanating from the cosmic arc in the top corner. This is typical of icons and I have reproduced it here, those old iconographers already knew about the dual nature of light long before we discovered it.
Have a great week and may the power of Elijah be with you.
February 19, 2012 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations | Tags: abducted by aliens, cosmos, dual nature of light, Elijah, elisha, fiery ascent, horses, hyde park, iconography, icons, Sacred Art | 6 Comments »
A few posts back I passed on a wonderful story called A Piece of God’s Love . Blogging happily away you may think I just want to write stuff down and then go onto the next thing but I shall tell you very earnestly that I do sometimes listen to my own good advice, unlike Alice in Wonderland who realised she did not.
There are some images, words or people who just stick in our consciousness in a wonderful way and lately I am blessed with more and more ‘stickers’. The story referred to above has a literal truth and a little piece of it has become stuck in my own heart. Since posting it I have been doing my usual stuff but each time I have had to go out and work with a student, or a class, or with colleagues I have reminded myself to put a ‘piece of God’s love in them and that they love me back’, as the story goes.
Something wonderful happens every time – don’t take my word for it, try it out yourself – be scientific!
Love is a problematic subject especially for single person. On the spiritual path it can be sometimes overwhelming, as one feels love for many people in many ways. At times this can be mistaken for earthly love or Eros love. The difficulty lies in the love one has for Almighty God as, if this is profound, then others are attracted to you because of it but feel they love you when in reality it is your love of God that their own soul is responding to. All souls love God at their deepest root and this is how love transforms.
I will use the example of St. Francis and St. Clare. There is no doubt they loved one another deeply and because of their commitment to God they remained celibate and mostly separated yet were also able to love one another as two souls who are like one. How terrible it would have been if Clare or Francis had been forced to keep apart, not see or speak to each other at all because others felt their love was more of the earthly kind and therefore a severe temptation. The world was made more beautiful through their genuine love for one another.
It must be remembered that those who are diligent on the path learn about their desires and feelings and passions and most troublesome traits and through mastering them, overcome the unruly behaviour of the passions. Maybe, as there are so few examples of ordinary people achieving this, we do not think it is possible and if we have not achieved this ourselves we refuse to accept that others are able to reach this place. I must add here it is also by God’s grace this can be done and not through our own power. Yet all the same we must pray for help and strive towards this goal. Jesus repeatedly tells us we must learn how to take charge of the house of our soul. Those lower passions are our servants and they do serve when we learn true restraint which comes through love and acceptance of the self and all its faults.
We do not lambast St. Anthony the Great because he was plagued with salacious thoughts and devils. When he had these thoughts he then learned how not to allow himself to be led by them, it makes him more not less.
Learning how to love souls is well worth every effort as the love that comes back is so much more than anything you could experience from earthly love.
February 1, 2012 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations | Tags: alice in wonderland, anthony the Great, Celibacy, eros love, love, passions, souls, spiritual path, spirituality, St, St. Clare, St. Francis | Leave A Comment »
Today is the feast of St. Paul’s conversion and one of the readings was from Ezekiel3. As soon as I see Ezekiel in the reading list I am always happy as I am very fond of him. What is interesting is the similarity of the experience of Ezekiel and that of St. Paul.
Ezekiel was told by God to go home where he would be bound, as if by rope, and unable to speak for a time. Then he would return into the world and speak the words of God and some would listen and some would not – ‘these people are a rebellious lot,’ says the Lord! Ezekiel, however, was already a prophet and this experience would have been one of many along the way from which he would have been obedient to God’s instructions.
St. Paul was also obedient, to those who ran the temple in his time. He was zealous in his obedience and yet the results were harmful to others. Ezekiel’s words would have been warnings to try and encourage a return to God’s ways; Paul was acting for those who wanted people to follow their way which they believed was the truth. It is the results of these actions that tell us which is from God and which is from man.
For Ezekiel, people could choose freely to listen or not and then take the consequences. With St. Paul, those who did not obey were persecuted and killed. Only when St. Paul was converted did he learn how to love and to work for Jesus – in him and through him and with him. He was so desirous of receiving Christ within he talks of it with passion, love and wonder all at the same time. It is an incredible experience and as Christians we yearn for this to such an extent we decide ourselves how we should go about it. And this is the mistake.
In doing so we become like the temple rulers who then try and make everyone conform to the way we have decided is the right one and anyone who does it differently or detracts from it or who is an outsider is excluded. We have, in our Christian churches, fallen into the same old trap because we are the same old rebellious humans we ever were.
It is grace from God that changes us from within and only grace from God. Yet we are arrogant enough to think we can do this ourselves with various practices and rules and rituals. However, these practices and rules and rituals are there to help us maintain the grace we have already been given, they are not a replacement for it. They are necessary to keep us on the path but they do not put us on it.
How do we find this path, how do we receive this grace?
I attended a Justice and Peace talk at St. Mary’s some months ago, about Zimbabwe (there are a number of wonderful Zimbabweans in the church here). One of the men, who had recently been over there gave us a watered down version of what he had heard and experienced. The watered down version was distressing enough. How lucky we are not live live perpetually in fear of bullying and harrassment from the authorities on a daily basis. The Anglican church is under attack there and when I say church I mean church as in ‘people who are the church’.
Walking home I felt a large hole inside my chest like a train had just run through it. “What can I do?” was my first impotent thought but the answer came immediately and it was to do what I do – write an icon for them.
I have wanted to do a Holy Cross for a while but never got round to it and after seeing Miroslav’s wonderful carpentry and having used his boards this past year I determined this was the time to write a Crucifixion icon. I wrote to him – he is a Serbian orthodox carpenter who found me on the internet just before my previous carpenter had to close his workshop – how blessed I am. Miroslav replied:
I will be very pleased to do so (prepare the cross) knowing where the cross goes. I will orient my prayers to poor children. Thank you for having given me this opportunity.
Fraternally in Christ, Miroslav
It was a few weeks wait whilst he made the little wooden cross in linden wood and then a knock at the door and my precious parcel had arrived. I took it upstairs to unwrap it and was immediately overwhelmed.There is a power in prayer, a power in icons and a power in the sincerity of the people who truly orient themselves towards God. It touches a place inside that has nothing to do with emotionalism.When I have mentioned I have been crying over this cross as I worked on it in previous posts – I am not crying through sentimentality. There is a difference – it is subtle to discern, but the feeling is of cosmic proportions.
It is not personal pain and sorrow one feels. It is a touch of the pain of the world and it rocks you inside to the deepest subatomic depths of each particle in your body. I can experience it now just conjuring up the thought of the world’s suffering and it is only the tiniest piece of it, a few nanoseconds worth as, if I felt the whole, I am sure I would not be able to bear it and live.It is true sorrow and I am left with an understanding of immense compassion and love for the world that is the love and compassion of Christ. In that tiny moment I am here, but also everywhere, within and without. No other experience has ever brought me as close to this place and it has taught me the true power of the Cross, it’s reality.
It is my own fault I feel this and strangely it has to do with an enigmatic Hassidic man called Israel ben Eliezer, the Master of the Holy Name, from 300 years ago– but that is another story for another time.
I digress as usual. But thank you Miroslav for being the beginning of this project, being at the root of the process. The skull at the root of this cross is traditional and symbolises the skull of Adam and the curse of death. The way the skull and leg bone are arranged brings to mind very ancient understandings of the spirit world of early man, perhaps.
You would think I would want to start immediately but the first thing was to place the cross in my, what the Russians call, Red Corner. Red because of the use of red ochre, again a sacred pigment symbolising creation and foundation. The red ochre formed from iron in an atmosphere that was reducing, when the world had no oxygen. How marvellous it is to create these tiny panels from such awesome materials.
I have a little collection of icons that I keep where I pray my Franciscan Office each day. The cross was left there for forty days and it worked out to be the beginning of Advent when I could start which was, coincidentally, also the time I was noviced as a Tertiary Franciscan.
Throughout Advent the cross has been gilded and written and I finished it a few days after Christmas and completed it with an inscription by Romanus the Melodist on the back, which seems very fitting for purpose. Icons were used frequently in the past to ward off invading hordes and protect people and I wonder why this is not the case anymore – maybe people simply do not believe anymore.
Here is the inscription:
Now is the time to open your ears, Satan.
Now is the time to show you the power of the Cross and the might of the Crucified One.
For to you the Cross is considered folly;
to all Creation it is considered a Throne on which Jesus nailed,
is as though seated on a judge’s bench.
“Come, O Blessed of my Father…for I was hungry and you gave me food.” (Matthew 25:34-35)
Well, for the sake of the persecuted, terrorised, raped, murdered, humiliated, tortured, forgotten, despised, starving, sick, oppressed….people the world over, but especially Zimbabwe, I think we could make the effort to believe in this Cross at this time and in the power of Almighty God who has promised to help such people.
Here is my prayer with a grieving Mary on the left and John on the right:
Like the woman who said to Your Beloved Son, that even the dogs were able to eat the crumbs from under the table; this sinful woman asks you to help free the people of Africa from corruption, war, tyranny; from being robbed of resources by other countries and all other evils that have kept them under subjugation.
Like the Queen of Sheba who travelled across Africa to see Solomon, the son of your Beloved King David, to witness his God given wisdom; this ordinary woman asks you to grant wisdom to all those who become leaders in Africa so that this incredible continent can become a jewel of the world and an example to others of the power and the love of God and the way to Zion.
Like Mary, the Blessed Virgin, who accepted your message and brought Christ into the world so that he could take all our sins and save us from wretchedness; this shy, little mother asks you with all her heart to bring an end to the sorrows of all the mothers of Africa whose tears are so many they are as uncountable as the stars.
Awaken our hearts to the possibility that this is the Truth and that this is the Time and that You are the Way.
Please forward this page and ask those who read it to direct their prayers also to this cause because I completely believe that our combined consciousness is far more powerful than we realise. The world is changing dramatically but we are not helpless. Uniting sincerely in prayer for peace, wisdom and new beginnings will tip the scales from death to life. We can be sick, old, infirm, reclusive, rejected, whatever… but we still have the power of prayer and it is great indeed.
Here is the whole Holy Cross:
December 30, 2011 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations | Tags: Adam, Adam's skull, Blessed virgin, Christ crucified, Cross, crucifixion, Hassidism, Hesus, iconography, icons, Israel ben Eliezer, KingDavid, Mary, mothers, Orthodox, persecution, power of prayer, prayer, Romanus the melodist, Sacred Art, Solomon, St. John, terror, The Master of the holy Name, the Prepared Throne, Zimbabwe | 3 Comments »
Jacqueline, who organised the Advent Talk on Icons, a Benedictine oblate and a convener and inspirer for the World Council of Christian Meditation, sent this comment about the day and gave me permission to reproduce it. As I am not yet fully purified of my self interested ego, I publish it with much happiness!
December 13, 2011 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Artist in Residence | Tags: art, Chirstian meditation, icons, Mary mother of God, meditation, prayer, Sacred Art, St. Mary the Virgin | Leave A Comment »
Saturday, when there was scheduled to be a fabulous lunar eclipse, (great pics on this Seattle blog), found me in the centre of Aylesbury at the Quaker House giving a talk on icons to a group of Quakers, Anglicans and Roman Catholics. I seem to be taking out my whole studio regularly to set it up again and surround people with these little gateways to the heavenly dimension. I am saving for a vehicle I can use to travel more widely in with my holy people so I can take the message of Christ’s love to more places- it will have to accommodate my three cats, two lovebirds and the fish. Any Noah’s out there who can help?
Geoff, one of the wardens, was so thoughtful and made sure we had a good blackout so the candles I brought could really show the icons off to their best advantage. He also procured a laptop and a nifty projector so I could do a fab presentation. I only had to bring my flash drive and there we hit the first snag. The laptop decided this wee thing was not compatible and after pretending to like it for a half an hour then proceeded to make bleeps and refuse to process the powerpoint. not to worry, as an old hand at speaking I had emailed the file to myself on Yahoo, so we connected up the internet and I ran it from there.
I also brought along some icons in progress so everyone could see the stages. Then all were invited to have a go at tracing some prototypes of Christ, St. Nicholas or Mary. After some initial banter everyone began to work quietly and thoughtfully with some Russian Orthodox music in the background.
After a well earned break for tea and cakes they settled for a half hour meditation of the faces of Christ- Christ Immanuel; Christ Pantocrator and the Saviour of Zvenigorod.
The feedback was wonderful and I have some potential new students for the icon school. This I am envisaging as a cooperative, eventually, where the students will begin to take on roles to expand it and make it a community of artisans who work in the spirit of Christ.
Some of the participants told me after that whilst doing the tracing they felt clear guidance- one about the drawing and one about pursuing this work. This is good, as it meant the atmosphere and feeling was open and enabled them to perceive themselves from within. Several others really responded to the deep spirituality at the heart of this process, so I am very happy, as this is the most important aspect of the work.
A huge thank you to Jacqueline from the Aylesbury Meditation Group who arranged and set this talk up.
I C O N S
The Aylesbury Meditation Group* invite you to join them on:
10th December at
Friends Meeting House, Rickfords Hill, Aylesbury for an afternoon studying Holy Icons, presented by Constantina Wood.
The afternoon will include a talk on icons and their origins, an activity on the reality of the writing of the icon, meditation and will end with tea and cakes.
To book a place call 01296 488450 or email: email@example.com
Suggested donation: £5. All welcome.
*We are an ecumenical Christian meditation group
Rev 6 v 7-8
7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “come!” 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
A pale green, grey and blue icon with Death riding atop the pale horse which is green. The horse leaps high above the ground. Death holds his scythe above his head which is haloed by a black hole and exploding supernova. The Earth is being attacked by four celestial swords and a skull is buried into the surface of the globe. Hades kneels on the right with his wild beasts: a lion, a dog and a snake all held by a leash.
The advent of Death is often feared but if we ask ourselves what death really means, it is simply change from one state to another. In this case the supernova is a symbol of a change on a cosmic scale and the black hole is reminiscent of the dark caves that are often present in holy icons. These areas of total darkness take us back to the Beginning. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. It is pre-creation. It is a sign of imminent new creation.
The skull buried within the earth’s crust and the swords signify a time of great pain and destruction. The earth is almost rent with volcanic activity and earthquakes as Hades looks on, his wild beasts still chained but ready and waiting for him to give the signal for when they will be released. These wild beasts are not actual animals that will start to attack humanity but the animal force that resides in each of us. We are seemingly human on the outside but inside we are more complex made up of elements and compounds from the cosmos, the earth, from plants and animals we have ingested. These influences can be felt at times if we pay attention to our selves. How often do we liken other to animals in the way they behave?! This goes back to what Jesus said when he instructed us through his parables to be masters of our own house. We can let these wild creatures loose and not control what happens or we can recognise them and understand their needs and learn how to harness their energy for our daily lives. When we can separate them out and develop wisdom as to the nature of our inner selves then can we be masters of our bodies. The Ten Commandments were written to develop a moral basis for the civilisation at the time which would, when given the opportunity carry out some bizarre and unpleasant practices.
Now we need recognise that these literal practices have become transformed into a myriad of modern equivalents. In the Old Testament a prophet would come along and make a nuisance of himself until the population realised how far they had strayed from worship of Almighty God. They would tear their clothes and repent and return to more righteous behaviour. We cannot envisage this happening now. Are we evolved enough to see what is happening to our lives and make the necessary changes as individuals? It seems not and in response the whole Earth shudders beneath our feet in agony. No matter how we decide to act or be the charge of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is relentless and inevitable. Humanity is set to change.
October 4, 2011 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Uncategorized | Tags: Apocalypse, apocalyptic art, Book of Revelation, death, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, fourth, hades, icons, Sacred Art | Leave A Comment »
Rev 6 v 5-6
5 When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six poundsof barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”
A black horse with flaming eyes and mane leaps above a globe that is consumed by fire and ice. Even the heavens are red with fire. Three cities are buried in the ice, New York, the City of London and Tokyo with Mount Fuji. Four dark symbols like Aces of spades are attached to the horizon. The Third Horseman sits astride his mount with arms outstretched holding onto a pair of scales.
This horse is leaping away from an earth frozen through economic woes symbolised by the three cities, New York, London and Tokyo. The encroaching red lava is melting the ice but more than that it is dissolving everything in its path. The old way of doing things and managing the economy is about to disintegrate forever. The fire in the heavens signifies the spiritual cleansing that is taking place before the birth of something new can evolve.
The black colour of the horse is an indicator that this will be very uncomfortable and there will be a feeling of the absence of light and love concurrently with the heat of the flames of hell as it passes over the earth. We are so dependent on material wealth, on status and the power of possessions that the pain we will endure will be significant unless we are able in some small way to free ourselves of our attachment to the material world and cleave to that which lasts forever.
The rider of this horse is who gives us hope. His Christ-like visage is stern yet calm. He holds the scales and measures out justice in a direct and open manner. What we have sown, we shall reap. This is the meaning of the phrase in the last verse, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six poundsof barley for a day’s wages,…..” But what does “and do not damage the oil and the wine!” mean? The oil signifies those anointed by Almighty God as his children and servants and the wine denotes those who are faithful and believe in Him. Throughout the troubles those whose hearts are steadfast and sincere will endure; they will be preserved.
This is where, for Christians, the difficulty lies. We take such ideas and then go on to judge others to ensure we can self righteously declare we will be the ones who are saved, we are the ones who are right – even within the Christian churches there are divisions. We have to ponder this very seriously. Where do such thoughts come from what is their effect? The source is the ego and the effect of the ego is always, always, to put down the other. It is the little ‘I’ just as in the last meditation it was the pronouncements of the ‘little heart’ that were treacherous, we also have to guard against the ‘little mind’. Small mindedness is called that just because that is exactly what it is.
Let us step outside the ego of self and me and ‘I’ and embrace all and every and ‘we’.
We are all One in Christ and that which cause us to separate and single out and shun and reject or put down has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven as God loves all his creation even if we do not understand His ways, we need to trust and surrender to His wisdom in all things and learn again about true brother and sisterhood.
This icon gives us a clue: let us not be too hot and damning or too cold and cliquey. Let us be warm and welcoming and so find we have opened the doorway of our hearts to everyone we meet.
October 4, 2011 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Uncategorized | Tags: Apocalypse, apocalyptic art, Book of Revelation, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, horse, horseman, Sacred Art, third | Leave A Comment »
Rev 6 v 3-4
3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.
Here we have a tremendously powerful red horse ridden by the second horseman who carries a great sword. He rides above the earth over two armies pitched against one another. A full moon is illuminated in the space above the earth.
This horse gallops above the earth but close enough for us to see two armies set against one another. If we regard the globe it is East against West. A destroyed and ruined tower crumbles and burns under a back hoof of the horse. The horse’s head is bent down and forward in determination. This path is relentless once it is begun, it seems to suggest. The horseman holds his sword perpendicular to the world and straight up into space. It divides the image; the world in two. Yet the horseman’s visage is one of gentleness and peace despite the message that he takes peace from the earth. Recall the word’s of Christ in the Gospels – Matthew 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” What does this signify? It is yet another allusion that these horsemen of the apocalypse are facets of Christ and we have to try and understand this with new eyes and new thinking.
Whereas in the icon of the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, there is a pool of water revealed through the cracked earth, here is the full moon out in space. The full moon is an allegory of our emotions; revealed and seen in their entirety by Almighty God, who can see into men’s hearts. The pitched battle of the two armies is that within ourselves as we battle to overcome the influences of the little heart. The little heart is treacherous and fills us full of desire and unsettling emotions. The wild animals, as David would call them in the Psalms. The division this horseman brings is the separation of our small selves ridden with ego from the larger self of the divine soul. There is a great need for us to do battle in order to separate out what is useful for our lives and what is not. To learn to recognise those parts within us that do and cause evil among men, those influences that cause us to slay one another physically, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically. Most of us would never think to kill another person but how many times a day do we slay each other with our tongues through gossip and meddling? This is the little murder and we commit it thousands of times in our lives and it is far more damaging as it destroys not only our own souls, but that of the listener and that of the poor victim.
When we reach the next stage of the evolution of our consciousness we have to do battle with this side of our nature we have to divide ourselves from our self. There can be no peace until this is done, not in our selves, our communities or the world. It is this venomous heart inside us all we have to discern, understand, forgive, accept and finally learn to love. Only then will we become able to master our own inner house and bring outer peace and harmony.
October 4, 2011 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Uncategorized | Tags: Apocalypse, apocalyptic art, Book of Revelation, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, horse, horseman, icons, red, Sacred Art, second | Leave A Comment »
Rev 6 v 1-2
1 I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
Here we have the Horseman with his bow astride the white horse. An angel has descended and placed the crown upon his head. The horse rears up its front legs at the rocks in front and a scorpion edges towards the pool of water that is revealed in a crack in the ground. There is some kind of living creature within the water.
This is a very earth based scenario. The horse’s back legs are firmly placed on the ground; there is desert; there are rocks. The Horseman is too large for his mount, he has very broad shoulders, yet he is confidently balanced on his steed. He is described as a conqueror bent on conquest. What does he want to conquer with such focussed attention?
Underneath the horse the ground is cracked open to reveal water. The living creature shows us that this water signifies something that has life; the life of our emotions, perhaps. Locked up within the stony heart of earth, unforgiving, slow to change, hard hearted. It takes this mighty conqueror to ride on his horse and pierce our hearts with his sturdy arrows to get them to yield and to change. To open us up and make us ready for the spiritual transformation and change that is about to happen, that needs to happen.
The scorpion is a symbol of warning. See this sting? It will hurt. The hurt and pain we feel when we are attacked, or feel threatened, or when change is thrust upon us, is represented by the scorpion’s sting. It is warning us that we need to change our thinking, our way of being. It will happen eventually. God’s Love, makes this a fact. The determination on the horse’s face is like God’s Will. We cannot prevent our spiritual advancement though the more we resist and harden our hearts the more the scorpion’s sting will give us pain.
Once cracked open we see the water of our emotions boiling away, turbulent under the stony covering of earth. Is the living creature trying to smooth it over or stir it up? We can answer that bay asking ourselves another question? How do we behave when things go wrong in our lives? Do we try and make peace or do we get riled up? We can go either way, we have choice. If we have choice then we also have the ability to make a new choice if the previous one does not work.
The Horseman has already sent an arrow flying, his bow now resting alongside. He has powerful shoulders. There is tremendous strength and indeed it takes enormous power to break open the rock of our hardened hearts. He represents the first phase of our transformation from seeming human to truly human souls.
He wears a crown signifying he is a king; he has a kingdom. He is our King. Christ, who pierces our hearts with the arrow of the cross of His crucifixion. His love is so great that He will not desert us and leave us buried within the tomb of our own making. He is our liberator and he sets us free to begin on our soul’s journey. Regard His face. There is the same determination as in the expression of the horse that was called God’s Will above. Both Father and Son are in accord.
Behind him in the sky is a formation of clouds that hint at a distant city. Zion. It is tenuous and ephemeral but there it is as an indication of what we can aspire to if we could only just see it and believe in it.
October 4, 2011 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Uncategorized | Tags: Apocalypse, apocalyptic art, Book of Revelation, first, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, horse, horseman, white | Leave A Comment »
Apocalypse icons is please to announce that the first set of limited edition prints are now available.
There will only be 77 prints of each image on fine art paper and 77 prints of each image on fantastic aluminium box.
Each print will have a unique code and will only be available from the artist through this website or associated websites of the artists such as http://www.constantina.artists.de.
Contact me by email to order.
Setting up this new blog site and linking to all the various media sites and networking stuff has taken over this past week. But it has been a great learning experience and I am enjoying it. But enough already. I need to get back to the major point of this site and that is to focus on the core concept: the icons I am working on and my response to the images as they evolve. I have already posted my thoughts and meditations on the messages to the seven churches and am in the process of finishing the last of The Four Horsemen. I hope to have some excellent photos and discussions on each one prior to the exhibition in Birmingham in October 2011.
I did not know what this project meant to me when I started except that I was fascinated by the vibrant imagery of the Book of Revelation. After creating the icons to date I am becoming more convinced that there is a positive message for mankind in this book and hope to extract and develop this as I make progress. We are surrounded by fear on so many levels and this Book has often fuelled that fear. Let’s try and find a new way of thinking about the world and the issues we face and see how we can transform them into something new and something better. It is up to us as individuals to make a start and to change our own personal attitude as, after all, this is the only thing we can work on.
Higher consciousness and self awareness are the cornerstones of all good spiritual practice and I believe we work in partnership with the divine, even if He has the last Word!
So watch this space.
September 11, 2011 | Categories: Apocalypse Icons - art and meditations, Uncategorized | Tags: Apocalypse, apocalyptic art, art, Book of Revelation, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Higher Consciousness, icons | Leave A Comment »
8th August, 2011
Wow! Once in a lifetime chance to see an actual supernova, thankfully 21million light years away. Which means it happened a long time ago and we are just about to witness it here in our galaxy. Isn’t it amazing now that we have so much fabulous technology we can see more and more of the outer and inner cosmos. The Soho solar observatory is spewing out image after image of solar activity with concomitant commentary about how it will affect us. What effect does this increasing knowledge, increasing awareness have on us?
For my part I am soo excited; being a great fan of all things astronomical since watching The Sky at Night avidly as a child and more lately attending some superb lectures at Oxford University’s Space and Astronomical Society(OUSAS). They kindly admit lesser mortals through their portals in the Denys Wilkinson building. One night I was late and became trapped between the two sets of security doors – don’t ask me how - and had to wait helplessly mewing until someone let me in, though not without some harsh questionning to test my legitimacy to be there. Science is just plain exciting and there are never ending mysteries unfolding every day.
And it’s England and it’s cloudy. Gar! Go away clouds. Every time some juicy bit of observational astronomy is occurring it is cloudy in Aylesbury. I wonder if the aftermath of this supernova will be like the Crab Nebula or some other exotic outpouring of matter? Whatever it is it will be beautiful – though perhaps not for the creatures who may live in the neighbourhood. Nearer home is our own sun and there is an X-Ray image of the sun looking like it was covered in some matted fabric. Bizarre and even more so as I have one drawing from my Revelation project where;
” The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair…” (Revelation Ch.6 vs12). View Nasa image here. Well, maybe I just have an overactive imagination.
However, with all these new insights and discoveries we are left with infinite questions and thoughts. I am on a mission to bring art, religion and science back together. I have no great plan, just a love of all three that is passionate. Call it Constantina’s unified theory or ARandS. The early iconographers would paint rays from the cosmos in alternating straight and wavy lines. To me this underpins an underlying knowledge of the wave particle duality of light. What more secrets can be found in icons? Multidimensional space represented by converse perspectives and figures painted with strange proportions? Magic.
Have a great supernova watch.
Finally, the seventh icon in this small but time consuming set!
Just before Holy Week it is great to have this series complete apart from some coats of shellac. To be frank at the start I was not sure about the wisdom of embarking on such a project but every time I sat down and made the effort – at times it was an extreme effort – I felt rewarded by the work as it made progress in some small way. Life around me seemed to conspire to help this on and now they are together there is a feeling of something significant. What that is I do not know, but laying them outside to retake the photographs and replace my poorer earlier efforts, I found all went well today with light and alignment. The local conservative candidate came up the path and was enamoured and asked me about them – enamoured with the icons, not me, I hastily add – then a neighbour who has not seen my work, was impressed and then another who proceeded to commission a large icon on my doorstep and became very excited about it. Thank you Jesus.
So that is a good beginning and the dates for the exhibition in Birmingham are firmed up for the month of October 2011.
So what about our church of Laodiocea? What is the meaning of the images depicted here? Well the people were accused of being lukewarm, a greater sin than being cold. Because if our faith is cold then God can give us an Almighty Whack and we take note but being lukewarm we are immune to such things and it is the sin of complacency. Feeling we are righteous and pious and doing everything right. The saints would tell us this is never so and even in their best of times they were filled with doubt about themselves and whether they were doing good or right or not. Self satisfaction is not on the menu at the heavenly cafe. We must be vigilant and constantly aware and on form to hear that knock on the door so that Christ may enter in. Let us not fool ourselves that he is there already as he can disappear in an instant. See how cosy those three dear people are all tucked up in their bed and not aware that salvation stands waiting at the door bearing the Word and a robe of white to cover their sins. Outside is a little table with salve for the eyes so that they can see and above the angels on the poles is the burning fire that refines the gold. A clear message to move out of our comfort zones if we truly want to see the reality of heaven and what it means to follow Christ.
Above is the Prepared Throne, taken from an early icon. Guarded by the six winged seraphim with a cloak and a book open at the passage of Matthew 25 vs 35-36 which comes after the admonition that we should be ready and awake.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
This Throne is being made ready for Christ to sit in at the end of times and He will have the righteous beside him. We need to take care we are truly carrying out His mission here. It is not enough to carry out isolated acts of charity, though that is a start. We need to learn to give all the time in all ways, just as we need to learn to pray at all times and in all ways. Do we make a donation and then tell about it? Do we then ignore the man or woman in church who we are envious of, or annoys us, or does not fit in? Are we patronising about those who live in poorer neighbourhoods and do we make generalised statements about what the people there must be like? Without ever having spoken to them as individual human beings?
When you really answer that knock on the door you will never feel you are better than anyone else, indeed, you will come to see the poorest and most unlikely of people as the most holy of all as they are brave souls who are willing to be humiliated and abused for your sake just as Christ was. Mother Theresa called it the Distressing Face of Christ. You will know that you have truly seen and heard when you are subject to gossip and abuse and wrongful accusations, just as Christ himself suffered these things. You will also know the quiet joy that being able to bear these things in silence can bring and how much closer you are drawn to the Saviour because of it.
Kitty Mingles produced three dear kittens by the time I finished these seven small icons. Saucy cat nipped out the first time she was on heat. Gimli, Gretchen and Gremlin they are called. Sadly I have no photo as they will be rehomed and I do not want to get attached to them.
At first sight this may look frightening and if you are of a nervous disposition you may want to click away from the page but that would be a shame as there is much to learn from the Revelation of
St. John that is beneficial for the journey of our soul.
As I am nearing the last of the seven small icons of the Messages to the Churches I am becoming more aware of deeper meanings and understanding that goes beyond a historical/predictive text and revelation for the early churches of the time. It is like a secret code for eternal life and if we can but tease out this other reality we may get a glimpse of the path with more clarity of inner vision.
In the scripture is a reference to Our Lord who holds the Key of David. What is this Key? Let’s study the composition and see if we can find an answer. Now I put these designs together several years ago not knowing whether I would eventually write the icons and on re-reading the text and looking at the image I am unsure where I was going with this one but I will trust the inspiration I had at that time as it flowed very freely.
At the top is Christ, surrounded by clouds to denote his coming from the heavenly realms. You can also see the same clouds underneath the tower on the left. These people are the righteous who endure and hold fast to the truth. The ones below are entering the door Christ has unlocked and the man and woman above are standing like two pillars, with crowns upon their heads. This tower represents the higher consciousness and the significance and import of gaining such a thing is the fact that it transports us to and is supported by the heavenly realms.
On the right are some poor, wretched dead creatures who are being munched upon by a wild dog and vulture. Death rides his horse and carries his sickle within the rocky cavern. All is surrounded by blackness and the whole is floating right up next to the heavenly tower. As mentioned in the previous meditation, this rocky cavern symbolises our minds and contrary to the previous, this mind is closed off from God and hence Death reigns and parades with freedom. That it is right next to Salvation is also significant as we can very easily slip from one to the other by either ensuring we pray or by neglecting this free gift and mode of transport to the place of eternal life.
Christ sits between and above both places. His hand above the place of death is resting gently and is closed. It is done and those within must await a time for redemption. The hand suggests this by the sense of peace and calmness as it rests on the cloud. The other hand is slightly open and suggests ‘Come to Me’ as it pushes back the cloud. This is very, very subtle and you may miss it but study His hands, gaze at them, and they reveal many truths. At this time (it was the beginning of Lent when I originally wrote this) – Ash Wednesday – it is time to consider our conduct for the previous year and ask ourselves if we have made any progress towards furthering our relationship with God. Let us hope we are not closed off and then condemned to wait in death for another year before God comes around and has another look at the state of our souls.
Some mornings I am awakened by Kitty Mingles who hangs off my foot at the end of the bed with what my daughter calls the Innoculating Claw – it is very painful and I am reminded of the vulture here, pecking at the feet. But KM is much prettier and trills happily when she sees I am startled into an upright position and ready to stagger like an automaton into the kitchen to dish out crunchies and foul smelling cat fodder. No wonder I am moved to paint such images. Was St. John was plagued by such a creature?
It seems like a long time since I have written here but it is only two weeks. How much one can fit into a short space of time is quite remarkable! The next icon is complete, the message to the church at Sardis.
This is my most beloved so far – perhaps because there are two images of Christ in it – one above and one below. I often wonder how I came to design them in such a way. It was a few years ago, I was sat at my dining room table and flicking through my very small collection of icon books to find images I could use. It seemed incredible at the time that for the whole of the Book of Revelation I could bring together parts of other icons from this tiny group and recombine them into something new. I was not aware at the time of how powerful these combinations were until I started to write them in egg tempera and to receive little inner reflections on the meaning of the content and the message in the Bible. Now whether any of this is true or the reality you will have to judge for yourselves. I put them to you more, perhaps, to increase reflection and to think about what this book in the Bible means for us today as individuals and for churches as well.
The message in St. John’s writing is an admonishment for a church that has a great reputation for being alive – I take this to mean active, possibly in good works. Yet Christ says quite startlingly that they are dead! That they are not complete. Harsh indeed and a distinct warning for the self righteous among us who think we are doing great things for God (I include myself here as vainglory is my most difficult opponent) and pay little heed to our inner spirituality and contemplative life.
Whilst writing this icon I have had some incredibly strong indications about the meaning of this message. So let us look at the illustration above and study it well so that we may not be considered dead or incomplete.
Firstly, I have mentioned above there are two images of Christ – one above and one below. How happy we should be to have such help on all sides, not only from heaven but one earth too, as Our Saviour came right down here to help us and understand the reality of our lives and the obstacles we face. Therefore we have no excuses, as he knows everything!
Secondly the church building is set up with a book and an escritoire in the background with papers; there are writing implements and an inkpot. My reflection is guiding me towards the notion that we take pride in our learning and studies and this increases our self reliance and knowledge about all things we have made an effort to learn. There is a great danger in self reliance for as a servant of God, as Christ instructed us to be, He wants us to come to Him with everything and anything and receive wisdom and guidance. To be thoroughly dependent upon God’s will at every moment of the day and not run after our own whims and conjectures. Now I am not saying self reliance is a bad thing, except when it comes to it, there is a point where we think we are in control of everything and our pesky ego sees no need for God – we then begin to distance ourselves from the Source of all that is Good.
Thirdly, in the icon you see the rocks, left and right enclosing the two sleepers positioned like Yin and Yang. Around them is a Russian iconographical representation of snow and above a small blue cloud at the opening and figures above who I shall come to in a moment. The significance of this arrangement hit me very forcefully a week ago. The rocks signify the human skull, the snowflakes are symbolic of brain cells and the two men are the two hemispheres of the brain. They are asleep! Christ as a thief coming at night is standing where I would expect our ear to be and holds his hand out to knock but the two sleepers are oblivious. We must listen then. We must be awake to listen. We must not let our learning be an obstacle that deafens us. How can we gird ourselves for this task?
The opening at the top, like a spiritual trepanning of the skull is the answer. We need to be at prayer, constantly, at all times to think of God and offer ourselves and most particularly our thoughts to Him. This is impossible, you may cry, and I understand this having not had a very structured prayer life for many years. However, I have taken myself to task for this and at one point some years ago I began to get waken up in the night and the words, “Praise God!” would be the first thought in my head on on my lips. Each morning as I awake, God is my first thought without my thinking it – this is a great blessing for one whose mind is always active. There are more and varied praises and thanks that come at different times and sometimes an instruction – no an order to pray for someone specific. This, at night, whilst I am snug and cosy asleep like the two fellows above, Lucky (another very bad tempered cat) at my feet and Kitty Mingles rummaging around under the bed and old Harry, the Jack Russell snoring on his old blanky in the corner (now sadly departed).
How did this come about? I cannot tell you but I am so grateful for it as it is a grace from God. One of those unexpected, unlooked for delights to keep us going along the arduous path to Zion. I am certain it is no accident and I am certain that sincerity and desire to develop a real and lasting relationship with Almighty God is a good starting point. The development of my prayer life since then has been slowly building and now is beginning to become a firm foundation upon which I base every thought and activity. Once that foundation is established – personal prayer at certain times of day – it then starts to flourish and grow like the little plants in the bottom right hand corner of the icon, they are the little red triangles.
Lastly, onto the cloud and the three fellows standing with Christ above. This cloud is also significant as it represents our mind’s inability to discern and know the unknowable. This is where all our studies and reasoning are unable to take us, we have to surrender to God and to ask Him to open us up. We have to trust, have faith and hope to make progress through times where we seem to be getting little or no guidance. Take heart, it is at that point one is so close to the feet of Christ himself.
The three men have managed to understand the truth about their relationship to God and I was working on them on January 30th which I realised later was the feast day of the three hierarchs, St.Gregory, St.Basil and St.John Chrysosotom – we would do well to read about these fellows and learn something of their lives to help us reach this point.
(As this is getting wordy I think it is time for another image to refresh us – this is a 4th century Byzantine icon of our three great friends.)
I can only stress how urgent it is for us to wake up our prayer lives and for churches as a whole to put this at the forefront of every endeavour especially when it is material concerns about buildings and fundraising and running the church like a business, that takes all our time and effort. Remember Christ in the temple turning out the traders. The church is first and foremost a house of God and there is a worrying movement to bring folk in by using worldly means because of the preoccupation of increasing the congregation. I have it on good authority that a certain prayer line in the UK gets 10,000 calls a month from people who need help so why are these poor people not coming into the church for this help and guidance?
By making prayer and contemplative practice the first and foremost occupation of the church the material needs will take care of themselves.