Here’s certainly among the most unexpected – and uplifting – blessings of our COVID-19 period: I learned a great deal about the writing (or painting) of religious icons.
Icons have a long and venerable history in the spiritual life of Christians, of course. Their use as objects of prayer and devotion dates to the earliest centuries of the church – and the Second Council of Nicaea (787 AD) affirmed an icon’s ability to confer grace by providing an opportunity for the faithful to see something that cannot be seen with the eyes alone.
How is this possible? In part, it’s a product of the complex and multilayered process used to write an icon.
My friend, Fr. Mark Dean OMI, put all these techniques to work over the course of several weeks in April – to create a beautiful new icon image entitled “Our Lady of the Pandemic.”
A quick glance does not suffice to appreciate the beauty (especially the spiritual beauty) present here. As we are drawn into the art, we may notice elements and symbols that evoke how Mary has been seen in the eyes of other icon artists through the centuries (e.g., Virgin of the Burning Bush, Our Lady of Tenderness, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Divine Mercy).
We see symbols of the current crisis, too: the coronavirus itself at the center of one angel’s cross; and a bat in flight, just to the left of the burning bush.
What we don’t see is the prayer that was written onto the gesso board at the start of the process, and then covered by the layers of colorful paint that comprise the icon’s visible form.
All this richness – all these layers – can bless us, if we allow them to touch our spirits. Thus the icon provides a physical reminder of the extraordinary depth of the human experience: A pandemic doesn’t define us; but it can reveal a great deal about who we are, and how we come to appreciate that we are always bathed in God’s tender love and mercy.
Fr. Mark describes these blessings (and more) in a time-lapse video that recounts the icon-writing process:
One layer to the story not told here is the pandemic’s (ongoing) disruptive impact on Fr. Mark’s primary ministry, King’s House Retreat & Renewal Center. Indeed, Fr. Mark only had time to create this beautiful icon because the center’s entire event schedule has now been cancelled for several months running. No events = no revenue, for a ministry that (like any small business) still has significant costs to cover.
All of which is to say, if you are moved to pray with the “Our Lady of the Pandemic” icon, you might also consider making a donation to King’s House. It would be a wonderful way to pay-forward the spiritual beauty that Fr. Mark and his colleagues bring into our often troubled and broken world.
Our Lady of the Pandemic
Our Lady of Tenderness, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mother of Divine Mercy, intercede for us unto God to bless and aid all who are afflicted and affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. May all who gaze upon this image know the healing touch of God. Amen.
- Father Mark Dean, OMI
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.