Tag Archives: icon

On A Midnight Train From Georgia

Baptism of Christ Icon - written by Tamara Rigishvili

Baptism of Christ Icon – written by Tamara Rigishvili

To be honest I don’t know if it really was put on the midnight train, or any train for that matter. Maybe it came by plane or postal van, but however it travelled, it arrived safely at my door last week.

The truth though is that it did come from Georgia – Tbilisi, Georgia to be exact – some 2,653 miles to the east of my home, where the very talented artist Tamara Rigishvili lives and works. However, the creation of this beautiful icon came about in what was for me an unusual series of events, which culminated in owning what has become to me a very important representation of the story of Jesus’ baptism.

In April of 2014, I wrote about using this icon to explain the actions performed while making the sign of the cross in Coming Into The Presence of God. Wanting to upload an image of the icon that has been used on that day, I googled several images and came up with one that was taken from Tamara’s website. However, I felt that I needed to get authority to do that, and so I e-mailed her and sought permission, asking her to check out the contents of my blog and with the promise of a link to her site.

Christ submerged in the water of the Jordan

Christ submerged in the water of the Jordan

Thus a correspondence was begun between two people, thousands of miles apart, who did not know each other, did not necessarily speak the same language (although Tamara’s English is excellent, whilst my schoolgirl Russian is yet to be tested); connected by their common faith, and which resulted in my asking if she would ‘write’ a copy of the icon for me. True to her word, she completed the icon over a three month period and it was then carefully packaged and despatched…

… In the meanwhile, as part of my spiritual direction at college, it was suggested that I meditate on Matthew 3:13-17. This description of Jesus’ baptism is just one of the bible’s explicit passages where the Trinity appear together.

And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Matthew 3:16-17

As a Trinitarian at heart, I have always found that the three-fold nature of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit has both fascinated and frustrated me. On the one hand each has its own separate identity and characteristics, on the other they are all one and the same. I do not argue against this nor do I find it easy to explain – although traditionally in the Church of England, as a curate it usually falls to their lot to preach on Trinity Sunday each year – so I better get my thoughts in some order by then!

The passage itself presents a beautiful image of being submerged beneath water, and then a figure rising in a sparkling cascade to see the sky above suffused with a pure light that is concentrated in a shaft centred on their head and a clear voice filling the air with a confirmation of their worthiness. What, it was suggested, if that figure were you?

So often we can feel unworthy, and could not imagine such a thing, but we are invited to do so by God as he offers us his love and grace. ‘This is my daughter… this is Linda… this is [insert your name here]’.

I don’t believe that God arranges for these things to come together without a purpose, so as I spend time contemplating that passage alongside my beautiful icon, I hope and pray that you too will accept that grace, knowing that you ARE worthy to receive it.

Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew 3:13-17

For more details of Tamara Rigishvili artwork, please do visit her website

Coming Into The Presence of God

Out of the Window blog2

Coming into the presence of God

Another weekend at Cuddesdon brings new insights and experiences. Whilst not my first choice, the title of the workshop ‘Embodied Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality’ filled me with a sense of intrigue.

I would class my churchmanship as neither high nor low, but rather open to a smorgasbord of traditions. I therefore, was quite receptive to finding out more about what some might class as the high end of the church where orthodoxy is concerned.

In fact where orthodoxy is concerned the Western church is somewhat of an upstart according to the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, which claims to use the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity. However, I digress…

Our main purpose of the day would be to explore contemplative or noetic prayer as well as embodiment prayer – the former both involves silence and stillness (hesychia) and monologistic prayer (i.e. repeating a word or phrase such as the Jesus Prayer) – whilst the latter included prostration and the sign of the cross.

Standing to pray

Standing to pray

As the latter was more unfamiliar to me I will mention that first. Embodiment prayer, as the name suggests involves using the body in prayer and there are many ways of doing this – whether standing or kneeling or prostrating yourself – all the while offering prayer either using a set form of words or your own words. Some of which postures may seem unfamiliar practices to your average Anglican!

The Sign of the Cross

The Sign of the Cross

When it comes to making the sign of the cross during worship, it is a gesture that very often gives an immediate clue as to people’s Anglican tradition – that is those of an Anglo-Catholic persuasion. Again, this was something that I was not used to doing either in worship or prayer. Nevertheless, when it was explained using an illustration of an icon based on the baptism of Christ I was able to better appreciate its meaning.

The Baptism of Christ

The Baptism of Christ hand written by Tamara Rigishvili *

This beautiful icon [which is written not painted] shows the Trinity as a straight line from the heights of heaven to the depths of the waters – we can therefore image our bodies when we are standing upright representing that line. Our heads are warm because of the activity of our brains, from which flows creative energy (the Father), our stomachs are the watery region (the Son submerged at his baptism) and our lungs breathing air in and out (the life giving Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost)

Imagine if you will then, your thumb and first two fingers, held together as a trinitarian symbol, tracing a line from your head to your stomach up to your right shoulder then across to your left and then resting in the middle by your heart – ‘In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.’ – its symbolism becomes clearer and more affective.

However, it was the practical session on contemplative prayer that was to prove the most rewarding. Noetic prayer, as it is also known, uses a form of silent prayer (hesychia) in which the body is stilled, the ‘chattering mind’ silenced, thus creating a space where you are open to receive God. Of course it’s never that easy to just switch off your thoughts, but it allows an awareness of both intrusions and physical discomforts and lets them be by bringing yourself back to the awareness of the sense of stillness within your whole body. External noises also become absorbed so that they don’t become a distraction. It is into this space that prayer subconsciously occurs.

Psalm 46:10

Psalm 46:10

There is plenty of biblical evidence of being called to stillness in order to hear God’s voice… within many of the Psalms for example – ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10) or ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence‘ (Psalm 62:1) – and Jesus takes time to be alone with his Father, no doubt in silence as well… whether in the desert or drawing apart from his followers on occasions.

Of course, I would not, after only a couple of sessions, claim in any way to be an expert, but the technique is basically to find a comfortable place to sit, with both your feet on the ground and to work your way up your body, recognising the sensations in each part as you still yourself, drawing back to your feet, your knees, your hands, etc., should thoughts intrude; all the while becoming aware of your breathing and its natural rhythm……

What was the prayer that formed inside me during this time? Well it actually turned out to be a piece of poetry… from out of the stillness and the silence by which I came into the presence of God

Coming Into the Presence of God

Warmth suffuses the window pane,
As sunshine splashes, in gold and yellow rays
on the cushioned sill;
Sharp shadows are softened and shimmer.
I draw my knees closer
and sink into silent stillness.
The world is on pause.

Invisible neurons continue to fire;
exposed in intermittent patches of tingling energy
through soles of feet and top of scalp.
Pain ebbs and flows,
absorbed in gentle eddies;
while breath synchronises
with the ticking of the mantel clock
and thus fades as if time is motionless…

Even so the heartbeat of the earth
still pulses in sounds it offers;
received in encoded messages,
yet unencrypted to the keen ear.
A solitary bird, unseen, chirrups its joy,
and wood pigeons coo in rhythmic metre,
unfazed by passing traffic’s intrusion.

A creak, a sigh,
the door and I hold our breath;
but the inevitable slam is muted;
fading away, as calmness interrupts
and a sense of presence grows.
Like a glimmer through closed eyelids;
which open as a breeze brushes my skin

Outside, the tender branches of the trees,
laden with buds and burgeoning leaves
ripple and vibrate, echoing the silent force
of life and spirit.
Springtime flowers bend to the earth,
then dip and bob like cheery marionettes;
all proclaiming divine mystery

Recalled back into the room
by gentle chink of plate and cup,
a signal of beckoning refreshment,
and congenial chatter….
Still hold the moment a little longer
to remember another meal
and revelation in broken bread,
gone and yet forever present

The day’s workshops were led by the Reverend Jim Barlow, presently the Assistant Curate at St Peters, Burnham, Buckinghamshire and previously a student at Ripon College, Cuddesdon

*Tamara very kindly gave me permission to use her beautiful artwork in this piece. To find out more about her work please look on her website http://www.tamarapaint.com/