Creation of icons based on the Book of Revelation

The Artist’s Eye – A Tale of Two Cities 2

The Prophet Isaiah

The Prophet Isaiah

Today is the 9th July, 2013. From the manual of the the Third Order of St. Francis – Principles, Day 9:

The Second Aim contd.  –  As Tertiaries, we are prepared not only to speak out for social justice and international peace, but to put these principles into practice in our own lives. Cheerfully facing any scorn or persecution to which this may lead.

How is it possible to come to a point in our lives when we are prepared to do this?  Some people are born with such skills and abilities and it is clear from a young age that they have clarity of purpose but for many of us on the path it is far from distinct and a great struggle takes place. This struggle is long and most likely lifelong.  Someone told me not so long ago that even St. Francis himself had struggles and doubts all his life – but he pressed on regardless and that is the key.  To keep going, not to stop, not to wither under pressure of social conformation and public or private opinion.  It is a tall order, especially for one such as myself who was brought up to fear what the “neighbours would think”.  My mother was a non-practicing Catholic and heaped much guilt upon our heads. This guilt is nothing other than fear.

In my tale of two cities I want to venture further into the cities within.  We have at our root a fundamental choice:

     to live in fear or to live in love.

Note the or in bold. Where fear is, love is not.  Where love is, fear is not.  Most choices we make in life can seem hard and convoluted but our response to any given situation is dictated to this root premise.  The two cites of self have characteristics and you can set about learning to recognise them.  We are a little bit of a hotch-potch in general and it takes discipline and contemplation to unravel an awareness of our being and to discern from what motivation we are working from.

The City of Fear

When our lives are lived in the city of fear we are, like my mother, completely under the illusion that everything we do will be judged by others and we will be found to be lacking or wanting in some amorphous, intangible way.  As a consequence of this we build up an image of ourselves that is designed to fit in with those around us and we rally to the call of the significant others we perceive in our circle and aim to please them. One of my non- Franciscan spiritual directors pointed out to me that she sees many people who live in this fear and try to cover up any ‘indiscretions’ or ‘failures’ in their lives.  They are so desperate that no-one sees  these ‘mistakes’.  What a stressful way to live, I thought.  As an iconographer, I assure my students regularly that mistakes or patches of work that do not fit into the idealised image they have in their heads at the outset, are graces from God and lead us to experiment and find new ways of approaching the problem set before us.  In the end these icons filled with error are incredibly beautiful and feel so human and endearing.

In eastern thought the idea that we have to maintain this illusion of being better and perfect is alien. It stems from a need to feel superior to others.  Consequently those who live in this way become panicked when someone throws the proverbial spanner in the works and they run around justifying themselves and what they do or have done and how great it is.  It may work for a time to salve the ego but it is still an illusion. Maintaining the image becomes the raison d’etre of existence.  The Western world is so full of this and we laugh at those in Hollywood who try to keep on with the illusion of physical perfection through plastic surgery but are we any better?  We try to do the same in so many little ways in our ordinary lives, in our workplace or place of worship.  In the church it alienates and so many do not come because of it.  One person spoke to me after my last blog and pointed out that there are millions of truly Christian people outside of the church because of the people inside the church.  I was led to find an article on the Organic Church which is now springing up  where people are coming together in small groups to worship God, just as they did at the beginning in the early church.  So in a remarkable way, the beauty of God manifests itself despite the actions of so called organised religion.  Organised anything, in the end, always tends to become fear based as those who have not understood their own motivations move in to control and organise the system in the way they wish it to be to sustain the image they have created.  Fear based thinking is a direct result of not surrendering or submitting or being obedient to or listening to the word of God in our hearts.

Reading Ezekiel 11 this morning, we are reminded that it is God who changes our hearts from those of stone, to those of flesh.  We cannot be anything else until He does so.  Even better to have a heart of light, which is the heart of Christ.

The City of Love

The Isaiah, pictured in my icon above, is one of my ‘faulty’ friends.  All my best work is with those who have commissioned it, so I am left with all my ‘mistakes and ‘imperfect’ icons.  I take them with me when I give talks and my little battered collection is loved and cherished by all who meet them. People recognise that imperfection is fundamentally more filled with the beauty of love than perfection – which can seem cold, aloof and unattainable. Isaiah had a problem with his face – the gesso bubbled up and he looked like he had chicken pox.  Drastic measures had to be taken and I had to remove the tempera.  So he has a line around the edge of his face where the diseased gesso had been removed.  I can never discard my little rejects, and I think I love them more than any of my other better works.  He sits at my work table in the corner and reminds me that under the scabs and sickness of modern thought and behaviour there is beauty in all.  That at times, drastic measures have to be taken to remove the disease, and at other times it is the slow and less radical process of renewal and regeneration.

When we work from the premise of love there is no fear.  We do not fear the opinion of others, we do not fear living in places others would turn their nose up at, or being different from those around us. It is a great freedom.  We can be who we are meant to be and we do not need to be what others would want us to be or how we feel they would want us to be.  We follow the inspiration that comes to us each day no matter where it takes us and we often do not know where it will lead but at the same time we accept what comes with delight and joy.  It amazes us when people think we have ‘lost’ status or ‘lost’ some thing, like a house or a job or a car.  Nothing is ‘lost’ at all.  When you live in a life that wants to hang on to these things, then there is loss, but when these things have no importance, because the only significant thing is the love of God, then all is gain and building up and nurturing and renewal. Life becomes an exciting journey as we wonder where it will take us .  We do not need others to recommend or back us as God has gone before us and He will never leave us or forsake us.  No man can take away what God has ordained for anyone.

Imagine a world where everyone could truly become the unique person they were gifted to be?  We have everything within us to make right the wrongs of the world, to have enough for all, to live without want, need and poverty.  The solution to every difficulty is within each one of us if only we could allow ourselves and others around us to be the person they were and truly meant to be. If governments could learn to allow people to ‘be’ to develop and find their true talent, to allow teachers to inspire and to nurture the true talent of their students – all their students, not just a select few – every country in the world would have a wealth of everything they need with regard to skills and abilities.  It is fear and the need to control that prevents this true education from happening. We have at the heart the solution to all problems the world faces; we cannot utilise this solution because we contaminate it and suppress it before it has the chance to flower.

If we could move into the City of Love then there would be no pressure or stress to be like anyone else, we could delight in collective uniqueness. Both Isaiah and my friend Ezekiel did not fit in and at times had to run for their lives.  Has the world reached a point of consciousness yet, where this need not be the case anymore? Perhaps the poxed face of illusion has to be dramatically removed before the light of love and truth can freely shine and perhaps the woes of this world today are simply the signs of this removal. So have hope, and work hard for truth because the City  of Love is needing builders today.

One response

  1. That is the really hard thing, for me at least: to be who I am supposed to be, unhindered by comparisons with others. Thank you for this!

    July 24, 2013 at 1:07 am

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