Dear People of God at St. Luke's,
I write to you in a time of revealing-Epiphany-as it turns over to a time of introspection in Lent.
When I was at a structured retreat time one summer a few years back I once again took up one of the vexations of my life, personal and professional. I come from a home where expressions of anger were as powerful as they were unpredictable. As an adult I experience anger in others directed in somewhat the same way, and I seem to find myself in an emotional and spiritual wilderness without guide markers to show me the way.
So at this retreat I began working with images-paintings, photos-both ancient and contemporary as means for meditation to give me guide posts along the way that I could recall and remember. I've now amassed quite a notebook full of helpful images. I want to share with you three of those. When I am meditating with them I start in quiet, say my prayers for those about whom I am concerned, myself, and offer thanksgivings. I then ask God to open my eyes to what I am seeing, and what I might further see and connect.
The first is the wilderness.
For those of you receiving a hard copy of this newsletter, and for purposes of explaining where some of my thoughts go in meditation, I'll start with a description: this painting by Antonio Garcia Lopez (who by the way had an exhibition at the MFA several years back) is painted in autumnal/wintery browns, from the perspective of what I think of as a basement view into the world. A small doll sits against the door, on the floor; the area in the middle distance is a walled-in garden; beyond the wall we get a glimpse of more bare trees, a cloudy sky and a muted sun.
The doll can represent childhood, things outgrown, loved things now deserted, the past that is still very much in the foreground, wanted or unwanted, 'looking' back at me the viewer. The dark basement though has window, even if the view is of a season of bare trees. The garden does not have life, but there is a promise of it. The wall can either feel protective, to keep out the larger world, or oppressive, keeping the viewer contained. More of the same though is glimpsed outside the wall-barren, a sun that brings no warmth.
To inhabit this world is to face past and present, with a kind of bleakness pervasive. The scene is static-no movement implied unless it is the slow change of the sun in the sky-is it rising or setting?
What do you see?
The next image I claim as 'way station,' a step in the process of finding my bearings.
This photograph by Nicole Yeoman is clearly arranged, not a scene that the artist just happened upon. It shows a floor made of wooden boards. Some of the boards have come loose and are arcing upward-warped or forced?-with light shining through the cracks. The real power of this photo is not in complexity but rather the many directions one can go in thinking about its import. I associate light with God's light, presence; as the psalmist says "in your light we see light." One stands on a floor, but this one is alive with power, not an inert thing to be taken for granted. Moses heard God say "take off your sandals because you are standing on holy ground," and I reflect that since God is in all places at all time then wherever we go is holy ground. God is the 'ground of our being.' God's word is a light to our footsteps. But-uneven boards! You have to pay attention to the light. This light is inside. In contrast with the previous image, here you don't need the dim sun; the light rises up wherever you are.
The final image is one that follows up on the promise hinted at in that second image above.
When I first started writing this reflection I wasn't sure which image I'd choose here, but my reflections lead me to this icon:
Here the holy mountain of God rises up in the wilderness. Moses is the small figure bowed prostrate to the ground in front of the overwhelming burning bush. Blue sky. Sheep peacefully and safely gathered together. And I'm not sure you can make it out, but there is a small angel peeking out from behind the burning bush at Moses. We join Moses in the presence of the holy which is awesome (in the true sense of the word), humbling, but also the presence to which we are called-powerful, but safe. To internalize this image, to carry it around in my head, as one of the tools I can call on in the middle of life's challenges, means to know myself in God's presence as the first and foremost meaningful reality of my life.
To pray and meditate with images takes a kind of concentration that does not come with a visit to the museum, or at least not easily. You ask God to be present, let your mind free associate, see where you and the Spirit take you. Let me know if this approach appeals to you. I'd be happy to direct you to sources of art on the internet where you can view and select and save your own images with which to reflect.