Thirty-five people participated in the Praying with Icons seminar on Saturday, January 23, sponsored by the Benedictine Center of Spirituality. Sister Therese Carson began the morning with a prayer and then a brief education about the history of icons, especially within the Catholic Church.
Then as she spoke about what the various colors and images within an icon traditionally represent, she moved through a slideshow of many icons and pointed out examples.
Then Sister Therese discussed how icons are prepared and the spiritual attitude of the writers as they begin a long and very careful, prayerful work.
Praying with icons is a different form of prayer. Here the viewer does not pray that God or the Saint come into this world to heal or help or provide. The viewer instead goes into the icon’s world, the heavenly, sanctified world of the Father, Jesus, or the Saint. Sister Therese mentioned various strategies the iconographer uses to take the viewer out of her present world and into the sanctified world. For instance, the holy person in the icon doesn’t look into the eyes of the viewer or into the world of the viewer. The landscape is flat and not in natural proportions. The holy person does not look into the viewer’s world, but invites the viewer to look into the icon’s world. In that world, the holy person is perceived to be in heaven and his body sanctified, without glasses or crutches or deformities.
To pray to the Saint is to move away from this world of difficulties, suffering, war, deceit, and hatefulness into the world of faithfulness, love, grace, and honesty; to know and feel how God sees the viewer clearly with sin and in grace. Then the viewer prays according to what she observes and feels in that holy place which she needs, or wants for others,
in this life.
Sister Therese gave each participant a copy of the icon Theotokos of Vladimir which dates from the 12th Century and invited them to withdraw to the Chapel or any quiet place to pray with the icon. When everyone had returned, Sister Therese invited them to share something about his or her prayer time. Many took a turn, and each described a unique understanding or perspective in his or her prayer.
Sister Therese noted that she would not be able to lead a seminar on iconography as she is still a student and it will be years before she could allow herself to teach it. But she gave the name of a school which sends out teachers of iconography to many locations: the Prosopon School of Iconography. Sister Therese recommended as a first reading Henri Nouwen’s Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons.