Thursday, 31 March 2011

Only connect : with the Sacred Heart

One of the main things that I have discovered as a result of this project and my attempt to devote this year to the Sacred Heart is that I feel more and more able to let connections emerge rather than trying to find them. I was deeply struck by what Benedict says about the Sacred Heart as the ‘centre’ of Christianity. It follows, that if it is the centre, then all lines ultimately converge with it. ( Teilhard says that ‘ Ce qui monte, tout converge – all that rises converges ) With that in mind, to trust in the Sacred Heart is simply to allow that process to take place and be alive to ( and wrestle with) what emerges: because it will all converge.

My wife is presently on a conference with other Catholic headteachers in Oxford, and the theme of their conference is Blessed John Henry Newman. It is a pity she could not bring me along (smuggled in a large suitcase) because I think I would have enjoyed the visits and the talks. Newman was, of course, a great influence on so many people – Teilhard amongst them. The two men had much in common: in particular the fact that for Newman evolution was simply not a problem for his faith. At a time when many were in a tizzy about the whole concept, Newman said (in 1868) : “the theory of Darwin, true or not, is not necessarily atheistic; on the contrary, it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of divine providence and skill.” So he shared with Teilhard an understanding of evolution as wholly compatible with a belief in God. It has taken quite a while for many Christians to get to that point: and sadly some are still rather hostile to the idea that evolution and Christianity are completely compatible. But in addition to this, Newman also shared with Teilhard an understanding of the relationship and interplay between faith and reason: again a problem for many. However, perhaps the most noticeable thing they had in common was their devotion to the Sacred Heart as the total embodiment of the Catholic faith – past, present and future. Newman wrote several wonderful prayers to the Sacred Heart, and of course he chose as his moto for his coat of arms a quote from Francis de Sales, who is so important to Ian, as we discovered a while ago. ‘Cor ad cor loquitur’ was – of course - the theme of Benedict’svisit in 2010. And, as a motto it prompts us to think in a very direct way of the Sacred Heart: the heart that is calling to us.

Here is a particularly moving prayer to the Sacred Heart by Blessed John Henry Newman:

My God, my Saviour, I adore Thy Sacred Heart, 
for that heart is the seat and source 
of all Thy tenderest human affections for us sinners. 
It is the instrument and organ of Thy love.
It did beat for us. It yearned over us. 
It ached for us, and for our salvation.
It was on fire through zeal, that the glory of God might be manifested in and by us. 
It is the channel through which has come to us all Thy overflowing human affection, 
all Thy Divine Charity towards us.
All Thy incomprehensible compassion for us, as God and Man, as our Creator and our Redeemer and Judge, has come to us, and comes, 
in one inseparably mingled stream, through that Sacred Heart.
O most Sacred symbol and Sacrament of Love, divine and human, in its fulness, 
Thou didst save me by Thy divine strength, and Thy human affection, 
and then at length by that wonder-working blood, wherewith Thou didst overflow.
O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, 
Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still. 
Now as then Thou savest, 
Desiderio desideravi--"With desire I have desired."
I worship Thee then with all my best love and awe, 
with my fervent affection, with my most subdued, most resolved will. 
O my God, when Thou dost condescend to suffer me to receive Thee, 
to eat and drink Thee, and Thou for a while takest up Thy abode within me, 
O make my heart beat with Thy Heart.
Purify it of all that is earthly, all that is proud and sensual, 
all that is hard and cruel, of all perversity, of all disorder, of all deadness.
So fill it with Thee, that neither the events of the day 
nor the circumstances of the time may have power to ruffle it, 
but that in Thy love and Thy fear it may have peace.

In this prayer we find – as in Teilhard – the sense that we experience the Sacred Heart in a most intimate and powerful way in the eucharist.

And finally, only connect. One thing aspect of Newman that is also so evident in Teilhard their belief in how all things connect and are interrelated. And in this belief in the inter-connectedness of things Teilhard, like Newman had a tremendous sense of trust in the Sacred Heart: the lives of Teilhard and Newman demonstrate their tremendous sense of trust in life. To trust in the Sacred Heart is to trust in LIFE, and the evolution of one's own personal life and of life itself. To trust in the Sacred Heart is to trust in that God - as love - is present in the joys and the sorrows of existence. This is elegantly captured by Newman in this famous words:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.

Only connect, is not just the name of a TV quiz programme, but a line from the novel by E.M. Forster, Howards End. As in: “ Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” Perhaps that is the link between Teilhard and Newman – through the Sacred Heart : in trusting in the Sacred Heart we no longer live in fragments. Through the divine centre ( a God who IS love) we are connected to God and to others and to the Cosmos as a whole. In the Sacred Heart -in the eucharist - all converges and will converge. It is in this convergence we place all our trust. I think, above all that is what an image of the Sacred Heart has to try and express or evoke. And, I am getting that sense in Ian’s Sacred Heart. Thanks.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Sacred Heart and the 'God shaped space'

Reflecting on the Sacred Heart of Naur in the spring sunshine of North London today something came to mind, which had been somehow buried for many months. And you don’t need a PhD in analytical psychology to figure out why. When I was ill I seemed to attach myself very strongly to some wooden objects. Your image of fire and water must have prompted me to think about wood as another sacred form of matter. And that is when I recalled my attachment to wood during the darkest days and nights of my life. The first object was a cheap wooden rosary that I had bought in Mexico. I would use it to say the rosary. And it went with me to hospital. The other was a simple wooden cross given to me by my wife years ago: I think it is called a ‘holding cross’. Made from olive wood from the Holy Land where you are now and I think it was made in Bethlehem. I have treasured this for some time and take it on all my travels. So, it was appropriate that it would accompany me on this particular journey. I would hold it tightly especially when the pain was very bad, and I would frequently wake up with it still gripped in my hand. Just holding this piece of cross shaped wood was, perhaps, the most powerful of all prayers, as it seemed to enable me to pray without words: in pain I prayed with wood rather than words. The third wooden object which was important to me was a piece of African carving that I had bought a few years before in an Oxfam shop. ( See picture. ) One night I could not sleep and I got up to walk around downstairs. I walked up and down and then noticed the carving which was caught by the light from a street lamp that shone through the window. And then that well-known line from Blaise Pascal came to mind: "Dans le coeur de l'homme il y a un vide et ce vide a la forme de Dieu et seul Dieu peut le remplir." ( In the heart of man there is a vacuum in the shape of God which only God can fill.) In that moment I realized that the carving was me – indeed every man and woman that has ever been and will ever be. We spend so much of our existence trying to fill that space being contemplated by the wooden ‘thinking man’: after all nature abhors a vacuum. We try filling it with money, power, sex, food, drugs, drink, TV, facts, knowledge, technology: the list is as long as life itself. As I looked at the carving I saw what I had tried to fill that ‘God space’ in my heart with. And I had a profound sense of utter despair as I contemplated how much of my life had been about filling that space illuminated by the street light. I had spent all my life filling that space up, but I finally realized that there was still a vacuum: despite all that I had done and learnt and achieved, and all the love that I had given and received, my heart was still empty and incomplete. In truth, I did not fully understand what I was thinking in the painful early morning all that time ago. But, I really believe that (as Teilhard argued) the Sacred Heart - which you have so beautifully depicted - is God’s way of trying to tell us that for us to evolve individually and as a species we have to realize that the space in the carving is the space which only the Sacred Heart can fill. I realize now that my journey to the Sacred Heart began as I tried to wrestle with the feelings stirred up by that wooden carving.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The big picture

Seeing the big picture is so moving , Ian. I am sure that the Church must be delighted by your work! It has prompted so many thoughts and feelings for me that I need time to reflect and order my response. One initial thought as I looked at the image without all the scaffold is that you have combined the elements of fire and water in way which I have not seen in any other representation I have come across. And it brings together the texts of Jesus as bringer of fire, and as living water in an most effective way. And this alone provides a new window through which to meditate on the Sacred Heart. But, there is so much more besides this. It did make me think of something Benedict said in his book on Behold The Pierced One. I have put the quote up ->>

One thought is that it would be nice to see the Church in a wider context - a view of the building from outside? The town itself? I think it would help us to get more of a sense of the local community. Might that be possible?

Friday, 25 March 2011

Without the scaffolding...

We dismantled the scaffolding yesterday, after I began the two 'deisis' figures of St John Baptist and the Mother of God on Wednesday. I thought followers of the blog might like to see a photo of the state of things so far. One week tomorrow and I shall be back in the UK, so let's hope all goes well.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Sacred Heart and the Eucharist - as a FURNACE

Ian, having spent a little more time reflecting on the ‘Sacred Heart of Naur’, I find myself returning once again to the relationship between the Sacred Heart and the eucharist. For me the image strongly evokes the eucharist . It is interesting to note that Teilhard has been rehabilitated in the church in recent years in terms of what he has to say about the eucharist. I am not sure if you are aware of this, but it is a wonderful coincidence that you have evoked the eucharist at the centre of the centres. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been forthright in their praise for Telihard’s Mass on the World in this respect. (READ HERE) John Paul, for example argued that: "The Eucharist is celebrated in order to offer on the altar of the whole earth the world's work and suffering in the beautiful words of Teilhard de Chardin," (Gift and Mystery, 73) Whilst Benedict gives us a neat summary of the Mass:

Teilhard went on to give a new meaning to Christian worship: the transubstantiated Host is the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the ‘ Christological ‘fullness’. In his view,the Eucharist provides the movement of the cosmos with its direction: it anticipates its goal and at the same time urges on.’ (Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, 29)

I am continually struck when reading the Mass on the World of how, for Teilhard, the eucharist and the Sacred Heart are one and the same. At the conclusion of the mass Teilhard offers a prayer. I think that this prayer well describes how I feel as a look at the Sacred Heart of Naur and how we should think about our icon. The mass a whole should be read and prayed, but here let me just draw your attention to a few passages in the prayer section.

Lord Jesus, now that beneath those world-forces you have become truly and physically everything for me, everything about me, everything within me, I shall gather into a single prayer both my delight in what I have and my thirst for what I lack; and following the lead of your great servant I shall repeat those enflamed words in which, I firmly believe, the Christianity of tomorrow will find its increasingly clear portrayal:
‘Lord, lock me up in the deepest depths of your heart; and then, holding me there, burn me, purify me, set me on fire, sublimate me, till I become utterly what you would have me be, through the utter annihilation of my ego.’
‘Lord.’ Yes, at last, though the twofold mystery of this universal consecration and communion I have found one to whom I can wholeheartedly give this name. As long as I could see — or dared see — in you, Lord Jesus, only the man who lived two thousand years ago, the sublime moral teacher, the Friend, the Brother, my love remained timid and constrained. Friends, brothers, wise men: have we not many of these around us, great souls, chosen souls, and much closer to us? And then can man ever give himself utterly to a nature which is purely human? Always from the very first it was the world, greater than all the elements which make up the world, that I was in love with; and never before was there anyone before whom I could in honesty bow down. And so for a long time, even though I believed, I strayed, not knowing what it was I loved. But now, Master, today, when though the manifestation of those superhuman powers with which your resurrection endowed you you shine forth from within all the forces of the earth and so become visible to me, now I recognize you as my Sovereign, and with delight I surrender myself to you.
How strange, my God, are the processes your Spirit initiates! When, two centuries ago, your Church began to feel the particular power of your heart, it might have seemed that what was captivating men’s souls was the fact of their finding in you an element even more determinate, more circumscribed, than your humanity as a whole. But now on the contrary a swift reversal is making us aware that your main purpose in this revealing to us of your heart was to enable our love to escape from the constrictions of the too narrow, too precise, too limited image of you which we had fashioned for ourselves. What I discern in your breast is simply a furnace of fire; and the more I fix my gaze on its ardency the more it seems to me that all around it the contours of your body melt away and become enlarged beyond all measure, till the only features I can distinguish in you are those of the face of a world which has burst into flame.
...(Thus, the devotion of the Sacred Heart had to be understood as still EVOLVING. That is, from being a devotion focused on the physical body of Jesus to being focused on a ‘furnace of fire’ at the centre of all creation illuminating and inflaming all that exists. I think your Sacred Heart captures this for me.
When Teilhard sees the Sacred Heart as the image of and for the Christianity of tomorrow he means this: ( I break it up into lines so we can see more clearly the poetry.)

Glorious Lord Christ:
the divine influence secretly diffused and active in the depths of matter,
and the dazzling centre where all the innumerable fibres of the manifold meet;
power as implacable as the world and as warm as life;
you whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire,
and whose feet are brighter than molten gold;
you whose hands imprison the stars;
you who are the first and the last,
the living and the dead and the risen again;
you who gather into your exuberant unity every beauty, every affinity, every energy, every mode of existence;
it is you to whom my being cried out with a desire as vast as the universe, ‘In truth you are my Lord and my God.’
‘Lord, lock me up within you’: …I beg you, Lord, in the name of all that is most vital in my being, to hearken to the desire of this thing that I dare to call my soul even though I realize more and more every day how much greater it is than myself, and, to slake my thirst for life, draw me — through the successive zones of your deepest substance — into the secret recesses of your inmost heart.

It is strange, that although I have known this Mass since I was in my teens, it was only recently - as I mentioned to you in an email - that I actually had the experience of communion as fire. Another example of thinking and feeling as two very different forms of knowing. The moment one begins to feel as if the priest is placing fire on your hand or in your mouth ones experience of the eucharist is wholly transformed. You are not eating bread, so much as consuming fire.

‘Lord, lock me up in the deepest depths of your heart;
and then, holding me there, burn me, purify me,
set me on fire, sublimate me,
till I become utterly what you would have me be,
through the utter annihilation of my ego'

Thus , Teilhard's prayer becomes the prayer for a 'Christianity of tomorrow' drawn from the deep wells of yesterday's Christianity. ( He does not tell us the source of this prayer - but it sounds very much like St John Eudes.)
(Tu autem, Domine mi, include me in imis visceribus Cordis tui. Atque ibi me detine, excoque, expurga, accende, ignifac, sublima, ad purissimum Cordis tui gustum atque placitum, ad puram annihilationem meam.)

Your picture reminds us that, like Moses and Isaiah, in the eucharist we encounter the Sacred Heart that consumes but does not destroy . A fire that purifies and completes us.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

First Thoughts

Ian : it is a most wonderful work. I have spent many months now looking at images of the Sacred Heart and I think this marks a real contribution to the history and development of the image. I am completely amazed at how you been able to take so many ideas and translate and explore them in artistic terms. Although - I would think - writing a much smaller icon on that 'altar' that waits for you back home is a very different kind of process, I can now better appreciate what writing an icon is all about. I need time to reflect on the work, but my first thought is simply to say: ' wow'.

Just another 10 days...

The ceiling painting is complete! Now I have undertaken to do two extra standing figures in the sanctuary - Our Lady and St John the Baptist, as a deisis either side of the Tabernacle. Quite how I will manage them in such a short time I don't know, but I am having a go!

Here is a photo of the completed image. The text is from St Matthew's Gospel, 11: 29 "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls". The waters flowing from the feet of Jesus represented the life of grace, poured out through the Church. There are seven 'waves' representing the seven sacraments, and a young female deer drinks from the waters, reminding us of the Psalm 42, 'like a deer that yearns for running streams so my soul is yearning for God'. Here the Heart of Christ is not an object, but the place of encounter where we meet the Living God who loves us to the point of sending us His Son, and the source of grace that first creates, then renews, then recreates us. Christ is enthroned on a ray of light, in the midst of a mandorla that represents the heavens and the earth, cosmos and eternity (the dark Unknown centre). At the centre of the mandorla lies the Sacred Heart, an orb of Light enthroned on a fiery furnace; the circles of the mandorla emanate from the Heart throughout the heavens and the earth, the cosmos and eternity, the creation and the Uncreated.


Sunday, 20 March 2011

Some mental and spiritual house work

I have to say that my mind is full of issues and questions and my brain is trying to keep up with and make sense of a flood of thoughts and feelings. Looking at Ian's work and images of the Sacred Heart has stimulated the flow of such a wealth of ideas that I cannot remember a time which I have been so 'bewitched bothered and bewildered', in the words of the song. I feel like an undergraduate again when every day I would be exposed to new ideas and theories and feel wonderfully giddy. I think that the use of an image to focus my thinking and feeling is a very powerful mode of trying to make sense of things. Ideas and feelings are coming thick and fast, but I am in no way overwhelmed. The more I reflect on the Sacred Heart, the more do I feel a sense of trust in the process of allowing sense and meaning to emerge from the interplay of thought and feelings. At the same time, prayer has a more intense function in relation to how I am thinking and feeling than I can ever recall experiencing. Prayer, as I remember from my catechism is the 'raising of the mind and heart to God.' But I think in the past I raised mind and heart as a kind of complete or integrated package. Now I feel it is more of a confused mess which is seeking help in sorting it out: prayer has become more of a dia- logos, rather than mono-logos. I feel my prayer is now more of a two way process: in which all I can offer is, well 'mess'. But as I have committed myself to placing 'all my trust' in the Sacred Heart I am not the least bit bothered by my confusion. The confusion is the prayer. Ian's blog on the water suggested to me that it is as if I have a number of streams or rivers of ideas which, for now, are flowing into one another. They are twisting and forming waves and whirlpools, but somehow I feel and think that these flows will, in time, sort themselves out. I feel like I have to do some housework to tidy up the mess created by this journey. The Martha in me wants to rush about and tidy up, clear away the rubbish and make the dinner. But the Mary in me has chosen the better part : to pray and listen. Who would have thought an icon could do this kind of thing? After a lifetime of being a right Martha.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Living Waters...

I spend a lot of time pondering on the images that I paint. Wasted time some might say, unproductive. Certainly you don't see your pounds being transformed into painted shapes, but looking, probing, searching is an essential element of any artistic endeavour, and none more so that when it is a matter of spiritual images embodying Truth.

With the Sacred Heart of Naour, as David has described this particular work, the evolution of the image is a constant, and that demands a lot of waiting on inspiration. Looking at the space, and what has appeared so far, wrestling with its becoming, I play with ideas and the spaces, colours, shapes etc. In the midst of this wrestling and teasing out you hope and pray for some inspiration. Yesterday I was caught by the idea of rivers of water flowing from Christ's feet, out as it were into the sanctuary, and through the Eucharist into the lives of the People of God, and from them into the world. But I wasn't quite sure how this fitted with the Sacred Heart; it seemed right but I wasn't able to quite nail it down.

This evening I spent a bit of time delving into the Papal teaching on the Sacred Heart. The other day I came across some words Pope Benedict had written, and I hoped to track them down again and find their context. I didn't find them, but I did come across a letter he wrote which refers to a Papal Encyclical of PopePius XII expounding the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Its title: Haurietis aquas, which Pope Benedict explains: "the Prophet Isaiah's words, which Pius XII placed at the beginning of the Encyclical with which he commemorated the first centenary of the extension of the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to the entire Church, have lost none of their meaning: "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Is 12: 3)". So here I received confirmation of the inspiration, and a deepening of my own understanding of what it is I am being called to paint.Indeed, the whole letter really helps summarise the various essential elements which any icon of the Sacred Heart needs to capture, to which the Teilhardian insights can legitimately be added.

The letter is well worth reading. It is posted on the Vatican website here

Teilhard's picture and ‘l’art St. Sulpice’

Although the picture by Pinta is of value for our understanding of Teilhard and the Sacred Heart , it is also a useful illustration of the problem – as I see it – with the art which has dominated the representation of the Sacred Heart. At the bottom of the card is something quite revealing (I can just be make out): we find that it is ‘Art Catholique’ and gives the address of 6, Place St. Sulpice. This means that our picture is an example of what is known as ‘l’art St Sulpice’. So called, because this holy picture that sat on Teilhard’s desk was produced in the area of Paris ( around St Jacques and the Church of St. Sulpice ) which is famous or infamous for the manufacture of Catholic popular religious or devotional art: holy pictures, statues and the rest. The influence of this style of mass produced art work on Catholic culture cannot be underestimated.
‘And that’s all I have to say about that.’ – as Forrest Gump might put it. Except, that despite the passing centuries, it is a sad fact that such a powerful devotion as the Sacred Heart should still be framed in the minds of many by ‘l’art St. Sulpice’. That said, it is not so surprising that Teilhard would have used a piece of ‘l’art St. Sulpice’ as it was so utterly dominant in the market place for images of the Sacred Heart as in other devotional images. ( What else was there?) But, when we compare the Pinta image to the vast majority of the products of that part of Paris, it is apparent that it is very different. In general, however, what ‘l’art St. Sulpice’ represents is the very worst kind of industrial mass-produced ‘art’ which swamped and ( as we say in economics) ‘ crowded out’ any attempt to develop a more thoughtful and artistic devotional and liturgical art. Perhaps this is why so few artists have over the years have actually explored the subject. The holy pictures of St. Sulpice kind were to be the ‘icons’ of Catholics the world over. Sadly, they remain so today. I think this project is, in many ways, trying to help me break free of the ‘holy picture’ versions of the Sacred Heart. Perhaps it is me? Perhaps most Catholics find ‘l’art St Sulpice’ does bring them closer to the Sacred Heart? I may be entirely wrong about this. Peut-être. …..Et c'est tout ce que j'ai à dire à ce sujet!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Sacred Heart of Naur and the Eucharist.

Reflecting on Ian’s 'Sacred Heart of Naur' during some quiet moments snatched today it struck me once again how important it is to think of the Sacred Heart in terms of the eucharist. As I looked at the white circle in Ian’s Sacred Heart I was reminded of the many images of the Sacred Heart I have seen over the years in Mexico. One in particular by Miguel Cabrera. In his ‘Allegoria del Corazon de Jesus’ we see the Sacred Heart in its ‘disembodied’ form. When we look into the centre of the heart we see it is a host. ( Click on it to see it more clearly ) This is a very graphic representation of what we find in the great prayer of Blessed John Henry Newman and what is central to Catholic teaching on the Sacred Heart.

O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still… I worship Thee with all my best love and awe, with my fervent affection, with my most subdued, most resolved will. O my God, when Thou dost condescend to suffer me to receive Thee, to eat and drink Thee, and Thou for a while takest up Thy abode within me, O make my heart beat with Thy Heart. Purify it of all that is earthly, all that is proud and sensual, all that is hard and cruel, of all perversity, of all disorder, of all deadness. So fill it with Thee, that neither the events of the day nor the circumstances of the time may have power to ruffle it, but that in Thy love and Thy fear it may have peace. Amen. (Meditations and Devotions, Part III [XVI] para. 3)
As we can also see in Teilhard this close relationship between the Sacred Heart and the eucharist is very important and will be explored in due course. But for now, prompted by Ian’s work, I think it best to just reflect on this great prayer of Blessed John Henry Newman.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Working on the garments...

Today I was focusing on the garments of Christ. Inspired by the garments of one of the angels in the famous Old Testament Trinity by St Andre Rublev, I have been attempting to give a sense of the garments being 'on fire'. This I have done before on my own version of that icon, by making a series of washes, first of Raw Sienna, then of vermillion, with highlights in blue (the cool blues contrast with the warm reds and yellows creating an exciting tension).

It hasn't worked out quite as well as I had hoped, partly because you can't really use a 'puddling' technique on acrylic gesso, (which I have had to use here as the previous painting was in acrylic and the use of a non-acrylic primer surface would risk separating over time) as it isn't very absorbent. However, it does have quite a nice sense of inner illumination, and I will work on it some more later on.

The Sacred Heart of Naur

Ian , I am pleased that you find my musings of some use and not a distraction from the challenge of writing the image. Yes, I think that it is right to go back to St. Margaret Mary's description which somehow was completely ignored by artists. She is quite explicit about the heart being transparent like a crystal. This also fits with the Teilhard's ideas and it is also evident in the Pinta picture. I wonder if Pinta actually bothered to go back to St. Mary Margaret's words and decided to stress the light and glow of the heart, rather than the use the image that we invariably find? My guess is that he did. And it is obvious why Teilhard valued this image so very much. IThe Sacred Heart has to be about light and fire - the golden glow. As we looked at your wonderful work last night my immediate thought was to think of the eucharist. For Teilhard the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist was the same thing. When we go to mass we consume and are consumed by the Sacred Heart. I will have more to say about this in later blogs, but I think that the white centre at the centre of the globe is the blessed sacrament. As we look at an image of the Sacred Heart it should, I believe, prompt us - inter alia - to contemplate the mystery of the eucharist. I don't know whether the white centre was intentionally designed to remind us of the eucharist, but it does!! Our prayers are with you as you work on the 'Sacred Heart of Naur'.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Some reflections

David, you persistence in tracking down the evolution of the image is to be commended, especially as you have a full time job and a family! I don't know how you are managing all of that, but it is very helpful indeed.

What struck me about the Pinta image is that it has a powerful sense of intense light, an ethereal power, moving but not sentimental, supernatural yet realistic. The contrast to the Bantoni painting I suspect reflects the general religious atmosphere of the particular times, with a move away from the emotional naturalism of the Baroque era to a more romantic supernaturalism. While the latter speaks more aptly in a Teilhardian setting, I don't find it convincing as liturgical art; it is still far, far away from the wonders and insights of the iconographic tradition. However, it is appealing as a devotional work of art, especially the illumination of the heart.

I was also struck by the description of the Heart of Jesus in the vision as luminous and transparent. When back in England, I did ask for some inspiration about how to depict the heart. What came to mind was a transparent globe somewhat similar to that which the Archangels traditionally carry in the icons, and I clipped a couple of examples to my Sacred Heart file for future reference. That came back to me during your recent postings, and I am beginning to experiment a bit with that idea here in Naour. A promising coincidence!

Finally, here is todays progress:

 The Sacred Heart is beginning to emerge; I am trying to get a sense of the intensity of the light, with a sense of a furnace like heat. I will add golden flames and rays to this yet, and am still experimenting.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Pinta picture on Teilhard's desk

The picture on the right was on his desk when he died. On the front he wrote key phrases which express what - for Teilhard - we are actually looking at. I have typed them on the front, but on the real thing they must have been handwritten. On the back of the Pinta picture was a more expanded 'litany' of the Sacred Heart. This is taken from 'My Litany' in Christianity and Evolution. The card pretty much sums up his philosophy of the Sacred Heart. So in due course we will explore what he means by these ideas. But this is an image which he must have looked at so many times. As we look at it we have to imagine what he thought was so inspiring about this picture. I have made it into a card and use it as my own 'Holy picture'. If anyone would like a copy, blog me.

Merson ,Batoni and the Pinta Picture.

The picture by Henri (Ludovic Marius) Pinta (1856-1944) is obviously an important image for this project. It is the image which Teilhard treasured above all others. Pinta’s image for him embodied his whole philosophy and theology. So we have to look at this more carefully than just another holy picture. For Teilhard this is THE holy picture. It might help to make more sense of this image if we go back to the Merson image of Christ in Majesty. Pinta was a well-known and respected artist specialising in religious art. According to my research he did two important pieces for the Basilica in Marseille. The first was 12 stained glass window depicting the history of the Sacred Heart (1920-30). The other is a big mosaic,(1933-1941) like Merson’s, but unlike Merson’s it is quickly identifiable as of the Batoni type. What is interesting is that the Marseille clearly did NOT want to imitate the Merson mosaic: that must have been a little too radical for their taste, instead they chose pretty conventional images. Pinta also undertook a Sacred Heart window at the church of the Sacred Heart, Liverpool. I will try and find out about this one. So it appears that the picture that Teilhard loved so much was something of a one off. Well perhaps not. If we look at his picture showing Jesus at the death of St Joseph which he painted for the Church of Saint-François-Xavier, Paris in 1915 we see a image of Jesus which is more like the Teilhard picture. Pinta does capture a sense of the compassionate nature of Jesus in his 1915 painting of the death of Joseph and this comes through in the picture treasured by Teilhard. I personally find it a very appealing picture, and it surprises me that he was not asked to do something like it again. Perhaps he did? But then again, the picture is quite a departure from the standard images so it might not have been that popular. Certainly of the lack of prints and holy pictures available today suggest that it was not an image which appealed to Catholics brought up on the kind of Batoni images – or the disembodied heart images.

Pinta’s Christ first of all is not wearing much by way of clothes. To me it looks as if he is just wrapped in a cloth. His chest is completely bare. He has not dressed up for the occasion, like in the Batoni types. I think this is Christ in the process of a TRANSFIGURING resurrection. Light is radiating from his heart, and the wounds in his hands show beams of light, not red blood. His Jesus is all about light, and not blood. His head is not posed or at an angle, he looks at us squarely and compassionately. But for those used to the Botoni image , with a Jesus all rouged-up and all nicely dressed, the Pinta must have been viewed as rather vulgar. ( I read that others of his religious works were also accused of being vulgar. ) Would this have been rather shocking in comparison with the Batoni or Merson, and the kind of holy pictures that were popular at the time? The answer has to be yes. This is quite unconventional: and Teilhard adored it. I think I understand why. It has none of the baroque sentimentalism of the Batoni, and unlike the Merson, this is a picture of compassion and not power. Pinta’s Jesus is totally open and totally vulnerable and full of light. This is the Christ of the transfiguration. And , when we look at icons of the transfiguration I see a remarkable similarity between these and Ian’s early drawings for the Sacred Heart icon. Ian: is Teilhard’s Sacred Heart as revealed in the Pinta image a kind of 'Transfiguration' of the Sacred Heart? I think that you actually got to this point quite early on, and having reflected on Teilhard’s Sacred Heart, it is more than apparent that what appealed to him was the divinity of Christ bursting out of his human body. His heart, the divine centre: the golden glow.

The Sacred Heart as Batoni type: Teilhard and the Pinta picture

The Batoni type of Sacred Heart was the version approved by the Jesuits. After all, they had commissioned it in the first place. So it is likely to have been the image that was in common use in the Jesuit as in the rest of the world. It appears that Teilhard did indeed have a copy of this Batoni image in his breviary. In their book on Teilhard (1977) Mary and Ellen Lukas report the following incident in New York in 1952:

‘One afternoon when, in rising from a tea table Teilhard fumbled with his breviary and a garish prayer card fluttered out…it was an image of a Jesus with ‘a pale effeminate face’ proffering a penny valentine ‘Sacred Heart ‘ to the beholder – a Saint Sulpcian image very much like the one she remembered seeing on the bureau of her French governess when she was a child…As he bent down to pick it up the card, his eyes met Mrs Straus’s . She saw the wall go up, and for a moment Teilhard blushed. He shoved the card back inside the book and changed the subject.’

The authors comment that this showed ‘Teilhard’s attachment to this clumsy attempt to represent the un-representable lay in the fact that it reminded him of the profundity on which his whole philosophy was based’ (Lukas, 310). I think that is fair comment.

This suggests that Teilhard did indeed carry the Batoni type of image with him, but was rather embarrassed about showing it. However , we do know from various sources, that he was especially fond of a particular image of the Sacred Heart which was painted by one Henri Pinta in 1921. It is this image which was so dear to him that is displayed on this blog. Pinta uses a basic structure which is common to the traditional ( Batoni ) type of image. BUT with some big differences which obviously appealed to Teilhard: the facial expression is not like the Batoni type at all , and the heart is almost invisible – in fact it appears to be transparent as was noted by St. Margaret Mary. The most noticeable feature is the use of chiaroscuro to emphasize LIGHT. This was Teilhard’’s Sacred Heart, the ‘golden glow’ : the God of evolution.

It was this holy card reproduction which – as King notes (in his book Teilhard’s Mass,2005: 120) - he carried with him for much of his life. He gave his copy to his dear friend Lucille Swan when she was leaving China in 1941. He subsequently obtained another copy and it was, it seems, this second copy which was on his desk when he died. ( As King had access to Swan's papers it is likely that the image in his book is taken from the copy of the Pinta picture given to her my Teilhard.) I presume, it was on this Pinta card he wrote his litany as mentioned in an earlier blog. On the front would have been the words : ‘The God of Evolution’; The Christic, the Trans-Christ. Jesus the Heart of the World. Jesus the Essence of evolution. Jesus Motor of evolution.’ And on the back his litany.

So it would appear that Teilhard used both the Pinta and the Batoni image, to complement one another: nova et vetera. But there can be no doubt that it was the former which better captured what he believed was the deeper meaning of the Sacred Heart and what he believed would be the future of the Sacred Heart. The Batoni image would have been the image used by his mother and perhaps a large version was in the family home. It was the favoured image of his order, so he would have used it exclusively until he came across the Pinta picture. Perhaps the Pinta version was not available until the mid to late 1920s. In any eventuality, it does not appear to be popular as I have yet to track one down. The copy in this blog comes from a book by the Jesuit Edouard Glotin ( Bible du Coeur de Jesus, Press de la Renaissance, 2006.) SEE BOOK HERE I cannot find any other image, so I hope he can excuse me using it here. I am trying to find an original, without much success. Thomas King uses a copy in his book but does not give the source. Perhaps it is the actual one! It is clear that the Pinta image exactly captures his sense of the direction which the devotion should take in the future. This is the image which he saw as being the next stage in the evolution of the devotion. Indeed, the next stage in the development of Christianity itself.

Ian, I think it is this image which has to be taken as an important source of inspiration for us. Clearly, I have to reflect on this image, and try and understand its relationship to the evolution of the image and the devotion to the Sacred Heart. So, more blogs on this to follow.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

St Francis De Sales Prayer to the Sacred Heart

In the light of Ian's last blog, which marks another remarkable event on this journey, here is a well known prayer.

Prayer to the Sacred Heart by Saint Francis De Sales

May Thy Heart dwell always in our hearts!
May Thy Blood ever flow in the veins of our souls!
O sun of our hearts, Thou givest life to all things by the rays of Thy goodness!
I will not go until Thy Heart has strengthened me, O Lord Jesus!
May the Heart of Jesus be the King of my heart!
Blessed be God. Amen.

Friday, 11 March 2011

The Icon Changes Lives!

An icon is something that is intended to be present before a beholder, and to put that person 'on the spot'. This is fundamental to the whole purpose of the icon, which confronts us with heaven in various ways. For example, the use of inverse perspective:

Notice how the furniture is larger at the back, and becomes smaller the closer it gets to you, which the arrangement still opens up the space to present the main characters?

Anyway, writing an icon always challenges you, and if you are serious in your intention, it changes you too. David, you have experienced that in commissioning an icon, and it is as true for me as the writer of the icon. We are simply caught up in the world of heaven. Some refer to icons as 'windows into heaven' but that suggest we are a voyeur; I prefer to say they fling open the doors of heaven and dare us to enter. Passing through those doors, we have little idea where God is leading.

You have noticed all sorts of 'connections', some lesser some greater. Through these you get a sense that the Lord has been willing you to make this 'journey' for a long time, as little fragments of your life are brought together, and through this icon, which isn't written yet, it acts as a heuristic as it were, through which to re-view your past and so understand better your present, and so stand before your eternal destiny.

This is true for me to.

Let me share something. Here are two photos of a little plastic thing I keep in my wallet.
As you can see, on one side is an image of the Sacred Heart, on the other one of St Francis de Sales. It contains a piece of cloth which has touched the heart of the saint, and comes from a Visitation convent in north eastern Italy. 

I have had a devotion to St Francis de Sales since 1977, when I travelled to Annecy on a school exchange. I was brought up a practising Anglican, and had never been to a Catholic church before.  In fact as a child I was barred by my mother from pubs, betting shops and catholic churches, all places one just should not enter! However, being abroad it seemed different, and my hosts took me to the place where the saint had been buried. I found two prayer cards, one of St Francis de Sales, the other of St Jane de Chantal, and they were the first I ever possessed, and these two saints the first I ever asked their prayers of. I have them as two of my major patron saints, and have invoked them daily since that time.

I obtained this particular relic by making a special pilgrimage to the convent in Treviso. When he died his body was kept in Annecy, while his heart was sent to another convent in Italy. At the French Revolution the body was dumped in the lake, so the only thing left of him is his heart, uniquely appropriate given that he is a the great theologian of God's love. 

To be honest, I never took much notice of the  image of the Sacred Heart on the relic until David mentioned the image drawn by St Francis. So, I got it out to take a look remembering there was a Sacred Heart image there and wondering if it was the same as David was looking for, and to reflect on how I find myself taken back into the company of a saint I have come to love so much. 

And finally... a photo of today's work:

Sacred Heart as a diagram: less as more?

The devotion to the Heart of Jesus goes back to the Middle Ages. However, as far as I can make out, the first artistic representation of the Sacred Heart in a diagrammatical form was composed by St Francis de Sales in 1611. This was devised as a logo - as we would now term it - for the Order of the Visitation which he had cofounded with St. Jeanne de Chantal. This was comprised of a heart pierced by arrows on which was written the names of Jesus and Mary and surmounted by a cross. The heart was surrounded by a crown of thorns. ( Must try and get a copy! ) Saint Margaret Mary was a member of this order. It is thus not so surprising that the images she produced to promote the devotion owed much to this design of St Francis.

The drawing which St Margaret Mary was to produce in 1685 was itself a fusion of the evolution of the devotion at that stage, and her own mystical experiences. The main additions seems to be the idea of the heart as a furnace and the word ‘ Charitas’ - rather than Jesus and Mary- in the middle of the heart. She also adds a additional arrow. She wrote (in 1689) that:

I saw this divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal. It has its adorable wound and was encircled with a crown of thorns, which signified the pricks our sins caused Him. It was surmounted by a cross ...

These were to constitute the main features of the subsequent designs which derived from her experience. And what is clear from her letters is that these diagrams for private devotion and which in due course became more devotional pictures were seen an integral part of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. In her life-time it appears that the Scared Heart qua diagram was the main form of representation.

Although the painting by Batoni in 1767 was to introduce the idea of Jesus holding and later pointing to the heart, the symbol of the ‘disembodied’ heart has remained as a devotional symbol as well as been widely used as a logo and popular design. However, it is noticeable that few could be described as ‘ ‘transparent as crystal’. Most are distinctly fleshy and lacking any sense of transparency! The original drawing, however, shows the heart as transparent and not inked or coloured in.

Reflecting on the diagram which shows the heart in relation to Jesus’ human family ( Jesus,Mary and Joseph and Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim) it reminds me of a seating plan for a dinner. It serves to remind me that through Jesus becoming man, God now has a human heart. God is with us: one of the family of man. With us in what: the pain and suffering that is inevitable for humanity. But Jesus has suffered for and with us. But we hurt and wound this love by our behaviour. He is one of us: the fire of God which Moses saw burning on the holy mountain is now burning in the human heart. Burning with love for us. The diagram works well in explaining the mystery of God’s love for humanity. As a spiritual heuristic, it works. At first I did not think so, but the more one reflects and meditates on this simple little drawing which Saint Margaret Mary uses to explain what she experienced, the more it works: it draws you in. Less is more. The 'holy pictures' which became popular in the 19th and twentieth centuries showed the 'disembodied' heart design, but in far more graphic terms. But, try using the original as devotional object and it does serve to focus attention the meaning of the Sacred Heart. Little wonder that it proved so effective as a means of spreading the devotion. However, by the late 18th century it had, as far as I can discover, disappeared as an image to be replaced by the Batoni type images. It is not an image which tries to engage the viewer emotionally. It is a kind of 'mind map ' or 'spiritual map' to guide our exploration of the meaning of the Sacred Heart. As for myself, I think I will print a copy out, or try and get hold of a holy picture and use it, rather like the London underground map to orientate myself as I contemplate the Sacred Heart. Yes, less is definitely more.

Hello, man working on the ceiling

Thanks for these pictures. It will fascinating to see the work unfold.

Why is it Ian that this project keeps on opening up my heart? And in particular the memories of my father? My first thought when I saw them was to remember when I spent a summer painting our church ceiling when I was about 16! My father was a convert to Catholicism, before that he was Church in Wales ( Anglican). Out of the blue - a few months before - he just told us he was having his first communion! He had been taking instructions for months and told no-one, not even my mother! A short time after he had become a Catholic the parish priest (St. Cadoc's Llanrumney, Cardiff ) asked for volunteers to paint the Church ceiling. And of course, he volunteered us. He got the paint - which was light green - and set up the kind of scaffolding from which you are working at the moment and up we went. I was terrified at being up so high, but being with my father made me feel I would be alright. One day I asked him why he was doing it: after all he worked so hard all the time in the steelworks and hardly ever had free time, but he had set aside his precious free time that summer to paint the church ceiling. Then he said something that surprised me: I cannot remember exactly, but it was something about work and prayer. His work was hard and dangerous and was all about just getting through it to make a living. He hated his job. But, he said, painting the church gave him the opportunity - as a working man - to pray and be close to God through work. It was only green emulsion, we were not painting the Sistine chapel after all; but for him it was, I believe, a deeply spiritual act. After we finished we signed our names in a corner of the ceiling. Perhaps Ian, that is why I am actually involved in this icon project in the first place. Perhaps, that experience sank deep into my heart and was waiting to be released. I had really forgotten all about this episode in my life but seeing that scaffold and you painting brought it all back. Like my father, perhaps, I want to - through you - paint something beautiful for God. ( I hope I am not turning all psychological now!) But in the words of Bob Hope, 'Thanks for the memories.'

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The promised photos

Today it reportedly snowed in Amman, and here in Naur it was freezing cold, and icy rain. Could have been in the UK! However, it meant that the workman didn't stay long today so I was able to work in relative peace and quiet.

I was trying to work out the best combination of colours for the mandorla. As these large circles are very dominant it is important to get that right. There are various combinations, either reds and yellows or greens and blues mostly. The sanctuary is not so large, and I want to give a sense of space; I also want the altar and tabernacle to be visually central as they are the main loci for the liturgical space. The painting needs to grace the sanctuary and enhance its meaning as the point of union between heaven and earth where the Sacrifice of Christ is offered.

The circles of the nimbus have had an interesting effect of opening up the apse roof almost as if it were a dome; while the proportions of the figure of Christ give a sense of space upwards and outwards. As for colour, the original idea was for using real gold leaf but that would have costs literally thousands so that went, but I used a very watered down raw sienna which when you let the sediment settle leaves a lovely golden hue pigment. This applied as a wash gives a nice, light, desert tone, something which I am trying to emulate given the proximity of the desert here; it is also something the priest here has expressed his interest in.

Given the golden yellow ground, blueish green makes a nice compliment to it, and the green sets off the red robe of Christ nicely too. So using washes I am trying to get a sense of expanding Divine energies, from the Unknown darkness to the brilliance of transfiguration and theosis, all from the Sacred Heart which will be in gold leaf.

Waiting for scaffolding - not Godot!

Just read your NOTES FROM AMMAN ... trying to get through a hectic day! My problems here and on London transport hardly compare to yours at the moment. I have never worked in the middle east, but I have worked in places which are just as you describe. You reach a point and then - BANG! Been there and done it too often, I regret. Despite that, what you have written has moved me very much indeed, and it goes to the heart of the matter. It is a control thing. We - I - see my life as about getting control. Problems are about relationships of control as much as anything. And here am I doing the same thing: trying to get a kind of control by the application of analytical reasoning. But you are right, writing an icon is a process of unfolding . It is a gift relationship. It is not about my needs at all. This is not for me, it is a gift, a treasure which will never really belong to me. As I put my thought together I have to keep your advice to the forefront of my mind; So I will repeat them here, to remind me. I think Teilhard would like the idea of it being an evolutionary process. How appropriate! Writing an icon as tâtonnement! is a gift, something that demands of us more than we expect, at least that is true of the icon where we sit as the focus point. An icon is not a possession to meet our needs, as I think we have discovered on this blog. Rather it is a journey into the Truth, a living encounter with Christ. As an iconographer I have to try and respond to inspiration in the deepest and widest sense; the general requirements of the commissioner are important factors, sort of like pillars it must rest on, but in the end it cannot be restricted by those, but must have a life of its own. Think of a play by Shakespeare; he might have had a composition with a certain theme, like politics, the quality of mercy, a comedy about marriage, but the creativity makes it much more than these. In the end a work of spiritual art comes back to the commissioner as a gift, a treasure, something beyond his imagining or perceived needs. Thus a certain provisionality, something of that evolutionary trial and error, is essential.

The icon I finally write for you will, I sincerely hope, last long after you are gone, and your children and many generations to follow. It will live in many lives, in many contexts, speaking the Truth in a living way. Just like those ancient icons in St Catherine's monastery in Sinai, some over 1,500 yrs old, your icon is part of the patrimony of the Church, and as such a gift to you for your blessing, but its destiny lies far beyond the confines of your life, and current needs. In this sense we can truly call it a treasure, priceless, bringing a fragment of eternity into the now.

Notes from Amman

Well Lent began with a bang...literally as I lost my fuse. It is now nearly two weeks out here, and on Tuesday I began, finally, to work on the ceiling. In Arab countries things don't work quite the same as in Europe or the US...things either happen IMMEDIATELY or in the forever tomorrow. Unfortunately this project hit the 'tomorrow'.

As an artist I am dependent on others to provide certain of the tools I need. In my own studio things are more under my control though I still rely on a friendly carpenter to supply me with wood and to make up boards, as well as suppliers of gold leaf, brushes etc. However, for a large 'in situ' project you really need a whole range of assistance, not least scaffolding to get up to the 'canvas', and enough of it to be able to move around freely and safely (and I am not good with heights so that is quite important if I am to be able to relax enough to focus on the task in hand and not wrestling with vertigo!)

Eventually, on Monday, the scaffolding arrived, but it came late and there wasn't enough of it. Eventually Monday evening a very helpful engineer arrived and between us and the priest and Sami (who is sort of the caretaker) we managed to get something half decent concocted, including an all important light rigged up. Tuesday I spent a bit of time getting it just right so I could work as freely as possible, though the extra planking promised never did arrive. Tuesday then went very well, with the basic outline inscribed on the surface and painting begun. So, Wednesday, being the beginning of Lent, I was full of enthusiasm, and ready to get going.

However, when I got into the church I found that substantial parts of the scaffolding were missing! The builders needed to reach the roof and had helped themselves to various planks, scaffolding bits, a step ladder and dismantled the light! At such times my complete lack of the local language reduces me to a gibbering wreck as it proves so difficult to get anything straightened out. It took over an hour to get the scaffold back to a semblance of what it was before, including the utilisation of an old table top! It took me a lot longer to calm down, and of course trying to be creative when you are all stewed up doesn't work.

Anyway, today is back on track, and I am wrestling with the basic colours for the mandorla and background. I hope to have to photos to post later.

And one thing to add to your considerations is a gift, something that demands of us more than we expect, at least that is true of the icon where we sit as the focus point. An icon is not a possession to meet our needs, as I think we have discovered on this blog. Rather it is a journey into the Truth, a living encounter with Christ. As an iconographer I have to try and respond to inspiration in the deepest and widest sense; the general requirements of the commissioner are important factors, sort of like pillars it must rest on, but in the end it cannot be restricted by those, but must have a life of its own. Think of a play by Shakespeare; he might have had a composition with a certain theme, like politics, the quality of mercy, a comedy about marriage, but the creativity makes it much more than these. In the end a work of spiritual art comes back to the commissioner as a gift, a treasure, something beyond his imagining or perceived needs. Thus a certain provisionality, something of that evolutionary trial and error, is essential.

The icon I finally write for you will, I sincerely hope, last long after you are gone, and your children and many generations to follow. It will live in many lives, in many contexts, speaking the Truth in a living way. Just like those ancient icons in St Catherine's monastery in Sinai, some over 1,500 yrs old, your icon is part of the patrimony of the Church, and as such a gift to you for your blessing, but its destiny lies far beyond the confines of your life, and current needs. In this sense we can truly call it a treasure, priceless, bringing a fragment of eternity into the now.

Getting my act together

Poor Ian. I never thought that this exchange between us would get so deep and far-ranging. So many ideas and issues, and yet ultimately, you have to take them and write an icon inspired by these thoughts and musings. I am beginning to think that everyone who wants to really understand their faith and belief should commission an icon!! The term writing an icon seems wholly appropriate. At this stage, I think I really must try to pull things together. Trouble is, I have a BSc (econ) not a BA in theology or fine arts! And so, I have to use the tools I have to hand and that I know how to use in order to contribute to this opus. And that is absolutely right, it seems to me. I have to harness faith and reason - ratio et fides - with the tools that I have to hand. In which case, I think that I have set out four types of spiritual and artistic product: (1) Sacred Heart as drawing or diagram; (2) Sacred Heart as Batoni type; (3) Sacred Heart as Merson type and ; (4) Sacred Heart as 'Paray' type. The aim of this project is to produce a fifth type: an Icon of the Sacred Heart. What I have to do, in order to help Ian, is (as a customer) identify my preferences or formulate my 'utility preferences': in other words what do I get (my utility) in a spiritual sense from these different modes of representation. Of course, all choices - whether spiritual or material - have opportunity costs, costs and benefits and trade-offs. That is, if you get more of x you get less of y. By choosing to do A you cannot do B. Ten pounds or ten mins doing C can be measured in terms of the money or time you do not spend on D or E. Seems to me that spiritual utility works just like any other. So, I should ask what kind of spiritual / aesthetic utility ( and dis-utility) do I get from each type of image. In that way, I can better understand what kind of 'return' I want from a type 5! Another aspect of this spiritual economy ( and I know in theology the word economy has another meaning) is the cognitive utility: that is how does an given type of image function as a spiritual heuristic? I always give the example of the London underground map as a heuristic: its inventor, Harry Beck , solved the problem of people getting lost on the underground system by saying let us look at the underground as an electrical circuit diagram. It is not, but let us look at this way. And bingo: we all get smarter. Heuristics ( from the Greek "Εὑρίσκω" for to "find" or "discover" - as when Archimedes shouted ' Eureka!' ) make people smarter, so therefore a spiritual heurustic - such as an image - aims to make us more spiritual.

So, a key aspect of the economics of sacred images is the heuristic aspect of their utility. And, it follows, that will be different from person to person over time and space. What works for some people will not work for others. Spiritual utility will inevitably be a function of personal preferences over culture. Therefore, the question I have to pose to myself is 'what kind of spiritual values does a given mode of representation give?' In other words, I need to apply ratio to my fides! (Of course, I would ask my students to turn all this into a mathematical model- but that is going too far!)

My next set of blogs, therefore will, for poor Ian's sake, try to analyse what the existing image types do for me. In this way, I think I can clarify what our icon is all about! I hope this is helpful? I will return to the issue of 'The Sacred Heart and Evolution' at a later date!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Evolution of the Sacred Heart (4) The Road from Paris to Paray

What is that line from Daphne du Mauriers’s Rebecca? : ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..’ Well, last night I dreamt I went to Paray .. for the first time! It had been a long day: had tutorials from 9.00 and then a two hour postgrad workshop on the mysteries of cost benefit analysis; then in the afternoon, three hours straight on ‘ does evidence drive policy or does policy drive evidence? All followed by a horrendous commute home! As I sat there squashed between a very large gentleman playing with his mobile phone and several other large people all hooked up to their ipods or whatever I reflected on the irony of the fact that one of the case studies I had used in the morning lecture was on public policy in relation to obesity. Talk about taking one’s work home with you. And then I closed my eyes and dreamt of Paray-le Monial. Well, perhaps day-dreamed is more accurate. I have a little booklet on Paray published by the CTS and the cover came to mind as I sat there surrounded by ‘the growing obesity problem in the UK’. I just thought it would be so nice to be walking along the river Bourbince in the depths of Burgundy rather than compressed by the sheer weight and mass of my fellow humans in Farringdon! I suppose mentally I had spent too much time in Paris, and the logical next stage was to travel to where the modern devotion to the Sacred Heart began, the small town of Paray-le-Monial. So, I closed my eyes and travelled south. Why Paray? I think that as I reflected on what Ian had said about the Sacre Coeur mosaic made me focus on modern or twentieth century images: what else was there? I had been mulling this over in my mind - in between thinking about problems of devising metrics for essentially non-quantifiable variables (Yes, that is what I do!) - and by the time I was getting squashed in Farringdon my brain finally came up with: next stop, ‘Paray-le-Monial’.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and so went to mass and was duly reminded about my ultimate fate. I wrote the paragraph above, and then on my return home I set to work investigaing the fresco which takes centre stage in the apse of the Chapel of the Visitation. I think I sent Ian a copy of this early on in our discussions. The chapel is where St. Mary Margaret had her experiences of the Sacred Heart between 1673 and 1675. This chapel may not as famous as the basilica in Paris, but they are connected in a very profound way. The Sacre Coeur in Paris is built in direct response to what happened in this small unassuming place in Paray-le Monial. As images they have little in common: except that they both strike out in a different direction to the standard popular image. The Paray fresco, like the Merson mosaic it is also located in the apse of the building. And, like the Merson, the Paray fresco shows Christ with his arms outstretched. But, significantly this is Christ not in majesty, but crucified. However, like the mosaic the artist of the fresco chooses to emphasize light and literally waves of energy pulsing from the golden glow that is his heart.

The mural is by an artist called Luc Barbier and it was completed in 1966. As I was day dreaming about the pilgrimage we intend to make to Paray this summer (God willing) last night, it is strange that this afternoon I find that according to one source, which I have yet to verify, the mural was actually inspired by Teilhard’s ideas on the Sacred Heart! Whatever the truth of this, it is clear to me that in thinking about the image, and the devotion as a whole I now have a kind of triangle of images which inform one another. In social science we talk a lot about the importance of ‘triangulating’ data. So, in a sense, I think I have a triangulation to reflect upon. The Roman (Botoni) image; the Paris (Merson) mosaic and the Paray (Barbier) fresco. These seem to represent three different ‘stages’ in the evolution of the image, but also perhaps of the devotion itself. Some thinking and praying to do. I feel even more convinced now , more than ever, that it is only in the ICON, can we begin to capture what Teilhard is saying. That the Paray fresco appears to have been inspired by Teilhard fills me with confidence that the icon will be accepted as a wholly Catholic work. If Teilhard was good enough for Paray, it should be good enough to inspire and re-new the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Well, that is my hope. But for now, I have to find out more about Luc Barbier. AND....


Monday, 7 March 2011

Reflections on my Montmatre moment..

I am pleased by Ian's response. I wanted to state how a felt about Merson's great mosaic and then come back with a more sober and considered view, but Ian has raised all the issues I wanted to cover. And I thank him taking the time to do it. I wanted to contrast the image of the Gesu and the Merson mosaic because they are so very different. I grew up with the Batoni image and I have to confess, it did nothing for me. I found it sentimental and to use the word Teilhard used 'mawkish'. I think it got in the way of prayer and reflection. I have a suspicion that I am not on my own in that regard. When I went to the Sacre Coeur for the first time the mosaic was a revelation. I had never thought on that scale before. I remember at the time it made me think of a space rocket. It just felt the kind of image which fitted with the space age we were then in. It excited me. I think I went to Notre Dame a day or so later, and you are right, that was a more spiritual experience. The inhuman size of the Merson image was its appeal. This evening coming home of the train I had a copy of Teilhard 'Two Letters to a Friend' with me and this passage hit home, after Ian's comments:

..I simply think that , in present conditions, Christ is kept too small( as compared with the `World): ...the only trouble is - and may be - that they do not see the real size of the World..

Merson's Christ is not loving us or absorbing us in his love: he is totally dominating us. It is Wagner, not Mozart. It shows us Christ on a massive scale, which goes far beyond the intimacy of the Botoni image. In the mosaic we get the 'cosmic' scale of Christ, but we lose completely his humanity. Christ is no longer kept too small, he is massive and total. But as we look up we cannot see Jesus whose heart calls to our heart. So although I think it does break new ground as an image of the Sacred Heart, it loses so much of what the Sacred Heart is all about. We gain a sense of the size of Christ, but we completely lose the humanity of Jesus. And if we lose that, we have lost everything. Merson's Christ is seductive in that kind of Fascist ( dare I say Wagnerian ) way. You are right. For all its beauty it is not the Christ of cosmic power , it is the Christ of the powerful. It does for me capture Teilhard more than Botoni types, but it still falls way too short. That is why, I think, I came to the realization that an icon was the only language which could begin to express the ideas we find in Teilhard. Does all of that make sense? (In other words, the Merson image is, I suppose a love-hate thing for me - again rather like Wagner!)

It has been a long day, but I think what Ian has touched upon and what I have to think about is the political / economic/ social dimension of the Sacred Heart. That is important to me. And which ever way to go, that brings us back to Sacre Coeur. Because, above all else, it is a political statement. I think Teilhard has much to say about this that is relevant to how we see the Sacred Heart today. What role can the devotion play in the world in the 21st century? It is tempting to think that the answer to that question is in Montmatre, but it never was, and never will be. But it is a good place from which to start looking for the answers - and above all the questions. This icon, I believe, is an important part of that search.

Me and Merson

Thanks for your thoughts on what I have said about the Merson mosaic. I do not disagree with you in the least. I will put a blog up on the politics of the Sacred Heart in France and in that I wil explore many of the thoughts you express. I think, however, that the point is that it does mark a break with the line of development that had begun with the image in the Gesu. For me that is the wow factor. And it is exploring some of the ideas we find in Teilhard: would I want a copy on my wall?? No! It is not in any sense a devotional object : it is there to impress. One could compare it with other large scale images of Christ in Majesty on this point. I think that what it did for me was to get me to appreciate the need for a new direction, and I think that is why I contacted you about an icon. So, I don't think we are on different pages on this one. I suppose it is because I am so weary of the Gesu image that Merson does shake it up for me in the right direction: away from the sentimentalism associated with 'traditional image' . At this stage I think I am interesting in exploring the evolution of the image and Merson's work is I think a defining moment in that evolution. It is interesting, however, that I cannot find any sign that it had much influence. So as an evolutionary stage what we see in the cul de four is a cul de sac!! But it is all the more interesting for that. I think I know why is does not go anywhere in evolutionary terms: and I think you have nailed it!

Hope your work is going well!

Sacre Ceour

I found David's observations about the mosaic of the Sacred Heart in Sacre Coeur very interesting. I spent a little time taking a closer look at the imagery but my conclusions are rather different.

I haven't been to Sacre Coeur for several years, but remember being struck by its grandeur, not least it being stuck right on top of the hill dominating the surroundings. I also remember the Presence of Christ which you can almost taste. The Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament sets the tone of the spiritual space, as I sense is true of all Catholic buildings (compare Westminster Abbey with Westminster Cathedral or Notre Dame for example, where the former has, for me, a rather desultory, forlorn feeling while the later two while still being thronged with tourists manages somehow to have a 'freshness' and an 'aliveness' difficult to describe except as the spring air you find on a walk in the Alps.

So, yes, Sacre Coeur has a special Presence, but I don't know if the art is really a part of that. It is in that Catholic style peculiar to late 19th century early 20th century France, full of triumphalist bravado. Byzantine art was an imperial art style, and you can see why it would appeal to the imperial Catholics of France, when Catholicism experienced something of a 'miraculous' revival following on from Lourdes, but also battling against the forces of secularism, masonry, Gallicanism and many other non or anti Catholic 'isms' that were current in France at the time. Place this in the context of the rise of Ultramontanism, and the precarious position of the Papacy following the various democratic revolutions in the Papal States and across Catholic Europe and South America, and this rather overbearing style finds its place.

But I am not sure it is really a liturgical style. It isn't a style to bring you to prayer, but just to impress, at best to make you think. This image of the Sacred Heart is all about a power that is dominating, and that is a style of power which Jesus warned his disciples about, a wordly power that 'lords it over' others. This is an imperial, nationalistic style where the glory is of Catholic France. Byzantine art, while the art of an imperial culture, transcends that by not being itself a wordly art form, but one which challenges by transcending the material and political world by an eternal vision of what lies at the heart of all things.

From the bits and pieces I have read about Teilhard, his sense is of the vulnerability of an evolutionary way of understanding God at work, of the provisionality, mistakes, and gradualness of this is far from being a part of Merson's image. The glory and wonder of the world of matter and its immense energy is not an imperial vision, but something much grander. It isn't about external forces dominating others, but of the wonder of Truth manifesting itself almost irresistibly in a complex unity that manifests its wonder in myriad of interconnected forms eternally, 'unto the ages of ages'. It is a humble power, weak as well as strong, vulnerable as well as magnificent. The image in Sacre Coeur seem to me far, far from that. There is no vulnerability there at all; it is lofty and overbearing, in many ways a worldly art using spiritual themes for a nationalistic agenda (note the prominence of St Joan of Arc for example and the big papal tiara). In short, I find it soul-less and spiritually superficial, even if impressive and even awe inspiring in the sense that I marvel at the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe.

But perhaps I am missing the idea of the Omega point? Is the image in the basilica the end point, the point where all is achieved in Christ, evolution reaching its transcendent moment? Well the image could certainly reflect something of that, but if it is the energy of love which is at the heart of all things, then shouldn't this  be a compassionate image? For me it is reminiscent of the images of mechanical human brute force so beloved by the fascists and communists, a figure to rival those ideologies on their own terms. The face is so impersonal, not just a bit fierce as in many Pantocrator images, but distant which is the very antithesis of the icon. It is also very 'wordly', the spiritual world of angels and saints, is depicted in a very earthly style, for example the light is reflected light, not an interior glow, not a furnace that glows bright within.

The icon engages with the eyes of the Lord. Here the figure is impersonal to us, a distant deity to be worshiped from afar, yes with fervour but not with intimacy. The Mother of God is diminutive,pleading but not as in the icons where she humbly stands beside her Son raised into His Divine Dignity, intimate with him. Here, then, there is no sense of theosis. Christ presides over all but in a way which excludes us, rather than makes us integral to it.

So, sorry David to be so critical of an image that speaks so strongly to you, but  I guess we are diverging from each other a bit here, which isn't a bad thing per se as it means we can explore these images more rigorously and mine their meaning more sharply. I await your reply with interest!

ICON course

I am running an icon course for beginners at the Greek Catholic monastery in Bethlehem, the Holy Land, from April 29th - May 6th 2011 and have some spare places. The cost is very cheap, just £320 for full board, ensuite single rooms and full time tuition for 7 days. Some materials are included, but all can be provided for an extra £80. You just need to get there!

I thought some of you following this blog might want to try icon painting (or writing to use the technical term) and what better opportunity that to do so in a living Byzantine monastic community overlooking the church where Jesus was born and the wonderful vista of the Judean desert and the Jordanian mountains?

For further details and booking form pls see my website under 'Bethlehem Icon School'

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Sacre Coeur: more detail

On the left hand side of 'Christ in Majesty' in the 'cul de four' we can see the Pope presenting the whole world to Christ and the Virgin Mary leading a procession of the five continents. This reflected the significance of the fact that, by this time, the Sacred Heart was now seen in a global rather than purely national dimension. Viewed from beneath we can see Christ in relation to the Father and the Holy Spirit. Christ is stretching out his arms and uniting earth and the stars and the kingdom of heaven. And, re my other blogs: it just dawned on me that the term cul de four in french is derived from the french for 'furnace'. (as in haut fourneau - blast furnace, I think`) So, this is a Sacred Heart in a furnace. St John Eudes would be pleased!

The evolution of the Sacred Heart (3) Christ in Majesty / Sacré-Coeur

I first visited Montmatre when I was in my first year at university. ( Or it may have been the summer before I went up?) I had gone to Paris to help a mate look for his girl friend. He had met her in London and she had moved to Paris to work. We camped in the Bois de Boulogne and went out looking for her and despite all the odds and lack of much information we found her. Three is a crowd and so I left them to bill and coo and went off to explore Paris. There were two things I wanted to see in Montmatre: the Church of Saint Peter which had been a ‘temple of reason’ during the revolution and, of course, the great basilica of Sacré-Coeur. ( I also wanted to look cool, drink coffee and read Camus in a café. ) I shall never forget the feeling of awe that I experienced as I looked up at the great mosaic above the high altar. And the last time I was there with my wife pour un ‘week-end’ a few years ago I still uttered a ‘wow’ equal to that of my youth. The famous mosaic by Luc-Oliver Merson was completed in 1922 and marked ( I believe) a big step forward in the depiction of the Sacred Heart. This was not the Sacred Heart of the Gesu in Rome: but it is very much the Sacred Heart which Teilhard was to describe. I have no idea if Teilhard ever saw Merson’s work. I have not found any reference to it anywhere in his writings, so perhaps he had, but chose not mention it. That really does not matter. What matters is that the apse ( or cul de four) in the Sacré-Coeur shows how the Sacred Heart could evolve in the kind of direction suggested by Teilhard. When I saw I Christ in Majesty again a few years ago some long forgotten words of Teilhard from his Le Milieu Divin flooded back to me ( I quoted them in an earlier blog, but here they are again):

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.

It also brought to mind his words in Writings in Time of War, where he says:

You at the Centre at which all things meet and which stretches over all things so as to draw them back into yourself: I love you for the extensions of your body and soul to the furthest corners of creation through grace, through life, and through matter’.

As we gaze up at the magnificence of the apse in Sacre Coeur are we not a long way removed from the painting of Batoni? Of course we are. The whole basilica is a Byzantine inspired statement which sets out to distance itself from the baroque - and broken - past. We are no longer in Rome: we are in Byzantine France! Not in an ancient basilica mentioned by Teilhard but in a basilica completed in the 20th century ! Luc-Oliver Merson’s apse appears to my eyes very much in tune with Teilhard. The image was clearly still evolving by the 1920s, but for the most part the images of the Sacred Heart that were most common was that of the Batoni variety. But here we find an image which is powerfully evocative of Teilhard. There is Christ with his vast all embracing arms stretching out and touching the whole of the universe. From his golden glowing heart streams beams of light. Every thing is converging towards him in the final Parousia. This is the Sacred Heart as the King of creation. He is the centre of centres which extends throughout the universe. He is triumphant and is clothed in glory. He extends himself to unite the universe with heaven: father, son and holy spirit.

Merson’s Sacred Heart is the Sacred Heart which had been dedicated to the whole world. This is the Sacred Heart of the universe: Christ in Majesty, Christ the King and Christ Omega. But sadly, I cannot discern much by way of this mosaic having any significant influence on the popular image of the Sacred Heart. (Although statues do seem to evolve as they incorporate more of a sense of Christ the King.) As an evolutionary step it did not seem to move the image very far. Batoni type images were to remain the dominant representation for the rest of the century. And Luc-Oliver Merson, having been commissioned to undertake such a prestigious work of art, died two years before it was completed. And this new vision perhaps died with him. It would be interesting to trace the influence of this work - but that may be another blog.

It was, I think, this great work in the Sacre Coeur which convinced me that an icon - ‘a cupola in a basilica’ - would be better able to capture this feeling I experienced all those years ago than a ‘western’ representational picture. From then on when I thought of the Sacred Heart I wanted to see and feel it was was Sacre Coeur image, not the Botoni types that i tried to focus on. Nothing less than the Parousia! The Sacred Heart of Jesus, clothed in the glory of creation and at the centre of a convergent universe folding around him.

Sacre Coeur is also important for another dimension of this project. The piece at start of this blog which was published in the Catholic Herald in 2010 points out that the Sacred Heart is a VERY political devotion. Perhaps - indeed no perhaps - the most political of all Catholic devotions. Sacre Coeur was itself a VERY political statement. The blog will return to this in due course. BUT because of the controversial position of the basilica in French political history, it is not so surprising that the 'Byzantine' image was not disseminated or popularised like the 'Roman' image. I can find no evidence of prints in circulation.