Tag Archive: Blessing


Since April 10, I have been learning how to write icons in the Orthodox style.  Icons are both a form of artwork and a way of praying.  I was nervous to begin painting my icon of Christ the Good Shepherd because I was unsure of my painting abilities.  I only knew that I really wanted to try my hand at this since I had heard it was a deeply prayerful and spiritual practice.  So off I went! 

Along the way, I learned quite a bit, and not just about icons.  I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with God.  I warned my teacher that I was a perfectionist going in and after a sigh, she told me that it’s not about the icon being perfect, but I do need to be happy with it because I’ll be praying with it.  If there are things that bother me enough to distract my prayer time, I better make them as I like them!  More on this later…

My icon writing sessions begin with a beautiful prayer that my teacher uses.  It’s a prayer asking God to help me focus on only this and for God to speak to me through what I’m doing.  It’s a prayer that asks God to help me to use my God-given gifts in painting for prayer and worship.  It’s a prayer asking for help not comparing my work to others, for God alone can judge the prayer.  It’s a prayer asking opening my heart to pray for others as I work. 

I’ve found that between this prayer and the practice itself, I settle into icon writing and that it becomes the thing I can focus on at that moment.  I can’t think about my future or the call process (where I’ll be serving as a pastor), or trying to solve anything else going on.  I am solely devoted to spending time working slowly and deliberately on the icon.  Focusing on individual garment folds, on wood grain in Jesus’ staff, the curls of the lamb’s wool, or on the gentle eyes of Christ.  I have to move slow and appreciate the details.  I can get overwhelmed by the overall picture, but at some point I just have to begin, one stroke at a time. 

And that’s another thing about icon writing.  Icons are painted going from dark colors to light, symbolizing our transformation from sin and death to forgiven and alive in the light of Christ.  But while I was painting this first icon, I found it awful difficult to believe that my finished icon would look as it was supposed to.  While you’re in the middle of it, you can’t possibly see that this is the right thing to do or that mistakes will somehow work out and that the icon will be beautiful – something through which you’ll be moved.  Even knowing that this is a tradition thousands of years old and with the experienced guidance and hand of my teacher, I found I was doubting that my icon painted with the same techniques and theory would even remotely resemble any icon!

Regarding my perfectionism, while I was painting, I found that I definitely had things I wanted to keep tweaking and fixing (futzing is the word that best describes this 😉 ).  Others would say it looked good, but I wasn’t completely satisfied.  Or it was really fine and I kept trying to “fix” it, each time really risking making it worse.  It was hard to let go and to trust that it would be fine.  It was hard to let go and accept the little imperfections, knowing that only God can create something perfect.  I know that I do this all the time in everyday life, seeking to control and to make things as perfect as I can, without really trusting God.  For those who haven’t tried it, it’s exhausting!  To keep messing with something rather than letting go and allowing God to work, trusting that God is acting and with our best interests in mind. 

It was also interesting to watch how the members of the class praised one another’s work, but pointed out all of the imperfections in our own icons, whether or not anyone else could see them!  What a life lesson!  Staring at the icon up close means you often miss the larger, overall effect.  It’s helpful to have others hold it up from afar so you can take it all in.  How often do we get blinded in our own little world that we miss the larger picture of what God’s doing? 

It’s also amazing the way people may use the same techniques and the same icon pattern, but that each icon turns out unique in some way, reflecting the person who made it and their prayer to God.  For example, one day I found that I was spending a ridiculous amount of time working on the lamb in my icon and I wondered how others had been able to finish so quickly.  As I meditated on this, I realized that I felt really connected to that little lamb, safe and secure around Christ’s neck.  I realized that I am that little lamb, the one for whom Christ laid down his life – the one safe in his hands.  I needed to spend time painting and reflecting about that relationship, hearing again that miraculous good news. 

I have just finished putting varnish on my icon and I have asked God that it might be a blessing to myself and others and that we may encounter God through it.  It is not perfect, and there are still things that jump out at me as “errors,” but when I look at it, it speaks to me of Christ’s love and mercy.  It invites me, beckons me, to pray and to spend time in quiet reflection with God.

I still have so much to learn about icons and painting, but I give thanks that this first one has been a great experience and I look forward to continuing!  

 
© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.
 
 
Advertisements

“Soak it up”

Sponge!

A very wise professor told me before I came to München to “soak it up”  – to take it all in and to simply soak everything up.  In the hustle and bustle of school and internship, these were grace-filled words for me to hear.  He didn’t say “you have to do this, this, this, and this while you’re there.”  He just said “soak it up.”  And with that, I was free to get into anything and everything! (There are, of course, still some requirements for studying!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “soak it up.”  About what I want to learn here, about what I want to return home knowing.  About what it means to absorb life to the fullest.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.  A dear friend gave this to me as a gift before I left and I’ve been slowly reading and chewing on Voskamp’s poetic and insightful words ever since.  The book is about the author’s journey towards living a life of eucharisteo (“to express gratitude for benefits or blessings – ‘to thank, thanksgiving, thankfulness.'” – where the word “Eucharist” comes from!).  Her journey is about learning to give thanks for the little as well as the big things in life.  To give thanks for the good things, as well as learning how to live a life of thankfulness in the awful, difficult things.  At the urging of her friend, she begins writing a list of one thousand things she experiences as gifts.

After reading the book, I’ve been inspired to take up such a practice and it’s made me sit up and pay attention.  Each day, heading to my German course, I have a ten minute walk to the bus, a ten minute ride on the bus, a five minute wait for the U-Bahn, a fifteen minute ride to one station where I change trains and then ride another ten minutes to the stop for my class.  Finally, it’s a three to five minute walk to the building where the class is.  I say this not to point out that it’s a complicated commute, but to show that that’s a lot of time and many different places in which to see the gifts of God.  Thinking about gifts, giving thanks, and soaking up life, I’ve been keeping my eyes open to see what God is up to.  And it’s not just about seeing either – I’ve been paying more attention to sounds, to the feel and texture of things, the taste of delicious food, and even to different smells!  It’s been working on my heart, too – keeping it open to the possibilities, the unexpected, the things that I normally miss.  My heart has been more open to seeing things in a different light – maybe even in God’s light…

Back to this idea of “soak it up…”  Sponges soak things up.  The German word for “sponge” is Schwamm.  It’s a pretty fun word.  But as I think about it, it seems to be connected to the word for “swim” (schwimmen, schwamm, schwomm, geschwommen).  Ok, sponges come from the ocean – that much should be clear.  But more than that, sponges seem to passively absorb things.  Swimming, on the other hand,…that’s active.  That means diving in, moving through the water, swimming to the bottom and coming back up for air to see where you are and what’s going on.  Swimming is actively engaging in an environment.

And there’s another connection I’m seeing with this soaking up life idea, giving thanks, being fully present and engaged, and swimming.  Any guesses?!  It’s baptism! In baptism, we were washed clean and freed through Christ’s death and resurrection to engage fully in the world.  To really live – to engage in the world.  To soak it all up.

So that’s what I’m trying to do while I’m here – to try out as much as I can, to embrace the opportunities life presents, to live fully present and in deep gratitude and appreciation of all that I’ve been given – of all that we’ve been given.  In Christ, we all have been freed to dive in and experience life as it’s happening.  I can dive in and accept the invitation to drink Korean tea with my housemates or have wonderful spontaneous conversations with people from all over the world.  I can dive in and join fellow theology students for translation sessions.  I can spend a few moments in a busy day looking at gorgeous red flowers peeking out of window boxes.  I can smile at a child’s laughter on the train or a tired dog sleeping at the sun.  I can soak up München.  I can soak up Frederick.  I can soak up life.

There’s a blessing I have loved ever since I read it in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:

“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.”

To me, this speaks not only of bringing me home to America rejoicing at what I’ve seen here in Germany, but also to one day (when the time comes!) bringing me home to God.  A journey home that involves rejoicing and giving thanks each and every day of my life.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Wrestling

So many questions, Holy One.
I see people struggling, asking.
They’re waiting, wondering.
They’re thinking and praying.

I, too, have many questions.
I’m struggling, asking.
I’m waiting, wondering.
I’m thinking, praying.

So I, like Your son Jacob,
will wrestle with these questions.
I, like Jacob, will wrestle with You.
And I will not let go of You.

I will grapple with You,
Knowing deep within that You
Bring the incredible blessing
And peace of Your Holy Presence
Into the midst of the struggle.

Inspired by Genesis 32:22-31 and all who wrestle with God and the struggles of life.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Jacob Wrestling With The Angel – Chagall

The Handshake

Two empty hands extend,
stretching across sacred space;
A blessing from one heart
to another.

© 2011. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

First Sunday in Lent

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Ash Wednesday, only 4 days ago, marked the beginning of my journey. With quiet time for prayers and reflection, as well as a cross smeared on my head in ashes, my season of Lent started.

Ash Cross from Google Search

In general, I look forward to Lent – to the quiet and penitential season which allows us to examine and rest in our relationship with God. “Examine” and “rest” don’t seem like two words that should go together, but reading Psalm 51 (the first Psalm I’m working on memorizing and the Psalm read at the Ash Wednesday service), has helped me to understand Lent in a different light:

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;1 therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God1 is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

This is a song of penitence – a prayer that God might turn God’s face from the psalmist’s sins, that God, in God’s “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy,” might blot out or erase the psalmist’s transgressions. This is the examining part of Lent, and what Lutherans would call “the law.” We are all sinners. We have all done things we know we should not have. Moreover, we have all committed sins that we may not even recognize as sins. We have also failed to do the things we should have. In short, as Paul writes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

But this is not, thankfully, the end of the story. There is also the resting part of Lent, or, as Lutherans, would call it, the gospel part of “law and gospel.” This is the good news that God does indeed forgive us – no matter what we have done or failed to do. The good news that God can and will create clean hearts in us and restore the joy of salvation to us. Joy. That’s a word we don’t often hear in Lent, but I believe it is crucial. In examining our sins and noting how we have fallen short of God’s glory, we are driven back to the cross of Christ, forgiven of our sins, and it is there, at the foot of the cross, that we know the joy of God’s salvation – of God’s grace, mercy and love. This is the love and comforting embrace in which we can rest – holding firm to the promises of God.

I am really enjoying reading the Psalms carefully and trying to memorize them. It’s difficult and can be frustrating, especially when I don’t get it right even after many attempts, but once memorized, it’s been amazing to speak Psalm 51 aloud and actually think about the words I’m saying. To recite the psalm not just as a monologue, but as a prayer has made helped me to appreciate the Psalter not just as a thing of the past, but as a collection of prayers and songs to be used in conversation with God.

As for being off of Facebook, what a blessing! Surprisingly, it’s been easy to avoid it and I don’t miss it much, although it is hard to break the habit of compulsively checking it every 5 seconds. Sigh. I think I may limit myself to once a week once Lent is over because I’m enjoying the detachment. Over time, I think I may notice that being disconnected from Facebook will encourage me to connect on a deeper level with family and friends – that it will help me to really be present with them, not thinking about something else or multitasking while we talk. We’ll see, I suppose!

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: