Tuesday, February 10, 2009

St. Ignatius and Contemporary Iconography: Transformed at River Cardoner

Panel 2 of 5: Transformed at the Cardoner
"The pilgrim to Jerusalem pauses in Manresa and spends a year of purification and enlightenment, culminating in a transforming illumination by the River Cardoner"

When I look at this icon, I see St. Ignatius retreating from the world.  It represents a "desert" experience, of needing to take a few moments away from the business of everyday life in order to reflect and examine his life.  In the background, we see in the distance that is in Ignatius' view.  He is outside the city, yet can still see it.  

This experience probably inspired parts of his work with the Spiritual Exercises, the main retreat experience that binds all Jesuits together.  

This retreat experience is important for the Jesuit life and indeed shapes who we are and how we interact with the world.  We are called always to step back and to reflect, to remove ourselves completely from the world for a short time in order to re-enter refreshed and renewed.  

If you look closely, you may see images within the rocks themselves.  In those times of prayerful solitude, we may see things that we would not be able to otherwise.  I mean that in a very positive sense too--not in the sense of "seeing" things because we're going crazy.  Well, we are a little crazy...But, I mean that our ability to discern and to reflect back on experiences becomes heightened in that short detachment from the world.  

Overlooking everything is a white dove, representing the Holy Spirit.  I find that image to be very comforting. 

In Ignatius' spiritual autobiography, he shares specifically about this experience at the river (always referring to himself in the 3rd person as he dictates his story to a brother Jesuit): 

"Once he was going out of devotion to a church situated a little more than a mile from Manresa; I believe it is called St. Paul's and the road goes by the river.  As he went along occupied with his devotions, he sat down for a little while with his face toward the river, which ran down below.  While he was seated there, the eyes of his understanding began to be opened; not that he saw any vision, but he understood and learned many things, both spiritual matters and matters of faith and of scholarship and this with so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him" 

I feel that Bittau, the artist, captures this understanding quite well.  She intentionally obscures the image in the river as a ray of light to represent this new understanding of Ignatius.  Yet, you can still faintly make out a silhouette of the Virgin Mary with child. 

Have you ever had a "river" experience in which old things all of a sudden became new, in which you saw things in a new and breathtaking light?

"Take, Lord, Receive
all my liberty,
my memory,
my understanding
and my entire will,
all that I have and possess.
You have given all to me. 
To you, Lord, I return it. 
All is yours. 
Dispose of it wholly
according to your will.
Give me only your love and your grace
That is sufficient for me."
~St. Ignatius

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