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Caress: Iconography for the Incarnation

Merry Third Day of Christmas! In haste, in between visits with family, I’m thrilled to share with you this icon of Joseph and Jesus, written by Nathan Hicks, which I hope you can enjoy in leisure:

joseph-and-jesus-icon-christmas-art
Note how Joseph’s eyes are perhaps a little wary and uncertain as he holds the Child; but Jesus puts His face right up to his foster father and encircles his head with His arms, totally ready to give all without reservation. Babies and God, I’m telling you, man. Pay attention, and you’ll learn something.

Note also how Jesus’ little legs extend past the interior frame of the image. On his blog, Hicks says:

Icons were ultimately a relational reality. The Kingdom of God  has pierced into our souls through our wounds, creating a dynamic space where the divine reaches to the human.

This divine movement to us is not intrusive and overpowering, but gentle and accommodating. God does not require us to move beyond our nature, but instead asks for us to allow Him to transfigure us as we are. There is no swallowing of identity, which is defined in part by our wounds, but a support of and a strengthening of our identities so that they show forth God. This means that God doesn’t eradicate the things that make us miserable, but instead give us the means to make those sources of misery a source of light and joy.

And that’s why I have the buildings and objects bending towards you, the viewer. God moves heaven and earth out of the way for you and condescends to make you a god by grace.

RELATIONAL. Lots to think about (and I hope you realize how rare it is to find an artist who is interested in sharing more than a word or two about his creative thought process! Most artists I know think with paint, and when they’re done, they’ve already said everything they’re going to say).

Here is another piece that Hicks has shared with us: “Morning Caress.”

morningcaress

Hicks says:

“Morning Caress” is a Byzantine-style painting about the Earth and the environment. The Earth is a creature, just like us, and is in its own society with the other planets But with the sun the Earth has a special relationship. The earth reaches out to the sun and the sun to the earth. Morning Caress is the story of the unconscious love of the world itself.
I’ve been thinking about this lately, how the earth participates in salvation history without the capacity to be conscious of that participation — but it participates nonetheless. It makes me feel better about my sometimes absurdly passionate affection for the natural world, for fruits, for leaves, for textures and colors. It is all right to love the world, because God made it, God loves it, and most importantly, God is present in it.
I read “The Rape of Man and Nature”, a well-written (if somewhat poorly argued) book by Phillip Sheridan, a giant in the English-speaking world Orthodoxy, who finally stated the Orthodox standpoint on nature in a way that I could understand it: God is in nature in a way similar to us wearing clothes. The clothes aren’t us, but we are definitely connected to them and without us the clothes don’t have form.

And in a similar way (with much higher stakes!) we “take form,” and become who we are meant to be by our nature, when we allow God to dwell in us. Joseph was as ready as he could be to become the foster father of the Son of God, but what could he do? Saint or not, he was only a man, and could not possibly live up to the task, any more than a tree can understand the bounty of the warmth of the sun or the miracle of photosynthesis. The best he could do, the only thing any human can do, is to allow Him to come close and do what He will.

Oh, feel that sun.

Oh, time, strength, cash, and patience! I must come back to this later. Do check out Hick’s blog, The Dynamis Project, and his Facebook page, too.

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3 thoughts on “Caress: Iconography for the Incarnation

  1. Forgive me if I’ve shared this in this space before, but “Morning Caress” reminded me: when one of my girls was three, we often had a moment outside to enjoy nature right after taking the older kids to school. We would look for birds or squirrels, whatever. One morning she said with delight “Look, Mama, the sun loves me!” What else could I say but “Yes, sweetheart, the sun loves you. God made it for you.”

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