We don’t understand first, and then believe. We have faith, and then from that faith, we work out our understanding. The spiritual practice of Study is helpful in this, and it doesn’t just mean collecting information, as it includes evaluation and interpretation on the path to understanding. In our current age, data seems to be at our fingertips with a Google search, and yet we need help if we’re to make sense of what info we are able to gather. I read these words of Karl Barth, that “Prayer without study would be empty. Study without prayer would be blind.” Setting out into a focused endeavor of Study, I prayerfully hoped that the Holy Spirit would guide me as the information became uncovered and woven together.
For my Study, I started looking into Celtic knots and patterns. I’ve always loved Celtic patterns, not just because they’re pleasing to look at, but because they remind me of my Scottish heritage and living in Scotland for a bit after college. The Celtic patterns and influence on the Book of Kells is particularly transformative, not just for me, but for culture itself, as the creators of that book took what had been decorative traditions in the pagan Celtic cultures, and included them in a visual language to help translate Scripture to the readers of the time. I looked at these patterns in the Book of Kells, seeing how they complemented the illuminated text. I noted how animals were used, either to form illuminated letters, or for symbolic direction. And in this exploration of the Book of Kells, a particular image was clearly more interesting to me than all the others – a winged lion.
The winged lion symbolizes St. Mark the Evangelist. The lion derives from Mark’s description of John the Baptist as a “voice of one crying out in the desert” (Mark 1:3), which artists have compared to a roaring lion. The wings come from the application of Ezekiel’s vision of four winged creatures to the evangelists. The lion also represents Jesus' resurrection (because lions were believed to sleep with open eyes, a comparison with Christ in the tomb), and Christ as king. It’s interesting that Mark is symbolized by a lion, even though he himself was not the lion – it was either John the Baptist or Jesus resurrected. I love the idea that we are known for what we love, and to the degree that we are associated with that love, we are more and more like it in how we ourselves are perceived. This gives more meaning to the concept that we need to get out of our own way, and let God reveal Himself in our lives.
- Asher Wood