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 such as, “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 yellows 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 Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Brother Mickey McGrath’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.
Brother McGrath — who lives and works in Camden, N.J. — brings the wisdom of Francis de Sales, Pope Francis and Pope St. John XXIII to life with his own lively art work. His introduction reminded me that “seeing” was a way of praying. Take 10 or 15 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.
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 are here.
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.
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