Haunting to beautiful: Icons inspire contemplation

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SISTER BRIDGET STUMPF holds a copy of "Christ in the Margins," a series of icons written by Robert Lentz with reflections by Edwina Gateley. Sister asks, "Is Christ behind the barbed looking out or are you behind the barbed wire looking in?"

By Renae Bauer
published January 10, 2015

If you are looking to freshen up your prayer life, Sister Bridget Stumpf has a recommendation: religious icons.

It's an exploration she began about 15 years ago after receiving an icon of Jesus and the Blessed Mother from a niece. While appreciated and treasured, the gift was a bit of a surprise. Sister Bridget was familiar with the Western masters such as Rembrandt, Raphael, de Vinci and van Gogh, so she was hard pressed to see the same beauty in this particular art form, she told Sisters and Associates in a recent presentation.

Eventually, she noticed icons everywhere -- magazines, missalettes and book covers. Her heart and mind were captivated when she saw Robert Lentz' "Christ of Maryknoll" on the cover of America magazine (right) in November 2003.

"Is Christ behind the barbed wire looking out, or are you behind the barbed wire looking in?" Sister asks. "This challenged me to further research."

She began reading just about anything she could find on the subject of iconography. Numerous books, magazines and websites helped her unlock what was once mysterious and haunting. She now saw how it connected her to God.

"The icon is not meant to stir one's emotions, but rather to contemplate the divine," she said. "You allow the images to draw you in closer to God. An icon communicates a level of silence."

Writing an icon is no small endeavor. (Icons are "written," not "painted".) Iconography is considered spiritual work accompanied by intense prayer and occasionally fasting. Icons cannot contradict Scripture; they must be semantically, theologically and aesthetically correct. Painted with egg tempera, icon colors progress from dark to light, perhaps a metaphor for our own spiritual journey.

If you would like to see icons in the Green Bay area, visit Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, 1307 Lourdes Ave., De Pere, where icons and descriptions are in the church and chapel. Also, the chapel at Holy Resurrection Monastery (Byzantine Rite) has many icons.Visit www.hrmonline.org or 300 S. Second Ave., St. Nazianz, Wis., about 20 miles southwest of Manitowoc.


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