Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 20, 2009
Icons allow the Holy Spirit to speak via sacred images
Even the uninitiated can write this beautiful, contemplative theology
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
A retreat participant writes the Mother of Tenderness icon.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - There's nothing more beautiful than the beauty of the icon, says Gisele Bauche.
"It's the beauty of spiritual truth, the beauty of spiritual joy," Bauche said in an interview during a six-day icon-writing retreat at Providence Renewal Centre July 6-11.
"Icons are created for the sole purpose of offering access through the gate of the visible into the invisible mystery of Christ," said Bauche.
Icons are theology written in images and colours instead of words. They are a way for the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the sacred images.
"Icons do not try to depict that the image depicted is real but to represent the unreal, the invisible, the otherworldly," she explained.
Bauche, director of Queen's House of Retreats in Saskatoon, is an active adult educator, spiritual director and professional artist. She offers workshops and retreats in art, Scripture and spirituality.
Icons have always been considered a means of instruction and edification. Icons are liturgical and intended for prayer. Icon comes from the Greek word "eikon," meaning image. A primary goal of the iconographer is to convey God's kingdom to others, and the icon is like a window looking out upon eternity behind its two-dimensional surface.
During the retreat, participants learned the techniques of writing a personal icon on a solid wood board covered with gesso ground, using egg tempera paints from natural pigments and gilding with 23-karat gold leaf.
Bauche said that a person using egg tempera paints would never want to go back to acrylics or anything else.
Jude Fischer, who attended the retreat, has written many icons. Like the varying ways a person can follow the Lord, there are different methods for writing an icon.
She said she starts with the darkest colours and with each progressive step adds the lighter tones. There are 22 steps in the process.
"That whole process is symbolic," said Fischer.
"You have the dark colours first, like the darkness of our souls and our human nature, and then the light of Christ comes in to transform us. The whole process, from start to finish, is symbolic of the light of Christ coming in to change us."
Giving glory to God through writing an icon is something Fischer recommends for everyone, even if they have little experience with creating their own art. The whole process is contemplative.
"It's better if you don't have an art background because this is completely different from other methods of painting. If you've already been painting, you'd have to relearn everything. If you haven't done it before, it's easier to learn actually," she said.
Like people trying to follow Christ's way, everyone stumbles, and everyone errs from time to time. There's always an opportunity for forgiveness.
ERRORS ARE CORRECTED
The process of writing an icon is much the same - the errors can be corrected. The participants are told not to panic over mistakes because in the end they will have a finished work that is glowing and beautiful.
"If there are mistakes in it, it's like life," said Bauche. "We are vulnerable human beings, and we are broken human beings.
"Sometimes Christ puts a veil over us, and that's what happens here. We put the highlights on and then we put a veil over it, so that which is unforgivable is forgiven."
There is a distinction between a workshop and a retreat. At a workshop, you go from morning until the end of the afternoon, and then walk out. With the retreat there is more contemplation and concentration.
The icon writing retreat included daily prayer, demonstrations, theological reflections and group sharing. The image that was written was Mary and Child (Mother of Tenderness).