Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Searcher of the Perishing ~ And Her Highlights




This icon is titled Mother of God ~ Searcher of the Perishing. Icons are painted on wooden boards using multiple layers of translucent egg tempera paint. The darkest layers are applied first with the light, lighter, lightest colors building up until the final bright highlights are applied. The entire process reflects humanity coming up and out of darkness, evolving into light. Can you see these last divine sparks under Mary's decorated collar and on her veil and on the Holy Child's sash?

The light doesn't come from an outside source: a lamp, a candle, a sunny window, but from her interiority, where God dwells. Remember the Genesis story where God breathes or exhales into Adam God's own animating divine life (Genesis 2:7). And the wind of Pentecost echoes that divine gift, but now it is Christ-Spirit blown into us so to create a new kind of human person. (Acts 2:2)   This should even shock us! We were told at our Baptism: "You have become a new creation..." What does that mean? What does that look like? 

Never just walk on by an icon. Megan McKenna writes in her foreword to The Bride: Images of the Church by Daniel Berrigan, that the icon calls us to stop. 


These faces of the friends of God question us: and question us in such a way that what is posed, proposed to us, is at root unanswerable. Do you know who you are? Do you know who you belong to? Do you know what you were made for? Do you know how to live, to suffer, to die? Do you want communion, holiness, and ultimate freedom from death? You see - all these images sound us out silently. They are truth-tellers, revelations and confessors intent on laying bare our raw and well-concealed places of spirit and soul that hide and refuse to grow gracefully.

As I'm gathering and writing about these things, I'm sitting in the doctor's office waiting room. People are staring blankly at the large television screen hanging on the wall. There is no escaping the full-volume sound. The  contestants have to guess the right price for the items on display: a snow cone maker, an electric can opener, a weather alert radio, a nail care system, a food chopper, a snow blower and a "brrrraaaand new car."

The TV audience screams out the prices they think are closest; the show's host works everyone into a shopping frenzy. And for all the noise and energy, rather than being summoned into the experience of a transformed humanity, with our own translucent highlights, we're lured into a very deep coma.

I feel the contrast. Last week Pope Francis traveled to an immigrant camp on the island of Lesbos in Greece where thousands of Syrian and Afghani refugees are presently living, hoping to be allowed to re-settle in safety. Francis shook hundreds of hands, ate lunch with refugees, and listened to their stories.

One woman told of days at sea clutching her two year old son: the terrifying, total cold-blackness at night and the awareness that thousands have drown attempting the same voyage in flimsy rubber rafts. 

Then, like the highlights suffusing the Mother of God's veil, the pope had the idea (ideas can be like divine sparks) of offering to take a dozen refugees back to the Vatican with him. Three families boarded the pope's return flight to Rome: six adults and six children.

"Forgive society's fearful, closed-mindedness and indifference," Francis said. Then when the plane landed, the pope got off first, not for prestige, but so he could greet each of the refugees personally as they descended the stairs: "Welcome, you are not alone."

The Searcher of the Perishing icon: Highlighted Mary and Her equally bright Child - is an image of us too. Robert Lax (friend to Thomas Merton) wrote:
"We are all meant to shine  as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same." 

10 comments:

  1. A wonderful explanation and reflection on this icon Father. I didn't know there were so many layers involved during the painting process. They are individually hidden yet work together to be visible, just like the layers that make us up.

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  2. I feel like I'm in that game show coma. How do I let that light shine? You're light is shining Father, I know you are trying to lead the way. I just feel as though there is too much misery in my immediate surroundings and I can't escape it. Every spark is extinguished for now. I will try an find an icon that shows this brightness. Maybe it will help to guide me towards better thoughts.

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    1. When there's misery and difficulty in our lives and we have to somehow navigate it all, it's all the more important to find the thing that heals and helps us to be more alive. Game shows won't do it. Better music, walks, some silent restful moments, caring for some plants. We don't need massive amounts of time to do any of these things. Indeed, if we have time for the game shows then we have time for something more life-giving. Give it a try.

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  3. "Forgive society's fearful, closed-mindedness and indifference". Words for us all. Who among us has not been on the receiving end? But then I ask myself "How many times have I treated someone poorly out of fear, close mindedness or indifference. God forgive me.

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  4. There are beautiful colors in this icon. Although I am quite sure I have seen this pose before, I don't know that I have seen the pink head dress on the Mother of God. And I notice that her lower robe is the traditional red. Is there significance to this?

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    1. I don't know. But I'll do a little research and if I come up with anything, I'll share. The pink veil is unusual.

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  5. These icons show such tenderness between Jesus and Mary.

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  6. Each icon gets its title from the pose or positioning of Mother and Child. One style of icon is called "Our Lady of Tenderness." Another is called, "Sweet Kissing."

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  7. I've come to appreciate icons and their depth and layers of meaning. Such attention to detail. The game shows like you say are in detail too. Frenzied detail. The icons can bring us out of that frenzied life. Hope your Dr visit was routine. Be well.

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