Are we in a State of Grace?  Does the Holy Spirit Sit for portraits?

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

These two questions are bouncing around together as I struggle with a collage about the Spirit of peace. It started with some decorative renditions of doves of peace, and these are almost complete—I’m sending a couple examples along. This labor of design has been absorbing and I’m happy with them. But I’ve been trying to find an arrangement, a background-foreground interaction to create movement in order to convey a Spirit surprising and unfettered. And it hasn’t happened. I’ve played with all kinds of letters and patterns and shapes and materials to get both “Spirit in pose” and “Spirit-on-the-fly” connected in one visual whole.

I have been at this for a whole year. This labor has at long last given rise to a revelation: I’ve been trying to make two different collages out of one. The first idea,the doves of peace, is far from the experience of Spirit that I had hoped to convey. Now it is clear: one cannot bring to vision the essence of Spirit in static portraits. The searching eye/heart must be led into blurred quickness, shimmering, gusting, blazing, cascading….

Not long ago I attended a funeral. Inside the booklet was an admonition about who was permitted to receive communion, reminding non-Catholics that they could not approach unless they were seeking a blessing, and Catholics that they had to be in the State of Grace.

Grace—a state?  As in unchanging? Stable? Something we hold carefully within ourselves, a garden perhaps, or a reflecting pool, a holy emptiness found somewhere beneath our ribs, something that needs a regular refill?

And here of course, is my Spirit-puzzle in a different dimension. Grace is not a state (apologies to Thomas Aquinas and Greek philosophy). It is impossible to “have” it or “contain” it. Grace moves in and through us, an ongoing happening, a shared adventure with others, building, bonding, giving and receiving, stretching and reaching out.

The science of the universe is a revelation of constant change in a  vastness of time and space so huge, so ancient, so expansive. Those who study the tiniest of things have discovered worlds beyond imagining on an infinitesimal scale—neurons, cells, molecules, viruses, DNA. Physicists have split the atom into tiny moving parts. The Big Bang, the beginning, was an explosive trillionth of a second, a  bursting forth of particles of energy which crashed into each other and sizzled into the basic chemistry of the universe which over billions of years became the birthing clouds of stars and the building blocks of every element of our precious earth and our amazing selves.

There is an ever-recurring mystery here. It is mobility, not stability, that underlies and supports the matter-ing we are and which surrounds us.

All is grace, suffused by grace, abounding and transforming, alive in our bodies and our communities, in every dying and blossoming anew. And moving in it all is the Spirit of Creator and Christ, that mysterious pushing and pulling and longing and yearning that throbs in our veins and erupts in our voices of praise and witness to the call of a divine Mover. And we will be carried by the grace which swirls in the galaxies and in every human heart, pledging a future whose dimensions are beyond all imagining, a vast gathering into the Christ.

I have another collage taking shape. The doves of peace aren’t going anywhere. I’ve enjoyed the process and I will finish and frame them. But this work- in- waiting demands dynamism, fire, and wind, getting into the flow. And even if I finish it to my own satisfaction, it will be so limited a conveyance of the Holy that I  wonder both why I bother and why I can’t wait to start in again. Veni, Creator Spiritus!

Posted in News, Weekly Word

11 responses to “Are we in a State of Grace?  Does the Holy Spirit Sit for portraits?

  1. Oh Sr Jan, I love your Holy Spirit filled reflection so much! Thank you for sharing your rich and insightful writing and beautiful collages. Shalom

  2. So much to contemplate in your words, your art, your insights! You have offered a profound gift! Thank you!

  3. Your words are as poetic as your images are beautiful, Jan. You’ve given me a meditation to carry me through Lent. Clearly, the Spirit moves in you — “surprising and unfettered” indeed!

  4. Thank you, Sr. Janet, for your comments on the state of grace and especially for your attempts to depict the dynamism of the Holy Spirit. I love it!

  5. You’ve hit the center, Janet–life is always in motion, changing, evolving from the time of our birth.

  6. Jan, I so agree with you about the state of grace. It is published in the front of our missalettes in church that as Catholics you may not receive Communion if you are not in the state of grace. Keep your mind open to creating a picture of the Holy Spirit. I like what you have done so far so feminine.

  7. Thanks, Jan! I love this reflection. I believe Holy Spirit (notice: no “the”… something I picked up from a Franciscan Retreat Director, Fr. Julio…) is One who seeks relationship with us. (I often wondered why Julio never used the article “the”.) Then I realized that Holy Spirit is not an object merely to ponder or discuss, but rather one way of experiencing that Divine Dance (per Richard Rohr) of Eternal Trinity! And no, we’re never going to figure the Mystery out… but I’m learning: Holy Spirit is not a tame white dove!

    Pat Mood, OP

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