Friday, May 09, 2014

Column: Drawing to see and to pray

I am now reading Franck's handwritten and illustrated book, The Zen of Seeing.  That's where the picture of Pope John is, the Holy Spirit wing touching his head in benediction.  The book I really covet is Outsider in the Vatican, long out of print.

Frank McMahon's sketches and watercolors of Vatican II are also moving, see below and this one of the Council in session at Corbis.  Br. Mickey McGrath OSFS's bio is here.

This column appeared at on 9 May 2014.

That they may see and recognize,
And consider and gain insight as well,
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
And the Holy One of Israel has created it. Isaiah 41:20

Last summer, someone found my kindergarten report card while rooting around in the barn’s attic. My teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, while lauding my readiness for the academic rigors of first grade, suggested that I be encouraged to continue drawing — I seemed to enjoy it. This spring, I finally took her advice and signed up for a basic drawing class.

My still lifes have a vague Dali-esque character, with their mugs that sport handles in odd spots and pears that seem to float in mid air. My teacher offers gentle corrections, mostly in the form of questions, “where do you see the darkest spots?”

It’s not about drawing, he suggests, but about seeing — and about joy. I find myself looking up at the sky when I leave class, noticing not only the dazzling yellow and pinks of the sunset, but the subtly different colors of the trees against the horizon. The hand of the Lord has done this.

Last weekend I browsed Brother Mickey McGrath OSFS’s beautiful book Good Saint John XXIII. [] Pope John XXIII is the first pope I remember, in part because one of my mother’s friends was studying in Rome, and stories of this gentle Pope threaded through his letters. Reading Good Saint John brought back memories of curling up next to my mother while she nursed one of my brothers, listening to her tell me about what was happening in the Church, helping me see the church as a something far bigger than the little Midwest parish church over our back fence.

Br. McGrath — who lives and works in Camden — brings the wisdom of Francis de Sales, Pope Francis and Pope Saint John XXIII to life with his own lively art work. His introduction reminded me that “seeing” was a way of praying. Take ten or fifteen minutes each morning to sit with an image, he suggests. Gratefully acknowledge that God is present, then pay attention to what God is trying to show you today.

This morning, I happened onto a quote from Pope John, “I want to be wholly for God, penetrated with His light, shining with love for God and souls.” It is a wonderful piece of wisdom to take to work today, like a breath of the Holy Spirit.
Frank McMahon's watercolor sketch of the
opening processionfor Vatican II.  ©©

As it often happens, this book threw open the windows to other books. Artist Frederick Franck, spent time at Vatican II, capturing the spirit of the places and people of the Council in his sketches and watercolors. I am caught by one of his ink portraits of Pope John, his eyes closed, and the wing of a dove — the Holy Spirit — extended to bless him. In his classic book on drawing as meditation, Franck suggests that in all the faces we draw and see, we should try to spot God’s face, even when He’s not explicitly in the picture. He quotes St. Nicholas of Cusa, a 15th century theologian, “In all faces is shown the Face of Faces, veiled and as if in a riddle.”

Our last drawing class is next week, and we are all nervous about drawing from a live model. Now, I’m worrying a bit less about whether anyone would recognize the faces I draw, and hoping instead that my sketches will let me see “the Face of Faces” and recognize what God’s hand has made. It’s not about drawing, it’s about seeing. And joy.

A lovely set of Franck’s sketches and watercolors can be found in this slide show at US Catholic.  Full disclosure, I received a review copy of Good Saint John XXIII from the publisher, for whom I also write.

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