Sunday, 31 July 2011

Safely delivered on the feast day of St Ignatius

Ian arrived with the icon and we are absolutely delighted. But the journey to the Sacred Heart has really only just begun. The writing of the icon is completed, and now the reading of and praying with the icon begins! How appropriate it should be on the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola - the founder of Teilhard's order! And no, we didn't plan it! Our deep and heart-felt thanks to Ian. It is truly a remarkable achievement as it shows how (in the words of Pius XI) the Sacred Heart is indeed 'Totius religionis summa'. A complete summation of our Catholic faith. SEE HERE FOR LARGER IMAGE of the Sacred Heart as Christ Omega - the Universal Christ .

That the icon arrived on the feast of St. Ignatius was entirely unplanned, but also so providential. Throughout all his difficulties with Rome and with his Society, Teilhard remained an obedient Jesuit. He could have simply just left the order and he would have been free to publish his work, but he remained unto the last obedient to the will of his superiors. It was utterly inconceivable to him that he would leave or disobey his superiors. Prof. Ursula King, one of the great authorities on Teilhard sums it up nicely:

The world-affirming quality of Teilhard’s spirituality bears the hallmark of Ignatian spirituality with its emphasis to find God in all things, not only in a religious context, in prayer and meditation, but in all human experiences and activities. Jesuit spirituality has a very active character, and Teilhard represents this spirituality in a decidedly modern form. Christ in All Things, SCM Press,1977. P 159-60

Like St. Ignatius, Teilhard looked for God in all things. And in evolution he found God unifying all things: drawing all things into the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart: the heart of the world’s heart; the golden glow; the focus of ultimate and universal energy; the vortex of the cosmos itself. Evolution had a direction, a focus, a point of convergence: the Sacred Heart.

Yes, his order was rather worried about what Teilhard was up to, and refused him permission to publish his ideas, but we must always remember that despite this the Society of Jesus also allowed him to pursue a highly productive research career as a leading paleontologist of his day. The fact that there is such a wealth of Teilhardian scholarship and commentary published by Jesuits shows that they regard him as one of their own. So the delivery of the icon on this day was very welcome and made me smile.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Final Journey

The icon is now packed, ready for delivery to David's home tomorrow... :)

The scroll

An aspect of the icon which is not ‘old’ but ‘new’ is the scroll at the top of the icon and gives a real sense of a cosmic or universal Christ. Ian notes that:

... the sun and moon, set against a map of gravitational energy, emanating from the planets and stars, [is] being rolled up to make way for the new heavens and the new earth. … The heavens here are as a scroll being rolled up, and the pattern behind is drawn from one of the latest imaging of gravitational energy. Modern science has enabled us to perceive far more of the wonders of the universe than ever before in the history of the world, and maybe even of the cosmos as a whole. There are invisible forces at work, all within the marvelous order of creation, and all of which has its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.

The scroll is an excellent example of how the blog has contributed to the writing of the icon. In this case I put a few ideas together and Ian (brilliantly) captured them in iconographic terms. The idea (Read here.) of ‘gravity’ waves was, of course, originally put forward by Einstein in his theory of relativity in 1916: Einstein’s theory suggested that gravity would – in curving space-time – exist as waves rippling from bodies in space-time- like a rock thrown in a pond. Recent research has made some fascinating breakthroughs in simulating such theoretical waves.

In simple terms (!! ) love for Teilhard is a fundamental energy in the universe. It flows out from God , and like Dante, Teilhard sees it as the energy that ‘moves the sun and other stars’. It is this (gravitational) energy which human beings have to harness, like all the other energies in the cosmos. So the scroll nicely illustrates the cosmos, but also provides a focus for reflecting on the challenge of harnessing, for God, the energy of love that permeates all things in Christ.

A few quotes:

'Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and most mysterious of cosmic forces.....Love is the primal psychic energy...Love is a sacred reserve of energy...the blood of spiritual evolution' Teilhard, ' The Spirit of The Earth', in Human Energy.
'Love is nothing more or less than the direct or indirect trace marked in the heart of the element by the psychic convergence of the universe upon itself', Teilhard, The Human Phenomenon.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Cross and the Sacred Heart

Ian notes that: 'The Archangels Michael and Gabriel hold the exalted Cross which crowns the composition, behind which the sun and moon, set against a map of gravitational energy, emanating from the planets and stars, being rolled up to make way for the new heavens and the new earth. In the visions of the Sacred Heart it is surmounted by the Cross, so the whole icon is here with the exalted Cross. The Cross touches into the depth of the darkness of God's Mystery, while reaching out into the heavens, displayed between the portents of the sun and moon. The heavens here are as a scroll being rolled up, and the pattern behind is drawn from one of the latest imaging of gravitational energy. Modern science has enabled us to perceive far more of the wonders of the universe than ever before in the history of the world, and maybe even of the cosmos as a whole. There are invisible forces at work, all within the marvelous order of creation, and all of which has its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. '

Here again, we have much to think and reflect upon. This element of the icon provides a focus for a good deal of prayer and food for thought. And, as in other aspects of the icon, Ian combines the old and new aspects of the Sacred Heart so as to deepen our understanding of the image and the devotion. Let us just focus on the cross here.

The cross is an important feature of the of the image of the Sacred Heart. In the standard type of Sacred Heart images the cross is usually on top of the heart and surrounded by fire. In this icon. however, the cross does not surmount the heart but surmounts the image of Christ Omega, but it serves the same ‘function’: to remind us of the crucifixion and the passion of Christ. Here, however, we see Christ in glory – at the Parousia – and so it is fitting that the cross should be of the exalted type. The cross, as in the standard image, is actually rooted in the Sacred Heart – here depicted in terms of the nimbus of the divine centre. But, in keeping with Teilhard’s Pauline conception of the Sacred Heart as a cosmic focal point of all creation, the cross reaches out and encompasses the sun and the moon and the cosmos itself.

The cross is VERY important to Teilhard, just as it is very important to the Sacred Heart. Read, for example what he says on the meaning of the cross in The Divine Milieu.

In its highest and most general sense, the doctrine of the Cross is that to which all men adhere who believe that the vast movement and agitation of human life opens on to a road which leads somewhere, and that that road climbs upward. Life has a term: therefore it imposes a particular direction, orientated, in fact, towards the highest possible spiritualisation by means of the greatest possible effort. To admit that group of fundamental principles is already to range oneself among the disciples-distant, perhaps, and implicit, but nevertheless real-of Christ crucified. Once that first choice has been made, the first distinction has been drawn between the brave who will succeed and the pleasure-seekers who will fail, between the elect and the condemned.

The meaning of human evolution - and pain and suffering - is therefore to be found in the cross.

To sum up, Jesus on the Cross is both the symbol and the reality of the immense labour of the centuries which has, little by little, raised up the created spirit and brought it back to the depths of the divine milieu. He represents (and in a true sense, he is) creation, as, upheld by God, it reascends the slopes of being, sometimes clinging to things for support, sometimes tearing itself from them in order to pass beyond them, and always compensating, by physical suffering, for the setbacks caused by its moral downfalls. The Cross is therefore not inhuman but superhuman. We can now understand that from the very first, from the very origins of mankind as we know it, the Cross was placed on the crest of the road which leads to the highest peaks of creation. But, in the growing light of Revelation, its arms, which at first were bare, show themselves to have put on Christ: Crux inuncta. At first sight the bleeding body may seem funereal to us. Is it not from the night that it shines forth? But if we go nearer we shall recognise the flaming Seraph of Alvernus whose passion and compassion are incendium mentis. The Christian is not asked to swoon in the shadow, but to climb in the light, of the Cross.

(Harper Row Edition,1960, p 102 ; 104.

The Sacred Heart is about light and energy and love and fire - as this icon makes clear. But it is also about pain and suffering: hence the centrality of the cross. In his (UTTERLY INSPIRING essay which I highly recommend as someone who took great comfort from it) ‘The Significance and Positive Value of Suffering’ he says this:

What a vast ocean of human suffering spreads over the entire earth at every moment ! Of what is this mass formed ? Of blackness, gaps and rejections? No, let me repeat, of potential energy. In suffering the ascending force of the world is concealed in a very intense form. The whole question is how to liberate it and give it a consciousness of its significance and potentialities. The world would leap high towards God if all the sick together were to turn their pain into a common desire that the kingdom of God should come to rapid fruition through the conquest and organization of the earth. All the sufferers of the earth joining their sufferings so that the world's pain might become a great and unique act of consciousness, elevation and union. "Would not this be one of the highest forms that the mysterious work of creation could take in our sight ? Could it not be precisely for this that the creation was completed in Christian eyes by the passion of Jesus ? On the cross, we are perhaps in danger of seeing only an individual suffering, a single act of expiation. The creative power of that death escapes us. Let us take a broader glance, and we shall see that the cross is the symbol and place of an action whose intensity is beyond expression. Even from the earthly point of view, the crucified Jesus, fully understood, is not rejected or conquered. It is on the contrary he who bears the weight and draws ever higher towards God the universal march of progress. Let us act like him, in order to be in our whole existence united with him.

In Human Energy,Collins, 1969:51-2

In the cross we see a symbol full of meaning for our understanding of evolution and of the Sacred Heart.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

C'est finis!

It is finished. Laus Deo! Please God I will deliver it to David on Sunday, which as David has pointed out to me is the feast of St Ignatius Loyola, founder of Teilhard's Order, the Jesuits. How very apt!

The measuring angel

Let us return to the top of the icon. In the far right of the icon is an angel. Ian notes:

... To the right we have the angel carrying a measuring line from the Book of Revelation (Rev 21:15), measuring out the new Creation, principally the new Jerusalem. This reminds us of the profound order within Creation which will continue and be fulfilled in the new...

I think it is significant that the angel it is diagonally opposite the figure of Adam. From Adam the icon invites us to contemplate the new creation which will come into being through Christ Omega. As our eyes travel from the bottom left to the top right we encounter the one who will put an end to the old creation in which the children of Adam have thus far evolved. He will wipe away all the tears and pain which has been the lot of humanity and of all living things which inhabit this ‘valley of tears’ . The law of entropy will be abolished. Death will be no more. Alpha and Omega will make all things new. And then we see the angel measuring the dimensions of the new creation which has no need of moons and stars : it is a creation bathed in the light of divine love. And we can also see the angel as measuring out the long evolutionary journey which the cosmos and the children of Adam have taken to converge on the beginning and the end point.

In the Sacred Heart at the very centre of all centres in the icon we are shown the beginning and the end of all things. We look into the heart of Christ Omega and see, like Dante, our beginning and our end. We realise, as we contemplate the furnace of the Sacred Heart, that we are being pulled into unity with the Cosmic Christ, revealed as:

L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stele.

Yes, none other than the Sacred Heart of the universe : The love that moves the sun and the other stars.

The heart that calls to our heart.

Adam and the Sacred Heart

The figure of Adam is also a window into another dimension of the Sacred Heart - as Christ Omega , the universal Christ. Ian describes the image thus:

Entwined on the left is Adam prostrating himself, representing the whole of humanity in need of redemption, the weary and heavy of heart whom Christ bids come to Him…

This reminds us of the fact that we – like Adam – seek God’s mercy for all the times we have not loved, for all the times when we have declined or refused God’s love. Mercy for all the times we have been heartless, and failed to treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Mercy for all the times we have taken and not given. Mercy for all the times we have hindered the coming of the Kingdom of the Father. Mercy for all the times we have done our will, and not the will of the Father. For all the times we have closed our heart rather than opened it. For all the times we have chosen sin – death – rather than life , the love of God.

In Adam we also seek mercy and forgiveness for all the times when we have lanced the very heart of God by not retuning all the love he gives to us. Mercy for all the times when His heart has called to our Heart and we have, like Adam, hidden from God. Thinking of this recently I recalled a time when I felt so hurt and wounded when someone to whom I had given so much help and support returned my kindness with the complete opposite. The Sacred Heart should make us think of how we -poor children of Adam - are capable of hurting the very (human )heart of the creator by our refusal to return His love for us. Jesus - Christ Omega, the Second Adam - offers his heart to us and yet individually and as a species we all too often return His love with hate and indifference. In the Sacred Heart we see God' s vulnerability to human sin.

How does Adam stand in relation to the heart which calls to him? In Jesus God has a human heart. A heart which is the product of a long evolutionary process. Adam represents us, the species Homo Sapiens. His presence in the icon serves to remind us that for Teilhard God is a God of evolution. When we reflect on Christ Omega and the Sacred Heart at the centre of the cosmos we recall what Teilhard wrote on his Sacred Heart card found on his desk.

Sacred Heart of Jesus , the heart of evolution, unite me to yourself.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, the heart of God, unite me to yourself.
Sacred Heart of Jesus , the heart of the world’s heart, unite me to yourself.
Sacred Heart of Jesus , focus of ultimate and universal energy, unite me to yourself.

In Adam we see ourselves and understand the universal Christ which he kneels before seeking love and mercy. The Sacred Heart: the focal point - the Omega point - of a cosmic vortex which is pulling the children of Adam towards union with the Trinity. However, it must be said that the very presence of Adam in this icon raises some major issues in relation to Teilhard. Adam was the source of a good deal of trouble for Teilhard. For as a paelontologist he could not accept that we should see Adam in the literal biblical sense. Even now in the 21st century there are some people who reject evolution as being wholly incompatible with scripture. For such people, of course Teilhard is seen as a dangerous and malign figure in the history of the Catholic Church. So is not too difficult to understand how - in the 1920s - the very idea of evolution was believed to be subversive and irreligious. Thus Teilhard was a real problem for his order and for Rome. Teilhard’s idea that we should see Adam and original sin through an evolutionary perspective was seen as VERY dangerous. As was his view that the Incarnation was a cosmic event and not about the sin of Adam in a literal sense.

What we see in the image of the Sacred Heart in the icon is best understood in the context of St. Paul.

In this Pauline sense rather than a literal sense, Adam represents the ‘old man’: humanity as it was prior to the Incarnation. Jesus is the new Adam: an entirely new stage or phase in the history of our species and of creation. In Adam we are also drawn into the purpose of the Incarnation. From the beginning, long before Adam’s fall Christ came into existence to express the Father’s love of his creation. Before Adam was, before human beings walked this earth Christ was predestined as the centre of the universe which would draw all things into himself. Christ is ALPHA and omega, the beginning and the end point of creation.

Teilhard would have smiled to see Adam in an icon of the Sacred Heart, because Adam gave him quite so much hurt and pain in his life. For Teilhard the Incarnation could not be understood simply in terms of the fall of Adam and his sin. And this caused problems for him with his order and with Rome. His love of a Christ for whom the cosmos itself was brought into being could not be understood as simply a response to the fall of Adam. In this regard he was very much in tune with the Franciscan school of theology. For Teilhard as for the great Franciscan theologian John Dun Scotus, the Incarnation was a cosmic event which was independent of the fall of Adam. Although Teilhard was a Jesuit, in many ways he was much closer to the Franciscan school. Indeed, I think that is one way to understand his way of looking at the Sacred Heart. He is a Jesuit who is looking through a Franciscan lens. However, rather like the character of Monsieur Jourdain in Moliiere’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme who suddenly realizes he has been speaking prose all his life, it was not until the 1940s that he realized that he had been speaking Franciscan all his life. Whilst in Peking he met with Gabriel Allegra who told him all about John Duns Scotus and enlightened him as to what he had in common with the Franciscan belief in the ‘absolute primacy of Christ’ – what Teilhard refers to as the Pleroma.
Thus when we look at the figure of Adam we are looking through a window into a way of seeing Christ which actually predates Teilhard by many hundreds of years. As Teilhard says to the Venerable Gabriel Allegra: ‘Although traveling different paths, we tend towards the same goal, that is the source of light and fire which is le Grand Christ.’ ( Conversatiosn with Teilhard, p105) They both make a reference to the Sacred Heart in this regard.

Allegra. Pere Teilhard, your expression ‘ the source of light and fire’ reminds me of another expression of St. Francis of Assisi: ‘ignita et melluflua vis amoris Dei’ ( the fiery and sweet force of the love of God). Don’t you think that this is expression is very appropriate to the Heart of Jesus and the Holy Spirit?’ (105)

In response to Allegra’s exposition of the importance of God’s infinite love, and the way the Franciscan tradition sees the ‘whole of creation permeated by love’ and that it is this love which is ‘all powerful and rules the heavens’ and which expresses the meaning of the Incarnation Teilhard observes:

I see now in a new light the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of Christ the King: ‘ Cor Jesu, in quo Pater sibi bene complacuit!’ ( Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased’. ( 100)

After listening to Allegra’s exposition of Dun Scotus’s Summula in respect of the Incarnation Teilhard explained: ‘ There you have the cosmic theology, the theology of the future!’ ( 92)

Adam is therefore a VERY important part of this icon: it is yet another window into the heart of Christ and into a ‘cosmic theology of the future’.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Nova et Vetera

Today has been a beautiful day in London. We spent the morning and early afternoon in Hampstead. I must admit to feeling as if I was waiting for Christmas morning, what with Ian’s hope that the icon will be completed tomorrow. Today’ s mass was full of hearts in the hymns, readings and prayers and I was especially touched by the readings from the First Book of Kings, and St. Matthew’s Gospel. In first reading ( Kings 1: 3: 5, 7-12) we encounter Solomon who wisely asks, in response to an invitation from the Lord, for a ‘heart to discern between good and evil’ and the Lord commends his choice and gives him a ‘ heart that is wise and shrewd as none before has had and none will have after you’. For the past few days I have been reflecting on old Adam in the left hand corner. ( Which is very very important for this icon.) Does Adam not seek to understand the difference between good and evil as well ? The difference is, of course, Adam believes that it is his to ‘take’ : whereas Solomon realizes that an understanding heart is a grace from God: he asks for a wise heart that can discern the difference between good and evil. In the same way that we cannot ‘take’ the Sacred Heart, we have to respond to the invitation to let the fire of God’s love into our hearts. As I reflected on this the second reading from St. Matthew made me think of what this icon I doing: it is helping me to better understand the love of God. In the reading Jesus give us a number of parables as to what the kingdom of heaven is ‘like’. He asks the apostles do they ‘understand’ what he is saying and they reply ‘yes’! Do the apostles have the insight of a Solomon? Do they have hearts which can understand what Jesus is saying? I must admit, that I do not understand what the kingdom of heaven is like from these parables at all! I think, as the priest suggested in his sermon, what it really means is that we can only understand if we are close to Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the light. It is only when we are close to Jesus – that is if his love is burning in our breast- we can understand. We understand through love, through the heart, not the head.

And then Jesus concludes with a statement which, I believe, sums up what this icon is about. ‘A scribe (and an iconographer) who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is LIKE a ‘householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old’. This icon has been very much about bringing out the new and the old from the storehouse of Church tradition and teaching.

Nova et vetera – new and old - was a favourite phrase of Teilhard. And I think that is what the icon does. It connects the old traditions of the Heart of Jesus – traditions going back many hundreds of years – with those which emerged in the 17th -18th centuries together with ‘new’ ways of seeing the Sacred Heart as Christ Omega – the universal Christ. It connects the ‘old’ with the ‘new’ testament and prompts us to think of the Sacred Heart in biblical terms. It makes us think about theologies both ancient and modern. I believe that Ian has written an inspiring icon which provides all who read it and pray with it a window into the profound meaning and continuing relevance of the Church's devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We need to rediscover this 'treasure' if we are to meet the challenges facing the Church. I look forward to seeing the finished work.

Saturday, 23 July 2011


Well it is finished, except for the inscriptions and the edging. That will be done on Monday. Laus Deo!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Noli me tangere: St. Mary Magdalene

It is fitting that an icon of the Sacred Heart should feature, in addition to Mary – the Eternal Feminine – another woman and another Mary. One could say the ‘other Mary’, the Magdalene. And it is doubly fitting that it should be in the corner diagonally opposite the seraph. The Seraphim are the angels - the burning ones - who are closest to God, and whatever ‘version’ of St. Mary Magdalene we accept, one thing is clear : she was very close to Jesus. Of course, she is something of a puzzle in terms of who she is (exactly) in the gospels: Catholic and Orthodox traditions, for example, do not agree about who she is precisely but the unequivocal aspects of her role in the in the Gospels is that she was a follower of Jesus who was at the foot of the cross and is witness to his death and three days later she is the first human being to see him after the resurrection. It is to St. Mary Magdalene that the Risen Christ first appears and it is this woman who is asked to tell the male apostles that he was alive. She was thus the ‘apostle to the apostles’.

In this icon St. Mary Magdalene may be understood - as Ian states - as the one who ‘was commended for desiring the ‘One thing necessary'. She is the woman ‘who forgiven much, loves much and who stood at the foot of the Cross alongside the Mother of God and St John. As such ‘she thus represents the ‘new Man in Christ’, those whose hearts have been transfigured by Divine Love and who witness to the Love even in this present age as a foretaste of the consummation of all things in the new Jerusalem when Christ the Bridegroom will take His Bride to Himself’.

The first reading at Mass today serves to broaden our understanding of St Mary Magdalene in relation to the Sacred Heart. In the Song of Songs we read about the bride seeking one whom her ‘heart loves’ and upon finding him ‘holds him fast’ and will not let him go. (3: 1-4b). And St. Paul reminds is that in Christ we are (like Mary Magdelene) a ‘new creation’. ( Corinthians (2: 5, 14-17). The Gospel of St. John is so beautiful in how it describes the moment when Mary Magdalene realizes that Jesus’s heart is beating again: he is alive.

In the context of the Sacred Heart I think she has another significance, therefore: she represents all the women who have been touched by and have chosen to hold fast to the Sacred Heart. When we see Saint Mary Magdelene we remember that Jesus tells her not to ‘touch’ or ‘ stop clinging ‘ or ‘holding on’ to him ( ‘noli me tangere’) as he had not yet ascended to the Father. (John 20:17). But having ascended Jesus called some special women to touch him and hold on to him. He tells St Mary Magdalene not to touch and hold, but the revelations of the Sacred Heart invite us to desire, above all things, to be touched and held fast by his love. The Sacred Heart says to us ‘cling to me’ and hold fast to me: trust me.

First of all Saint Mary Magdalene represents all the women Saints who have experienced mystical and intimate encounters with the Sacred Heart. Amongst them Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Gertrude and Saint Mechtilde, and Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. And then there are the women who were inspired by the Sacred Heart to establish religious orders such as: St Jane Chantal, St Madeleine Sophie Barat, St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, Sister Henriette Aymer de Chevalerie and Sister Marie Adele Garnier. ( To name but a few!)

And then there are the countless millions of women who have had a special love of the Sacred Heart - women such as Teilhard’s mother, sister and cousin. And above all we remember and reflect on the women who – like his sister –have given their lives to the Sacred Heart as religious in communities all over the world. They are truly the beating heart of the Church.

So as we reflect on St Mary Magdalene in the icon we should think of all the women over the centuries who, like St Mary Magdalene, have given their hearts to Christ. They call us to do the same: to love Christ wholly and completely. They call to us to hold nothing back. They call to us to place all our trust in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In Saint Mary Magdalene we have a icon which captures the essence of what the devotion to the Sacred Heart is supposed to inspire: a profoundly personal and intimate relationship with the love of God which radiates from the core of Christ. God wants to have a personal relationship with us, each and everyone. Just as Jesus calls Mary Magdalene by name, the Sacred Heart calls us to have personal relationship with God. The Sacred Heart calls us by name and speaks to us directly. Jesus waits for our reply so that heart can speak to heart.

The 'noli me tangere' above is of course, by the wonderful Giotto. I remember spending hours making a copy for my ' O' level art course. ( Which actually came up in the exam, so I made good use of the practice! )

Thursday, 21 July 2011

St Mary Magdalene

Tomorrow is the feast of St Mary Magdalene, who was caught up in the Love of God as the one who desired the 'one thing necessary', who having been 'forgiven much' 'loved much', a love which brought her to the foot of the Cross on Calvary, alongside the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple. So it is highly appropriate that it looks as though tomorrow the icon will be completed, except perhaps for the final touches to the sides etc. So, please, invoke St Mary Magdalene tomorrow, and lets see if things reach their conclusion on her feast.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Sacred Heart

Today things went well, and I worked on the angels, and on the Sacred Heart. It is a development from what we had in Naur, and more pleasing in my opinion, more convincing as a vessel of Divine Light.

There is a constant tweaking of pieces already done, to make sure there is a dynamic harmony of colour and tone. I hope you are all getting an idea of just how much time is involved in this. As this is a completely new icon, with no precedents, there is a lot of thinking, reflection and trying things to see what works best. It takes time, but I think we have the end in sight now. :)

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The veiled icon

Ian, how very strange. And no, you could not make this up. Just read your blog. Today, off and on, have been reading chapter 6 of Henri Lubac's book The Eternal Feminine - which is a study of Teilhard's thoughts on the the feminine. And the title of the chapter - ' The Veiled Virgin'. I was reading this in preparation for some comments on Our Lady later on. The idea of the veil just kept getting in the way today. I was getting rather irritated!! And then I read your blog. It is obvious that a veil needs to be drawn. And people think computers are just stupid. Out of the mouths of babes and laptops....Just do what an iconographer gotta do. As for me, you have given me so much to think about! But then again, I don't think I am thinking, per se. I am just following a cord, a thread - a melody. So, one candle for you and one for the laptop!!

Under the Veil...into the Tomb

No picture yesterday because my Asus EEEpad has broken. This little gem has all my reference materials, as well as being an excellent method of photographing the work, and on Saturday it just decided to die. Trying to get it repaired demands a degree in patience! Meanwhile, from stubbing toes to busting zips on my rucksack, to spilling cups of tea, it was a rather frustrating day.

However, during the day I  re-worked Jesus robe almost entirely, as it didnt 'gleam' enough, and attended to some details of the face which needed adjusting. I have also removed the Sacred Heart as I wasn't satisfied with that either. So a funny sort of day, but one which has moved the image on in the right direction I think.

A few candles David for patience and the return of my EEEPad pls!

Today, I worked on the faces of the Mother of God and St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdalene. Apologies for no photos, but I was thinking that it is perhaps right that now the spotlight is taken off and a certain veil is thrown over the icon so it can now have its time 'in the tomb' before being resurrected. So perhaps all is aptly providential.

I must also say that I find David's posts most encouraging, as hunches turn out to be profoundly rooted in what the Sacred Heart is as revealed in the  Tradition of the Church, reaching back to the earliest centuries. I adopted the vine motif because of the image of Jesus as the True Vine and us as the branches, a sense of the enduring presence of Christ in all things, and of course the Eucharist. The Vine becomes an eschatological symbol of all things transfigured and being 'in Christ'. That this touches into the medieval mystical insights is no surprise but also quite a delight; the same with the Seraphim. Perhaps I have come across some of these things and they are buried deep in my subconscious, but I don't think so. Rather I think it is genuine inspiration, and entering into the theological stream and seeing what connects.  Sometimes I flick through various images and some just stick out, sort of resonate, and I juggle them all together seeing what comes together.

The true vine

The vine motif in the icon reminds us, of course, that Christ is the 'true vine'. It is this true vine which is the subject of a book written in the 13th century, the Vitis Mystica the mystical vine– which has a defining role in the history of the Sacred Heart. In it we find many references to the heart of Jesus as well as to the idea of love as fire. (READ IT HERE ) I thought that it was by Saint Bernard. But, it turns out that modern scholars now attribute it to none other than Dr. Seraphicus – Saint Bonaventure! So this part of the icon links us back to the Franciscan tradition but also prompts us to reflect upon the fact that the Sacred Heart has its roots deep in the history of Christianity – long before St Francis de Sales, St John Eudes and Saint Margaret Mary in the 17th century. In other words, the Sacred Heart as a focus of mystical devotion has been evolving – growing like a vine - over many hundreds of years. When we meditate on the Sacred Heart we therefore are in communion with the saints, mystics and scholars who have journeyed to God through the heart of Jesus. There can be no doubt that Teilhard saw the Sacred Heart qua Christ Omega - the Universal Christ - as part of that evolution: it was another shoot springing from the true vine. The vine with its grapes also enables us to reflect on an aspect of the Sacred Heart which was absolutely central to Teilhard’s spiritual life: the Mass and the Eucharist.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Teilhard and St. Francis

It fascinates me how this pilgrimage to the Sacred Heart (travelling by icon) has involved making quite complex linkages at so many levels. And yet, despite the fact that all the roads I take on my peregrinations seem to go off in a unexpected directions, and re-engage me with aspects of my own life, they always lead back to the heart of Christ. Ian’s seraph is a good case in point. I would never had thought that it would re-connect me with a saint for whom I am sure we all had a special love when we were children. In my mind’s eye I can see the picture of St Francis preaching to the birds that adorned the wall of my school room. And he remained special to me and undoubtedly informed my interest in ‘ecological’ and ‘environmental’ issues as a student. Having not looked at it for many many years I came across a book that I had given my wife as a present when we were students and I had forgotten how intense our love of St Francis was at the time. But I had never read any of the work by St. Bonaventure until a week ago. And that has been a revelation of a most profound kind . St. Francis was important to Teilhard – but it took Ian’s seraph, an email from a lay Franciscan and discovering Sister Ilia Delio's inspiring book on the Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective. ( SEE HERE) for the connections to be made!! And it is a very significant connection in terms of the Sacred Heart. It is wonderfully providential that the seraph should be in the icon - not as a kind of side character - but now as a vitally important dimension of the icon!!

Teilhard makes reference to Francis - and the seraph - in the Divine Milieu. He writes in ‘seraphic’ terms.

To have access to the divine Milieu is to have found the one thing needful: him who burns by setting fire to everything that we would love badly or not enough; him who clams by eclipsing with his blaze everything that we would love too much..

In a letter to Auguste Valensin (1920) he ‘dreams’ of a new St. Francis or a new St Ignatius who could show the way to a ‘new sort of Christian life’ which is ‘both more involved and more detached from the world’. The world, he thought needed another St. Francis! Whilst in his journal the same year he reflects on what Francis and other saints had accomplished and asks’ Who then will see and find the means of bringing about the reign of Christ Alpha and Omega, the Christ of St. Paul, the Universal Christ? May I be, in my or through my death, the humble precursor of such a man!’ (Cited in Sion Cowell, The Teilhard Lexicon, p85) .

And that is how we should see Teilhard in relation to the Sacred Heart: as a means of bringing about the reign of Christ Omega: the Christ of St. Paul. In this, he was apparently inspired by St. Francis. In Peking Teilhard befriended the Franciscan (the now ) Venerable** Gabriel Allegra ( PHOTO TOP RIGHT ABOVE) between the years 1942-45. Fr.Gabriel recalls that in conversation Teilhard remarked that :

‘Francis is so dear and close to me! I believe he assists me in my difficulties and blesses my work. In him one can feel the presence of God the Father and the refreshing perfume of the house of Nazareth.'

( in Gabriel M. Allegra, My Conversations with Teilhard de Chardin on the Primacy of Christ. Peking , 1942-1945, Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago 1971 p55 ) ( I should write more about these fascinating conversations......)

Thus, the close relationship between Teilhard and Franciscan spirituality is more important than we might suppose! And that seraph is becoming a key element of the icon!

As we approach the completion of the icon we should ask for St. Francis and St Bonaventure to pray for us. You never know, they might be on good terms with a seraph or two! And so we humbly entrust this project to their patronage. We should also ask the Venerable Gabriel Allegra- who knew Teilhard and had a special devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary - to pray for this work.

**The Decree of Beatification was promulgated by the Holy See in 1994. The date of his beatification is yet to be fixed.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Reflective day

Looked at the latest work on the icon last night and continue to amazed at how the layers of meaning are unfolding. The gravitational energy waves in particular are very evocative and will be even more so when the cross is completed. Most of all, of course, I am drawn to the face of Christ and especially His eyes. Spent today -off and on - just being silent. The reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans (8: 26-27) in today's mass was thus very fitting.

The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means...

I think an icon can help us to pray without words.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Friday's offering

I worked on the Face of Jesus, and toned this into the existing body, adding the wounds to Christ's feet and hands. You will also notice the development of the figures in the four corners, the pedestal and waters at Christ' feet, the fish, and the scroll of the heavens at the top - based on maps of gravitational energy. There is still work to be done on Jesus' Face; it is rather small, just a couple of cms high so it needs a lot of concentrated working. I find taking photographs and looking at those helps me to see minor corrections that need to be made more clearly.

I am delighted that David has discovered the seraphim, and thanks for posting such an informative piece. I had only glimpsed their significance and your posting helps underpin that substantially. Really appreciated! It is one of the joys of this blog that David takes an inkling I have, and mines it into something substantial.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Seraphim returns: Remembering St Bonaventure.

Since Ian suggested using a seraph in the context of the Sacred Heart I have been wrestling with the idea. ( See blog HERE.)

It all sounded interesting, but in truth it did not immediately ‘light my fire’. In the Sacred Heart in Naur Ian has used the Seraphim to great effect. In his original blog Ian used Giotto’s stigmatization of St. Francis which has a magnificent seraph. He also quoted from St. Thomas Acquinas’s Summa Theologiae. All of this struck a chord with me in terms of Teilhard’s idea of love as an energy which (gravitationally ) pulls us towards the divine centre: it is a force which is ( as St Thomas puts it ) ‘upwards’ and ‘continuous’ which impels us towards God. In this sense the Seraphim can be seen as the embodiment of the process whereby God’s light and fire is spread through all creation. But, I was not sure about how this could be translated into an image which could make the icon an aid to prayer. However, I have learnt that ‘trusting in the slow work of God’ is an essential part of the process of writing an icon. Then a while ago I had an email from a lay Franciscan requesting a copy of the Pinta card and that in turn prompted me to think about the Franciscan tradition. I went back to the Giotto which Ian used in his blog. Slowly, things fell into place. Eventually, I actually got the link between the Seraphim and the Sacred Heart: it is St. Bonaventure. ( Which means, of course, ‘Good chance’ or ‘good fortune’!!) Today, the 15th July, we remember a great Franciscan saint: Saint Bonaventure ( 1221-1274) . (READ MORE HERE) And until recentIy I only knew a few things about him: the first is that he appears in Dante’s Paradiso. The second thing I knew was, of course, his title – which I never really thought about before(!!) – ‘he is known as ‘Doctor Seraphicus’ the Seraphic Doctor. As I have discovered, his title of Doctor Seraphicus is because he was seen as someone who was on fire with the love of God. And, like a seraph, St Bonaventure was someone who was very close to God. And again, like a seraph, he fanned this love of God out into the world through his acts of charity and his mystical and theological writings. The third thing I knew about him is that he was a major influence on Benedict XVI. For an excellent radio program on Bonaventure and Benedict LISTEN HERE. Please do: it is a real revelation.

In the radio program Father Rick Martignetti of the Order of Friars Minor sums up Bonaventure’s approach: 'You can't learn about God intellectually unless you experience God in your heart.'

And that, it seems to me is the message which our seraph is imparting to us in this icon. It is the message of St. Bonaventure. God wants us to experience the transforming power of his love in our hearts - as well as understand it in our heads! We cannot learn about God purely from intellectualizing. We have to open our minds and hearts to the divine energy of God being fanned by those seraphs.

His great book ITINERARIUM MENTIS IN DEUM - JOURNEY OF THE MIND INTO GOD (READ HERE) ( and it is well worth reading!!) St. Bonaventure takes the image of the six winged seraph and uses it to structure his journey to the mind of God. He recounts how, visiting mount Alverna – where St Francis experienced his vision of a seraph - he began to understand the six wings of the seraph as denoting six steps towards the mind of God.

I turned aside with the love of seeking peace of spirit towards mount Alverna as towards a quiet place, and staying there, while I considered in mind some mental ascensions into God, among others there occurred that miracle, which in the aforesaid place happened to blessed Francis himself, that is, of the vision of the Seraph winged after the likeness of the Crucified. In the consideration of which it suddenly seemed to me, that that vision showed the suspension of our father himself in contemplating Him and the way, through which one arrives at that (suspension). For through those six wings there can be rightly understood six suspensions of illumination, by which the soul as if to certain steps or journeys is disposed, to pass over to peace through ecstatic excesses of Christian wisdom. The way is, however, naught but through the most ardent love of the Crucified.. The likenesses of the six seraphic wings intimates six stair-like illuminations, which begin from creatures and lead through even unto God, to Whom no one rightly enters except through the Crucified.

… ‘Blessed the man, whose assistance is from Thee, he has arranged ascensions in his own heart in the vale of tears, in the place, which he put them’ .Since beatitude is nothing other, than the enjoyment of the Most High Good; and the Most High Good is above us: no one can become blessed, unless he ascends above his very self, not by an ascent with the body [corporali], but with the heart [cordiali].

So, we ascend these steps with our heart!
Reading the book I was immediately struck by how these seraphic wings can advance our journey by prompting us to see God in the universe around us! We take the first step when we see God in his creation. The first three chapters are : ‘on the steps of the ascension into God and on the sight of Him through His vestiges in the universe’; and ‘ on the sight of God in His vestiges in this sensible world’; and ‘the sight of God through His image marked upon the natural powers’. In other words: we begin our journey to God by seeing him in his creation. Let me put it this way, I came to the conclusion that : Dr. Seraphicus is very Teilhardian - or Teilhard is very Seraphician!

Fortunately - bona ventura – I came across an excellent book – The Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective- by a leading Franciscan scholar Ilia Delio OSF which does an impressive job in exploring the relationship between Bonaventure and Teilhard. Sister (Dr.) Ilia states unequivocally that :

Although Teilhard was not a Franciscan, his notion of a Christic universe complements Bonaventure’s theology of an Incarnation in the light of the humility of God.

For Teilhard, Christ is the goal and center of the universe and the reason for the universe itself… yet what Teilhard grasped was no different from the insight of Francis of Assisi or Bonaventure, namely, Incarnation is what creation is all about. In the incarnation God humbly bends down to lift created human nature into unity with the divine nature.. Ilia Delio, OSF, The Humility of God : A Franciscan Perspective, St Anthony Messenger Press, 2005 P4/ 1

The more I read about Doctor Seraphicus, the more do I realize the importance of that seraph which is emerging on the top left of the icon. Perhaps, just a thought, we are all called to be earthly seraphim: to draw close to God and like St Bonaventure, flap our wings to circulate the energy of love around us. But, of course, to do that, our hearts have to be aflame with the love of God. Perhaps, that seraph really captures and expresses the essence of what the Sacred Heart is about. Something to meditate on. It also directs our attention to the importance of the Franciscan tradition and what it can bring to our understanding of the Sacred Heart. To adapt Sister Ilia’s phrase: ‘ In the Sacred Heart God humbly bends down to lift created human nature into unity with the divine.’ I think from now on that top left hand corner will be a place to reflect on these words and on the lives of St Francis and St Bonaventure and what they tell us about the Sacred Heart! So seraph, flap those wings: all six of them!!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Sacred Heart and diaphany of God

Looking at the latest developments on the heart itself, I think the idea of transparency is SO exciting. Transparency is a key theme in Teilhard. He often wrote about the DIAPHANY of God. ('la Diaphanie de Dieu' ) Thus the Sacred Heart as a transparent image is absolutelty right. I didn’t think to mention this idea : but (remarkably) you have arrived at it yourself in a very beautiful way. Which is how it should be.

Here is a relevant extract from the Le Milieu Divin

Like those translucent materials which a light within them can illuminate as a whole, the world appears to the Christian mystic bathed in an inward light which intensifies its relief, its structure and its depth. This light is not the superficial glimmer which can be realised in coarse enjoyment nor is it the violent flash which destroys objects and blinds our eyes. It is the calm and powerful radiance engendered by the synthesis of all the elements of the world in Jesus. The more fulfilled, according to their nature, are the beings in whom it comes to play, the closer and more sensible this radiance appears; and the more sensible it becomes, the more the objects which it bathes become distinct in contour and remote in substance. If we may slightly alter a hallowed expression, we could say that the great mystery of Christianity is not exactly the appearance but the transparence of God in the universe. Yes, Lord, not only the ray that strikes the surface, but the ray that penetrates, not only your Epiphany, Jesus, but your diaphany.
P130-131, Harper and Row, 1960 edition.

To read the book, go HERE.

In a letter to Leontine Zanta he says:

Have a good year , my friend, may it be filled with God, with his light and peace, and may we be granted the restorative vision of the mysterious Diaphany (I prefer that word to Epiphany ) by which the universal Christ illumines the unique and higher substance of things, so as to act on us through them and so draw us to their common summit.! The more I advance in life, the more I think that the true wisdom, true ‘philosophy’, consists in being able to discern – and then migrate to - this divine milieu.

Teilhard saw the Sacred Heart in terms of this diaphany : the transparence of God in the universe. ( This is why he liked the Pinta picture. SEE HERE ) The Sacred Heart as the divine diaphanous centre which draws us deeper into the furnace of God's love. I think the icon is capturing this wonderfully well.

And so a prayer for today which reflects on the transparency of the Sacred Heart:

May our life be filled with God’s light and peace, and may we be granted the restorative vision of the mysterious Diaphany by which the universal Christ illumines the unique and higher substance of things. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus draw us ever closer to the divine centre of all creation ! AMEN

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Our Lady, St John the Baptist... today's developments!

I am not yet of a mind how to include Our Lady's Immaculate Heart. I would like to, as it is intimately connected to the Sacred Heart, but there is a question of aesthetics, will it look right? Let's see if I get some inspiration! Such symbols don't usually appear in classical Byzantine iconography. 

When Jesus is shown enthroned in Glory, He is usually flanked by Our Lady and St John the Baptist, who represent the New and Old dispensations. John bears witness as the last of the prophets to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, which takes us to the very centre of what it means for us to encounter God's love as known in Jesus.

You will notice that I have done some more work on the red nimbus, adding a darker centre. Without this the shape was too dominant, overshadowing the figure of Jesus rather than drawing our eye to Him and His Sacred Heart. The heart isn't finished yet, and will be worked on further. However, so far I have been working to develop a sense of illumination and transparency. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

First attempts at the Sacred Heart


The red mandorla

Ian, as a looked at these latest pictures of the icon this morning the words from Teilhard's famous Mass on the World (READ FULL TEXT HERE) flashed into my mind! The swirling red mandorla really captures the fire of the Sacred Heart. As I think about the design it seems that you have elegantly and simply 'de-constructed' the Sacred Heart image: you have unpacked its underlying theology but also captured its poetry ( if that is the right word!) In brief, you have made the Sacred Heart more open to my heart!

From the Mass on the World

..In the beginning there were not coldness and darkness: there was the Fire. This is the truth. So, far from light emerging gradually out of the womb of our darkness, it is the Light, existing before all else was made which, patiently, surely, eliminates our darkness. As for us creatures, of ourselves we are but emptiness and obscurity. But you, my God, are the inmost depths, the stability of that eternal milieu, without duration or space, in which our cosmos emerges gradually into being and grows gradually to its final completeness, as it loses those boundaries which to our eyes seem so immense. Everything is being; everywhere there is being and nothing but being, save in the fragmentation of creatures and the clash of their atoms. Blazing Spirit, Fire, personal, super-substantial, the consummation of a union so immeasurably more lovely and more desirable than that destructive fusion of which all the pantheists dream: be pleased yet once again to come down and breathe a soul into the newly formed, fragile film of matter with which this day the world is to be freshly clothed....
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.’
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 main purpose in ..revealing to us .. 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.
……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.’

I have put in bold the words about his belief that the 'Christianity of tomorrow' would be portrayed in terms of the Sacred Heart. This is an important statement. The Sacred Heart for Teilhard is a powerful synthesis of the Christian faith which enables ' our love to escape from the constrictions of the too narrow, too precise, too limited image of [Christ] we ..[fashion] for ourselves.'
The message of the Sacred Heart for us today is the same as always: that humanity has to be less self-centred and focused on 'me, me, me'. Only by focusing on God, who is love, can we hope to become 'meek and gentle of heart'. So in meditating on the Sacred Heart we should all pray:

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.’

Monday, 11 July 2011

Today's progress

Today I was working on the archangels holding the Cross, and Christ's garment. This I have changed from the red used in Naur, to white, placing Christ against a red swirling  mandorla. This moves the emphasis from the Passion to Light.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Productive week...

Today I pressed on with mapping out the colours, and have arrived at a balance but dynamic image. Unfortunately I got carried away and forgot to take a picture! However, some privacy for this stage of the process isn't a bad thing to be honest. Basically it is looking very much part of the icon tradition of the east, with a touch of 'stain glass' which touches into the western tradition.

I am back in Cheltenham for the weekend, so taking a break for a few days. Back on Monday!

What a difference a day makes!

It has been a busy day. Arriving at my office to see the latest progress on the icon was such a great start to a LONG day! I am now, more than ever, convinced that it is saying so much about the Sacred Heart. The colour illuminates the theology of the Sacred Heart in such a powerful way. And this is so important. Teilhard’s own ideas on the Sacred Heart were firmly embedded in scripture. Critics of Teilhard seem to ignore – or are just plain ignorant - of how he was utterly grounded in scripture and this is especially so in the case of the Sacred Heart. As I looked at your work this morning Ian I thought of a line from Teilhard and I looked it up when I got home. He said this:

‘the great temptation of this century is ( and will increasingly be) that we find the world of nature of life and of humankind greater, closer, more mysterious, more alive, than the God of scripture.’ ‘My universe’. Heart of Matter, p207

What this icon is doing – and now so vividly in colour – is to place the Sacred Heart in its scriptural context. Seeing the new pictures has really made my day. Nothing is more mysterious and alive than the God we encounter in scripture. This icon gives us a window into that mystery. As I say, it made my day!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The first paint...

Yesterday was spent gilding another icon, Our Lady of Perpetual Help for a Catholic church in Wimbledon.

Today I cleaned up the edges where the gold had ended up where the painting is to be done, a meticulous process because you dont want to take off too much, done with a knife blade. Then I transferred the rest of the image to the board, coated this with a very weak egg solution, and then began to map out the basic colour scheme.

In this version, the figure of Christ will be in white, which connects with Christ at the Transfiguration when the  Divine energies manifested themselves as Light in the matter of Christ, his face, clothes, everything. Behind we have a six pointed mandorla of fire, set against a blue/green mandorla; the first speaks of the Divine Energy of Love which creates, sustains, redeems, (six is a number often associated with the Passion); the second speaks of the Divne Nature, Unknown but manifested in Christ. This moves to blue and clouds, as the 'fingerprint' of God the Creator is to be found in the order of his Creation of which the heavens are a living symbol. The waters of life are also in blue, reminding us of the Sacramental Order of the Church, flow from out of the mandorla at Christ's feet, rushing forth to make sacred the whole cosmos.The outer edge of the inner shapes is a octagon, representing the eighth day of the New Creation and this is a bright ochre colour. 
The red colour is drawn into a verticle line to the seraphim and to St Mary Magdalene, which the other axis is drawn out to white from the figure of Christ to Adam and to the angel.

This is a complex theological icon, so I am trying to keep the colour palette simple so the composition remains calm and contemplative, with a sense of energy and movement but not at the expense of a real stillness and poise. 

This may all of course change... but so far I am reasonably happy the way it is going. 

Ratio et Fides: The Sacred Heart and the Human Brain!

The last blog ended with these words from Blessed John Paul.

The man of the year 2000 needs Christ's Heart to know God and to know himself; he needs it to build the civilization of love".

And I added that If we are to 'build the earth' and 'build the civilization of love ' we need to centre our personal lives and our public affairs around Christ's Heart.

Now, that all sounds very nice as a statement of faith, but the rationalist in me was not content. And faith needs reason, as reason needs faith. How, precisely, is the Sacred Heart connected with ‘building the earth’ (as Teilhard calls it) and ‘building the civilization of love’ in the powerful words of Blessed John Paul? I wrestled with this issue overnight and this morning felt none the wiser about how to ‘join-up’ faith and reason in terms of an icon of the Sacred Heart. I think I could do this is 10,000 words, but in a brief blog? I wish I could say that an answer came in a wonderful moment at mass this morning. ( And yet another candle for Ian!) But no: nada! Taking the morning paper and a copy of this month’s Scientific American I settled down with a coffee in my local Café. The paper was full of the usual gloom and doom. By the time I got to reading the latest on all the ‘junk’ debt in Europe I had enough, and picked up my Scientific American. ( I am a compulsive reader of SA and New Scientist!) And there was the answer to my question: how does Teilhard’s and Blessed John Paul’s faith in the Sacred Heart connect up and connect to the ‘real’ world?

In simple terms, Teilhard argued that we should take evolution as a fact and understand our Christian faith accordingly. He argued that human evolution in terms of the physical capacity of our brains had reached its limit quite early on in the evolution of our species. Our brains are pretty much the same as those of our earliest ancestors. The future of human evolution would be cultural, social, and spiritual. The future of mankind was all about how we could harness the energy of God’s love which fills all creation. For Teilhard evolution was not the story of the survival of the fittest, so much as the story of how human beings realize their capacities for love. ‘Love thy neighbour’ for Teilhard was not just a moral injunction it was an evolutionary imperative. The human brain would not get smarter and smarter, but human beings could move to an even higher level of complexity by evolving ways of communicating and integrating their knowledge. Our brains would not become more complex, but the planet would, in a sense, grow a global brain! The planetization of mankind would therefore be a new phase in human evolution: and consequently of the evolution of the cosmos itself. The Sacred Heart is the Omega point : the glowing furnace of divine energy – love - pulling all creation towards the final parousia: when God, who IS LOVE, would be all in all. Human beings were free to participate in this evolutionary process: to create a civilization of love. For it is only by loving one another that we can realize the full potential of our humanity.

With this in mind, the article in this month’s Scientific American gives a little more light on why the Sacred Heart -as the furnace of divine love – is so important for the future of our planet. Douglas Fox, reviewing some of the latest research by neuroscientists into the physical evolution of the brain shows that ‘Human intelligence may be close to its evolutionary limit.’ (SEE HERE : ) Human beings are, it appears, pretty much at the limits of neuro-complexity: in other words, we are not going to get much smarter. What we see - and what Teilhard saw as a paleontologist – is that human beings are just like other life forms. They reach a point at which the brain just does not improve: that is it. Like the crow, honeybee, the octopus and other mammals, human beings have arrived at their optimal neuro-network. Our brains are as complex as they are going to get! We are just stuck with the wiring we have evolved over millions of years: our brains our now ‘evolutionarily entrenched’. All that step-by-step development ( Teilhard called it tâtonnement) of the human brain is coming to and end. We are as smart as we are going to get. We will remain just a bit smarter than our ancestors who emerged from the ice age.

So, where next for mankind? If we are not going to get any smarter in neurological terms, what does the future hold? The future appears In Scientific American to be exactly what Teilhard predicted all those years ago. Fox ‘s article concludes in terms that are wholly consistent with Teilhard:

The human mind, however, may have better ways of expanding without the need for further biological evolution. After all, honeybees and other social insects do it: acting in concert with their hive sisters, they form a collective entity that is smarter than the sum of its parts. Through social interaction we, too, have learned to pool our intelligence with others. And then there is technology. For millennia written language has enabled us to store information outside our body, beyond the capacity of our brain to memorize. One could argue that the internet is the ultimate consequence of this trend towards outward expansion of intelligence beyond our body.

Of course, Teilhard was saying exactly this before the second world war! ( He predicted the internet way back.) But with a big difference. For Teilhard the future of humanity and the future of Christianity were inextricably linked. If human beings are to harness their capacity to ‘act in concert’ they have to learn to trust, respect and above all LOVE one another. The birth of Jesus is an evolutionary event on a cosmic scale. Jesus is the new Adam, marking out the direction which human evolution must take. If civilization is to evolve further it can only be as a ‘civilization of love.’ When Jesus points to his Sacred Heart, burning with love, it is to point the way to the future of mankind. Man has to learn to harness this energy that burns deep at the centre of creation. Then, and only then, can humanity truly take the next step in its evolution. Hence Teilhard’s famous declaration:

Quelque jour, après l’espace, les vents, les marées, la gravitation, nous capterons, pour Dieu, les énergies de l’amour.- Et alors, une deuxième fois dans l’histoire du Monde, l’Homme aura trouvé le Feu. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, L’Évolution de la Chasteté, ( Les Directions de L’Avenir, Éditions du Seul, Paris1973, p92)

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

Ratio et Fides. Reason and Faith. My reason – informed by the kind of arguments we find in Teilhard and in more recent research – tells me that humanity can only advance if it builds a ‘civilization of love’. It is not about hoping we will get bigger brains. The hope for the future is not that we will solve our problems through getting smarter. My faith and reason tells me that the hope for the future is that human beings will learn to cooperate, be reciprocal and more altruistic. Humanity can only advance as we learn to respect each other, trust each other, and acquire a ‘sense of the earth’. And ultimately, true progress can only take place when we LOVE one another. Jesus in the image of the Sacred Heart is not pointing to his head: he is pointing to his heart. So many of our problems are problems which are of the heart, not the head. It is dangerous when human beings believe that these problems can be solved by analysis and calculation when in truth they are problems which can only be solved by human beings harnessing their capacities for love. As Jesus’s heart calls and is open to our heart, so our hearts must respond and be open to his heart: the divine centre. It is this ‘Milieu Divin’ which has to become the focus ( or as Teilhard called it the‘ foyer’ ) of the next stage of human evolution. Hence as John Paul put it: we need Christ's Heart to know God and to know our own humanity. To know the Heart of Christ is understand the future and ultimate destiny of humanity.

That is what I see when I look at Ian's design for the Sacred Heart!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Sacred Heart and the Public Square

Seeing the pictures of Ian applying the gold leaf to the board was a really exciting moment. It was as if the board had suddenly become alive! This feeling prompted me to remember why I thought it was important to ‘go public’ with this project. I am no theologian or artist and I have come to this icon as some-one who might be described as a ‘lukewarm’ Catholic who happened to be a professor of public policy. I kept my faith in a nice little private box which was quite separate from my concerns about public problems and policy. I came to realize,however, that in doing this I was actually contributing to the problem: I had seen economic and other problems as essentially about the application of rationality. However, it slowly occurred to me that so many of our problems have their roots deep in our spiritual or religious malaise. The Sacred Heart , I came to believe, was somehow pointing the way forward for a messed-up world that seems to lack a faith in the future. I wrote a piece about this in the the Catholic Herald last year. See HERE.

Looking at Ian’s work I am SO GRATEFUL that he agreed to make what is an intensely private and spiritual process open to the public gaze. The fact that we are now heading towards 6,000 hits on this blog is a sign that it has stimulated an interest and has served as a kind of metaphor for bringing the Sacred Heart into the public square. To use Benedict’s words (which I have put up on the blog) I believe that Ian is showing us why we urgently need sacred images to enable us to ‘learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.’ Thus the image of the Sacred Heart becomes increasingly relevant to our age: we have to stop thinking about it as some old image from the past which has little or no relevance for our future. On this point I can refer readers of this blog to Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith’s blog on ‘ The Sacred Heart should be a rallying cry against secular society. HERE ’

Fr. Alexander concludes his piece in terms that I warmly endorse:

There is far too much talk of God in the abstract, I find, these days, especially from unbelievers. But God is never in the abstract. He is a Person. Knowledge of God is best gleaned through the flesh of Jesus. The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is a good reminder that we should not let the enemies of religion set the agenda. They might want to talk about a God whom they do not believe in, but who we do not recognise either. We need to reply by talking about the God who is love, the Incarnate Son. Interestingly the Catholics who have most resisted de Christianisation – the brave folk of the Vendée and the Cristeros in Mexico – all took the Sacred Heart as their rallying cry. So should we.

And that is also what Teilhard believed: the Sacred Heart (in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae) embodies a theology which points the way to ‘Les directions de l’avenir’ – a Christianity of the future. Hopefully, this icon will, in some small way, contribute to clarifying that theology and thereby make it more relevant to the challenges we face in a world in which public problems are increasingly complex, global and inter-connected . Above all Teilhard realized that this globalized ('planetizing') world needs a 'Cosmic Christ': a Sacred Heart to 'build the earth'. As Blessed John Paul said in 1994: 'From the Heart of Christ crucified is born the new humanity redeemed from sin. The man of the year 2000 needs Christ's Heart to know God and to know himself; he needs it to build the civilization of love". If we are to 'build the earth' and 'build the civilization of love ' we need to centre our personal lives and our public affairs around Christ's Heart.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Water Gilding

This morning I finished preparing the bole. That means sanding it down to get every tiny scratch and dent out, then giving a final coat of thin bole which is applied hot, and  which I then polished with a piece of kitchen towel. This took an age, but by mid morning I was ready to start applying the gold leaf.

Gold in an icon speaks of the Being of God, its qualities of 'bright darkness' speaking of God being known and yet unknown. It is the background in all icons (or a heavenly substitute colour such as red, being bright like gold, or blue, a heavenly colour). Here all of Creation is shot through with gold, just as all of Creation is shot through with the glory of God, enveloped in the Divine which creates, sustains and redeems it.

I use triple thickness 23.5ct gold loose leaf, which I have applied with a double layer and burnished to give a deep radiance. In these photos you can see the bole being heated gently before application, and then being applied deftly with a brush so as to create as smooth a surface as possible.

The gold leaf is applied using a gilder's tip, with a solution of alcohol and water being floated on the bole which 'sucks' the leaf onto the board. This is a very tricky process, and it is easy to tear or crease the leaf.

 Once the leaf was  applied and dried, but not too try, I used a burnisher made of agate stone to polish the gold leaf. Applying even pressure the stone pushes the gold and the bole flat, which means the gold gives a reflection like a mirror.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Preparing for the gold...

The unspeakable and prodigious fire hidden in the essence of things, as in the bush, is the fire  of divine love and the dazzling brilliance of God’s beauty inside everything.  St Maximus the Confessor
I just read the above quotation, and thought it aptly captures the essence of the Sacred Heart as ICON, so thought it best to post it here before I forget!

Today saw the board being prepared for the gold leaf: final tweaks to the design, final sanding of the board, and the transfer of the outline of the image where it touches the gold to the board.

Then, to the areas to be gilded, several layers of bole have been applied. This is a fine red clay, mixed with gelatine, which acts as a 'cushion' to which the wafer thin layers of gold will be applied, and then burnished.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Today we celebrate and honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, who as Luke puts it ‘treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart’(Lk2:19.) The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are closely linked. We find this stated most clearly in the writings of St John Eudes. ( see link in list of useful links). And it is rightly very close. God loves us with a human heart. This heart was formed from the DNA of Mary. For many months two hearts beat within her body and this means that we reserve a special place for Mary in our devotion to the Sacred Heart. At one stage when I was thinking about commissioning an icon I thought about an icon showing both Jesus and Mary, but because of the added complexity in the end I decided on just the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When Ian was completing the Rosary paintings it provided an opportunity for me to reflect on Mary ( Hodegetria) ‘pointing the way’**** to the Sacred Heart. For this reason I am delighted that Ian's design has included a picture of Mary showing her Immaculate Heart in the icon.

Our prayer today is taken from the 1st preface of the Blessed Virgin Mary in today's mass:

Father, all-powerful and ever living God,
We do well always and everywhere to give thanks
as we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


**** Having looked more closely at the drawing, it is clear that the Virgin is standing Interceding for us ! Thus (correct me if I am wrong Ian) this is Mary 'hagiosoritissa' (of the Holy Chest) and not 'hodegetria'. In the context of the Sacred Heart, of course, this makes perfect sense. Mary is interceding for us (rather than 'pointing the way' ) and asking for God to be merciful to the children of Adam.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Feast of the Sacred Heart

It seems such a long time in coming this year , but today (1st July) is the feast of the Sacred Heart. So it gave me a great deal of pleasure to light a candle for Ian today. The prayers, readings and hymns during the mass all illuminated different aspects of the Heart of Jesus – like the many votive candles by the statue of the Sacred Heart itself. Thinking of Ian’s design (SEE 27th June, below) today greatly helped my prayer and enabled me to focus on a few of these dimensions. As this icon is very much on my mind, I was reminded during mass of what the Directory of Popular Piety and Liturgy says about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, because I think it has a good deal of relevance for this project. The Directory ( See HERE ) states that the Sacred Heart of Jesus :

denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being, and his person considered in its most intimate essential: Son of God, uncreated wisdom; infinite charity, principal of the salvation and sanctification of mankind. The "Sacred Heart" is Christ, the Word Incarnate, Saviour, intrinsically containing, in the Spirit, an infinite divine-human love for the Father and for his brothers.

In other words, as a 'thesaurus' or 'treasury' it is a lot to take in! It can, as Teilhard observed, rather overwhelm our feeble minds. I reflected on this during mass and it seems to me this is where the role of the artist ( and musician, but that is another issue!) is so important because art can help us to focus our prayer and enter more fully into the mystery. Indeed, the Directory goes on to say:

Popular piety tends to associate a devotion with its iconographic expression. This is a normal and positive phenomenon. Inconveniences can sometimes arise: iconographic expressions that no longer respond to the artistic taste of the people can sometimes lead to a diminished appreciation of the devotion's object, independently of its theological basis and its historico-salvific content.This can sometimes arise with devotion to the Sacred Heart: perhaps certain over sentimental images which are incapable of giving expression to the devotion's robust theological content or which do not encourage the faithful to approach the mystery of the Sacred Heart of our Saviour.

This is the challenge facing Ian in writing this icon. And this is why he needs prayer – and all the candles he can get! I think that the art associated with the Sacred Heart has indeed ‘diminished the appreciation’ of the devotion and has not served to illuminate the theological basis and content of the profound mystery of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. (If anything it can serve to obscure its theological content.) Ian’s design has, I believe, great potential to provide an iconography which can serve to take us beyond the sentimental images and open a window into the deep theological content which the devotion contains. And I continue to pray that the Lord will guide his hands.

And so a simple prayer on this great feast day.

Sacred Heart of Jesus

Place your Heart deep in the centre of our hearts
and enkindle in each heart a flame of love
as strong, as great, as the sum of all the reasons
that I have for loving you.

Saint Claude de la Colombiere.