If prayer is an attempt to bring Heaven into the world of the body, then art might be seen as a related impulse to infuse matter with spirit. A painter tries, by a jazzy combination of thought, will, and surrender, to capture a transcendent notion in matter.
Image-rich sermons like Father Daniel London’s can be translated by a painter into forms, movements, and landscapes. If the painter is attentive and lucky, those brushed collections of mineral and fluid (earthly matter) might capture some of the divine energy in the words from which they derive.
I began painting to Father Daniel’s live broadcast sermons during Covid lockdown in July of 2020. I would start at the beginning of each service, allowing the opening prayers and readings to inform a scaffolding of shapes upon which to place ideas that would arise in the homily.
The power of truthful language— in Holy Word and in precise human speech— is a theme in each of these paintings. I understand very little of the awesome nature of our Creator, the evolution of the human soul through Christ, or the legacy of spiritual gifts to which Father Daniel devotes his messages. But I do love to ponder those spoken realities in my heart, and to feel them move in my markmaking hands.
One could say that Father Daniel’s elaborations of The Gospel and my responses in paint have little to do with each other. In a way I could agree- the art comes largely through my intuition and any definite associations are up for debate. But I see these efforts as being helped along by prayer, which places them in the sphere of the extraordinary, making possible connections that might not otherwise happen. Father Daniel begins each sermon with the prayer “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord our strength, and our freedom.” And before I began each piece, I said, “Thy will be done.”
So these are the meditations of my heart, as I listened Father Daniel’s sentences into my paintbrush. May they be pleasing in your sight, too.
November 5, 2021
In the summer of 2020, I had made plans to go on a prayer retreat to Our Lady of the Redwoods Abbey in Whitethorn CA. When these plans changed due to COVID, I had to pivot and settle for an intentional prayer retreat at my own home. So, for several days, I cloistered in a guest room to pray, study, and read books on Thomas Merton. As I was reading about Merton’s relationship with Judaism, I felt an invitation from Merton himself to explore the mystical meaning of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. So, throughout the rest of the summer, I studied each Hebrew letter (in the context of Psalm 119) and learned that, according to Jewish mystical belief, all of creation has been formed and sustained by the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. I was captivated by the idea that everything that we see and experience has been inspired and created by an arrangement of Hebrew letters and words, pouring forth from the mouth of God.
When I first preached on this concept, I should not have been surprised when artist David Lochtie told me that he was inspired by my words to create something new, an image expressing his own interpretation of my homily. The Hebrew letters were doing their job. I kept preaching on the Hebrew letters and David kept creating stunning images, which seemed to clothe my words in flesh and new color.
Long after I finished my series on the Hebrew alphabet, David and I continued our dance of preaching and painting. The first couple paintings in this collection reflect the direct influence of the Hebrew letters, but all the paintings express the life-giving dance between word and image, especially in the context of prayer. One of the great lessons of the mystical Hebrew alphabet is that the primary purpose of language itself is prayer.
I know these paintings are the result and fruit of prayer: David’s prayers, my prayers, and the whole community’s prayers during this long season of pandemic. And today I experience each of these paintings as an eloquent prayer written not with words, but with moving color and texture.
Moreover, I sense in each painting a beckoning and a calling forth of prayer in the viewer. And so, I can’t help but wonder what creative prayers these images call forth in you. Do they call you to write, to paint, to dance, to sing, to laugh, to weep, to feast, to fast, to study, to teach, to feed, to serve, to heal? Whatever it may be, my hope is that these paintings invite you to co-create something new with the ancient letters of God, to put some flesh upon the everlasting Logos, and to indeed picture the divine Word colorfully in your life.
The Rev. Daniel London, PhD
The Feast of C. S. Lewis
November 22, 2021