Preaching Through the ART
Calligraphy and Design “THE POWER OF NAME:
#1 YHWH — #2 JESUS
By Sister Irene Mary Diones, OP
Dominican Sister of Mission San Jose, Fremont
Why calligraphy printing? The answer is simple. Calligraphy is “Beautiful Writing”. Why not write God’s name beautifully? I acquired this skill of beautiful writing from scribbling and doodling while listening to music, talks, or lecture. I seemed to capture insights from what is heard and seen while doing so. I would transcribe these doodles later which turned out to be a distinguished, deciphered and beautiful script. Fascinated by its beauty and elegance, I started creating and designing my own free-style calligraphy beginning with my own name. I even illustrated “birth-baptismal” prints and patterns rendered through colorful and intricate embroidery that highlights the name of the child.
Later on, my life shifted its path and I became a Dominican Sister. In my early years of religious life, I decorated my journals with “scratchy beautiful writings” like traces and echoes of my heart. After my profession, I submitted the full text of my Profession Vows to the Society of Calligraphers in England. With few recommendations to perfect my skills, I was granted a Certificate of Recognition as a Scribe in the Society of Calligraphers. This boosted my confidence and I claimed myself a calligrapher. As an Art teacher, I taught the skills to my students. I found it amazing that the first word the students practiced and became skilled in calligraphy printing was one’s name.
At some point while I was writing names of people asking for prayers, the word/name God and Jesus literally flashed in front of my eyes overshadowing all printed texts. It was like a direct question to me. “Who is God? So yes, who is God to me? In response to the startling occurrence, I started writing God’s names.
I AM, CREATOR, DIVINE ARTIST, AUTHOR OF BEAUTY, ALPHA AND OMEGA, YHWH, LORD, KING, HEAVENLY FATHER, ELYON, THE HOLY ONE, ABBA, ADONAI, ETERNAL GOD, ELOHIM, IMMANUEL, JEHOVAH, GOD SABAOTH, LOVING GOD, ETERNAL MOST HIGH, GOD ALMIGHTY, EL SHADDAI, GRACIOUS GOD, PROVIDENT GOD, MERCIFUL FATHER, LOVER OF US ALL.
I realized I was praying a whole litany of God’s name, as I recalled the times and events where these names were referred to in Scriptures. Then a question popped in my mind. Does calling out these names have meaning for me at all? Which names are etched deeply within me? How have I built a relationship with my God when I call upon these name? Which ones can I truly and unquestionably relate with trust and ease? Where and who is God this very moment while unearthing these names? Thus far, I still wonder. I felt an aching sensation deep down in my soul. My heart felt hollow and empty; a tender longing; a warm calling; a nudge to know who God is! As this fervor continued, I eyed YHWH and trembled with these letters. I started to hum. While humming a few familiar tunes of some songs with Yahweh in it, my singing became a new recognition of life and love as I breathed and prayed YHWH. I continued until the letters were reshaped, re-arranged and intersected, thus creating a cruciform. As YHWH was completed, I noticed the uniformity of lines on the four letters surrounding the letter W in the center. It struck me that this letter IS THE midpoint of the cruciform. The divergence of the small bubble-like circles gave the noticeable contrast. Then this time, I was not singing anymore. I was just breathing each letter like my very breath of life. I continued breathing freely in rhythm. Each time I came to the center, it spoke to me as a point of stillness where God and I came together. I became aware of this profound encounter of knowing God. It was an experience of love and oneness in this very simple, ordinary, and gentle moment of enlightenment. It was slow yet fleeting. This emptying filled me inside with mutual acceptance.
As I was humbly taken by this graced experience, something else spoke to me from inside; HOLY! HOLY IS GOD’S NAME! YHWH IS who I breathe! YHWH is my life!
Roc O’Connor’s song “Jesus the Lord” is the most powerful song for me. Each time I listen, sing, and play this song at prayers or alone, it strikes me alive and empowered, especially during Lent-Easter season. It gives me an encompassing picture of Jesus’ life: of his divinity and humanity and of his mission and humble acceptance of God’s will. For us and the whole of creation, it is a call and a radical response to live and follow his life. Through the power of Jesus’ name in this song, many simple nuggets of prayers attributed to the name of Jesus are woven into the fabric of my being.
REDEEMER, MESSIAH, CHRISTUS, THE ANNOINTED ONE, LORD, BROTHER, SERVANT, RABBI, SON OF GOD, THE WAY, THE TRUTH, THE LIFE, SON OF THE VIRGIN MARY, SON OF DAVID, THE TRUE VINE, THE NAZAREAN, CHOSEN ONE, BREAD OF LIFE, CUP OF LIFE, SUN DIVINE, GOD OF THE LIVING, GOOD SHEPHERD, MORNING STAR…
As my faith unfolds, I have addressed Jesus randomly. Nevertheless, Beloved, Teacher, Healer, and Friend are called suitably in moments that are joyful, affirming, and comforting. On the other hand, during times that are unbearable, painful, heavily laden, confusing and challenging, I bend my knees to the name of Jesus, pleading, reaching out for help. It is during these times that other names like Savior, Healer, Light of the World, or The Way become my hope and strength. Then the more I reflect deeply, above and beyond all other names, JESUS stands out; hence, this art piece illustrated and printed in variations and styles of calligraphy. Furthermore, the composition highlights the question at the very bottom. After several times of reflecting the question, I respond with more questions. Could any of the names listed above be Peter’s response to Jesus’ question “Who do you say I am”? Or was it Peter’s encounter and relationship with Jesus that moved him to call him Messiah? If I were Peter, what would be my response? How many of these enumerated names would encapsulate my experience of, and relationship with Jesus?
Once again, I looked and contemplated on the the art piece. I identified with the four names printed in the quadrant. It was then when Jesus’ question shifted and bounced back to him. Now, it is I who is asking him “Who am I to YOU? Who do YOU say I am?” The next thing I knew, I was telling him the story and stages of my triple names. I first heard my name Irenea, when I was baptized. With endearment, I was called Anita by family and loved ones. Now I am called Irene Mary as a Dominican religious. Just as I believe God called me from my mother’s womb, created me, and was wonderfully made, I continue to respond and delight whenever I am called in three different ways and circumstances. Each is significantly woven in my being and existence. Then I heard his response. “God knows you as the same person held and with name engraved in the palm of my hand. You are chosen to be my own. I called you by name.”
I thought of Zaccheus being called down from the tree; Mary was called that Easter morning; and Zechariah called out “His name will be John!”. Ultimately, the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary “…you will conceive and bear a Son and He shall be called JESUS.” Similarly, we are called bearing the name of JESUS, the name above all names. All of us are called. Many more continue to be called. As one Dominican family, we are gathered “At the Table with Dominic” to celebrate the 800th anniversary of his death. I am imagining the strings of Jesus’ names addressed by the present members in our order, even more so, by many others who have gone before us, our Dominican Saints included. So, as your eyes behold the art piece and contemplate the message you perceive, how would you respond to the question? Do you have other questions surfacing as to who is this Name we honor and revere? How often do you call on his Name? Have you experienced him calling you by a very special name that intricately connects and deepens your relationship with him? How can we pray and respond and celebrate JESUS in love and gratitude, with deep longing, praising, glorifying? More than what the name JESUS holds; I call on JESUS, I cling to JESUS, I need the power of that Name in me. It is JESUS who I preach as I continue to run the race.