Icon Painting- A Reflection


I was privileged to share the joy of an Icon Painting Retreat in a nearby convent and came up with the following reflection:

I choose all, said St Therese! Both the roses and the Crosses!
I choose all, so do some of us – the Sacred and the profane, love and hate!
I choose all – light and darkness, joy and sorrow!

A better choice of all for Martha and Mary in the silence and busy-ness of our time-with-God
Is the psycho-spiritual benefit of art, music and incense in our worship –
Oh, the colour, the harmony, the aroma!

I choose all, for God’s glorification and man’s sanctification!
I choose all for joyful invocation and ecstatic transcendence!

But to arrive there as in the Teresian Castles, I have to Brush with God – icons!
I have to learn the strings, the keys, the strums, the beats –  The sound of music.
I have to smell and spread the smoke of Incense before the Throne of Glory.

I choose one at a time and on one prerequisite – humility and letting go of my ego!
As hard as learning to paint, draw, play music, sing or dance.
Letting go to let God is a job and a half.
But it is sweet to my taste – art, music, incense, humility, ego-lessness
A sweet challenge, admirable talent! Amazing grace!

Thanks to Sr Mary M. Lee for sharing and inspiring me with the following reflections:

Icons are written, not painted; they convey a message and they are read not just looked at.  They reveal a hidden depth and meaning, clearer in some than in others. Never signed because the artist is only an instrument to reveal spiritual truths not to imagine and create something original.

What can we artists and writers bring to Mass; what have we prayed, painted, discovered? What can we unveil to share with others, to be eucharist and thanksgiving to them as our five loaves and two fish to share in the self-giving the mystery of Divine Revelation….  Who do you want to dedicate our Icons for,  for whom are you offering these up? God’s choice of us, withdrew us from the world as the Gospel said.

The centuries-old conciliar tradition teaches us that images/Icons are also a preaching of the Gospel.  Artists in every age have offered the principal facts of the mystery of salvation to the contemplation and wonder of believers by presenting them in the splendour of colour and in the perfection of beauty.  It is an indication of how today more than ever, in a culture of images, a sacred image can express much more than what can be said in words and be an extremely effective and dynamic way of communicating the Gospel message. (Compendium of CCC, #5).  


Worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth.  The smell of incense, the melody of music, the vision of icons – engage worshippers in the awareness of the Presence of God. Icons are as helpful in prayer, worship and contemplation of the mystery of God as incense or song.

Iconography – writing of images in Greek. Eastern and Byzantine culture of icons expresses the spiritual and idealistic vision of orthodoxy, deification – the pledge of an already redeemed creation and the coming victory over a fallen one, expressing future unity of the whole of creation; how humankind visibly manifests its spiritual power to redeem creation through beauty and art.

In looking at an icon or image of Christ, Mary or saints, one is not looking at an earthly portrait but a transfigured person in Christ, the image of the invisible. 

“Icons are painted to lead us into the inner room of prayer and bring us close to the heart of God…” they draw us close into communion with the God of love.

A BRUSH WITH GOD: (By Peter Pearson, 2005)

The ministry of the icon painter is that of the theologian: – to know and love God.  Icon painting is demonstrating what you learn with your HEAD, YOUR HEART AND YOUR HAND (for others to share in their home/house).  Icon painting is thanksgiving instead of the conspicuous consumption of the world of images bombarding and saturating us.  Icon painting is like writing a poem, a sonnet, a hymn, a homily, General Intercessions, or a commentary on Scriptures.

Bring only HUMILITY to your IPR.  Real icons and painting are a fruit of prayer.  You are not allowed to change Christ, Mary, the Saints and Angels according to your own imagination.   An image/icon points to a reality but can never fully capture it, e.g. God as Father, shepherd, fortress, rock….

For us Christians, unlike Muslims or Jews, God has a face in the Incarnation and self-Revelation. And what we revere is not wood or pigment but the reality that the images point to.

We live in a world full of photographic images of reality of ourselves not necessarily God; but icons are about God, mystery, decreasing as they come nearer to us. Icons are human but transformed by the glory of God, for our spiritual nourishment.

A joy to feast on Icons as on other social, spiritual, intellectual, cultural manifestations.  May our enriching worship in spirit and in truth continue to take us from glory to glory! St Luke, St Michael, St Gabriel, pray for us!

(Emmanuel Mbeh, May 2022)

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