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An Icon for Our Times

Sacred Bond is not a traditional icon that follows rules of style and symbolism established centuries ago. Yet it shares a common purpose with those icons. It aims to be a window on eternity. Vincent Van Gogh understood and shared that purpose. In a letter to his brother Theo he wrote:

“I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize and which we seek to convey by the actual radiance and vibration of our coloring.”

Van Gogh felt that a painting did not need to rely on conventional religious symbolism to express a sense of Divine Presence. The radiance and vibrancy of color itself can evoke that Presence. His insight guided my work on Sacred Bond. Through the rich colors of the mother’s shawl, the spacious magnificence of the night sky, and the radiance of the Milky Way I hoped to convey “that something of the eternal” that Van Gogh and traditional icon painters sought. I wanted to evoke a living Presence, a palpable sense of Mystery infusing the mother and child, the green hills, the foggy valleys, the starry night…and ourselves.

Some viewers of Sacred Bond quickly identify the mother and child as the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Others see a picture of an immigrant mother and child fleeing violence and poverty by night. Inspired by hope the mother takes to the road in search of a new life in a distant land. These interpretations need not be mutually exclusive. Icons can teach us to see ordinary people as living icons, and to value the bond between all parents and children as a sacred bond to be cherished and protected. My hope is that gazing at Sacred Bond can open one’s inner eye to the kinship we share with all people on this planet, especially those who are poor and struggling to survive.

Sacred bonds are not limited to our relationships with other human beings. The mother’s colorful shawl depicts the landscape where the mother lives with it’s native leaves, flowers and fruits. The shawl suggests that Mother Earth herself wraps us in a nurturing embrace. It’s beauty celebrates the intimate relationship between the earth and humanity. This bond is deeply threatened in our time. The earth, our Mother, cries out for our response.

The cascading clouds of stars set against the dark void of space point to a bond that links us to the entire Cosmos and our primal origins nearly 14 billion years ago. Shortly after that mysterious beginning all the basic elements of the universe were forged. Our bodies are made of those elements. We are composed of stardust. Our sacred bond with the intimate immensity of the cosmos is fundamental to who we are.

Deep within these visible bonds lies “that something of the eternal,” a silent, all pervasive Divine Presence. Can we come to know our intimate bond with this Presence the way a mother and child bonded in love know each other? Can we know it and embody it in the world with all our senses and feelings, our whole mind and heart, soul and strength? Can we let that sacred bond with Divine Mystery that infuses ordinary experience become the deep ground of our life? That is the hope and deep intention behind the icon of Sacred Bond.