>Feasts, Four-Year-Olds and Forefathers

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Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos (Mother of God) in the Temple. It’s the day the Orthodox Church has set aside to honor the miracle of obedience that took place when the Mother of our Lord was four years old. Yes. Four. Her parents, the pious elderly couple, Joachim and Anna, took her to the Temple in obedience to God. They knew she was special. As they approached the steps, tradition tells us that she went joyfully up the steps and into the Holy of Holies, the sacred place that only the priests went. It was a foreshadowing. She would become a new Holy of Holies. She would contain in her womb Jesus, the Son of God.
So, she lived there, being fed by angels (as shown in the icon above) until she was somewhere between fourteen and sixteen and was betrothed to Joseph, and the rest is, as they say, History.

We celebrated the Liturgy at our parish last night (the eve of the Feast.) Holy Communion was a healing balm to me. The anger has faded. I’m ready to paint icons.

Specifically, to work on the icon of the Mother of God, Directress. The one I quit working on five months ago, when I got angry. The one that will go on an icon stand in our church when it’s finished, along with one of Christ the Lifegiver, which I’ll work on next. But today it was all about HER.

I began with prayer. Then a time of stillness (very very hard for me) and contemplating the work to be done. While we were in Greece one of my greatest blessings was to venerate one of the icons attributed to Holy Apostle Luke (yes!) which is on the Island of Leros. The icon (at left) is mostly covered with a metal overlay now, but you can still see the original painting on the faces. This little girl was being lifted up by her grandfather so she could venerate the icon. She looked to be about three years old. I wondered if her papou would tell her about what the Mother of God did when she was about her age. Maybe some day.

The faces and hands were what I worked on today, having finished the rest of the icon previously. Hands are the hardest for me, so I started with them. Because I didn’t want to start with the faces, the most important part. As I began, I realized immediately this is not like riding a bicycle. It doesn’t just “come right back to you” when you stay away from it for five months. Or at least not for me. I struggled to recover the skills that would enable me to blend the highlights into the background colors and to make the lines sharp and defining and the “life-giving lights” just right. Here are some pictures of the icon before I started today (The faces and hands in the first pictures have the “sarka” on them, the orange-ish modeling that was done early in the summer, with help from a fellow iconographer, Kerry Sneed.)

Today I began the highlights, working for several hours on the Mother of God’s hands and face. Still have a ways to go, (don’t worry, the eyes and mouth are coming) but the main thing is, I AM PAINTING AGAIN. The joy I feel is the heart-bursting kind. But I am also humbled and a bit fearful, as people begin registering for my next icon workshop, which I will lead in March, and I tremble at the responsibility of passing on this sacred art to others. I am NOT a Master Iconographer. All I can do is share what I know and encourage the gifted ones to seek more instruction elsewhere. But we pray together and struggle together and yes, even laugh together during the workshops. And God always blesses, in spite of my shortcomings. (Icon should look like this one (right) when it’s finished. This is the one I ruined by using two kinds of varnish which had a chemical reaction and crackeled all over the paint. So I had to start over. Some lessons are hard learned.)

So, as I painted I contemplated this amazing thing that little four-year-old Mary did that day, and I thought about my Goddaugher, Sophie, who is four. Tuesday I went to Grandparents’ Day at her preschool, because her grandparents live a long way away and couldn’t come. It was so much fun watching her with her classmates, singing Thanksgiving songs, showing me the class rabbit, Snowball, and sending me home with homemade gifts, like this paper model of the Mayflower. I told Sophie that my husband, her Godfather, will LOVE the Mayflower she made for us, because his great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather, Robert Cushman, helped charter the Mayflower’s voyage and his son Thomas Cushman came to America from England on the real Mayflower. Some day she will realize what a big deal that is. But not that day.

That day she was into this: snacks on the patio at Starbucks, where I got her “Bearista Bear.” Book Hour at Davis Kidd. (First we read about five books together and she chose this one to take home with her: Pinkalicious, written and illustrated by these two sisters, which was all about how it’s okay to love pink (or anything else) even if other people make fun of you. And also about mixing colors. An art book and morality tale rolled into one.) Pink is also Sophie’s favorite color, but I watched her out run two boys on the playground at her school easily. She can handle pink just fine.

Sophie got sleepy during the “song time” before the book lady read to us, so she climbed in my lap and we snuggled quietly while the group of about twenty kids and mothers did the hokey-pokey and other such physical things. Most of them were younger and hadn’t just finished performing for a room full of grandparents at their preschool.

Next it was time for lunch at Chick Fil-A. Then a stop at Walgreen’s to buy stickers, because I refused to buy her a stupid (poorly written) book she found at Davis Kidd that had stickers in the back. So, for $1.99 we found a book at Walgreen’s with about 250 stickers in it.

My favorite part of the day was sitting on the patio at Starbucks, of course. Nice warm breeze. My favorite latte. Time to talk about important things. Like, “Can we go to the bookstore now?”

“Nope. Not until we get through talking.” I knew that once we got to the bookstore I would lose her to the magic world of words and art and all the same things I get lost in when I’m there. Patios at coffee shops have less distractions. I think our future outings will always include Starbucks. Like this one (left) in Athens, Greece!

So now it’s Thanksgiving Eve and guess what? I am NOT COOKING. Sadly, none of our “kids” could come home for Thanksgiving this year, so we’re driving down to Jackson (Mississippi) to visit my mother at her assisted living home and have lunch with her there tomorrow. And then stop in to see some friends who moved there from Memphis a couple of years ago. So I’ll blog again on Friday or Saturday. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving and Blessed Feast of the Mother of God!

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