We are just entering the third week of Lent and I am reflecting on the first two weeks – where have they gone, what have I done differently, am I honestly creating more space in my life to listen to Jesus? My plan was to spend more time in prayer in the morning. On most days it has worked out alright but last week, I felt that more time in prayer was trying to muscle into that early morning hour when I get ready for my day at work, when I think and write, when I am at my best. I felt that routine tasks were beginning to catch up with me and so I took a half day last Monday to sweep up the wet leaves, clear the thick moss from the path and go for a short walk. But this can’t be because I am spending an extra half hour in prayer – what is God saying to me?
Two weekends ago, I spent the weekend at Dromantine ‘writing’ icons – something I had started to do last summer and have made very little progress with in-between. I was with the Irish Association of Iconographers – incredible, experienced, knowledgeable and welcoming people who are very generous with their time and are very patient. I have been working on the first of a series of icons – of Our Lady. I start by asking Our Lady to guide my hand as I work. I have prepared the wooden board, traced and etched the outline onto it; I have attached gold leaf and made up pigments by mixing different colours with egg yolk and water, trying to get the right consistency of pigment on my special brushes. I have painted outside the lines, added too little egg, and continually asked for help. Throughout the first two days I felt almost frozen in my lack of ability to progress with my icon but with help and prayer, I suddenly gained confidence and learned what to do.
The icon is a work in progress. It sits on my mantelpiece and I sometimes pray with it – not something I have done before. It has opened me up to new ways of praying. I am growing in confidence, learning something new, I have made wonderful new friends, I am growing closer to God.
I am trying to pay attention to what I do with my days – to start to do new things that stretch and challenge me, that help me to focus more on prayer and space. I find I am not very good at this and hear myself starting each day by asking God to help me, to guide my work, to guide my hand, to guide my thoughts.
Sister Aloysius started this focus on writing icons in Derry in the 1970s and many of the iconographers that I met knew her and learned from her. Her legacy lives on and continues to grow in people and in the icons that are in our homes and churches across Ireland. How can we in the Derry Diocese build on this legacy – becoming salt to the earth, light to the world, being a Church where everyone prayerfully has a role, tries new things and grows in confidence, becoming closer to God?
Anne Friel lives in the Waterside Parish, Derry. She works as a hospital pharmacist and is Chair of the Derry Diocesan Pastoral Council.
Image © Maddie Stewart, used with permission Conard Icons – Home