Monday, 28 February 2011

interesting sketches

Thanks for these Ian. I can see what a very different challenge it is to work on a piece on such a scale. Teilhard remarks somewhere that' intuition suddenly bursts of the piled up facts': I guess that this is also a matter of working on ideas until you intuitively think 'that is right'. We have not talked about colours, but I presume that this also requires attention to certain rules or traditions? It is kind of you to show how your ideas evolve. Also, here you have to look at an existing image: I presume a blank wall is better as it gives you more mental freedom? (I am also thinking that it would be nice to know more about Naur and the Christian community there. What has made them commission a Sacred Heart? I have tried to find out about where you are, but without much success. It is sad that we in Europe tend to know little of the lives of Christians in the Holy Land. And yet, I seem to recall that the oldest Christian place of worship was discovered in Jordan- or was that somewhere else? Showing my ignorance now!

Here are the sketches... which I was unable to upload yesterday.

I am having a little trouble uploading images, but here you can see how I have evolved the image of the Sacred Heart for Naur. The photo shows the existing sanctuary, and the existing painting which this work will cover. 

As for the half-figure, while it is true that the devotional house-hold images are almost always presented in this way, we shouldn't overlook the normal presentation of the image in the liturgical context, ie. in the church,which is as a full standing statue. As we are here talking about liturgical art, and from this perspective the full standing figure is the 'norm' from which the half-figure can be seen as a derivation, the full standing figure is what I am drawn towards especially in this context of the apse roof above the altar. However, David as your piece is a domestic one, a half-figure is fine so for your piece we could certainly go in that direction if you wished. However, visually I can see a bit of a problem, but we can return to this discussion later when I am working more specifically on your piece again.

This is the final sketch, with Jesus sat enthroned on the rainbow, symbol of the whole spectrum of light and of God's eternal covenant promises, with the Sacred Heart central to the radiating nimbus constructed along classical Arabic geometric lines which burst into stars and squares - the square is the traditional shape to represent the created order, the circle the traditional shape to represent the Divine order, and for me here the stars represent the whole created cosmic order that is shaped out of chaos through   the imperative of Divine love. Christ is robed in scarlet as the 'Ecce Homo', taking us to the Passion where the Sacred Heart is manifested more clearly than at any other moment of history. Here Christ is Lord of All but in humility, showing us the way to harnass the energy of love to bring about the Omega moment, the fulfilment of all things. There is still some more work to be done on the outer areas, perhaps I will include two seraphim, and elements of creation...
Here are a few of the exploratory sketches to give you an idea of how I 'mess about' trying to discover the most satisfying way to articulate the theological ideas aesthetically.

And finally, this is where the design will go, replacing this somewhat 'heretical' image (Christ is the icon of the Father, so what is the point of trying to represent the Father?) 

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sketches from our man in Amman

Ian - good to hear from you. Sounds as if you have settled in. My feeling is that the figure of Christ Omega should resemble the classical Pantocrator - sitting or standing - but it has to be with the heart glowing in the very centre of the centre. He is the point at which everything convergences. The heart of Christ at the heart of the universe. (Did you read my blog earlier on this? ) It has to be true to Teilhard's idea of Christ as a core of divine fire. The furnace at the centre of all. God as the consuming fire. In the image of the Sacred Heart we see the cosmic and the divine become one.The Sacred Heart as the unifying force of the cosmos. The universal centre of a convergent universe. I think your geometry captures this. I think that the letter OMEGA ( in greek, obviously) has to be quite important feature. This such a challenge to get this right. But I trust your instincts on this. Teilhard sees the Sacred Heart as a line of direction for the future. Christ the king was the next which he welcomed: but the ultimate 'evolution' of the image was in terms of the Christ Omega. So perhaps, He should be in a throne: as the Universal Christ we find in St. Paul. All things are converging into the furnace of the Sacred Heart. As Teilhard said: "The very thought of it is almost more than the mind can compass" Amen to that! As to full or half figure? Traditionally it is a half figure. The traditional Catholic way of representing the Sacred Heart tends to be a half figure. But can we get that sense of the Christ Omega using a half figure? Will have to think about that...meanwhile hope you are having a good time in Amman.

Safely in Amman...and some rought sketches for some competing ideas...

Well now out in Amman, Jordan and trying to adapt the theology of the Sacred Heart to this particular context. The existing apse already has an image on it, and the apse is a sort of squashed shape, which appears like an almond shape when viewed from the nave, so not very pleasing aesthetically but not much we can do about that on the budget.

I have also been doing a bit of sketching. Having settled on a circle within a square, the figure is now a question. Should it be fully standing, sitting or a half figure? I want to try and get the Sacred Heart image itself central so that the circles around the figure relate to it, giving a sense of dynamic emanation. If the heart is too low it looks disturbing; the icon is an image of tranquillity and balance. If it is too large and too small it becomes unconnected to the figure, but I don’t want to slip into the trap of naturalism which would distract from the theological reality being manifested in the icon and make the icon more of a butcher’s slab.

As for the figure, standing or sitting is just one conumdrum. Should it be the classical Pantocrator who is the Lord of All, who presides traditionally from the dome of the church at the peak of the cosmos and the heavens, surrounded by prophets and angels. Or should it be a figure which touches into Easter and the Passion, remembering how the Sacred Heart at the centre of all things manifests itself on the Cross when even death cannot conquer love; so a figure of the Man of Sorrows perhaps or the figure of Jesus revealing his pierced side as He did to Thomas in the Upper Room?

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Meanwhile, the board is waiting.

This project keeps surprising me. As it unfolds so it seems to generate new ideas and thoughts, feelings and emotions as well as an appreciation of icons as works of sacred art.

Ian is now in the Holy Land, and I hope all is well with him. As I write I am aware of the uncertainty in Jordan as in much of the Middle East, and I hope and pray for peace in these challenging times. I cannot do better than John Paul’s prayer which is on this blog. " I would like to entrust in a special way to the merciful heart of Jesus all those who live in the Holy Land: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. That Heart that, burdened with insult, never nourishes sentiments of hatred and vengeance, but asked for forgiveness for his executioners, that Heart that shows the only way to emerge from the spiral of violence: the way of pacification of spirit, of reciprocal understanding and reconciliation." John Paul II

Since my last post on the furnace and the sacred heart of steel I have reflected on Ian’s last communication about ‘the board’. And just meditating on the picture of the board in his blog has given rise to many thoughts and feelings. The first is that I find the idea of the board sitting there in Cheltenham awaiting Ian’s return from Jordan fascinating. It sits there all white : a blank space which is in a state of becoming. It is as if the board is resting before moving to the next stage in its evolution. But somehow this feels right. I think of it as a kind of installation which one might find in the Tate Modern. Something that we are asked to observe as a work of art, and yet all we can say is that it is blank. It is just blank. That is not art. It reminded me in this respect of the work by Concetto Spaziale in the Tate Modern called ‘Waiting’: a blank canvas with a diagonal slash in the middle..(SEE HERE ) I saw it a couple of years ago, and a man standing next to me said, ‘That’s not art it is just rubbish!’ I have to confess that I had to agree with him, and added the word ‘pointless’ to his critique. But Ian’s board is also ‘waiting’ : it too is blank, but without the addition of a slash. The board in Cheltenham is waiting but in a more spiritual sense. The board is in the process of becoming something ‘sacred’: an object that can serve as an aid to reflection and prayer. Spaziale’s ‘Waiting’ has an aggressive cut or wound : perhaps it is waiting for another to arrive. Ian’s board is waiting and it too has been cut. It has been cut to create an ‘altar’. So when we look at Ian’s board we are seeing a piece of wood which has been cut in such a way as to provide an ‘altar’ upon which something sacred will emerge. Ian’s board is waiting in the sense of ‘advent’. It is waiting for something holy to happen. It is waiting for a sacred image to evolve over the months ahead. And I am waiting with it. And as I wait with it I begin to get to know it and reflect on what it is as a thing waiting to become another thing. Its metamorphosis is also connected to my own change. Its advent is my advent.

Ian tells us so much about the board in just a few words. First of all he tells us that it is made of lime wood. As I reflected on this I recalled the time when my sons were small and we would walk in the woods and I would tell the names of all the trees. And they would collect their leaves and bring them home or take them to school for the nature table. And when I was in secondary school we would have to learn about all the types of wood and what they are used for. So I know my board quite well already: and it is fitting that the board waiting for a Sacred Heart was once covered in heart shaped leaves! The board now waiting for departure in Cheltenham is of the genus Tilia. In past time it was called the Linden tree and all species of the genus Tilia have symmetrical heart shaped leaves. The altar is made of the Linden tree whose wood I recall is good to carve and is strong and flexible. And now I know it is excellent for icons. Ian also tells me that it will be covered with surgical dressing or gauze. Again, how fitting that this fabric designed to dress wounds should provide a surface upon which the wounded heart of Jesus should be painted. And, given that the idea of the commission was inspired by so many wounds experienced by those who I love, the board waiting for the Sacred Heart is laying there showing a kind of silent solidarity wrapped in its surgical bandages as if to heal the cuts which have formed an altar in the wood of the linden tree. Next , I learn that the board is covered with gesso made from the mineral gypsum. I am sure that Teilhard would have responded to this which the expression: CaSO4·2H2 ! With my ‘O’ level geology - that led me to Teilhard in the first place - I know that my waiting board is covered with a sulphate mineral. He must have handled it many times and looked through its prismatic crystals. It is also used to heal -like the wood of the genus Tilia – as it has medical uses: as plaster of Paris. It is used to mend broken bones!

And bones. Rabbit bones. Bones of a symbol of fertility, and of Easter. My wife and I were born in the year of the rabbit! The thought that what is sticking it all together is glue made from the humble rabbit just makes me smile. Rabbits, the tricky creature that borrows deep into the earth. Deep into the self same earth from which the linden tree has grown, and from which the gypsum would have been mined seems so utterly appropriate for an icon whose inspiration is a man who believed passionately in the need for humanity to evolve a ‘sense of the earth’.

The phrase “Sense of the Earth” should be understood to mean the passionate concern for our common destiny which draws the thinking part of life ever further onward. In principle there is no feeling which has a firm foundation in nature, or greater power. But in fact there is also no feeling which awakens so belatedly, since it can become explicit only when our consciousness has expanded beyond the broadening, but still far too restricted, circles of family, country and race, and has finally discovered that the only truly natural and real human Unity is the Spirit of Earth.
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Building the Earth, “Building the Earth” p. 43)

So, board made of lime wood and bound by bandage and primed with mineral and glued with rabbit bones, let us wait together.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Heart and Steel

Ian drew my attention to the heart in my blog on the furnace. (16th Feb) I only noticed this after I put the blog up. But this was the only colour picture I could find on a blast furnace at the old East Moors steel works in Cardiff: See HERE I think Teilhard would have liked that! He believed you could find God in all things: at the heart of matter. He treasured a lump of iron as a child!! If you look for sacred hearts you can find them all over the place: you just have to be open to them!

The Board

Well the time arrived for preparing the board onto which the icon will be written.

As this is a domestic icon I chose a smaller size, but as it is an important piece for David, and with potential use in a public liturgical setting, not too small. As potentially I can see David wishing to use it in various locations, for example if he wants to give a talk on this subject, I didn't want the board to be too heavy, so set to a thickness of 2cm, battoned on the rear to limit the effects of warping. This is a ancient technique, and inspect the rear of an icon and you often find inserts of one kind or another. As the gesso (the surface on which you apply the tempera paint) is applied in a very liquid form the board can warp without these struts.

The dimensions of the image were determined by the cosmic references: so a circle (the Divine) within a square (the creation). However, a perfectly square board lacks a certain elegance, so I have increased the borders top and bottom. So the inner square is 42 cm on all sides, while the overall size of the board is 50x46.

I have used limewood, which has been the standard wood used for icon boards since time immemorial. Light, non-resinous (cf pine which is full of sap which can affect the painting surface), fairly resistant to bugs and beetles,  and stable it is ideal if a little difficult to get your hands on. Fortunately, I have a good local supplier, Cheltenham Hardwoods, and Martin there prepared a flat board for me with the struts. I routed the centre area, called an 'altar', to a depth of 2mm, yesterday, and then applied a layer of medical gauze with rabbit skin glue that I had made up the day before. A layer of glue was also applied to the back and sides, again to help stablize the wood against warping during the gesso process.

This was left overnight, and today I began to apply the coats of gesso - a fine chalk powder dissolved in the glue mixture and applied hot. Here you can see the gesso beginning to be applied to the glued gauze, which acts as a 'key' for the gesso to adhere to. This is taking place at my mother's house as I don't, unfortunately, have a dedicated studio as financially it is impossible for me to rent one while I am out of the country doing my voluntary work in the Holy Land. Mum is happy to oblige though, so another word of appreciation to her.

I should finish applying the 12-3 coats later this afternoon, and will then leave it to dry while I am away, ready for sanding when I return to the UK in early April.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Wise words for all of us...

Teilhard's words on trusting God are of some relevance to this icon project -as to all attempts by fallible human beings to be creative. One of Teilhard's quotes that is widely cited is this:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We would like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something
 unknown, something new.
And yet, it is the law of all progress
 that it is made by passing through
 some stages of instability
 and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
 your ideas mature gradually - let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don't try to force them on,
 as though you could be today what time,

(that is to say, grace and circumstances
 acting on your own good will)

 will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
 gradually forming in you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you, 
and accept the anxiety of feeling
 in suspense and incomplete.

It certainly sounds like Teilhard and captures his philosophy. However, I do not know where this comes from and it may well be that they are not actually his words. The passage where he does say the same thing - although less poetically is in Letters to Two Friends, 1926-1952. (Fontana, London 1972) p127 where he says:

Just trust Life: Life will bring you high, if only you are careful in selecting, in the maze of events, those influences or those paths which can bring you each time a little more upward. Life has to be discovered and built step by step: a great charm, if only one is convinced (by faith and experience) that the world is going somewhere.

If the Sacred Heart is to be understood in evolutionary terms, then it is Teilhard's way of saying: Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.' This can also be related to his idea of tâtonnement - or evolutionary as a process of 'groping' - proceeding step by step, using trial and error learning. I will track down the original quote!

The Sacred Heart, Christ the King and Christ-Omega

LET US go back at this point to Ian’s blog on the ‘Omega point’ on the 10th February 2011. ( The image on this blog is Ian's wonderful icon of Christ Pantocrator - which is on his website.) There is an important aspect of Teilhard which ought to considered in seeking to make an icon inspired by his idea of the Sacred Heart: the absolutely central place of St Paul in his system of thought. For example, in a note written three days before his death – on Maunday Thursday, 1955 he wrote a few brief notes on ‘What I believe’ in his journal. In the word of the editor of The Future of Man it is ‘his supreme testimony as a thinker and priest’. He notes three ideas: 1. St Paul - the three verses. These refer to Corinthians 1: chapter xv, 26, 27, 28. 9 ; (2) he sets out his understanding of the evolution of the cosmos: as the evolution of the cosmos itself ( cosmogenesis), biological life ( biogenesis), mind (noogenesis) and at the end, Christogenesis. (3) His third note says ‘ the two articles of my creed. The universe in ‘centrated’ with Christ at its centre. And here he links noogensis with the evolution towards ‘Christogenesis’ - Paul’s statement regarding the Parousia: the end of evolution.

Reflecting in Peking in 1940 on the feast of Christ the King which had been instituted by Pius XI in 1925, Teilhard indicates what direction he thought the devotion to the Sacred Heart could take in the future at a time of ‘global crisis’. This essay on ‘The awaited word’ is important for this icon. Why? Because he argues that the world crisis calls for humanity to renew it faith in the future. And in asking about what is the future of mankind, ‘people look to Rome’. Humbly, he suggests that he has something to say about the future of Christianity in the face of the global crisis. Although far way from war-torn Europe he says that as he has been living ‘more closely than others to the heart of the earth’, and he has, therefore, something to say about ‘the remodelled form of worship ‘ ‘to be required by that heart’. He says that the response to the global crisis should prompt the Church to confront the sense of dissatisfaction about Christianity abroad :‘There is something too narrow and something missing in the gospel as presented too us. In spite of appearances, our age is more religious than ever: it is only that it needs stronger meat.’ The crisis is essentially one of ‘transformation and growth’. Christianity needs ‘wider horizons’. If Christianity is to offer an alternative to the ideologies which were tearing the world apart, it had to offer a new way of thinking about the world: it has to promote a new ‘sense of the earth’. We have to replace the narrowness of political ideologies with a sense of the planet as a whole: a sense of being human. To do this, Christianity must evolve: ‘we should follow our creed to its fullest implications, along the logical and historical line of its development. In this we have to proceed in according to ‘Nova et vetera’: using new and old things. In this regard he draws attention to the importance of St. Paul on the Pleroma. For it is :

Here we have the concept of God gathering to himself not merely a diffuse multiplicity of souls, but the solid, organic, reality of a universe, taken from top to bottom in the complete extent and unity of its energies…’

St Paul thereby provides the direction which the Church has to take in ‘remodelling’ worship. Teilhard sees the devotion to the Sacred Heart as moving the Church in the right direction of worshiping a Christ: ‘considered in the ways in which he influences the whole human body, and in consequence, the whole human social organism; the love of Christ being seen as the energy in which all the chosen elements are fused together..’ The institution of the feast of Christ the King, he argues, is also a right step in the evolution of our understanding of Christ. But, Teilhard wishes to move further in this line of development set out by the Sacred Heart and the feast of Christ the King. The next step must be towards ‘The Universal-Christ’ as implied in St Paul:

‘What I have in mind, and what I dream about , is that the Church should follow up the logical extension of this movement, and so make plain and actual to the world, as St Paul did to his converts, the great figure of him in whom the pleroma finds its physical principle, its expression and its consistence: Christ Omega, the Universal - Christ.’

For Paul’s time, this idea could not have been fully grasped.

But for us, fascinated by the newly discovered magnitude of the universe, it expresses that aspect of God which is needed to satisfy our capacity for worship.’

In other words, our age - the age which is trying to come to terms with ‘global’ crises and the sheer scale and complexity of the cosmos - needs to understand the significance of St Paul for how we think about the future of ‘modern’ worship. It is this image of a Universal-Christ which can promote and a ‘sense’ of the planet as a whole, and the sense of man’s place in the cosmic order. The Universal-Christ: ‘the prime-mover, the saviour, the master ..of evolution’. Nova et vetera: the expansion of the devotion to the heart of Jesus.

The Universal –Christ, born from an expansion of the heart of Jesus, requires the historical reality of his human nature if he is not to disappear; and at the same time, as a function of the mechanism specific to love, he does not absorb but completes the personality of the elements which he gathers together at the term of union.

Teilhard hopes that this vision of the Sacred Heart as evolving into the Christ-Omega can excite and energize Christianity in the face of the challenges of nationalism and ideology which cause so much human misery and destructiveness. His vision is one of humanity evolving a planetary consciousness which can transcend the narrowness of nationalism and sectionalism of the past. For Teilhard, therefore, the Sacred Heart – as Christ Omega – represents a powerful symbol of the unity and ongoing convergence of humanity and the power of love. Christ –Omega, as symbolized by the Sacred Heart as nothing less than the point at which the cosmos and evolution converges.

Let me conclude this blog with Teilhard in a poetic mood. (Although I think we need it in the French to really appreciate his language.) From Le Milieu Divin:

Disperse , O Jesus, the clouds with your lightning! Show yourself to us as the Mighty, the Radiant, the Risen! Come to us once again as the Pantocrator who filled the solitude of the cupolas in the ancient basilicas! Nothing less that this Parousia is need to counter-balance and dominate in our hearts the glory of the world that is coming into view. And so that we should triumph over the world with you, come to us clothed in the glory of the world.

The Sacred Heart – clothed in the glory of the world. Such was his vision of the ‘golden glow’ whose fire burns in the heart of matter and whose love calls for us to open our hearts to this energy emanating from his sacred heart so that we might harness it to build the earth and the Kingdom of God.

Looking into the furnace

Let us look deeper into the ‘furnace’ of the Sacred Heart : through the visor of St John Eudes’s great teachings. In his eighth meditation: ‘The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a Furnace of Love, Purifying, Illuminating, Sanctifying, Transforming and Deifying’ , The Saint tells us that :

The august Heart of Jesus is a furnace of love which spreads its fiery flames is all directions, in heaven, on earth, and throughout the whole universe…All creatures on earth, even those which are senseless, inanimate, and irrational, feel the effects of the incredible goodness of that magnificent Heart, since He loves all things that are and hates nothing he has made…Imagine all the charity , all the affections, all the tender and intimate feelings of all the hearts that the omnipotent hand of God might fashion as being collected and united in one heart large enough to contain them. Would they not all be capable of forming one unimaginable furnace of love?’ ‘

St John Eudes’s vision of the Sacred Heart pre-dates Teilhard’s own ideas by many years. It was immensely important in influencing the devotion to the Sacred Heart which would have shaped the understanding of Saint Margaret Mary’s own devotion. However, it is evident that after Margaret Mary’s experiences which were promoted by St Claude la Colombiere and by the Society of Jesus, the influence of St John Eudes diminished as the Sacred Heart as revealed at Paray le Monial increased. In his observations on the Sacred Heart, Teilhard comments on St Margaret Mary, but I can find no mention in his work of St John Eudes. I am no expert on the devotion, but it would seem to me that by the late nineteenth century the devotion had become almost synonymous with the St. Margaret Mary. St John Eudes contribution would, by the time Teilhard was born, have been very much in the background. Even so, he was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1925. It is not unreasonable to suggest that Teilhard would have read or read about St. John Eudes, but it is very clear from his writings that Teilhard came to the image of fire via a different route. But it is also clear that what had happened to the devotion after Paray le Monial was that what might be called the ‘cosmic’ or ‘universal’ aspect of the Sacred Heart was rather marginalized. Teilhard’s great contribution was to re-focus the devotion in a way which is more in keeping with St. John Eudes than St Margaret Mary. And whatever might be said about Teilhard, his devotion to the Sacred Heart as revealed by St. Margaret Mary was – as a Jesuit- absolute and total. But he was not too fond of the images which were ubiquitous in France. He found them over-sentimental and ‘mawkish’. His Sacred Heart is undoubtedly the furnace we find in St. John Eudes.

It was this more ‘Eudist’ line of development in the history of the devotion which Teilhard was to follow. The Sacred Heart as ‘the golden glow’ ( he used the English words) of divine love energy. He saw this as the basis for a devotion which could take Christianity 'towards the future'. Not surprisingly, therefore, he saw the devotion as ‘evolving’. What he thought about the direction of this evolution was to be set out in his essay ‘ The awaited word’, written in 1940. But that is another blog....


Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Of fire and furnaces

One thing I have discovered on this journey into an icon, is what a very complex image the Sacred Heart is. When you view it through the eyes of an iconographer, you begin to appreciate the beauty and the complexity of the idea of the Sacred Heart. As Teilhard puts it: ‘ the very thought of it is almost more than the mind can compass.’ I get that now. This complexity also mirrors the complexity of my own desire to commission Ian. First and foremost it was, I think, a desire to take all the pain and suffering which has been the lot of my family over the past few years and transform it into something beautiful for God. I found that Teilhard helped me to make the Sacred Heart a kind of integrative symbol which could assist me in making sense of the love of God and the role of suffering. And the more I explore the Sacred Heart and pray to the Sacred Heart, and trust in that Heart, the more do I find that patterns and sense and meaning emerges. The latest turning in the story is a good example of that: St John Eudes’s idea of the Sacred Heart as a ‘furnace’ connects remarkably well with Teilhard’s thoughts and language. But then I find it also connects with my experience equally well. I loved my father very much, and still miss him. His death was followed quickly by the sudden death of my eldest sister and subsequently her husband. As a family we were really put through the fire. St John Eudes’s idea of the Sacred Heart as a ‘burning furnace of divine love..radiating in all directions’ immediately evoked my father for me. He was a steel worker. And, before I went off to university to read for a BSc (econ) he was keen that I should work in the steel works to earn some money, but also so I should understand how he had to earn his daily bread: ‘real economics’, as he put it. The day I was shown the great blast furnaces of East Moors was a memorable experience. I have to admit I was scared and terrified at the heat and the blinding light. ‘Its like the sun,’ my father said, ‘don’t look at it’. And he gave me a visor. As I read St Bernadine’s words quoted at the start of St. John Eudes’s book on the Sacred Heart: the heart as ‘Fornacem ardentissimae caritas’, a ‘furnace of ardent love’ I suddenly saw the Sacred Heart in the way Teilhard must have seen it. Fire, divine energy : a fire of immense power filling the universe and wanting to consume us. A furnace at the sacred heart of matter : of all that is. The same fire in the burning bush sanctifying the ground on which Moses stood. And now, in this fire I can see the love of the Father the almighty creator , but also the love of my father the steel-worker who wanted me to see the great furnaces that took rock and transformed it into steel. I now more clearly see the Sacred Heart as the centre of the cosmic furnace that calls to us to let its fire penetrate our mind, soul and our hearts. And transform our hearts of stone, into glowing hearts full of divine fire.

Thanks Ian

I never knew that being an iconographer involved such a jet-set lifestyle! I wish Ian the best of luck and God's speed as he travels to the middle east to carry on his work. I remember when I asked him if he were interested in this commission he told me that it was interesting that having never been asked to do a Sacred Heart, two commissions came along one after the other. So, perhaps the Lord is trying to tell us something! I should just like to record at this stage my thanks to Ian for participating in this blog. When we began I had no idea what it would involve. I knew that I wanted an image of the Sacred Heart using the ancient language of the icon and not some 'modern' image. And I knew that making an Icon was a spiritual experience as well as an intellectual and artistic experience. However, I have found this process to be a profoundly moving experience that has taken me deeper and deeper into the meaning and the significance of this devotion which has, for many reasons, fallen from favour. And I am the first to hold up my hand and admit that I was not a great fan of the devotion. But, having 'placed all my trust' in the Sacred Heart I am quite astounded by how my faith has been renewed - and yes 're-kindled'. But now is a good time to let Ian go away and do his stuff. I have bombarded him with so many ideas: they need to settle down. But I will continue to work on the blog and look forward to seeing his Sacred Heart for the apse in Amman.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Apologies for the lack of any posts the past few days but I am off back to Jordan next week, and have a couple of projects to prepare for there. However, the work in Amman is a wall painting of the Sacred Heart, on the roof of the apse over the altar. This should be an interesting opportunity to explore further the work already done for David's icon, and be a sort of proto-type. I hope this will add some extra interest for those who can be patient just now.

Sunday, 13 February 2011


I noted somewhere in an earlier blog that Teilhard sees love as an attractive - gravitational force. When I saw your sketch it reminded me of a lecture I attended on Gravitational Waves. If you look at computer simulations of these, the effect is not unlike what you have done to capture Teilhard's sense of the Sacred Heart! Interesting! Read this article: HERE Sacred geometry indeed!!!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

St john Eudes and Teilhard

Strange how Teilhard is still seen by many as rather unorthodox: especially as his faith was so grounded in the Sacred Heart, St. Paul and Saint John the Evangelist. What is striking when one reads St. John Eudes on the Sacred Heart how remarkable it is that his idea of the Sacred Heart is so very close to Teilhard’s own language. He begins his work on the Sacred Heart with a quote from St Bernadine of Siena who describes the Sacred Heart in these terms as: ‘Fornacem ardentissimae caritas ad inflammandum et orbem universum’ ! As a ’furnance of ardent love to enkindle and inflame the whole universe’. Indeed that is the key image which runs through St John’s work on the Sacred Heart. He later comments that : ‘and so this divine furnance…diffuses everywhere its fiery flames ..’ And later he says 'The august Heart of Jesus is a furnace of love which spreads its fiery flames in all directions, in heaven and earth, and throughout the whole universe’. This idea of the fire of the Sacred Heart filling the entire universe seems to be lacking in the popular devotions which we find in the Catholic anthologies which I have studied. I have to confess, this has quite taken me by surprise. Perhaps Teilhard had read St John Eudes book on the Sacred Heart? Perhaps not. But in this respect Teilhard seems completely in line with the acknowledged doctor of the devotion. It appears that Teilhard is just bringing back the ‘universe’ into the devotion. The Sacred Heart as a furnace whose flames reach out throughout the universe could not be more Teilhard. So, our icon should reflect St John Eudes ( and St Bernadine’s ) idea. That fire in the centre of centres in Ian’s picture must ‘inflame the whole universe’

Sacred Geometry

Ian. I think that these are exactly right . I think the geometry brings out the scientific aspect of Teilhard: he saw science as also having a potential for experiencing the sacred. One point which struck me : he was a geologist and paleontologist. Would it be an idea for Christ to be standing on rock? On second thoughts - and having chatted to my wife: perhaps not such a good idea!!!

A practical day...

I was taking a look at the geometric 'skeleton' upon which the composition will be made. Sacred Geometry goes back to ancient Greece, but the Christians, notably the Byzantines, made it their own though knowledge of it became lost as centuries passed and a lot of iconography, for example, was simply copied.

One way in which you can see how sacred geometry works is by taking a look at Islamic art. The first builders and decorators of mosques and palaces for the Arab conquerors were all Christian, because conversion to Islam only took place very slowly and over many centuries, so at first there were only Christians to be employed. Islam's prohibition of the figurative meant they were made to take a step backwards and, using their knowledge of sacred geometry and its meaning, to create incredible  ever repeating patters to speak about the infinity of God and the order that God brought in creation.

Here is a page from a book,  Islamic Geometric Patterns, by Eric Bourg which I refer to quite a lot as an easy to follow guide. It shows  four basic constructions.

For the geometric structure for our icon I have chosen the following eight starred shape which I found on ancient doors from the monastery of St Cathering on Mount Sinai, however at this stage I am thinking to use it as a hidden structure rather than as a decorative motif, but that might change!
Here are some of the drawings I have been working on today:
This is just another first sketch! Perhaps the circles will be gold leaf rays, and the four corners representations of the earth and the heavens, all being filled with the divine energies...we will see! 

Morning after the night before

I looked at Ian's first drawing last night and the first thing that came into my mind were some words of Teilhard in his essay ' The evolution of chastity', penned in Peking (as was ) in 1934. As my mind began to imagine how the icon could emerge from this initial sketch I thought of the Sacred Heart as the centre of divine love which fills all creation. The image strongly evokes the idea of radiating energy. I could hear Teilhard's words:

"The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds , the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."

In Ian's sketch I can sense this call which the Sacred Heart is making: trust in the energy and power of God's love. For, it is in harnessing this energy humanity will find a new fire. The birth of Jesus for Teilhard is not just a historical event: it is a defining point in human evolution. He is in the Father, and the Father is in him. The Sacred Heart is calling to our hearts and seeking a response. The progress of humanity is not to be measured in GDP or in material progress: but in the capacity of mankind to harness the love which radiates from the beating heart of God's universe. I went to sleep with Teilhard's words and woke to find that they were still rolling around my mind. Went shopping : and they are still rolling. I think that Ian's initial sketch is such an excellent point of departure. DEO GRATIAS.

Friday, 11 February 2011

A first glimpse

What Ian is doing is so amazing. To let us into the process is a great privilege. I know when I am writing how I like to keep things to myself until I am happy about showing my ideas to a wider audience. It is as if he is opening his heart to us: making himself vulnerable and open. Perhaps this is fitting for an icon of the Sacred Heart. I think that I now grasp the idea of making an icon as a spiritual process as well as an artistic process. I think the basic structure captures the idea of a divine centre: it has a sense of Christ as a powerful attractor whose love is pulling us in - like gravity. The circle within a circle works well - and I get a sense of the energy pulsing from the heart. What a start!

A first sketch

As an artist I prefer to work out of view, especially when I am developing an idea. That leaves room to freely express and explore without surrendering one's creative freedom, to change, explore, make mistakes,get a feel for where things are going, and be sensitive to inspiration, to pray, reflect. Also, I never sign my icons as it is a long standing tradition that you don't and it also makes sense as the icon is not something that points to the skill and eminence of the artist but to God as experience. An icon isnt just a painting, it isn't about my interpretation of God etc, but rather by being faithful to Him the icon is itself an encounter with the living God and a direct agent of theosis.

However, this blog demands a public work, which is a little daunting and a new, somewhat uncomfortable experience. While one's work is always destined for the public eye, the process leading to it is an intensely personal one and opening this up to public scrutiny is not easy. However, I hope that in sharing this process more openly, it might help others to understand just how much work goes into this, the professionalism which it calls for, and so develop a better appreciation for the work of professional artists in general and iconographers in particular.

Above all I hope that all the followers of this blog will feel in some way involved organically in its evolution;just showing your interest is a real encouragement believe me. And those of you who wish to comment would be most welcome to do so, even if it might not make its way into the final piece it will have contributed to its wider process of emerging from obscurity to vision.

So, with that all said, here is a first very vague sketch. I find it important to jot ideas down in some rough form, even if they get thrown aside in time. I really have no idea what the final icon will look like just now, but at least we have a beginning.

The Sacred Heart of the cosmos

Ian's use of the mandorla opens up so many possibilities. For Teilhard the Sacred Heart is a symbol of cosmic energies. Perhaps Christ could be set in a mandorla containing stars to signify the cosmic Christ-Omega. The point at which all things converge into the divine centre. This divine centre - the heart he holds out or points towards - calls to our human centre: Cor ad cor loquitor. His Heart, IS OUR future. The fire of his heart consuming and completing us. It is this 'cosmic sense' which is central to his belief in the Sacred Heart as a devotion for mankind now, and in the future. The Sacred Heart: the 'Diaphany of the Divine at the heart of a glowing Universe.. The divine radiating from the depths of blazing matter'. ( As he puts it in 'The Heart of the Matter') Christ in the icon has to be portrayed as the centre of a glowing and blazing universe! The love of God is active, alive, throbing and beating in the universe. That love is calling for our response. An idea expressed so perfectly by a phrase that Blessed John Henry Newman made his own: Heart speaks to Heart. It speaks lovingly over the vastness of time and space. It calls and it waits, for us to open our hearts.

The Mandorla and the Sacred Heart

Some more artistic reflections... 

The Mandorla

In iconography depictions of the Divine Light or glory are shown using a device called a mandorla. This is usually a spherical or elliptical shape found around the person of Jesus in icons of the Resurrection, Ascension, Transfiguration, the enthroned Pantocrator and the Dormition of the BVM.

In the visions of the Sacred Heart experienced by St Margaret Mary Christ was manifested in Divine Light, especially coming from his translucent Heart and the sacred wounds. In the vision of Teilhard we have the transfiguration of all things, pulsating with the Divine Light which radiates out from Christ’s breast.

Therefore the use of a mandorla in this icon is a central and key element.

Mandorlas come in two main shapes, with specific interpretations. The following information is derived mainly from Andreas Andreopoulos in his book ‘Metamorphosis – The Transfiguration in Byzantine Theology and Iconography’, SVP, New York 2005 ISBN 0-88141-295-3.

The Jewish interpretation of glory has the sense of tremendems, of a quaking fear, of the glory of God as a terrifying dwelling place. In the Christian interpretation it is something much more intimate and personal, overall about the glory of God made know in Christ and something in which we can participate after an ascetical journey. It is the transfiguration especially that is the paradigm for Christian understanding of the doxa.

To this the icon adds another element: rays. These can come either as radiating lines, often to the number 8, or as a shape that is bursting such as a square.

The mandorla is not just a shape, but a series of emanating bands, with a dark centre and light circumference, often but not always three in number. The dark centre is the unknowability of the divine, while the lightest denote that which is manifest. John Chrysostom describes the apostles as ‘darkened by excessive radiance’ and many early fathers interpreted this in terms of the ascetical ascent to theosis.  At certain times the three bands have been interpreted as representing the universe or cosmos, and the neo-Platonic idea of emanations, but rather than a bright centre around the sun, Christians inversed this so there was the darkness of Unknowing at the centre.

The Icon of the Sacred Heart

We have two possibilities for the employment of a mandorla:

Around the Heart of Christ

Around Christ

Around Christ: Here an enclusive, ‘tent’ like mandorla would express the emanation of the Light or energy of God’s love at work in Creation.

Around the Heart of Christ: the fire of Divine Love, known, Unknown but the glory of God in the sense of yeqara, not a space but an honouring of the sacred.

Rays can work in a variety of ways. I particularly am drawn to the inter-working squares such as in later icons of the transfiguration, and in the background of Christ of the powers as they show something dynamic, alive, active. In some way the rays need to inter-penetrate the figure of Christ, and His heart, and what lies around them.

Saints associated with the Sacred Heart: St John Eudes

The devotion to the Sacred Heart has a large body of prayer to draw upon. In thinking about an icon we should therefore reflect on the prayer of the Saints most closely associated with the devotion. Significantly, they are all French. St John Eudes, St Margaret Mary; and St Claude la Colombière. We begin with St John Eudes.

The form of the devotion we associate with the Sacred Heart begins with Saint John Eudes (1601-1680) . Pius X proclaimed him the Father and ‘Doctor’ of the devotion. You can read his book on the Sacred Heart HERE. Significantly, St John Eudes was to promote the twin devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Teilhard, it appears was primarily concerned with just the Sacred Heart of Jesus – although he was, of course, wholly devoted to the Blessed Virgin. St John drew upon the private prayers and practices which had evolved in the preceding centuries – in particular from St Bonaventure, and St Gertrude as well as many others. His efforts to gather and refine these earlier forms of devotion were responsible for the devotion spreading throughout France and the Catholic world as a whole His work in promoting the devotion was, therefore prior to that of Saint Margaret Mary.

As his writings form the foundational texts of the devotion, it is well at this stage in the process to take a little time and reflect on his thoughts and prayers.

Ian's tentative thoughts

Ian has captured so much in his initial suggestion. I was moved when I read his blog- and that emotional response is important, I think. What Ian has to do is such a challenge. Teilhard believed that the Sacred Heart had to become a devotion fit for the future, and not locked into the past. But the essential truth of the Sacred Heart as revealed to St Margaret Mary must be represented. In this it has to be a (Roman) Catholic image but it also has to be a truly 'catholic' or universal image. We must remember that Leo xiii consecrated the WHOLE world to the Sacred Heart. The whole world, not just the Catholic world but human beings of all faith and none. The whole world: all of God's creation. Ian's ideas sound and feel right to me. But I return to the litany written on a picture of the radiant heart of Christ which was found on his desk. It is this stage worth reflecting on these words. Jesus is seen as - inter alia - the 'heart of the world'; the 'heart of matter'; the golden glow; the world zest' ; ' the focus of 'cosmic convergence' and the ' focus of ultimate and universal energy. Centre of the cosmos'; and he prays ' Heart of Jesus unite me to yourself.' It would be good if we could get a copy of this actual picture. Also, we must never forget that an icon should be an aid to prayer and contemplation. I think at this stage, I should reflect on the prayers used in the devotion to the Sacred Heart. This should be a basis of moving forward. But Ian's ideas as expressed in his his blog is an excellent starting point . Thanks so much Ian. The picture above is taken from a photograph of Teilhard with his family at Sarcenat, 1917. It is fitting that his head is illuminated by the 'golden glow' of the Sacred Heart.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Some tentative first thoughts about the imagery for the icon

David writes: "Teilhard saw the image of the Sacred Heart as an image of an energy which creates and drives the world. He saw it as an image if the Creator, not as the great designer or architext....but as a loving father who is active in his creation. Deus caritas est: and therefore God created the universe throught the energy of love."  

With this in mind:

Perhaps we can have Christ enthroned, as in the icon of the Last Judgment in the last post, sat in the mandorla which is an iconic representation of God's glory or energies,in this case the energies of creation and what Teilhard describes as 'evolution', bringing all things in the cosmos, physical and spiritual, to the definitive moment of fulfilment in Christ. 

At the centre Jesus would hold His heart, represented like a transparent orb in the icons of St Michael, as can be seen here:
And around the heart would be another mandorla, which are the energies, the Divine Light, by which Christ draws all things to Himself, and by which He unites Himself to creation, the process of theosis. 

And within the heart another mandorla by which Jesus as the image of the Unseen Father makes the loving Father known. 

More on the mandorla later! 

Omega Point, Judgment Day and the Icon

Some interesting words from Michel Quenot's book 'The Icon':

"The icon is the model of holiness, of presence and a revelation of the cosmic transfiguration to come; it offers itself to all of us like a beautiful open book. But we must know how to read the icon to be able really to see those faces we pass every day in our streets and discover in them that 'unique plant' grafted onto Christ, the Tree of Life" p.159

Teilhardian thought about the Omega point, the fulfillment point of time, is I think what the Tradition describes as the Day of Judgment, the moment of decision when all things come together in Christ and there is a new heaven and a new earth. This is a complete transfiguration of matter, of the cosmos, of both temporal and spiritual realms and it happens in the Person of the Word.  All icons, if we follow the point made by Quenot, refer us to that future point and in a certain sense pre-figure it. At the same time, in doing so, it shows us the way to see the transfiguration already taking place in humanity through the all permeating Presence of Christ, a Presence like the sap in a tree. This is, I am thinking, what Teilhard is expressing as evolution, of the growing towards a mystical transformation of the cosmos. I think David you will have some salient points to flesh this out, but am I on the right track here?

In the icon above, The last Judgment - an icon 17th cent. from Lipie, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland, might a first glance seem a bit remote from images of the Sacred Heart, but there are some interesting elements here. Notice Christ is in the centre of a radiating sun, His glory is a Light of Fire,also shown by the blue/green rings which usually symbolise the Divine Light. It is also forcefully a very communal image: people are everywhere, the crowds thronging, literally everyone is there for better or worse, all of history has converged at this moment after which all things will be definitively changed. Paradise is a place for people, relationships, being together. Notice those entering Paradise (the walled, flowering garden on the bottom left guarded by a red winged seraphim) do so as a group, and the Patriarchs and the Blessed Mother await them.  In contrast those thrown into the dark pit are segregated one from the other, isolated, alone, cast out. There is no love, nothing to bind one with another, they float in the darkness lost, alone, tormented. Also notice that Paradise is a walled GARDEN, a place where nature fulfils itself, evolves to a pinnacle of beauty, a process of transformation that is a work of Divine Grace also known as the Divine energies. To the right we see the four trumpeters heralding the resurrection of the dead, their physical bodies coming out of the earth.

It is, I think, a very Teilhardian image, and helps us to make some visual, iconic connections with his thought. This is important for helping me to find the starting points for the design of the image itself. I am beginning to formulate some possibilities now. The most awkward image is the heart, but after some prayerful requests for inspiration I have something in mind which I think will work, inspired by what David wrote yesterday, describing the vision of St Margaret Mary and a translucent heart, on fire with Light. Hopefully I might have something to post on this important development tomorrow. 

The Sacred Heart in Public and Private Space

Ian's blog on sacred space ( Consecration to the Sacred Heart and the Evolution of the Public Space) touches upon some of my central concerns. I point out in the Catholic Herald piece that the Consecration of the World to the Sacred Heart and the emergence of Catholic Social Teaching are closely related. It is an image which is profoundly mystical, but at the same time it is also one which is profoundly political. This came home to me during my trips to Mexico. During the persecution of Catholics in the Cristero war or Cristiada, the Sacred Heart and the Virgin of Guadalupe were prominent symbols of resistance and hope. The Sacred Heart has also been used in other countries - notably France and Spain as a symbol of resistance to persecution and anti-Catholicism. Above all, it was in France where the Sacred Heart became such a potent political symbol. Indeed, long before the basilica of the Sacred Heart was consecrated in 1919, a perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament had begun (1885) which continues to the present day. It has thus crossed over from the domain of private devotion to a public image. This question of the relationship of sacred image to the 'non-sacred' spaces is therefore an interesting one to explore. As I read Ian's blog on this what came into my mind was the icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. This played a prominent role in the Polish Solidarity campaign in the 1980s. It became a powerful symbol of resistance and prayer at a turning point in European and world history. And, is it not the case that icons have been used as forms of defence? Must chase that one up.

The Sacred Heart raises another set of questions in relationship to space and in particular 'sacred space'. If we want to bring the Sacred Heart as the symbol of God's love into the public space it must first enter into the 'private ' or the domestic space - or what technically in Greek is called the 'economic' space - the home (οἶκος) . In the world in which previous generations of Catholics grew up homes were dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Enthronement ceremonies were common. The image of the Sacred Heart served to create a 'sacred space'. As the tradition withered - even in countries like Ireland - something happened. It was so significant that we never quite got it. Slowly, the home ceased to be a 'sacred space'. The home became a kind of neutral space. Whereas before the home was a holy place- a place which honoured the image of the Sacred Heart - the only sacred space became the church building itself. That is where 'religion' happened. But the whole point of the image of the Sacred Heart was that it could bring God's blessing on the 'space' called home. One of the promises made to Margaret Mary was that :' I will bless the place where a picture of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed' . The home was a sacred space. It was a space which was devoted to the love of God symbolised in the Heart of Jesus. As the devotion declined, so did the home as a sacred space. From then on the only sacred space was the Church. And then what happened? The home in time ceased to be a space made sacred by the image of the Sacred Heart and became largely an economic space. But not in the Greek sense: it became a space which could make you MONEY!! Indeed, it became a space dedicated to the love not of God, but of money. Slowly but surely we moved down the road of seeing homes as property. Spaces for profit. Spaces to make quick money. Spaces to 'do-up' and sell on. Spaces we read about and watched TV programmes about. Sadly, and most dramatically we saw this in Ireland. Over my many visits in the past decade it became clear that as the Irish lost their devotion to the Sacred Heart, they replaced it with a devotion to their homes as property and profit. The rest is history. And the Irish were not on their own.
So, I think that there is an important relationship between the what has happened to our understanding of 'sacred space' in the Catholic tradition and what has happened in the society at large. In this sense the home is a public space: what happens there for good or ill impacts on public problems. The Sacred Heart served an important role in keeping our eyes on the love of God, rather than feeding our love of money. If the church is to renew itself, then it has to realize the urgent task of making the home a sacred place. A place which God blesses. So, yes, it is easy to look with a cynical eye at the images of the Sacred Heart which were used by our parents, and grandparents. They are not great art. But there was a power in those images: a constant reminder that we have to trust in the love of God. We have to place all our trust in the Sacred Heart, not in banks or bricks or the promises of politicians. In Greek sacred space -τέμενος - the temenos - was that space 'cut out' of the other 'public spaces' which were political. economic (the agora) or for entertainment (the odeon or the theatre). In its way, the image of the Sacred Heart created this kind of temenotic space in the place where people ate, talked, loved, laughed and cried. The home as merely property destroyed the sanctity of domestic space. Over time the home is a place where we can work ( as I am doing now) and play with our computer games and watch movies and listen to music and all the other things that now take place in the home. We can shop at home, form virtual communities: write blogs! The line between the 'eikos' and the other spaces have become increasingly thin: except in one particular regard, as sacred space. Scared space has been cut well and truly out of the home. Until we get that space re-sanctified - and in a sense 'cut out' of the money making space - I am not sure how effective we will be in solving many of the problems in the public sphere. Indeed, so many of our public problems stem from the decline and destruction of the family itself, and more broadly, the decline and destruction of the idea of 'sacred space' more generally.

Theosis and πλήρωμα /pleroma

I was fascinated by Ian's comments on Theosis. I think it is a concept which has real relevance for making an Icon of the Sacred Heart. As I was reading Ian's comments I thought about the importance of πλήρωμα - the pleroma for Teilhard. Teilhard frequently cites St Paul and the Sacred Heart which calls us to unity with the creator is central to his idea of Christ as the Omega point. The point at which all will converge. I will have to re-read Teilhard on this point, but as I understand it the Sacred Heart is the symbol , THE symbol of the divine. The Sacred Heart is the image of the Christ Omega - the centre of a universe which is converging and folding in on itself. It is the symbol of the fulness of creation, in Christ. The Sacred Heart and the pleroma should be explored more, I think. Another issue which has to be explored is the relationship between the Sacred Heart and what Ian refers to as 'science ' and the 'new mysticism'. For Teilhard the Sacred Heart was an image which enabled him to integrate his scientific life and his spiritual and mystical life. At a time when the relationship between faith and reason is much to the fore, the integrative dimensions of the Sacred Heart image ( which used in his prayer life) is something I have to reflect upon.....

The mystical experience and the Sacred Heart

Ian's blog on 'the Divine Energies in Eastern Christian Mystical Thought' gives those of us from the Roman Catholic tradition an interesting insight into the Sacred Heart. Teilhard was very much the mystic, and the the experiences which have informed the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and subsequently the Divine Mercy are central to understanding the images which have come to represent them. The devotion to the Sacred Heart / Divine Mercy derive from the mystical experiences of two people whose encounter with Christ was investigated and approved by the Church. What is common to both the devotion to the Sacred Heart ( St Margaret Mary) and the Divine Mercy ( Saint Faustina) is that light is an important aspect of the accounts given by the two Saints. In the case of the Sacred Heart, St Margaret Mary's account stresses the light and the fire of God's love. In the account of her second revelation (1674) she says:'The divine Heart was presented to me in a throne of flames, more resplendent than a sun, transparent as crystal' . Of her third revelation the same year he observes Jesus's wounds shone ' like five suns' and flames issued from every part of His acred humanity'. This is Teilhard's experience too: but the light for him takes on cosmic proportions. It is not a sun, so much as the heart of the universe itself, whose love is pulling all creation forward. St John Eudes who who had developed his own devotion to the Sacred Heart around 1688 says ' The most loving heart of our benigh Saviour is a furnace of most pure love for us; a furnace of purifying love, of sanctifying love, of transforming love, and of deifying love. His love is a purifying love in which the hearts of holy souls are illuminating love, which scatters the darkness of hell with which the earth is covered and lets us into the wonderful brilliance of heaven'. Teilhard's devotion to the Sacred Heart was very much in keeping with these aspects of the Sacred Heart. But for him this light is to be understood as an energy - as discussed by Ian's blog. In this sense the icon of the Sacred Heart can serve to provide a bridge between the Catholic and Orthodox understanding of Jesus as the incarnation of divine love.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Divine LIght, Theosis and the 'new mysticism' a scattering of thoughts

The image of the Sacred Heart, like the image of the Divine Mercy which is closely resembles, came from a concrete mystical experience. In the substance of the material world, the Uncreated manifested Himself, and in this particular instance as light and flame.  Saint Margaret Mary had frequent visions of the  Sacred Heart of Jesus.  According to Saint Margaret Mary, His Divine Heart was "more radiant than the sun and as transparent as crystal," with its adorable wound visible, and as a "furnace" of burning flames. Teilhard responds with a sense of the energy of love, and makes this the centre of his devotion.

Interestingly, in the eastern Church the image of light and fire as manifestations of God’s energies has a vital place in Hesychast spirituality. I explored the idea of the divine energies in my last post.

Aristotle Papanikolaou Papanikolaou, in his book “Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, And Divine-Human Communion” summarises the teaching of a contemporary Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas who shifts the emphasis about the understanding of the energiesthat is to be found in the work of Vladimir Lossky, that we looked at in the last post:

“Zizioulas “emphatically affirms that an energy is never apersonal. The energies of God are communicated only through the persons of the Trinity. This emphasis on the personal character of energies is indicative of the primacy of an ontology of personhood and communion in Zizioulas’s thought. Second, salvation is not described for Zizioulas as an increase in participation in the divine energies, but as the transformation of being into true personhood in the person of Christ. For Zizioulas, the essence/energies distinction is ‘nothing else essentially, but a device created by the Greek Fathers to safeguard the absolute transcendence of God without alienating Him from the world.’ The energies are God’s actions in the world and are saving events. The ultimate saving event, though not excluding the divine energies, is not simply a matter of God’s action, but a relational event of communion that constitutes human personhood as true personhood in the image of Christ.””

This idea of ‘a relational event of communion’ is surely a description of love, and that this is about becoming truly who we are as persons through participation in Christ is surely akin to the Teilhardian idea about love as the evolutionary force or energy in humanity and the cosmos, at least as David summarises the position: “Teilhard rather uniquely places the potential which humanity has for love as the driving force of evolution, rather than self-interest. The future of mankind would be all about how humanity harnessed the energy of love, as in the past it had been the story of man’s ability to make use of the energy contained in matter.”

If these energies of God are never apersonal, they must therefore be manifested in profoundly personal ways, that is in ways which draw us into being more truly personable, that is in relationship one with another. As Papanikolaou puts it, "Personhood is the goal; the means are the energies of God conveyed through the person of the Holy Spirit. One assimilates more fully in personal existence the energies of God already present throughout the creation." In the Person of Jesus we see our humanity lived perfectly personably, in relationship to His Father, to Himself, and to others. The Gospel is a reading of our humanity unveiled in its glory, a glory of love for neighbour and above all of God revealed in the Person of the Word as the Loving Father. What David has written echoes this: ‘This, it seems to me, is the challenge highlighted by Teilhard: how to harness the mystical experience and vision of love with our experience of human problems which as so often the result of hate, despair and lack of trust.”

In classic Christian spirituality, both east and west, this process of union with God, theosis, is usually focused on the ascetic ideal, of an individual person in love with God to the point of transcendence from the material world. However, if the emphasis is shifted slightly, to the transformation of the human person into an ever deeper personableness, that manifests itself not just in love for God but actualised in a deeper participation in the love of God for all creatures, especially his or her fellow human persons, then I think we find ourselves with a vision of theosis that engages profoundly with the public space, as for example in the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who strove to ensure that Jesus’ love was satiated by, for example, ensuring that no one died unloved and alone. Her inspiration she found in a deep Eucharistic spirituality, which is an important connection back to David’s post about Eucharistic Adoration.

The classic mystical manifestation of this personable energy is as light and fire, the roots of which reach back the Transfiguration, and further still to the manifestation of God’s Name to Moses at the Burning Bush. I think I will return to this in greater details in future posts, as it is an important grounding in the spirituality of iconography, but at this point I would just like to highlight something that St Gregory of Nyssa explains about the nature of this experience:

“ Lest one think that the radiance did not come from a material substance, this light did not shine from some luminary among the stars but came from an earthly bush and surpassed the heavenly luminaries in brilliance” Life of Moses. He sees in this manifestation a pre-figurement of the Incarnation: Mary bore and gave birth to God without being destroyed by the divine presence just as the Bush was on fire without being consumed. 

The Uncreated energies manifest themselves in the created order as Light, flame, fire. Yet in the end, the journey of becoming takes you beyond the knowable, the perceivable into a deep and intense darkness of ‘knowing the unknowable’. Here science and human rationality cannot go. So science, as a sort of mysticism, can take you to the edge of knowing but beyond into God, can lead you to wonder and awe through comprehension of discernable realities but beyond that faith alone can lead. Thus there are limits to the rational quest but the quest itself is without end. Essentialy evolutionary. As St Gregory writes: “Thus, no limit would interrupt growth in the ascent to God, since no limit to the Good can be found nor is the increasing desire for the Good brought to an end because it is satisfied”.

This quotation is cited by an eminent Orthodox iconographer, Solrunn Nes, in her book ‘The Uncreated Light’ in chapter 2. She says succinctly, “In Bethlehem God clothes himself in man’s nature, on Tabor he manifests his divine nature”. Here, in the manifestation of the Uncreated Light, we have the immanence of the Creator in the created order, experienced mystically but rooted in the enfleshment, the incarnation of the Divine Logos. God enters into the scientific order, as it were. We could take a hair from his head and put it under a microscope. And we can behold the glory of His Uncreated Light which takes us far beyond the microscope, beyond the infinitude of human wonder at the cosmos and the order and beauty of creation, to the very portal of God Himself, known as Unknowable, leaving us breathless at the sheer enormity and yet simplicity of it all. And this is the point where again we can return to Teilhard, and his idea of ‘the new mysticism’; again I quote from David: “an organic and evolutionary view of the universe now pointed towards a new way of thinking which could satisfy the mystic and the scientist.”.

Reflecting this back upon the story of our world, the cosmos, and critically our humanity, David  explains that for Teilhard “the critical energy in the evolutionary story of the future would be mystical not material: the mystical energy at the heart of matter – the Sacred Heart’. This is surely what Metropolitan John Zizioulas is pointing to, albeit from the approach of traditional Christian mysticism, and which Mother Teresa has lived out in the very concrete realities of her vocation on streets of the great city slums.

If I could add my own reflection here. The aim of the Christian life, as understood within its classical mystical tradition, is theosis –  which we can define as a re-uniting of created with the Creator, more than a restitution but a reinstatement of a projection, a destiny, a going forth and a returning to. The more we enter into this the more human we become, the less isolated both in and from ourselves, and the more deeply ‘at one’ (atonement) with our self, our neighbour, our world and with God. The unity of all things, the ultimate experience of which is the union between the human person and God Himself.

Science presumes an order, a unity, a connectedness between all things that is harmonious, detectable and decipherable. This is perhaps something of what Theilhard means by calling science ‘the new mysticism’? The universe not as a mechanism, but as an organism, something organic, inter-related, evolving, becoming.

The inter-relatedness of all creatures, the needing of the other which is presumed in the idea of something being organic, the sense of destiny and becoming that underlines the idea of evolution, Theilard views through a Christian paradigm, the paradigm of love which is simply the union of all things, even to the point of the sacrifice of the self.