Monday, March 14, 2016

Listening with Love

When wisdom or ritual occurs across traditions, I tend to pay attention. 

Listening. It seems like a lost art. I think I've been less skilled in this recently. For example, I used to listen really really well. But my husband keeps talking about the Leicester City football team, so ....

No, seriously, I was a good listener mainly because I was an excellent introvert. Not having to talk was great. But that also meant that the person doing all the talking never got a response out of me. Now, I'm a trained extrovert so I talk more.

Recently, my church's bishop came to speak to us and one of the things I got out of it was that we need to start modeling dialogue, not these polarized opposites where we fling insults and sneers (and worse) at each other. That we need to come together and learn to listen to each other, really listen, reflect on what we have heard, and move forward together in a way that is life-honoring. There may be an agreement to disagree, but we are still honoring the other person by hearing them out, and they have honored us by hearing us out.

And it's a process. I admit I can be easily triggered into a defensive mode, should anyone cast aspersions against, for example, immigrants (as I am one). Part of what I am trying to do these days is to actually try and listen and share my thoughts without starting with "you're wrong ..." or rolling my eyes. 

These kinds of conversations are not easy, and are very difficult for me to begin (see introvert, above), and I'm not even sure I'm doing them correctly, but we have to make some sort of start to listen to each other, to get beyond the surface claims of whoseever corner we are in, and understand what is truly going on and how we can find solutions and ways forward.

There is a technique called active listening where one reflects back to the person what they have said in a non-judgmental way. "I hear that you are saying..." Sometimes hearing it can cause a "that's not what I meant!" and sometimes it can lead into a deeper conversation. Imagine if a conversation had two active listeners, taking turns to hear the other's point of view ....

It does takes two, however. As a friend of mine commented on Facebook recently (and I'm greatly paraphrasing), boundaries need to be set. If the other person isn't willing to listen, or insists upon verbal attacks, you don't have to take it on the chin in the name of love. (Or turn the other cheek.) And she's right. Nothing will be achieved unless both parties are willing to listen and respond in love.

This is not something that can happen instantaneously. I have a feeling that it can be quite the journey and investment in time to get to a place where two people can listen and respond in love. It can be as little as an act of kindness to leave the door open, or talking about a less explosive subject as a means of practicing.

Humble connections is an article by Nicole Chilivis about such conversations. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I start to pay attention when multiple traditions start saying the same thing. Listening, really listening, has been a call for many centuries. 

In the Jewish tradition, a prayer called the Sh'ma is said daily (traditionally). Two years ago I learned the Sh'ma, which was easy, but also the V'ahavta, which was a lot more Hebrew to learn.  The first word in the Sh'ma is the word "listen" or "hear". "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is one." (read more about my learning it)

It's not simply a "listen up, folks". It also requires a response, an action. Most of what follows is a pleading by God to remember this simple precept and to live by the laws that they are about to hear (in the context of Moses giving the commandments to the Israelites). 

In the Christian tradition, the first word of The Rule of St. Benedict is "listen". Again, Benedict is not writing down this word for the sake of it. The rule is also a call to action, also requires a response, and points to a way of life (in this case, communal monasticism).

Passive listening is not enough. For if you do not hear (mark and inwardly digest, to steal from a Book of Common Prayer collect), really hear, then you have not heard it at all.

Do you ever catch yourself not listening? Why? What do you do about it?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Icon: Jesus Pantocrator

This was the first time I had finished an icon on my own. I wanted to experiment with using Golden fluid acrylics as opposed to the recommended Jo Sonja paints as well as using a Claybord instead of a more traditional (and expensive) icon board.

I started at the beginning of 2015, so I was very focused on using what I had and being able to write an icon.

Which is why I used the blue tracing paper I had rather than getting proper carbon paper. The blue marks melted into the paint, so no worries there.

The background went down gorgeously in many many layers. My first attempt at mixing the hair color turned out red and it was looking really streaky although is only two layers worth. I decided to fix that later.

My concern with the Golden paints is that they are shiny. The parchment mix with the Titanium White shows just how shiny they can be. Would it stand out as super-shiny against the other not so shiny colors?

Sankir, the shadow color down. I just love sankir (and it dried matte!) In icon writing you go from darks to light.

Oh my God. The Halo Red is supershiny too. The shinier the paint, the less it is interested in sticking to the layer beneath it. This is teeth-clenching, patience-inducing (presumably). Oh, this is going to be interesting....

Storm blue was the hardest of the colors to reproduce from the list of Jo Sonja paints that I was figuring out equivalences for. As you can see it was swinging from too green to too grey to finally storm blue. (And then I ended up buying a storm blue in the Jo Sonya anyway.)

Generally in the recipes, each color in the mix is half as much as the color before. I think I need to work on Second Flesh a bit more, it came out pretty pink (as you will see below).

Golden Paint icon color recipes:

Sankir: Burnt Sienna, Jenkins Green, Hansa Yellow Light, Titanium White
Second Flesh: Burnt Sienna, Napthol Red Light, Hansa Yellow Light, Titanium White (think I'll try flipping the yellow and red amounts next time)
Yellow White Mix: Hansa Yellow White (50%), Titanium White (50%) [I may have added more white eventually]
Hair: Bone Black 60%, Red Oxide 40%
Halo Red: Violet Oxide 50%. Napthol Red Light 50% (start with less red, else it gets really red, really fast)

The translucency of the Golden fluid acrylics means less is more especially with the Napthol Red.

The inner robe is Violet Oxide.

In February I started the shading. First, the hair:

And there the icon sat for months until early December when I decided to test if I really needed to buy real gold or stick with the composite. My test run is below (and yes, I used a church bulletin to catch the drips.)

I bought real gold. There was something not quite right about the composite, cheap stuff. Below, Jesus finally has a face and the robes have shading. I did an idiot thing with the robe shading. I had picked up the Jo Sonja "Storm Blue" and used that instead of the mix I'd gone to all the trouble to make (and in the months since mixing the paint had totally dried out.) It still worked although my outer robe folds aren't as subtle as the inner robe folds. Also as you can see, Second Flesh is too pink so the formula needs some tweaking.

The shiny parchment worked in my favor as I redid the scripture phrase three times and each time it easily wiped off with a Q-tip and water. Thank goodness.  

You can see places where the gold didn't stick to the adhesive.

Leftover gold. Mainly because I brilliantly dropped a sheet of it.

So Jesus gets a nose job in order to use a compass to swing the halo. The halo above is still wet (and has issues, I blobbed some in the corner and had to go in with some more gold repair when I was done.) I think I ended up swinging it three times. The last two icons I painted were a single swing.

The very liquid red halo paint sits in the wee gap there near the point.
Here is Jesus Pantocrator, finished at the beginning of January. As by this point, I knew to whom it was going, I had a deadline and worked to a timetable. Completed with the varnish on and everything. You can't tell that the red crossbars and parchment are any more or less shinier than the rest of the paint. He went as a gift to my church's interim rector at the end of his time with us.

So, what's next? Well, LifeBook proved to be a massive time-suck last year and I'm doing it again this year but if I can get some dedicated weekend times, I would very much like to do Rublev's Trinity. We shall see.