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About the Cover

February

What’s the first thing you see when you look at this month’s cover image? Maybe that’s a bit of a trick question, since there are so many things to see in Brian Whelan’s Adoration of the Magi with Camels. Whelan’s art is whimsical, playful, and made to engage. “The idea that I can suggest ‘come on—this can be fun’ is a factor that keeps on confronting me in my relationship with the viewer,” says Whelan. “This has also been true in my time working in the field of arts development and education. I have always enjoyed that challenge” (The Exchange: Thoughts on Faith, Art, Science, and Culture, www.brianwhelan.co.uk).

The more time one spends with Whelan’s art, the more details are to be discovered, and in those details greater appreciation for the message. The practice of lectio divina may be well-adapted to one of visio divinaSee, Ponder, Pray. Spend time with the image, noticing the small things. Let those details take you into the story . . . Spurs on the magi? Well, it was a very long trip, after all. And Joseph—he’s had a bit of a difficult road these last months, and he still looks a little unsettled about the whole situation. But the Holy Spirit is always near and at the ready, never forsaking this holiest of families.

Our long-standing familiarity with the story outlines of this season can sometimes prevent us from entering more deeply into the narrative. The details of an artistic retelling engage our eyes and our minds, pushing us past our broad assumptions, causing us to think . . . and to pray.

—Br. Ælred Senna

Ælred Senna, OSB, is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and associate editor of Give Us This Day.

Art Credit:
Adoration of the Magi with Camels (detail), mixed media
by Brian Whelan. © 2015 Brian Whelan. www.brianwhelan.co.uk. Used with permission.

Simple. Uncomplicated. Compelling. All are words to describe J. Kirk Richards’ large body of work, but what draws you into the art may differ from painting to painting.

At times, simple composition allows one to step right into the scene, as is the case with Teacher, the front cover image. Just step up and join the crowd of people gathered around Jesus, enjoying one of his parables or learning from his explanation of a psalm or a passage from one of the prophets. The features of the teacher’s face are all but imperceptible in the painting, present enough that you feel you can visualize them. And once you’re in the scene, you close your eyes to see it better, the painting a way into the prayer, bringing you right into his presence, able to hear his voice as he speaks.

Richards always manages to focus the viewer’s eye on what is essential in the image, though he uses few crisp lines, preferring a more ethereal approach. Christ Blessing, on the back cover, is a fine example of this technique. Most of the lines in the painting, taken individually, are somewhat hazy, worked with layering of colors and texture. Even so, the features of the face are quite distinct, and the eye is naturally drawn there first. Christ’s glory glows behind him, and we look directly into his eyes. He holds our gaze, and it is difficult to look away.

Richards often explores the same subject matter in a series of similar paintings, experimenting—perhaps allowing the Spirit to experiment—with the message and essence of each new piece of art. See more of his work at www.jkirkrichards.com.

—Br. Ælred Senna

Ælred Senna, OSB, is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and associate editor of Give Us This Day.

Art Credit:
Teacher by J. Kirk Richards. © 2014 J. Kirk Richards.
www.jkirkrichards.com. Used with permission.

From a Western Christian perspective icons are often viewed as beautiful images that help us remember the people and stories of our faith through art. But “art” is really not the right word for how our Orthodox sisters and brothers of the Christian East understand icons. And since icons originated in the Christian East, it’s important and quite helpful to understand that perspective.

In Orthodox Christianity, an icon is a window into heaven, into the Kingdom of God. The icon helps its beholder to engage in a prayer encounter with the holy person or scene it depicts and to focus on its spiritual significance. Ethiopian Orthodox icons, such as the one on the cover, feature stylized forms for the people depicted, including large, almond-shaped eyes and a frontal perspective, meaning the viewer sees both of the holy ones’ eyes. And, in the tradition, the viewer is also held in the gaze of the holy ones.

That’s right . . . as I meditate on the spiritual significance of the person or scene depicted, those people see me back. This idea is especially powerful—a little overwhelming, actually—when I pray with the icon of Jesus healing the blind man. That man, who was blind from birth, sees me. He was healed by the touch of the Holy One who, by the way, is also looking at me . . . and touching me . . . and healing me. That is the spiritual significance of this scene in my life today.

In addition to providing a window into heaven, icons serve the important purpose of bringing beauty into the world. What greater beauty than to be touched and healed by Christ?

—Br. Ælred Senna

Ælred Senna, OSB, is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and associate editor of Give Us This Day.

Art Credit:
Jesus Heals the Blind Man, icon by an unknown Ethiopian iconographer. From the collection of John Kohan. Used with permission.
www.sacredartpilgrim.com