An Icon visits Treargel
Throughout most of April, Treargel will be host to the Retreat Association’s specially commissioned Icon, which thoughtfully depicts the Woman at the Well bible story. Having grown up in a non-conformist, charismatic, house church Christian tradition, icons were not something I had come across before. Though I am grateful for many aspects of my formative years, I feel I was unwittingly taught that the staring, unrealistic, flat gold pictures were in opposition to ‘true’ Christian worship.
However, in the last few years, I have been learning about how different people experience their faith, including those from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. So, with trepidation and excitement, we have accepted to host the Icon here at Treargel. We certainly won't be as grand as previous hosts such as; York Minster, Southwark Cathedral or Douai Abbey, but we hope to give it a peaceful home for the month.
There is a lot more that goes into icon writing than I realised. In a recent interview Rowan Williams said;
“To paint an icon you need to be in a certain spiritual state, you need to do fasting and prayer. You put yourself in relationship to the person you are painting … so what is depicted on the surface of the holy picture is not a decoration, it’s a sort of message, it’s a communication.”
Without using words, the icon writer attempts to communicate ideas that are often difficult to pin down. For example, the materials icons are made of (the wood, plaster, egg, gold leaf, etc.) are symbolic of the contrast between the physical nature of the painting and its spiritual subject. John of Damascus, the 8th-century theologian, writing of the physicality of icons said “I take matter seriously, because I believe in a God who became material in the life of Jesus”.
For some reason I find this age-old tussle between matter and spirit fascinating. How does it work, where is the line, and is there a line? This is reiterated in the careful colouring of Jesus’s clothes in the icon, with the blue signifying his divinity and the brown his humanity. How did he hold the two together and what does it mean for the us? Where is the line in us? Others too are currently trying to grapple with this (such as in Rob Bell's new book 'Everything is Spiritual' and Richard Rohr’s 'The Universal Christ'). The mystery of someone being out there, beyond and other to us; whilst at the same time, very much here and now and with us.
Apologies, I digress, and I’ve not even started on the other subjects touched upon in the icon’s story; race, gender, sexual politics, religion and what on earth is the ‘true spirit of worship’? Even the controversial subject of pronouns is touched upon in Jesus' halo.
This is exciting. Currently in my faith, I struggle with certainty or anything that appears black and white. Faith and doubt go hand in hand and ‘revelling in the mystery’ is my phrase of the year. So pictures and stories are a great way forward, helping me explore matters I find difficult; such as the nature of faith and truth. Icons are both picture and story.
As you can see, sometimes I go in circles thinking too much. I need time to contemplate and "pictures are immensely valuable in helping us to get out of our head and into our hearts.” (Gordon Jeff in ‘Spiritual Direction for Every Christian’) Helping us to use a different part of our brain and see things from a different perspective. For example, we could imagine sitting under a tree with Jesus wondering what we would ask him? Or what might he say back to us?
So, I am hoping that as guests get time to sit with the icon, we can give you the chance to take a moment to reflect, to look at life from a different perspective, and of course to breathe deeply, rest quietly and think clearly.
Either book a day or few to come and see this painting for yourself in April, or join others at the Icon Quiet Day, Saturday 23rd April.
So far, this year
2022 has been surpisingly busy. As well as having residential guests, we planted bulbs in memory of those we had lost, and hosted two church groups, one of which was an Alpha Holy Spirit Day.
We also finally came face to face with the spectre of the past 2 years, when Covid slowly progressed through the family, ending this week with Naomi.
Next week we welcome friends coming to help us tame our beautiful garden. If anyone wants to join us, sleeping in the Hermitage, Shepherd’s Hut (no heating) or just coming for the day, book now for free 26th - 31st March.
Or just come and enjoy our bring and share BBQ on Sunday 27th 4-7pm. Marshmallow sticks will be provided;)
Finding Stability in times of change
The topic of a Quiet Day that was postponed from May '20, is unfortunately still very relevant.
Saturday 7th May run by Rev’d Jane Frost and Richard Frost MBE, author of 'Life with St Benedict'.
Richard says 'We continue to live in times of unprecedented and unsettling change and uncertainty. At a time when change is often feared, stability can be elusive, and busyness interferes with listening to God, this quiet day offers an opportunity for space and reflection.
There will be three short talks, times of silence and prayer.'
Rest Quietly and Think Clearly, with a brew
So you can take a mini retreat in your own home, we are creating some Treargel mugs for guests to buy. Wrap your hands around while feeling the warmth and taking a deep breathe. Tell us which one is your favourite and if you're interested in a pre-order.
Finally, we hope to see some of you this season, but if not send us a line to say Hello.