Icons Draw us into the Divine Presence
(Video: Catholic News Service)
By: Brigid Curtis Ayer
Icons are frequently called “Windows into Heaven” for through them, one gets a glimpse of the spiritual world. For Ed and Alice Clifford, parishioners of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, icons give them a focal point in which to pray. Mr. Clifford said he began his journey towards using icons in prayer during various visits to the Calaldolese Benedictine Hermitage in Lucia, California in1996 where he went for a retreat.
“The monks at the hermitage are contemplatives and I noticed the icons,” said Mr. Clifford. “Since I trusted the monks to give good spiritual advice, I figured I’d get a few of my own icons for my prayer time at home,” he said. “The icons give me a way to clear and quiet my mind so I can better focus my prayer on God.”
Jesus is the Focus
Although Mr. Clifford admits the icons help give him a point of reference to begin meditation, he says they are not the primary focus of his prayer, Jesus is. Mr. Clifford uses his small collection of icons that he has arranged on a wall in his prayer corner—as a quiet place where he can go to pray. “It’s a great place where I can spend some time with Jesus, pray the liturgy of the hours or simply repeat the Jesus prayer over and over.” Knowing of Ed’s interest in icons, his wife Alice got him Rublev’s interpretation of the Icon of the Holy Trinity as a Christmas gift. “He loved it,” she said. “It is one of his largest icons and since the Trinity is the central to our faith, he has appropriately placed it in a central and prominent place in his collection.”
One thing, Mr. Clifford said he really like about Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity is the fact that the three persons of God are sitting at a four-sided table. “When I sit in front of the icon in silence and begin to meditate on it and as I do and gaze into it, It is as If I am being asked to sit with them—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This draws me into a conversation of prayer and relationship with them,” said Mr. Clifford. “We are invited to sit and dine with the trinity at table. The icon really becomes three dimensional,” he said.
Iconography classes gave them perspective
Alice and Ed Clifford recently completed a course at St. Andrew Rublev’s Iconography School in Indianapolis where they learned how to paint an icon of their own. Mrs. Clifford said the icon class started out as a date night for she and her husband Ed –something they could do together every week for fun. “Mother Katherine, a member of the St. Xenia Monastic Community in Indianapolis, who serves as the Icon instructor, was just the most endearing person,” said Mrs. Clifford. “It was truly a privilege to spend time with her during our class and I really looked forward to seeing her each week.”
“Those in our beginning iconography class could chose from two icons to paint – an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the face of Jesus,” said Alice Clifford. Mrs. Clifford said she chose Jesus because it looked easier to paint. “The robe of the Virgin Mary looked really complicated so I since this was my first icon; I thought I’d keep it simple and begin with Jesus.” Mr. Clifford decided to do the Blessed Virgin Mary so they would have a matched set of Jesus and Mary.
“I’m glad I chose to do Mary because I have never really had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, so this was an opportunity for me to get closer to the Mother of God,” said Mr. Clifford. “For me, it was just an extension of my prayer life. It was another way to pray.”
“The course was a good spiritual activity for Ed and me to do each week,” said Alice Clifford. “It was not only an opportunity where we could spend time together as a married couple, but have fun and enjoy the opening prayer time we had each week, the fellowship with other students, and enjoy the spiritual atmosphere present during our class time,” she said. “One thing that really shocked me was how good our icons turned out. I couldn’t believe how well my chicken scratches turned out. It was as if an angel did some extra work on our icons in between class times.
“When I look into the eyes of Jesus on the icon that I painted there is definitely a connection. After praying over and working on this icon for nine months, one cannot help but feel a closer connection with Jesus,” she said.
The Clifford’s encouraged anyone interested in taking an iconography course to give it a try. “It’s not hard to do,” said Mrs. Clifford, “but it does take a commitment and patience.”