Saturday, July 21, 2007

How Can Contemplative Nuns Take Retreat?

An Icon Writing Retreat
(Icon by Mary James)

Don't recall mentioning this before but I do think of myself as an artist of sorts. There must be something in the familial DNA. My mother trained in fashion design and discovered a particular gift for water color in her 50s which she has exercised to the pleasure of many into her 80s. Used to tell her to clean less (she is a spotless house keeper - no DNA carry over there) and paint more.

My middle son, Matthew, whose drawing tops each episodic addition to "my story" (see archives for "When Mothers Become Contemplative Nuns"), is also an artist. When he was in 4th or 5th grade he could spend hours drawing a space shuttle, registering every rivet in its plated 'skin.'

My brand of artistry has been expressed in all kinds of needlework. Don't remember learning how to crochet. Have just always been able to do it. Knitting, needlepoint crewel, counted and not counted cross-stitch all followed. But in 1975 I was introduced to quilting and fell in love. More about that affair at another time. Just before entering the monastery I was lured into spinning wool by a group of avid knitters who assured me that I just would not fully appreciate the fiber arts until I learned to spin. It is very comforting to know that each of St. Teresa of Avila's nuns had spinning wheels in their cells. She would approve of mine.

Years ago too, perhaps out of the same DNA that made Matthew want to place every tiny rivet in his picture of the space shuttle, I was attracted to pysanky, Ukrainian wax resist dyed Easter eggs. After all, if I could do fine hand quilting certainly I could draw those intricate designs on eggs. Perhaps that art form was my introduction to things Orthodox, Eastern European in flavor, leading the way to a natural affinity for the icon form which was becoming so popular in spiritual circles.

Then I met Mary James, the painter of the icon shown here. She is a true artist who can draw anything and works in varied media all with great success. I can never, never attain her skills - my particular strain of DNA only goes so far. But she made me want to try it as I have tried and enjoyed and been blessed in the doing by so many other crafts and art forms. Now my community is giving me a chance to bring that desire to realization.

This is a retreat and not just a workshop because in the true tradition of icon writing the work gradually emerges not merely from the media but from the aura of prayer, the unceasing prayer of the iconographer in an atmosphere of silence and reverence. I have asked my sisters to pray that, regardless of the quality of the end product, my effort alone will be something beautiful for God.

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