Christmas Blessings

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The Good Tidings to “Men of Good Will”


A truly thoughtprovoking essay, and so pertinent. I love the line about needing to follow the Babe of Bethlehem into adulthood.

Originally posted on Catholicism Pure & Simple:


In these secular times we are living through today in the West, there are those who at Christmas time still hang onto some long-forgotten remnant of their forefathers’ Christianity (although this may lie markedly dormant for the rest of the year). However, as Christmas approaches, it bubbles up to the surface again in the form of catchy Christmas carols, school nativity plays, Bethlehem scenes on Christmas cards, and even a few dotted cribs, prettily displayed in shop windows  – yes, there are still a few around – all to sweeten the merry Christmas festivities!  There is no doubt about it, Christmas is a beautiful poignant feast (if one can overlook the overindulgence and materialism so prevalent), usually bringing out a ‘Christmas spirit’ of joy, sharing and giving that appears to reflect the angel’s joyous message of good tidings at Bethlehem to the shepherds, announcing Christ’s Birth “to men of…

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The Truth About Ivan

By the world’s reckoning, Ivan isn’t of much value.  Perhaps he is even a Bad Dog.



Ivan is stout. His skin is polka-dotted pink and brown. His hair is scraggly and sparse, with an interesting mohawk thing going on along the top of his skull.  He is covered with lipid tumors.  Not a real looker by too many people’s standards.

He has epilepsy, has suffered from it going on 8 years now.  The seizures come in clusters, lasting from hours to days:  Ivan screaming, disrupting the whole family.  “Put him down”, some have advised us.  We have had to readjust our lives to meet his medical needs.

He’s not welcome in the dog park–he picks fights with other dogs.

He chases cats and squirrels.  He is very protective of his personal space–woe to anyone who reaches into his car or enters his backyard uninvited.

He does have a cute face, though, to those who like terrier faces.  But call him over to you for a pat and he will give you a stony stare and stalk coldly away.  Ivan is a one-family dog. Exclusively.  He doesn’t care what the world thinks of him.  He lives only for us.

Ivan is a rescue dog, found on a rural highway as a “teenager”. He has seen the world, and he knows where he wants to be, safe in the arms of his family.

We are the only ones who know the real Ivan.  In his heart he is loyal, loving, brave, protective, and playful. He is extremely affectionate and a great snuggler. He hugs back, with a shoulder lean and warm head pressed gently against you. He cries when he needs help and runs to us with trust. He is as forgiving as any dog is.   He loves us deeply and totally, would die for any of us.  We love him, cherish him.  We enjoy his good days, and are with him through his bad days.  He is growing elderly now, slowly losing sight and hearing,  but still full of fun, mischief and spunky terrier contrariness.

Ivan makes off with the ball

Ivan makes off with the ball

In  Ivan’s story, despite his flaws, I learn a great deal of our relationship with our heavenly Father.  Ivan knows he belongs only to us.  We alone know what is in his heart, even as the rest of the world judges and rejects.  With us, he can be himself without pretense, dropping his fears and masks.  In trust, he knows his problems will be cared for, and that love is all that matters.  In return, he gives us himself, all he has, vulnerable and dependent.  He cares nothing for the opinion of the world, but lives for his family, wanting to please and be by our side.

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I read some words of Pope Francis today about multiculturalism, and the challenge it poses for our Church and the New Evangelism–as well as for our country.  Language. Traditions. Our own comfort zones.  What would Jesus do?  Some modern issues are unclear, or at least unmentioned in Scripture, but multiculturalism is not.

He demonstrated for us exactly what He wants us to do:

He interacted with His own people, the Jews, those who were receptive to Him, and those who were not.  The wealthy and the poor, the educated and the illiterate, the elite and the outcast.  He treated each one with love and compassion.

He healed and He taught and He welcomed one and all.

He welcomed those outside of His own tradition.  Samaritans. Syrians.  Canaanites. Greeks.   Again, he interacted lovingly with them. He taught them. He healed their ills and blessed them.

He did not turn away from the oppressors of His people either.  He welcomed them with dignity and respect.  He accepted their expressions of belief in Him, and healed and blessed them as well.  His teachings were for one and all.

And so should we be, as Church and the hands of Jesus today, to all that we meet, our own folks and the “others”  We are all the children of God.


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St. Tabitha Icon

I have finished my icon of St. Tabitha.  Intended for persons who are not familiar with icons and their symbolic language, this image of her is not strictly traditional.  I hope that it will lead the recipients to prayer and reflection.

St. Tabitha is the patron saint of seamstresses and tailors.  Her feastday is October 25. I found a beautiful Eastern Orthodox prayer to honor her, and it follows below.

With the flow of the many–streamed river of almsgiving,

You watered the dry earth of the needy.

Showering alms on the widows and the poor,

You shone with the light of your works

And were radiant with grace, O Tabitha.

Glory to Christ who loves you!

Glory to Christ who has blessed you!

Glory to Christ whom you followed as a true disciple and a spotless lamb!

You served the Savior in holiness

By your God-fearing deeds,

And were a model of love as his disciple.

O Tabitha, we praise your memory!

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The corrections

I had a faint memory of cleaning house one day, washing walls.  I had grabbed a cleaner, 409 it was, and began to scrub without noticing that it said on the bottle:  do not use on painted surfaces. It began to dissolve the paint on the walls. I saw the paint color on the cleaning rag–and quickly stopped.  Now, looking looking with sad bewilderment at St.Tabitha, I remembered that day.

Hmmm. Latex paint is like acrylic paint. Perhaps putting 409 on a cotton ball and wiping it on the offending areas would work.

I tried it.  I wiped it gently, nothing happened.  Then I took a stiff little paint brush and carefully scrubbed the 409 in small circles. This did seem to be working.  I wiped the chemical cleaner off with a moist paper towel and left the icon to dry.

It seemed to have worked.  I can still see the error, but not as distinctly.  I put another coat of paint over it, after painting in the lettering. I didn’t want to lose those painstakingly drawn letters under too many coats of paint!  I think this is working.  (huge sigh of relief here).  I continue to highlight the face and hands, all areas of the icon, and grow near to completing the image of St.Tabitha.


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The First Step: Prayer

The most logical first step in beginning to correct or repair an icon, is to pray.

This prayer was shared with me recently by a fellow iconographer.  It is lovely, and was perhaps written especially for young iconographers attending workshops given by Ina Hecker.  It certainly spoke to me, as I begin to ponder how to repair my St.Tabitha icon.

Iconographer’s Prayer

Teach me, Lord, to use wisely the time which You have given me, and to work well without wasting a second.  Teach me to profit from my past mistakes without falling into a gnawing doubt.  Teach me to anticipate the project without worry, to imagine the work without despair if it should turn out differently.  Teach me to unite haste and slowness, serenity and ardor, zeal and peace.

Help me at the beginning of the work when I am the weakest.  Help me in the middle of the work when my attention must be sustained. And especially fill all the emptiness of my work with Your Presence.  Lord, in all the work of my hands, bestow Your Grace so that it can speak to others and my mistakes can speak to me alone.  Keep me in the hope of perfection, without which I would lose heart, yet keep me from achieving perfection, for surely I would be lost in arrogance.

Purify my sight when I am doing poorly, for one is never sure that the work will turn out badly; Yet when I am doing well, one is never sure that the work will turn out well. Lord, let me never forget that all knowledge is in vain unless there is work.  And all work is empty unless there is love.  And all love is hollow unless it binds me both to others and to You.

Lord teach me to pray with my  hands, my arms, and all my strength. Remind me that the work of my hands belongs to You and that it is fitting to return this gift to You.  Yet, if I work for the pleasure of others, like a flowering plant in the evening I will wither. But if I work for the love of goodness, I will remain in goodness.  And the time to work for goodness and for Your Glory is now.


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St.Tabitha meets Murphy

I took my little icon of St.Tabitha to the coast, on a short vacation, hoping to make some progress in the painting.  I worked by the window, painting industriously, but perhaps scrimping a bit in the prayer department.  I began to highlight the face, the basket of clothing, eager to finish.  Things seemed to be going okay . . .  for a while.  Then, it happened.  Murphy’s Law.  You know the one:  what can go wrong, will go wrong.

I live by it.

Haste makes waste.  That’s another one . . .

Icons are holy and prayerful, but so often they, too, run smack dab up against these tongue-in-cheek “laws”.  Especially when the prayers are scrimped on.  

I had thought I’d make the background smoother, a bit deeper, and put an even, light, transparent layer of yellow over it.  But it didn’t dry evenly.  And some of the new highlights in her face had hard, harsh edges. A “hole” developed in the middle of her throat, plus her neck looks funny.  2 dog hairs managed to imbed themselves in the paint, despite the fact that no dogs were present . . .  So now, I face making corrections, lots of them.  How to correct acrylic paint on Claybord?  I will be finding this out the hard way.

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St.Tabitha icon progresses

There is not much about St.Tabitha in the Bible.  Just some basic facts, most important of which is that she is the only woman specifically named as a disciple of Christ.  The word “disciple” refers to learning, to being a student of, and, having learned, to follow.  This she did, following the Lord with loving charity to those less fortunate.  St.Tabitha’s ministry was to the widows of Joppa, a city located in what is now the modern state of Israel.  She made clothes and tunics for them, sewing them herself and distributing them to those who had nothing.  Evidently she was much loved, and her ministry effective and broad enough that the Christian community was aware of her.  There was much grief at her passing.

Peter himself was called to her deathbed, and he raised her from the dead in the name of Jesus.  An amazing story.  And the Scripture account ends there, with no information on how she might have responded to this incredible experience, or how her life progressed from there.

I have been reading reflections on this saint, imagining what sort of person she was, what her total life story might have been.  They are just speculation, these reflections, but they help to gain a clearer picture of a remarkable woman of the first century A.D.  In a way, this slow, hesitant depicting of this saint is like the slow emerging of a visual image of her in the icon.  Bit by bit, layer by layer, an individual  face begins to come clear, to guide people of this century closer to St.Tabitha’s Lord and ours, Jesus Christ.

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St.Tabitha: Icon in acrylics 2

One of the most freeing and fun steps for me is applying the underpainting. You can’t really make a mistake here. Start with prayer, and then begin to apply the paint. What you are doing is doing is establishing the dark, neutral undercolors that will provide the shadows and darker areas for the icon.  In a way, this is the “ugly” stage of the icon.

Once the undertones are established, most of the modelling and definition of the features will be done through the painting of the light.  I have always liked that analogy of the light creating shape and form out of darkness, spiritually as well as artistically!



It can take a long time to build up the highlights using transparent light colors on top of a dark ground.  Patience is required, but sooner or later, patience is rewarded with a soft, glowing highlight.



I make many mistakes along the way, but with a long slow process such as this, they can easily be painted over.  Whether it is wrong color in the background (yes, that is happening here for sure),  an uneven texture (that, too), or a minor drawing correction (probably), it is fairly easy to correct.   Many careful and wise iconographers make color and highlight studies beforehand, but impatient ones like me prefer to work out the problems right on the board, and to experiment freely all the while.

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