Julian of Norwich

Easter, Eggs, and Mary Magdalene


Mary Magdalene, an icon by Robert Lentz


Artists help us see, intuit, and understand in not always rational ways. In my view, this does not uniquely qualify or disqualify their work. Instead, it challenges us to try to see more perceptively what we apprehend, what moves us, and what prompts us to make assertions regarding the truth-value of what we have visually and conceptually encountered.

Over the years, I have purchased a number of wood-mounted reproductions of icons by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. I continue to value his ability, spiritual perception, and sensibility in sharing with us insights about the holiness and character of many of those whom he has portrayed. Many of his portrayals are stylistically highly refined (see his two images of Julian of Norwich, or his James Lloyd Breck) while he takes a more playful approach with certain other historical figures (e.g., Simone Weil or Damian of Molokai). Examples of the latter have led some to criticize Lentz for not strictly adhering to traditional Eastern Orthodox practice when creating his icons.

Lentz’s vocation has been as a friar and follower of St. Francis, whose life and subsequent Franciscan Order bequeathed to us the tradition of Christmas creches in churches. Lentz’s humanistic regard for so many facets of our experience, as illustrated in the lives of those he has chosen as subjects for his work, has fit well with his Franciscan tradition. His icons have much to teach us, for he has sought through sacred art to communicate what he perceives to be biblical and spiritual truth.

One icon so fitting for this Easter week is Lentz’s portrayal of Mary Magdalene. It has been noted that,

according to the ancient tradition of the East, Mary Magdalene was a wealthy woman from whom Christ expelled seven “demons.”  During the three years of Jesus’ ministry, she helped support Him and His other disciples with her money.  When almost everyone else fled, she stayed with Him at the cross.  On Easter morning she was the first to bear witness to His resurrection.  She is called “Equal to the Apostles.”

After the Ascension, she journeyed to Rome where she was admitted to Tiberias Caesar’s court because of her high social standing.  After describing how poorly Pilate had administered justice at Jesus’ trial, she told Caesar that Jesus had risen from the dead.  To help explain the resurrection, she picked up an egg from the dinner table.  Caesar responded that a human being could no more rise from the dead than the egg in her hand turn red.  The egg turned red immediately, which is why red eggs have been exchanged at Easter for centuries in the Byzantine East.

Mary did not end her days as a penitent hermit in a French cave.  She traveled the Mediterranean preaching the resurrection.  Like Peter and Paul, she died a martyr and she bears witness to the important roles women play in the Church.

The inscription at the bottom of the icon reads: “Saint Mary Magdalene” in Syriac, a dialect of the language spoken by Jesus.  The Gospel comes to us, not from Rome or Greece, but from the deserts of the Middle East.  We owe our faith to Semitic Christians like Mary Magdalene.  Her feast day is July 22.


As has been observed, there is a similarity between Lentz’s icon and the well-known National Geographic cover photo {June 1985} of ‘the green-eyed young woman’ from Afghanistan. Her possible inspiration for Lentz’s portrayal of Mary Magdalene is noted here: { http://art-for-a-change.com/blog/2006/02 }. The text quoted above is borrowed from the Trinity Stores website (I have no commercial connection with them), through whom copies of Lentz’s icons may still be available.

The Beauty of a New Discovery


It happened when I was learning sea kayaking in and around the Gulf Coast. My experience on the water aroused memories of prior saltwater boating experiences from long before, back when I was 11 or 12. These experiences involved being out in a dinghy in Yokohama harbor, as well as sailing in open boats with the sailing club of the Japanese high school where my father was among the faculty. Accompanying those members, I went by train down to Enoshima to sail in Sagami Bay, southwest of Yokohama.

Then, one day as I was driving to a clergy conference in south Louisiana, I stopped at a bookstore for some extra reading material. There, I found a sailing magazine with the snappy title of Small Craft Advisor. What caught my attention on the cover was the mention of an article, “Lake Powell Potters.” After buying the issue, I was intrigued by reading about Anne Westlund’s journey from northern Michigan to Utah, towing her 15′ West Wight Potter boat, “Peapod.” She took that trip with a friend who had a similar Potter, and they sailed and camped on those quite small boats. After reading her account of the journey and voyage, and seeing photos of the boat, I was hooked.

Not too long after that, I was able to get a West Wight Potter P-15 of my own, “Zoe,” hull #2634. The photo above shows her afloat on DeGray Lake in west central Arkansas in September of 2006.

Describing this boat as having a length of 15′ is perhaps generous given that Stanley Smith, the designer and builder of the original hull, listed her at 14.’ Smith built the first boats on the Isle of Wight, and sailed an early model from there to Sweden in a voyage recorded in his book, October Potter. A later model is credited with a voyage from Mexico to Hawaii. Usually, the contemplation of such voyages with a small craft like the Potter would be regarded as ridiculous and foolhardy. Yet, West Wight Potter sailors love their boats precisely because they defy common expectations, and bring such joy.

When I read about the P-15, and then saw and inspected the first nearby example I could find, I was captivated by this boat’s design and sailing capabilities. I have since acquired a larger boat, a choice which was very much influenced by the design qualities of my P-15. Yet, I still have “Zoe.” And, as I get older, and eventually will be less able to grapple with a bigger boat on my own, I will continue to love this little boat that has brought me so much pleasure and so many memories. Not least of them was a two-week long cruise on Lake Charlevoix in northern Michigan years ago, before we moved from Louisiana.

Towing a dinghy, with water-proof gear bags filled with food supplies and extra clothing on the forward deck along with a cooler, and a camping porta-potty stowed discretely aft, made such a journey and voyage possible. It also helped to have an easily rigged awning over the cockpit for an approximation of a covered ‘back-porch,’ especially under a hot sun or cool rain. Despite the physical limitations involved, I learned much and had a great time.

I have made similar but shorter such trips on both DeGray Lake and Lake Ouachita (also in Arkansas) towing my sea kayak. (below)

In this present time of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders, I try to remind myself that great adventures are still possible within the circumstances of relative confinement. I take boats seriously, and am at the same time aware that owning one can be seen as a folly, and as extravagant. I respect that view. Yet, having experienced five two-week-long voyages across the Pacific Ocean in ships, and a month-long 1969 voyage in the South China Sea, my life has been immeasurably enriched by boating and seagoing opportunities, both while alone and also with significant others. The many times I have chosen to interact with unpredictable air and sea conditions have helped me to be better prepared to deal with equally unpredictable circumstances in our current public health crisis.

Most of all, it is a time when I remind myself of one of my favorite quotes from within the tradition of Christian spiritual writing, a quote attributed to blessed Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”


Notes: If you are not yet a sailor, start ‘small.’ When it comes to boats, we all dream big at first. And my favorite first resource to recommend is Small Craft Advisor magazine. I have been consistently pleased with their fine and informative work. Sadly, I have just learned that the West Wight Potter 15 is no longer being manufactured in the US, which may limit its future availability here. For more on the West Wight Potter P-15, see Dave Bacon’s book, The Gentle Art of Pottering, which provides a great introduction to all aspects of the boat..