In July of 2008, my essay, "Blocked," was a finalist in the Santa Fe Writers Project's Literary Awards and published in their journal, sfWP. You can read it here. I did a blog post about it last July and inserted the essay in the text of the post, so you could also read it here.
And while I'm at it, I'll just go ahead and unabashedly toot my own horn by reprinting one of my favorite comments on that blog post, which I actually received as an email from "Gloria" on the west coast, and asked her permission to publish it:
I enjoy your blog and eagerly read it every time I receive it. I found you online when I was researching Mt Athos and you and your husband popped up. So I jumped on the wagon of your faithful blog readers!
It is hard to put into words the feelings and thoughts that I had when I read your essay "Blocked" but I'll try. I read it once last night and then talked my husband into letting me read it to him.
I was brought in with the first sentence. You captured my heart by the first paragraph. The more I read the more I wanted. I did not stop until the last word. I was inspired, convicted and relieved that I'm not the only one "out there" that fails during the week and then has to decline Eucharist when I so wanted to do what I needed to do to receive. I saw images as I read of the two icons in your studio. Your descriptions brought me into your home and I imagined the Archangel Michael's icon as you described. Your writing is my type of reading.
I kinda needed to read Gloria's comment today, because I was feeling down. Possibly more struggles with acedia. (Read my first two blog posts about acedia here, and here.)
OK, that's enough backstory. This morning, my dear friend and fellow iconographer, Kerry Sneed, came over to help me work on the icons of the Mother of God, Directress and Christ the Life Giver. I started these about two years ago. They are the ones that were interrupted when I got blocked. You can see the icon of the Mother of God in its early stages here. Kerry had done a good bit of the work with me, and I really wanted her to help me finish them. She's assisted me in teaching a few icon workshops at St. John, and she's really a gifted artist. The last workshop we held at St. John was in April of 2008. Here are several posts with photos:
Angels of the Lord, Finished!
Gold Leaf and Beyond
Preparing to Receive the Gold: The Beginning of Our Renewal
Gabriel's Day and Modest Copy Continued
When Kerry got here we sat and talked for over an hour, about our own spiritual journeys this past year. And then we prayed the iconographer's prayer together. And then we worked. I mixed pigments while Kerry studied the icon of Christ and the comments I had written on a sticky note over a year ago, about adjustments that needed to be made before I could continue the highlights.
Kerry's good with lines and tiny details, so she made some adjustments to the eyes and mouth of Christ so that I could come back later and finish the highlights. We didn't finish it today, but I'm ready to get back to work on it now that I've gotten unblocked.
While Kerry worked on the icon of Christ, I did an "egg wash" on the icon of the Mother of God, which will seal the egg tempera and make it receive the varnish more evenly. And we had my mother's recipe for homemade soup for lunch (prepared by our personal chef, Caitlyn) (aka The Ruffled Apron) and continued working on icons until she had to leave to pick up her daughter at school.
After she left, I went back upstairs to my studio and looked at the icons we had worked on. The Mother of God, Directress, is ready to be varnished. She points to Christ, Her Son, directing us to Him as our Lord and Savior. This is the icon we always use in the Orthodox services called the Paraclesis to the Mother of God and the Akathist to the Mother of God.
The icon of Christ needs more work, but I'm ready to embrace it now. You can see the details on the face aren't finished, and more highlights are needed on the face and hand.
As I stood there looking at the work God has blessed us to do today, I remembered the words to the Iconographer's Prayer that we had prayed at the beginning of our work, and I was humbled to think that my fellow parishioners at St. John would one day be reverencing these icons on the stands in the front of the nave. I'll close with that prayer:
O Divine Lord of all that exists, you have illumined the apostle and evangelist Luke with your Holy spirit, thereby enabling him to represent your most Holy Mother, the one who held you in her arms and said, “the Grace of Him who has been born of me is spread throughout the world.”
Enlighten and direct my soul, my heart and my spirit. Guide the hands of your unworthy servant so that I may worthily and perfectly portray your icon, that of your Mother and all the Saints, for the glory, joy and adornment of your Holy Church.
Forgive my sins and the sins of those who will venerate these icons and who, kneeling devoutly before them, give homage to those they represent. Protect them from all evil and instruct them with good counsel.
This I ask through the intercession of your most Holy Mother, the Apostle Luke and all the Saints. Amen.