Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Before The Icon Of The Mandylion: The Holy Face of Jesus

PEOPLE OFTEN ASK ME IF I THINK THINGS are worse today than they were fifty or sixty years ago? It often seems  we are devolving. I detect a troubling depth of pain in people, especially young people. Mother Teresa of Calcutta spoke of our poverty here as much deeper than that of India, as our poverty is so often spiritual, relational and psychological. Often we don't recognize or work with our inner poverty and pain, choosing instead to self-medicate with media, food, sex, drugs, self-pity or the rush of anger. That our young people are cutting themselves, especially our girls,  gives evidence that something is terribly dis-ordered and broken.

But life needn't be this way. We can be restored and made whole. Carl Jung reflected on this suggesting that the answer to our real problems - the problems that steal sleep away; that cause us to cry silently alone; the problems that make us feel  weak, ashamed or even crushed - the cure is a spiritual one.

Surely we need more than a fuzzy or soupy spirituality. And while the churches are often not helpful in this regard, still, when speaking with a new client, Jung would ask people about any religion in their lives, sending them back to synagogue or church, as there is a symbol system there which might be recovered and helpful. I understand. And it is the intention of this blog, with each post, to go to that deeper, often unexplored symbol-place, to point to it, to enter into it more deeply than we may have before, especially in the years when we were children. 

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God had the thought of  me. God's heartbeat conceived me. God has called me out of non-being into existence - even calling me by name. And - God has gone to a great deal of trouble to reveal this to me, drawing as near as possible and becoming one of us in love, in Jesus Christ: God with a human face like our own.

And even though we can't fathom being loved so intensely and personally, God continues to love us mother-like, putting God's life into our hands, bleeding for us as mothers do in giving birth to their children - Jesus, who has taken the great risk of loving; the risk of rejection.

There's an extra-biblical story that focuses on this face of Jesus and which invites us to enter the story of personal healing. It is the story of God's interface with each of us and all of us in Christ. Hear the story of King Abgar of Edessa:

Abgar was sick to death and sent word for Jesus to come to Edessa to heal him. Instead of visiting, Jesus imprinted a cloth with the image of his own face and sent it to Abgar for his healing. That cloth was found hidden inside a wall in 545 and transferred to Constantinople in 944 where it was venerated in Hagia Sophia until 1204. All trace of it has since been lost, though some identify it with the mysterious and wonderful image of Manoppello venerated in Chieti, Italy. That miraculous image forms the basis for the countless copies which have been painted even to today.

Look deeply at the Mandylion Face of Jesus - the image not made by human hands, depicted with the most tender delicacy. Jesus' face is all-welcome, healing-love, and bright-joy. 

Apparently this blog is read all over the world. So here, the healing face of Jesus is being sent around our weary planet - with the prayer thoughts I've written and send with a priest's blessing for our encouragement, joy and restoration.

When Abgar fell ill and all else failed,
and life had become bitter, 
he knew to ask for healing,
health and happiness restored,
believing that Jesus is God among us!

And when Jesus sent the face-imprinted cloth to Abgar
who was sick to death,
the king took consolation in the face of Jesus,
and was healed and made whole again.
Jesus, God among us!

And when I am sick with burdens,
furiously angry,
devoid of resources,
a stranger even to myself,
with Abgar,
believing that in Jesus Christ,
God is among us,
I can cry out,
Jesus, show me your face,
your golden face.

I contemplate the soft smile of Jesus.
While I am wasted,
horrified at my own ignorance
and rebellion,
suffering in a great pit of hatred,
even self-hatred,
I look at the Holy Face;
Jesus who has a smile for me too.

Though I may find this impossible to believe:
because of my stubborn will
and foolish refusals to return love,
my pride and lies,
my squandering and exploitation,
Jesus has a smile even for me.

Though I have done things
for which I daily condemn myself,
feeling beyond God's reach and sight,
I may have even touched the things of death -
a self-proclaimed enemy of God,
now gazing upon the face of divine energies,
Jesus has a smile especially for me.

The wide open eyes of Jesus are intense.
The eyes that returned the gaze
of his own dear Mother.
Jesus sees me as family too!

The eyes that greeted the shepherds 
of Christmas night;
that greet me too.

The eyes met by the woman who
had been bent over for eighteen years,
and was cured by the word of Jesus.
Free me from the burden of what I think life is
and straighten me up as I stand before your gaze.

These are the eyes the once-blind man
looked into when Jesus returned his sight.
Sight for me too, Jesus!
Sight that allows me to see myself as you see me in love!
Sight that allows me to see all the others rightly,
as they are your children too!

The eyes of Jesus are awake to me,
to my past, present and future.
I am reflected and held in these eyes,
eyes that searched for the lost sheep,
eyes that anticipated the return of the wasted boy who had run away,
eyes that saw all human sin from the cross, and Jesus said,
"Father forgive..."

The eyes of Jesus see our deliberate wrong choices,
the eyes that see into board rooms
where wars are planned,
where deals are hatched,
where lies are concocted,
where evil foments.

The eyes of Jesus see me where I flirt with danger,
where terrifying thoughts of violence hide within.
Still, he sees me as I was the day of my conception,
my birth,
in innocence,
in pure nakedness,
all goodness.
Jesus sees me as his own dear child;
sees me as a mother watches her children, as when
"God saw everything that  had been made, and behold it was very good" 

The Israelites having escaped from Egyptian slavery
encamped by the sea.
But Pharaoh, regretting their freedom, sought their return
and pursued them with soldiers, warriors,
chariots and horses.
In great fright and complaint the Israelites
despaired of God's help,
who told them, stand your ground and do not fear.

Instructed by the Lord, Moses stretched out his staff 
and the sea divided,
allowing God's people to walk through on dry land,
with walls of water to left and right,
while the Egyptians followed in a furious pursuit.
Then through the fiery cloud the Lord cast a glance
upon the Egyptian forces and threw them into a panic,
clogging their chariot wheels so they could no longer drive.
Then the Egyptians, sounding the retreat, sought to escape
but Moses stretched out his hand over the sea
which flowed back upon the Egyptians to its normal depth.

Now Christ casts a glance upon the enemies
which pursue me,
granting me freedom from inner slavery; 
offering hope for a new life.

The eyebrows and slender nose of Jesus
are a palm tree
under which we may find shade from the deadly heat
of our malaise
happy ignorance,
our vanity and 
circumscribed living,
the hell of non-communion with God and others.

Jesus invites: come away and rest:
rest from the endless homage we pay to helpless idols,
rest from warring with God,
rest from our darkened national conscience,
rest from the frantic search for belonging and acceptance,
rest from the race to satisfaction, escape, and perpetual fun.

The mind of Jesus is large:
he knows the names 
and concerns of all those who are dear to me.
He knows my thoughts and fears,
my exhausting anxieties,
my inner arguments,
my mourning for the loss of goodness and innocence,
my turning away.

He knows all about the abuse,
the suffering at the hands of others,
and the abuse I may have foisted,
even perhaps upon the animals and the plants,
even myself
in an angry revenge.
And so I cry out:
Jesus, God among us,
Help me!
Heal me!
Jesus, forgive!

The silent mouth of Jesus is small, 
not used for carnal things.
It is the silence of inner strength.
Silent in his listening.
Jesus, inviting me to prayer,
set a guard over my mouth!
Silent Jesus, embodying love!

Then this is the mouth that called
out before the tomb,
"Lazarus, come out."

The mouth that spoke to the widowed-mother
of the dead boy at Nain,
"Do not be afraid."

The mouth that said to the lifeless child at Capernaum,
"Talitha cum," "Little girl, get up"

And so I cry out: Jesus, raise me up too from my present death!

Listen now.
Be perfectly still.
Calm yourself and gaze upon the face of Jesus,
not made by human hands.
The nimbus circle around his face invites:
Stay here,
no need to run away;
nothing to fear.

Jesus said, I call you my friends;
I am light for this dark world.
I have come that you may have joy completely.
I am the way, truth and life.

Life and joy for me too, Jesus, no less than for the diseased
and dying Abgar!

Concentric grooves in Jesus' hair,
like rings of growth in a tree's trunk.
And so Jesus, grow-me-up:
surrounded by love,
returning of love,
protected from evil,
preserved from dark threats,
even from death!



  1. Dear Father Morris,
    This is a prayer which I take to heart. I will remember your words when I feel filled with the burdens of life, when despair sets in. Jesus has a smile for me! It brings joy to even think it. So when I need to, I will shout out "Jesus, show me your face your golden face. And then I will remember the image. Thank you.

  2. Many of us cannot say what life was like fifty years ago. It is depressing to stop and think that the world is falling to pieces even when all news reports indicate this path. How to restore faith in people? This reflection/prayer to Jesus calls attention to our inner self and will be very healing for those who are open to it. Let us pray this for ourselves and others to remember that God is with us always.

  3. Yesterday I came across an icon of the Mother of God titled: She Who Renders Hard Hearts Soft. What a beautiful title. We could apply that title to this face, this glance of Jesus here in the Mandylion. Our morning prayer may be simply to look at it and allow it to act upon us interiorly. The Face of Jesus: He Who Renders Hard Hearts Soft.

  4. Sometimes it takes just a few words to hold us steady. This is a good reminder that we are not alone in good times nor in bad. And the beautiful icons and paintings in your posts help to develop a deeper focus. Prayer is often overlooked in today's rushed world.

  5. Though I am broken, I see the face of Jesus. He brings comfort when it seems lost to me. I will use this image and prayer to remind myself of that.

  6. Print the little icon of the Holy Face and put it everywhere - so it's the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing at night. And over the sink, by the computer, on the dashboard, by the inside front door. The icon of course, seems to be created for our eyes - I'd suggest it is also created for our ears. Fr. Florovsky, murdered by the Soviets, said that we should approach the icon in silence - as if we were approaching royalty! Difficult for our talkative culture.

  7. This most moving and beautifully uplifting prayer is such a blessing to me. I first read it a few months ago, and have gone back to it countless times. I feel such a personal connection to this icon through your prayer. It is my way of keeping Jesus close and in my heart.

  8. Father, I am grateful to see this post. It might be the most moving and therapeutic prayer I have ever read. It confronts all of our negativeness and injurious thoughts about ourselves and instills the hope of Jesus into the depth of my soul. I can feel Jesus with me, nodding his head in approval. This is healing and restorative indeed. Alleluia!

  9. Well I'm glad to hear this. The Mandylion Prayer was put up in July 2013, and so I was concerned that it was lost in the archive. But then we pulled it out and featured it on the blog margin just days ago. I'm so happy you found it and that its thoughts resonate with you. Alleluia indeed!