In prayer, we are often guided to not focus on the outcome (what it is we are asking for), but on the state of being present to the Divine. So it also is with painting icons, a visual form of prayer in which the purpose is not so much the completed image, but on the very process of creation and inspiration.
In the upcoming retreat at Spirit Center, iconographer Father Damian Higgins will guide retreatants through this particular prayer process. “Whether we know it or not, we’re an iconographic people,” Father Damian Higgins says. “We’re surrounded by images we respond to, but mostly they advertise. They direct us toward a product. Holy icons direct us not toward themselves, but toward the Divine.”
The creation of icons is a form of prayer or meditation that is grounded in the physical act of holding pencils, preparing the paints, and then manipulating the materials to form a painted object. “The purpose is not to acquire a product,” explains Father Damian. “The importance is in the process. We are careful how we use materials, that are also all-natural and organic. This brings closeness to the earth and respect for the things of the earth as well as to the sanctified person whose image we are creating.”
Father Damian is an iconographer whose numerous works are featured in churches and collections around the world. He was introduced to iconography in 1988 when he joined the Monks of Mount Tabor, a Ukrainian Catholic religious community at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in northern California. The community’s iconographer became cantor and suddenly there was a need for someone to paint. Father Damian later served in a social service agency in the Tenderloin, one of the toughest neighborhoods in San Francisco. It turned out that one of the men to whom he served soup was a master iconographer that also shared his knowledge of the art.