Our Lady of the Sign

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August 10, 2018
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August 31, 2018

By Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF 

It was one of the most powerful experiences ever: intense, challenging, frustrating, deeply spiritual, profound. Did I say intense?

Ever since I heard about them, I’ve wanted to take an icon painting/writing retreat. A couple of weeks back I was blessed to fulfill that dream. I went with a bit of trepidation, wondering if my very Western art background would be a stumbling block. And I wanted it so badly.

We were a large group, 17 of us, with varying art and religious backgrounds. Some had painted several icons; others had never held a brush. We were Catholic and Protestant, many Sisters of different religious communities, two Protestant pastors, two deacons (one Catholic and one Episcopalian) and lay women. One of the pastors was also an astronomer, intrigued by the title of the image.

The image that we all painted was Our Lady of the Sign, an ancient depiction of Mary in Orans position with her hands held out in prayer; the image is often regarded as a model of the Church. Over her breast is a large aureole with the child Jesus (an elderly-looking child to indicate that he was both divine and human), one hand holding a scroll, the other blessing. The image depicts the moment of conception, as prophesied by Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Emmanuel.” (IS 7:14). In this image, Mary is also known as the Platytera, “She who is more spacious than the heavens” since she held within her womb the Incarnate God.

Each day began and ended with communal prayer, led by an Associate of the Wheaton Franciscans. Each day the image developed in front of us as we, step-by-step, drew and painted the image, under the direction of a master iconographer. He explained the traditional techniques and showed us how to make tracing paper, apply the imitation gold leaf and mix the acrylic colors we would be using. The significance of each step was carefully explained. Step-by-step, the image emerged: the background, the Virgin’s drapery, the aureole, Christ’s garments, the faces, until the image was complete. Step-by-step, the image grew in us, as we prayed and sweated over the process.

At the end of the retreat, we had a ceremony of blessing of the icons. Everyone expressed, not only their happiness with the icon they produced, but the deep sense of community that was formed in the group. Drazen, our instructor, reminded us that no matter the level of polish of the painting technique, each icon was holy. I suspect that each of us was also a bit holier for holding the image so close all week. Each time I look at it, I will remember the amazing people I worked with that week. The full significance of the icon for me will continue to be revealed as I continue to struggle to bring Christ to our world.

(The icon above this post is Sister Sharon’s creation).

Sister Sharon Havelak

Justice and Peace

Sister Sharon HavelakSister Sharon is an artist, educator and long-time peace activist, who currently oversees All Good Things, a store/gallery/gift shop featuring art by the Sisters, handmade soaps and lotions, and Fair Trade products.* She also serves as the coordinator of the Sylvania Franciscan’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation efforts, and teaches art history at Lourdes University. She keeps her creative juices flowing by painting on silk scarves.
* All Good Things gallery is located in our Sylvania Franciscan Village and many of the items are sold on our website.

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6 Comments on "Our Lady of the Sign"

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Sharon, thank you for sharing the journey of this icon with us. I have always found reflecting on them powerful. I have never even imagined that I could create one. I am so grateful you did and that you continue to discover it’s message…

Sister Sharon, thank you for sharing this most wonderful experience with us. Your icon is so beautiful. What an inspiring retreat it must have been. Your creative gift is clearly seen in your icon. What a treasure to have. Thank you for your blog explaining the story behind the icon, your spiritual journey you took during this retreat, and the result of this experience.

Well done good and faithful servant! I’m delighted that you did indeed pray an icon in this your Jubilee Year!
Thanks for sharing this blessing with us.
Mary T.

Sharon, thank you for sharing your wonderful experience of an icon retreat. Your icon is beautiful and I’m grateful to have seen the real thing.

Sr. Brigid O\'Shea Merriman

Thank you for your fine blog, dear Sister Sharon. There is a real depth shown in the icon that you completed. Thank you for sharing a picture of it with your blog. I wish you deep peace; every blessing.

Thanks for sharing this Sharon. Is the attached image, your icon? If nt, may we see a copy of the image you painted?
Blessings!

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