Friday, 31 August 2007

Being Broken

On Saturday my icon class was visited by two of the monks from the Little Brothers of St Francis. As I was painting, I was half listening to the people around me sharing their stories as to why they had chosen the particular Icons they were painting. One thing I like about the people in my Icon class is that they, like me, are broken. In fact it is that brokenness that in many ways is our greatest strength.

One young woman shared her story of struggling with a brain tumour and how her icon had given her focus and courage recently when we almost lost her. I remember sitting with her in hospital, breathing with her through such pain that left her screaming and tearing at her flesh. Her Icon had sat with her on the window sill, a reminder that she had something to finish and that someone else before her knew what it was to live in agony and had screamed out to God. I don’t think I have ever heard such raw prayer as those screams. Gut wrenching in their desperation they were almost too much to hear.

Other people too shared different stories with these men, of how the art of icon painting had enriched and moved them, deepening their love relationship with Christ. The Desert Fathers are very much a part of the life of the Little Brothers of Francis tradition so when Brother Geoffrey and I spent time together my love of the Desert Mothers was something that we automatically had in common.

In the next few weeks I’m preparing a prayer meditation series on the Desert Mothers. In light of that I have been writing an icon of Mary of Egypt. It’s an unusual icon in aching. As we sat there Brother Geoffrey looked away and said “Those eyes are so intense I can hardly bring myself to look at them for long, and I was reminded of those agonising prayers of my friend almost too desperate, too raw to hear.

To paint or write such a challenging icon takes its toll, to be up close and personal with an image of a crucified Christ, a grief stricken mother, a skeletal aching saint is to be called into relationship with God in a way that challenges you to expose your pain as well. Every agonising raw scream of the heart it says may be placed here, you just have to let it out. In my time painting this Icon of Mary of Egypt I have been intensely aware of past pains and sufferings and how I too have a place to lay these down.

The irony in this, is that this week I have been struggling with a piece I want to write for a fellow bloggers site on Christianity and body image. I have begun it many times and written it from many angles. The one that seems most real, & most genuine is the one that at a personal level exposes my humanity in all its flawdness the most to the world.

I can hear my Spiritual Director now saying "And that surprises you how?..."
Weather or not I practice in such fullness, what I preach? well…watch this space

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