This icon celebrates the profound harmony that can exist between Eastern and Western spiritualities. Asian peoples who encounter the Gospel of Christ bring to it thousands of years of spiritual maturity from their own cultures. This joining of wisdoms, like the confluence of mighty rivers, is the work of Holy Wisdom, who has been at work in creation since the beginning of time.
The radiant face of Christ, who is the incarnated Word and Wisdom of God, hovers above the bloom of a pink lotus. Both arise from a velvet black background that depicts the silence of God. Chinese characters in gold leaf shine from this darkness to name “Jesus Christ.”
Because a lotus is rooted in mud and climbs through murky water toward light at its surface to bloom, it has been an ancient Asian symbol for enlightenment. The Buddha and other ancient Asian saints sit on lotus thrones to symbolize the enlightenment they have achieved in their lives. In this icon the pink blossom of the lotus is a glowing throne for Christ, who is the Wisdom of God.
The lotus, like Christ, is a coincidence of opposites. It ties darkness to light, earth to sky, and decomposing matter to new life. As such it is also a symbol of Christian life. At the heart of Christian life is the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Every Christian is called to enter into this mystery. To enter the mystery fully is to become like Christ, who is the Wisdom of God. The lotus is a symbol of this process of transfiguration.
Sophia is a very slippery theological issue. On the extreme left you find radical feminists who consider her a separate goddess. On the extreme right you have conservative Orthodox who excommunicate anyone who disagrees with their opinions. The reality is that most Christians today are trying to come to grips with who she is, after not paying much attention to her for almost 2000 years.
I spent most of last year reading hundreds pages of dense systematic theology by a Russian Orthodox theologian named Sergius Bulgakov, most of which dealt with Sophia. I'm not sure I would paint the Christ Sophia icon today, but I know there are serious Catholic women who relate to that image very powerfully. My present sense is that Sophia is Christ's Mystical Body--you and I--which will include all of creation as well, according to St. Paul in his letter to the Romans: Creation waiting and groaning, etc. How do you paint that? What Br. Michael Reyes, OFM has done is paint Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body. It may be a while before traditional Christians can agree about appropriate images of Sophia. In the meantime, artists like Michael and myself will continue to explore.
—Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, 2012