Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Here are the Icons we made!

As I wrote in the last few entries, those of us in initial formation took an iconography class. We learned about the history and meaning of icons during the first week and in the second week, we got to "write" icons under the guidance and direction of our professor, Sister Mariella.

Sister Mariella is no stranger to iconography. She prayed and wrote two San Damiano Crucifixes. One is in St. Rita's Chapel. The San Damiano Crucifix is an icon that Franciscans hold dear. St. Francis received his call to rebuild the Church when he was praying before the crucifix in San Damiano. When he heard this call, he thought he had to rebuild the physical structure of the church. He realized later that his call was to rebuild the Catholic Church. For Franciscans, this crucifix is a reminder of our call and commitment to God.

This summer, S. Mariella took on the challenge of teaching us. We learned that icons are sacred images. These images are the Bible of the Illiterate: the Word is for hearing and the Icon is for sight. They are called "Gates to Heaven" or "Windows to the Eternal." Icons are rooted in the incarnation and they represent humanity and divinity. Their simplicity, flatness, unreal colors, and different facial structures can be difficult for some Westerners to appreciate at first, but this "different" artistic language emphasizes that the figures being represented in the icon are beyond the physical world. In other words, they are spiritual.

Icons were controversial for a time. In the eighth century, there was an Iconoclastic movement that was anti-icons. The two major arguments of Iconoclasm were the prohibition against fashioning images, and the presumption that it was idol worship. (Exodus 20:4- " You shall not make for yourself an idol.) However, these misconceptions were overcome as St. John Damascene, St. Athenasius, St. Cyril of Alexandra, Empress Theodora, and others corrected the false notions. In 843, Theodora restored the devotion to the images. They once again became a way for people to pray, as people understood that icons are not being worshiped.

We also learned that we "write" icons. I kept having to correct myself for saying "paint." When we look at an icon, we "read" them. When we write them, the darkest colors usually go first, for a gradual movement to light, to represent the our interior movements from dark to light. The whole process is a prayer. One cannot write an icon without praying.

I am just fascinated that the icons don't smell, because we made the paint with egg yoke! That's how iconographers make the paint.

Here are our icons in front of the San Damiano Cross in St. Rita's Chapel:

I was able to pray with the Good Shepherd icon last weekend, which was very enriching! My icon was of St. Monica (far left), and it helped me to feel more connected with her and her story.

Right now, we are applying the varnish to the icons. It's really helping to bring out the colors!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things...

This weekend has been full of excitement as the sisters returned home from the mission sites for the annual community meeting. It has been awesome to see over three hundred sisters in one room and to listen to everyone pray the Office in unison. I loved that. The Divine Office, or the Liturgy of the Hours, is the prayer of the church, so Catholics everywhere pray it, and when we pray it, we are united with them. Hearing all those sisters praying it gave me a greater experience of the whole church, and made me think that this is what heaven will be like, only it will be billions of people giving glory to God in perfect charity.

Speaking of Charity, today we all received a copy of Benedict XVI's encyclical, Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate). In this encyclical, he "explores the relationship between love and our commitment to social justice. We were also encouraged to reflect on an older encyclical of his called God is Love (Deus Caritas Est). Here's that description: "In today's high-tech, fast paced world, love is often portrayed as being separate from Church teaching. Pope Benedict XVI hopes to overturn that perception and describe the essential place of love in the life of the church." I haven't read it yet, so I have a little catching up to do. It looks like an amazing document though, and Pope Benedict has the gift of being able to discuss profound ideas in a clear way. I truly appreciate that!

The encyclical we were given is an additional material to help with our 2010-2011 study of social justice, including the seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching. I am very excited that we are taking the year to explore together an area of the Church that I was personally involved in during my college years. We had a day of positive and fascinating workshops, including one where we learned that race does not exist, that it was something that humans created in order to feel more advanced than others. In fact, out of a black person in the US and two white people in Ireland, the person in the US can share more of the same genetic makeup with one of the people in Ireland, than the people in Ireland have with each other. John Carr, from the USCCB, also gave a excellent, positive, and humorous keynote address on how we can incorporate Catholic Social Teaching into our daily lives. I just love how connected I feel with the whole Roman Catholic Church here.

After the day of learning and reflection, I was pleasantly surprised that our "evening entertainment" was dancing! I. Love. Dancing. Of course it was awesome! We also were given a fantastic performance by two of our sisters from Africa of some traditional dances.

This morning, a lot of us sisters put on a sacred reader's theatre for the rest of the community on the dialogue between St. Francis and Lady Poverty. It was a lot of fun, and I learned more about the vow of poverty. It was also cool to continue acting, because I was "bitten by the acting bug" in college. Everyone did so well, too.

Many things have also occurred. We finished the sewing class. The temporary professed made their skirts and novices made aprons. I did struggle with the machine a bit, but on the last day of class I did very well on the machine. It was purring like a kitten, instead of getting jammed... I am looking forward to improving upon my new skill and doing other projects! Here are our aprons:

The icons we "wrote" are on display in St. Rita's Chapel for the Sisters to pray with. Pictures to come!!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer at the Convent goes by Fast!

This summer feels like it is just flying by. It is probably not flying by for the incoming postulants. I know that until 2 weeks before my entrance date, the summer felt long. (In the last two weeks, it seemed that the summer came to an abrupt end.) What would I say to an incoming postulant? Pack a little at a time. Try to pack as little as possible, but definitely bring personal things like photographs and things for your favorite activities. Know that we have enough books here to last you a lifetime as well as things for crafts and sports. Spend quality time with loved ones. Have fun, and enjoy the moments. Take comfort in knowing that your hobbies can continue, and so can the relationships you hold dear. Know that hundreds of sisters pray for you daily. Try to increase your time spent in prayer a little bit, perhaps by going to mass more frequently, or by reflecting on the mass readings for the day. Don't worry about anything.

Life in the novitiate has been peaceful and fun. We are busy, but there is a calmness in our life. Sr. Isabelle and I are getting the hang of sacristy and kitchen work, and we have been involved in projects. We got to go to a local farm and pick strawberries. The first time we picked strawberries, it was for jam, and the second time it was for strawberry pie. The pie was delicious, and I had some jam on my toast this morning and loved that too.

We are also working really hard on putting together a patio for all the sisters to enjoy. There had been an empty plot of concrete next to the novitiate. It overlooked Sr. Caritas' garden as well as Silver Lake, so it had a beautiful view, but it wasn't so pretty itself. So, the novices last year with the help of Sr. Elizabeth Ann, put together a proposal to the Council to make it an enjoyable and pretty place, it it was approved! Sr. Elizabeth Ann calls it the Sacred Garden. I've also heard it called St. Therese's Terrace. I like both names. I am learning a lot about gardening and I love it. Here is a picture of Sr. Pamela Catherine and I putting together the trellis. Now we just need to figure out how to hold it in place on the concrete! St. Joseph the Carpenter, pray for us!

We also finished the iconography class. When they are ready for the display in the cafeteria, I will take a picture of them for this blog, and write more about the meaning of the icons. I definitely have a deeper appreciation of them!

Now we are taking a sewing class. It's really fun. Yesterday, we made pin cushions and today we are going to lay out patterns for aprons. The temporary professed sisters are making skirts. I was happy to notice that I retained some knowledge of how to use the sewing machine.

It is amazing how many opportunities you have to learn new things and develop new hobbies as a sister! Lots of old favorite activities continue as well. A gentleman across the lake had a wonderful fireworks display. We had a flag ceremony, played volleyball together, had a water fight, did sparklers and ate burgers from the grill. It is cool that you don't have to give up that stuff when you join the convent. Life is good.