Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Getting back in focus

Well after a rather long absence I am back on the case! David has given us some fascinating glimpses of the way in which devotion to the Sacred Heart takes us into every aspect of the Christian faith, and the nuances which this devotion has found in writings from Pope Benedict to Dante. All of this obviously provides a rich and fertile soil for our project.

However, we need to now draw things into focus if we are to begin to make a coherent and powerful image. So, lets get back to fundamentals, not least the Scriptures, basic Christology and the Person of Christ. This I believe is the ascetical route that enables me as an iconographer to begin to conceive of the image afresh. We already have the work done in Naur, and I hope to build on this now. My plan is that we will have the icon  complete by the end of this month or perhaps the middle of July.

One little set back however. The board has warped a little so I am thinking to have a new one made up. This will set us back a little time wise but I think we need to have as good a job as possible.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus – Back in Focus

The ‘heart’ appears in Scripture over 1000 times, and is a metaphor for the centre of a person, an anthropological characteristic, where is found good and evil[1]. It is the place where we know and choose, the place of conversion, renewal, of choice for or against God, of knowing God and ourselves in the fullest, deepest sense. It is the place where the human person comes to know and be known by God, the centre of the human character. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jer 31:32

It is also used, occasionally, about the Holy of Holies as the centre or ‘heart’ of the temple and about Jerusalem as the ‘heart’ or centre of the world. The ‘heart’ of the world is Jerusalem, the ‘heart’ of Jerusalem is the Temple, the heart of the Temple is the Holy of Holies. And the Holy of Holies is where God dwells, symbolised in the Old Testament narratives by the shekhinah, or cloud of glory that first accompanied Moses in the desert and finally settled on the Tent of Meeting. Subsequently this became the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, for the cloud rested [shakhan] upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle." Exodus 40:34-35. “In classic Jewish thought, the Shekhinah refers to a dwelling or settling in a special sense, a dwelling or settling of divine presence, to the effect that, while in proximity to the Shekhinah, the connection to God is more readily perceivable.”  The symbol of this indwelling glory is a golden light, brightness, luminosity or fire, often in the form of a cloud, such as travelled with the Hebrews through the desert, or that came upon the Mountain of Horeb when God gave the Law, or the flames of the burning bush, or that was manifest in the visions of the prophets such as Ezekiel. “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” Ezekiel 1:28 

With the Person of Christ, these two aspect meet. Being True Man and True God, the anthropology of Christ gains a deeper, sacred significance. In John’s Gospel we have the following dialogue after Jesus drives out the money changers from the Temple: “Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” Jn 2:14-16. If the Body of Christ is the new Temple, then the heart of Jesus is the new Holy of Holies. And this heart is thus symbolised as a place of divine Light or Fire.

 The heart of Jesus is thus a Christological phenomenon, the centre point of the whole Person of Christ, true God and true Man, the meeting of the hypostatic union of the two natures, human and divine, the point of co-inherence. As such, it is the meeting point of the Creation with its Creator and Redeemer, the Omega Point, origin and consummation of existence. The Biblical image for this Life is as Light. St John writes “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 1:3-5 New American Bible

And Light is energy; not just any energy but here in the Person of Christ divine energy. Vladmir Lossky, drawing on the Patristic theological insights and language, expresses it this way:  “This distinction is that between the essence of God, or His nature, properly so-called, which is inaccessible, unknowable and incommunicable; and the and the energies or divine operations, forces proper to and inseparable from God’s essence, in which He goes forth from Himself, manifests, communicates, and gives Himself. ”

St Basil: “It is by His energies that we say we know our God; we do not assert that we can come near to the essence itself, for His energies descend to us, but his essence remains unapproachable”. Epistle 234. As the heart is the seat of our ‘knowing’, and especially of our ability to know and love God, then in Christ His Sacred Heart is the place of His self-knowledge and His self-revealing, where He is truly one Person in two Natures. It is the energies that flow through His heart by which the cosmos is Created, redeemed and gathered together into the new creation. Light is the symbolic manifestation of these energies. We see this in the vision of the Sacred Heart, but also in the experience of theosis in such people as St Symeon the New Theologian and many of the Hesychast fathers of the east.   The human heart becomes, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through sacramental grace such as baptism and the Eucharist, filled with the Divine Light or Fire of the shekinah.

That which shines forth from the heart of Christ it is the Divine Light that blinds, that reveals and yet hides, that brings knowing and un-knowing, that wounds and heals. These energies of God can be best known and described as love. St John tells us that ‘God is love’. Teilhard de Chardin speaks of this love which creates, and re-creates, that is the evolutionary energy that brings about all things into the One.
Christian anthropology understands our destiny, into which we evolve through the working on us of Divine Love and Fire, in other words the Holy Spirit, as the destiny of love, for God and our neighbour. St Paul describes love is the greatest of the three things known now which will endure the end of all things, and the very essence of the good life of the Christian.

All of this is literally mind shattering. I find my head fragmenting into shards trying to comprehend all of this and hold some sort of sense from it, but it is literally beyond the pallid little mind I have, mortal creature that I am.

Given this, it is not surprisingly that the devotional use of the Sacred Heart has rather side-lined the theological, with the emphasis on reparation, and the stirring up of the emotion of pity for the poor suffering Saviour, of a desire in us to console. The ascetical image of the Sacred Heart has never had a chance to emerge given the overwhelming simpering sentimentality which Teilhard refers to so negatively. Though the vision of St Margaret Mary was ascetic, the Sacred Heart a living ball of Light surmonted by the Cross, bearing a wound and crowned by thorns, rather than a pierced dripping piece of glowing flesh, the language of devotion found in her writings, and indeed of many others, was deeply emotional, sensual, passionate as was usual at that time. Given this it was inevitable that the imagery that grew up around this would be the same and much of the language around it equally evocative in the same way.

In order to re-discover the ascetical imagery we need to adopt ascetical language too. This is where the patristic inheritance helps. Despite the difficulties of thinking in those refined terms, through its discussion of Christian anthropology  and the Divine Energies, the heart of Christ can be understood as the centre of the God’s power as experienced in our world and transforming it, as creative and redemptive. In the Person of Jesus, in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this comes to its apex, its Omega Point. This, I would suggest, is the point of departure for the icon of the Sacred Heart.

Once we have this as the main focus, we can weave some of the other elements, more specifically the vision of Teilhard.

[1] The Sacred Heart of the World: Restoring Mystical Devotion to Our Spiritual Life,   By David Richo p. 11


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