One of the lovely things about this icon retreat is that from the moment you arrive you realize it is about so much more than just painting an icon. When you walk into the studio (which in it's other life is St. John's Chapel at Kanuga) there are two long, long rows of tables, all covered in craft brown paper. At each spot there is a package, wrapped in white paper.
This is your icon board. All wrapped up. Just like a gift.
The truth is, it really is a gift.
The first step (other than setting up your light and your jars for water,your brushes and your little white plastic paint palette (the experienced iconographers in the room have graduated to their own ceramic palette) is to unwrap your board.
Icon boards are not inexpensive. They have to be wood that has been carefully cut and dried so that the board will not warp. The boards we use also have the gesso already applied.and are sanded as smooth as marble. You can do this yourself but it takes a lot of work (a whole lot of work) and we don't have the time to do that in a one week retreat.
Each person unwraps their board. Some do it slowly and prayerfully. Others open theirs excitedly, as if it is Christmas morning. The papers are off and we each realize we are starting with an identical empty space.
Here is my white board sitting on my white towel. The shadow on the board is my hands holding my iPhone to take the photo.
The boards are unwrapped and then we spend time in prayer and meditation, looking at this completely white and empty board. Our clean slate. Everything seems possible. Anything seems possible. The board is completely empty. What happens in this space is between each person and God.
In this season of Lent, I find I am profoundly aware of the need for space, for emptiness, for room. My days are too often too full, too busy. I am not alone--everyone I know seems overly busy these days.
This empty white icon board says, "Slow down. Make some space. Choose carefully what will fill your days, your life."
We sit and gaze and pray.