Looking at Church Art: Jesus

As I traveled in Germany and Poland, I noticed that the images of Jesus that I saw were different ones from those in the United States.  Every crucifix was different of course, and always present in every church we visited, but it was the choices of the other images that was unusual to me.  Most churches had the icon of Divine Mercy, and many Pieta and Sacred Heart images, but there were a couple that I had never seen before.

This is what I am used to seeing, as far as devotional church art depicting Jesus:

Feb2018 church art Jesus blog

We were travelling during the end of the Easter season. Many, if not all of the German and Polish altars had a statue of Christ Risen and Victorious.  A red cloth hung over the empty cross on the other side of the altar.  The statue was often smaller, as if it was put up just for the Easter season.  Occasionally it was a permanent painting.  It was also a well-loved subject for wayside shrines.

180 trailside shrine

Alongside a hiking trail in Bavarian Alps

114 ChristVictorious Sandomiercz blog

small statue on altar, Sandomiercz, Poland

Even more widespread was an image called “The Pensive Christ”.  It was not one that I had ever seen before.  Roadside shrines, altars, statues, paintings, indoors, outdoors, folk art, cathedral art … it was immensely popular in both Germany and Poland.  We stopped and prayed with this image, saying rosaries for my dear mom who passed away earlier last year.

027 prayer corner w pensive Jesus image

Prayer corner in cathedral. Krakow, Poland

It depicted Jesus, seated, waiting patiently during a brief pause before the next assault on him. He had been physically tortured–whipped, scourged, slapped, a crown of thorns pressed onto his head.  He had been mocked, ridiculed, spat on.  As he sat there waiting for what would come next–what was He thinking of?  What did He pray for? Was it for forgiveness for His tormentors?  Was it for strength and courage for His followers?  Did He think of His mother, praying with sadness at her pain, asking that she be comforted and strengthened?

214 pensive Christ statue

20th century stone carving, Gdansk, Poland

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Looking at Church Art: The Mother of God

I was blessed to be able to travel last summer, visiting southern Germany and Poland. It was a wonderful trip.  My husband is not one for museums, but we saw so much beautiful artwork in the churches of both countries. There were images from as early as the 11th century through our times.  They were painted on panels, fresco’d on walls, created as mosaics, carvings, sculptures–truly marvelous to see!

I noticed how different the “typical” images were in Europe vs the United States.  Most often in the U.S.–at least in the western regions where I have lived–the images of Mary, most often portrayed her as the Immaculate Conception or Our Lady of Lourdes.  Also very popular were Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Guadalupe. These images are everywhere: in churches, homes, gardens, holy cards–and even in miniature, stamped onto rosary beads.

4 images on blue blog

Throughout the Polish and Alpine German areas, There were also images of the Mother of God in churches, shrines, gardens, and on public buildings.  The images seen most often were from the Book of Revelations, like these:

098 OL from Revelations

modern statue inside Krakow church

020 bldg corner Jesuit courtyard madonna

on the exterior of a public building near the Jesuit Church


and as Our Lady of Sorrows, pierced by swords, such as these:

207 Pieta detail

at foot of the cross, Partenkirchen, Germany

132 altar statues

Cathedral in Bischofweisen, Germany

24 OL of Sorrows

Cathedral in Munich

029 OL of sorrows wooded statue

Local church in Partenkirchen, Germany

and as Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, often holding the Christ Child.

119 great medieval Mary & Child

Bischofweisen, Germany

257 wood altarpiece coronation of Mary w saints

Medieval altar carving in Gdansk, Poland

325 madonna painting diff angle better color

Medieval egg tempera painting in cathedral in Gdansk, Poland

126 tryptich

16th century carving Berlin, Germany

There were also many statues of “The Pieta”, with this one shown below in a side altar in the Cathedral in Gdansk, Poland.

237 Pieta close up

I am not enough of an expert to speculate as to the hows or whys, but found these cultural differences fascinating.  Only Our Lady of Guadalupe had some resemblance to the European types, in coloring of garments and depiction of strength.  I’d love some insights, if you care to comment.


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Soi Dog

We adopted a feral dog.  She has been with us for just over 6 months.  What a wonderful journey of faith and learning it has been.  For all of us.

She spent the first 6 years of her life running loose, foraging for food and fighting for survival on the island of Phuket, Thailand.  She was captured and put into a cage and taken to a meat market.  The Soi Dog Foundation rescued her from there, and all of the horrors that that end would have meant.  (“Soi” dog is Thai for “street” dog)  They took her to a shelter and gave her medical treatment.  A kind donor paid to fly her and 7 others to the U.S. for adoption.  She lived in another shelter for a year. And then she came home to us.

She is sweet and loving by nature, yet aloof–she has no clue how to be a pet,  how to be part of a family.

Dec17 Betty 08

She is strong and healthy.  She is also self-willed, self-reliant, totally self-centered, and very stubborn.   She longs to run free again, and has a strong urge to chase (or worse) after chickens and small animals.  She loves to roam, to explore endlessly. She doesn’t respond to spoken words much at all.  She has no concept of obedience.

We are asking her to give up all of the freedom and independence that she has known, and to be a friend and companion now.  We ask her to love, to trust, to allow herself to be dependent and to rely on us for her needs.  We ask her to accept our will and our judgement over own wants and decisions.  We ask her to share food and toys with others.  She will be cared for, she will have enough.  We ask her to open her heart and to ask us for comfort and for meeting her needs.

Dec17 Betty 06

We want her to love–to allow herself to be loved and to return it to us.  We want her to trust in our love,  to trust in our care for her.  We want her to submit her will to ours, and to obey us.

As I think about this, I realize what a role model she is for us.  What we ask of her, Our Heavenly Father is asking of us as Christians.    She is a little messenger of the right way to be.  Every day we watch her transformation, the blossoming of peace and contentment in her heart.  I hope that we can do the same in our life journey.

RoadTrip Betty by the fireplace


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It takes a village . . .

I’ve heard that it takes a village to raise a child.  It’s a nice idea, I liked it for a long time. I imagined an encouraging community supporting parents in bringing up healthy, well adjusted young people.  But in truth the village is failing.

It takes mothers and fathers to raise a child, despite the village. The mothers and fathers need to be vigilant.

There are all levels in which this is happening, but I want to point out just one, perhaps a small one, that I notice within the scope of my own observation.  I think it is significant.  I see a lot of children’s books, as an illustrator, and as a worker in a public library.  Many of the books are beautiful, but some are rather startling.  I have heard it argued that people have a right to publish what they want, say what they want to anybody, and read what they want. It is the job of parents to make sure that what their children read is suitable, if they have any objections to what is published.

Most parents are very careful about what their preschool and elementary age children read, but begin to step back and allow tweens and teens more freedom to chose what they find interesting (often relieved that their kids continue to read for pleasure at all.)  They might even assume that a title wouldn’t be in the library, in the children’s or young adult section, if it were not wholesome and good for the children’s wellbeing.  You know, the village thing.  Don’t count on it.

I want to highlight just a couple of widely read books that I randomly, casually spotted in my local library.  They were not even in the young adult section, but in the Children’s Center, a section roughly aimed at kids age 5 to 10.

Pictures are worth a thousand words.  They have a profound impact on our subconscious.   I wonder if parents really want their boys or girls to absorb the messages presented here.  These particular books happen to be manga books, created in Japan, and they are wildly popular.   Have a look at the covers and some of the inside pages, and see what you think. I see insinuations of rape, pedophilia, encouragement of sexual experience,  sexualizing of young children, etc.

Remember, these are marketed to kids kindergarten through 5th grade . . . and often looked at by 3 and 4 year olds as they choose their comic books . . .


Above is the front cover of just one book.  Following are inside pages from several books, including a repeat of this cover illustration.  I was disgusted by all of them, because of the young age of the intended viewers, and the lifestyle that is encouraged and promulgated.



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When is an Icon Not an Icon?

Above are two Russian portraits painted on wooden panels, with the distinctive “recess” creating a raised border seen in many icons. One is painted in the 16th century and the other in the early 17th century. Both contain similar stylized depictions of the subjects features, hair and foreheads. Both have inscriptions along the top (although […]

via When is an Icon not an Icon? | Russian Parsuna — A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons

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Please Pray “THIS PRAYER” With Me Today For This Nation

a beautiful prayer

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House of Prayer




It’s Sunday.  I went first to the place that we, human beings, built for God.  He graciously comes to us there, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in the gift of the Eucharist.


And then I went, for the rest of the day, to one of the places that God created for us, to live in, praise Him in, and to lovingly care for.





It was quiet there, sitting on the smooth gray rocks.  The forest was dappled with sunlight, and the creek was clean and clear.

I was seeking solitude, and I found it, with only birdsong, gurgling water, and a brilliant red crayfish to share it with.  A good place for pondering, reflecting, and long conversation with our God.

I left with my heart quiet and at peace.

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A Prayer for the Strayed

Inspiration can come from all sorts of places. Years ago I found a beautiful prayer for unbelievers inside a novel by Jan Karon.  The words expressed my sentiments perfectly, and I copied it out for my own use.  I have adapted and said it for my own fallen-away family members often.  I would like to share it with you,  as I complete my icon for those who have turned away from faith.  It has been part of my prayer process.


Bless Your child (—) with the reality of Your presence.  By the power of Your Holy Spirit, so move in (his/her) heart and life that (he/she) cannot ignore or turn away from Your love for (him/her).

Go, Lord, into that darkness where no belief dwells, where no candle burns, where no solace can be found, and kindle Your love in (him/her) in a deep and powerful way.

Pour out Your love upon (her/him), Lord, with such tenderness that (he/she) cannot turn away.  Pour out Your love, Lord, with such mercy that (he/she) cannot deny Your grace.  Fill (his/her) heart with certainty–the confidence and certainty that You made (him/her) for Yourself, that You might take delight in (her/his) service.

Thank you, Lord, for the good (she/he) has already done for Your kingdom, no matter the reasons (he/she) may have had.  Thank you, Father, for this time in Your presence–for holding all of us in the circle of Your love and grace.  With all of my heart, I ask you to turn (—) back to You.  Call (her/him) to repent and become Yours for all eternity.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Used with permission.  Adapted from In This Mountain by Jan Karon, published by Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2002 by Jan Karon.

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Praying with St. Therese for the lost sheep

St.Therese bsThe 5th figure on my icon of prayers for the lost sheep of Jesus is St.  Therese.

St. Therese of Lisieux, called the Little Flower, and noted for her “little way”,  wanted to be a missionary and bring souls to Jesus.  Her health prevented that rigorous life, but she supported other missionaries with letters and prayers.  Her dream was to spend her time in heaven helping those on earth find the light of Christ, saying “I will return.  My heaven will be spent on earth.”

Even as a child, she prayed for those who had separated themselves from God.  There is a story of her praying for a condemned and widely hated murderer, who suddenly grabbed and kissed a crucifix in the moment before he was executed, after refusing all prayer and comfort up to that point.  St. Therese believed that her prayers had softened his heart enough to repent and turn back to God.

St. Therese, you once said “There is only one thing to do here below: to love Jesus, to win souls for Him so that He may be loved.”  Pray with us now, that the hearts of our loved ones might be softened and return to Christ.

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A joyous blessing

First Day 21My life has been greatly blessed this past week.  A baby grandson was born just a few days ago.  He is my one, and possibly only, grandchild.  I love him to pieces!  His name is Elliott.  I was curious about the origin of that name.  I looked it up, and most of the sources credit it as an old English/Welsh/Scotch version of the Hebrew name Elijah.

Elijah means “One with God” or “The Lord is my God“.

Interestingly enough,  I once painted an icon for37-elijah-004 Elliott’s dad–ages ago. I chose the image myself, and designed the composition to incorporate a biblical story that had meaning to him.

The image I chose way back then, out of all the possibilities in Christian and biblical history, was the Prophet Elijah.

Most of the daily readings at Mass these past 2 weeks have been about Elijah, too!

Holy Prophet Elijah, pray for little Elliott. Pray for all of his family, that they might be blessed with good health, kept safe, and live lives showered with the grace and goodness of God.

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