Saturday, May 9, 2015

Art as a door into prayer

I have a certain place in my living room where I go to keep my morning watch and then return to from time to time throughout the day. My chair faces a window with a view of trees and sky. I also keep certain works of art nearby, to help me focus on life and give me courage.
On the stand by the window sit a copy of an icon of Pantokrator Jesus and a picture a friend drew/prayed for me in the Zentangle art style. On the wall above the stand is an original painting of a forest stream.
On another wall I see an original painting of three Aymara women, a crafted wooden picture of a Bolivian village, and a reproduction of Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son.”

 Pantokrator Jesus
The original of this icon is a gigantic wall mosaic in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, once a Christian cathedral, later a mosque, and currently a museum that is trying to restore and blend the art of both religions. Several years ago I stood before this mosaic and felt moved. In the original Christ is accompanied on either side by his mother Mary and John the Baptist. His two fingers represent the double nature of Christ, both man and God, a response to one of the controversies of the 5th century. I love the tender expression on the face of Jesus. I sense his love and care for me.
Zentangle drawing by Miriam Bock
Miriam prayed for me while I was doing research in Bolivia during January and February. She used this art form to focus her prayers. It’s full of symbolism. The center of the piece, the goose (which emerged and surprised Miriam) is a Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit. The more ordered squares in the bottom represent the discipline and order of research, and the egg is the hidden treasure I hope to discover. The drawing also contains a playful spirit, the sprouts of poems, and the eyes of God continually watching out for me. There’s more, as I keep discovering. It’s a visual blessing and reminder of the life God offers me.

Forrest stream by Dave Vanderveer
My brother-in-law is a gifted artist. He’s also a generous person. I admired this painting, so he gave it to me. I love the way the light skips off the water. I can almost hear the stream singing over the rocks and the breeze in the trees. It speaks light and life and Spirit.

Three Aymara Women by Oscar Tintaya
Oscar Tintaya is a Bolivian artist who is becoming well known in his own country. He is also a Quaker, and he is my friend. This painting reminds me of the high aesthetic values of the Aymara people, as well as the mystery of this culture. These three women, seated in the market place, aren’t about to let you into their world. And yet God has opened the doors. I continue to marvel at the beauty and mystery.
Wooden picture of an Aymara village
This picture, by an unnamed Bolivian artisan, is formed of tiny slivers of wood artistically arranged to show a village in the foothills of Mount Illimani. Again, the beauty and mystery of the Bolivian landscape and the Aymara culture bring up a spirit of wonder and gratitude.

Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”
I bought this reproduction of Rembrandt’s painting in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, after having stood for an hour in front of the original. Henri Nouwen’s book of the same title was the key that unlocked this work. The picture draws me into the unending story of the father’s love, the possibility of redemption.

Even though a Quaker (with our reputation for stressing reality above symbolism), I’m also a poet with a love for art and a responsive nature. Art helps me pray, and I need all the help I can get.
Of course, the Original is far more beautiful than all these works. Sometimes I just close my eyes and enjoy the presence.


  1. Oh Nancy, how evocative, inspiring, inviting and gentle. Thank you.

  2. I've introduced your blog to Gwen Ingram. She is delighted.

  3. I love your blog, Nancy! May I send your blog address to a spiritual director/writer friend of mine who is exploring art and spirituality as a theme for an article? Gwen

  4. Of course. How nice to be in touch with you again. Nancy