51. "Your prayer paintings seem to be more about some themes than others, why is this?"
THE LORD'S PLAN
If it seems that there is an over-emphasis on some aspects of the Catholic Faith, rather than on others, in the themes covered by these pictures, this is entirely the choice of the Lord, who teaches me. He knows what is needed today. He knows what His plans are, to remedy the current imbalance in the teaching of the Faith. He has told me that it is admirable that no Catholic child is in ignorance about the need to help our neighbour, especially the sick and needy. Yet it is lamentable, in His sight, that few children know about the marvel of His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, or the horror of sin. He says that few Catholics are actively preparing for life in Heaven - which it is impossible for us to enter without love for God, and purification. So for these reasons, and others, there is a great emphasis on some themes and less emphasis on others. Yet no theme is entirely omitted. After all, the Lord intends this collection to be a Catechism in pictures.
52. "What are the other main themes in the prayer paintings?"
A CATECHISM IN PICTURES
There are so many themes explained and expressed in my paintings that it seems best to list several pages of subjects as an appendix at the end of this whole interview. Right now, I must repeat what the Lord has told me, that He has given me not a random selection of themes but an entire Catechism in pictures. He has done so in an age when few Catholics read religious books, when many of our churches have been stripped bare of imagery, and when many Catholics have received little instruction in the basic truths of the Catholic Faith. Anyone who has ever seen a Catechism will know that they consist of several sections, on God, the Church, prayer, and the moral life, and so on; and whoever looks through all of the images I've recorded will find something about every aspect of the Faith.
It shocks me to claim that; but it's the simple truth, as I look back at the hundreds of images I've been given in these past twenty years. And they are gifts. I do not hallucinate. The images are given when I am praying to God, not thinking or dreaming in pictures; and I never receive them when 'outside' prayer.
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
To return to the topic of 'themes', however, I've learned from the Lord in recent years that He intends to provide a reminder not just of facts about our religion, but also of the supernaturality of our Faith. He wants everyone to know what the Church has always taught, that our being 'children of God' means that we are in touch with the invisible: with God Himself, and with the Saints and Holy Angels. This is not in the manner in which mediums claim to be 'in touch' with the dead. By baptism we are united with other Christians in the Communion of Saints, through our union with Jesus Christ our God, Who holds everyone in existence.
These things can be forgotten, if the main emphasis in religious education is on the Church's social teaching, no matter how admirable, and on the campaign for justice in the world, for example. We are on our way to Heaven, if we respond to God's love; and Christ wants to remind us all, through these paintings, that He is alive, Heaven is real, and the Saints are waiting to greet us at the heart of God's three-fold glory.
FILLING A GAP
As I cast my mind back over the paintings, and see how colourful they are, and also how 'modern' in style - though I was not trying to be 'modern', as I painted - I can see something else significant about the whole collection. My work, and that of some other Catholic artists today, seems to fill a 'gap', in providing religious images for general use by Catholics and others, as well as for instruction. If we consider how frequently an image is required in everyday Church life, and think of the current sources, we can see that the Lord has lovingly provided a new source of images for Ordination and First Communion cards, for Mass Booklets, for Church banners, school posters and prayer-cards, for every circumstance and need.
We already have thousands of Catholic works of art to admire and reproduce. Yet we are perhaps over-familiar with early-Christian frescoes and mosaics. And although there are thousands of 'Old Masters' which can be used for religious items we can be so familiar with them that we are no longer so moved by them. People can become so used to well-known icons, too, that they no longer react so powerfully to them. Or the standard Italian images much in use since the nineteenth century seem rather sentimental to some modern eyes - though I myself find them very appealing. This seems to be just the right time for the introduction of some unfamiliar but modern and colourful artwork into the Catholic arena; and I believe that the Lord, Who is interested in every aspect of our lives, whether momentous or trivial, has intended that, as a part of His entirely wise and helpful plan.
53. "What do you say to people who suggest that images of God are forbidden by His Commandment?"
CHRIST, THE IMAGE OF GOD
It is true that God forbade the making of idols, long ago, which meant any carved, moulded or painted image that people might worship as a God. It is plainly impossible, anyway, for anyone on earth to create an image, in earthly materials, that can convey the glorious, transcendent, pure and holy nature of Almighty God. But something happened two thousand years ago to shed a new light on this topic. God the Father sent His Divine Son, Jesus Christ, to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to live as true God and true man in our sinful world. So Jesus the God-man is, in His own Person, a living image of God. As Holy Scripture tells us, of Jesus: 'He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his power.' Since the time of the early Church, therefore, Christians have used images for teaching and inspiration. God Himself has given us an image of Himself, in Jesus; and we can be inspired in our churches and homes if we have worthy images of Jesus Christ and the Saints and Angels as reminders of those who help us on our spiritual journey and whom we hope to meet in Heaven when our work on earth is done.
The reason why I now paint pictures of Christ is that I have seen Him 'in front of me' in prayer just as I have seen friends - and landscapes and flowers - 'in front of' me in everyday life, though in a different manner. And because Christ has asked me to paint what I have seen I obviously don't want to disobey Him; and I do believe what He has told me about the pictures helping other people.
THE HOLY TRINITY
I believe there is a tradition somewhere that artists ought not to paint pictures purporting to be of God the Father; but I don't believe it is forbidden by the Church; and so I have been willing to produce in paint the images that Christ has given me not just of Himself but also of the Father and the Holy Spirit: the Other Divine Persons sharing one life, in the unity of the Godhead. Of course, I do not imagine that these images really picture the Holy Trinity. They merely convey some knowledge about God's nature or attributes; and they can provide a focus for an individual's thoughts, in the meditation that can precede spontaneous prayer; but it hardly needs explaining that no mature Christian who looks at these would suppose that God the Father has a human face, and bare feet, or that the Holy Spirit wears a green robe, for example.
As I've explained, Christ is giving me a 'Catechism in pictures' for the sake of people in need of instruction who do not read books about their Catholic Faith; and it would be a strange picture Catechism if it contained images of every important subject except the most important of all: God Himself - even though my pictures seem rudimentary and even crude, if compared with what others might begin to imagine when they think about our all-holy Lord.
54. "In many of these paintings, you cannot see the details of the people's faces and features. Is this intentional so that the person in the painting can represent some kind of 'everyman' figure?"
'EVERYMAN'S' SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
The first four hundred paintings were very 'impressionistic', just because I recorded precisely what I had 'seen' in prayer; and I had not seen any faces clearly. If the Lord gave me a brief image of hundreds of Saints, or hundreds of people in a congregation, to illustrate a 'teaching', it was so swift that I didn't see any details such as facial features. And if I saw not a mere illustration in prayer, but a vision of Christ Himself, I could not see His face clearly because I was dazzled by His radiance, and by the glory streaming all around Him. I saw Him with the eyes of my soul, not my bodily eyes; but it was like seeing someone in a stream of sunlight.
There's a particular reason why I also left the faces of Saints almost featureless, in my early religious oils, yet put in features later on. The Saints in glory were seen in my prayer as so dazzling that I could not actually see any features, so I left faces 'empty' on my canvasses. But after a while I realised that they looked merely inhuman, without a nose, and two eyes and a mouth. So I began to put in what I knew they had, even though I had been dazzled at the time. It now seemed more important to stop the Saints appearing inhuman in paint than to worry about whether I have exaggerated my vision.
A VISIT FROM OUR LADY
It has just occurred to me that there have been two exceptions to this way of seeing faces in prayer. They were a few years ago, so I've just remembered them. In 1990, I was honoured and awed to receive an unexpected visit from Our Lady; and it was made plain to me later that it was a very significant visit. It gave me courage to continue, just as my work for Christ was going to become public, and become more demanding. I have written an account of this visit in two books ('Falling in Love,' and 'What is Mary like?'); yet the important point I want to explain is that, for the first time, I saw our Blessed Lady clearly.
Christ had revealed His Mother to me on a handful of earlier occasions, in visions, in the usual glorious and detail-free manner. Yet now, she was with me in my room: again glorious and Heavenly - but at one point being revealed to me in close-up, by God's Will and kindness, so that I could see her features clearly, and enjoy looking for a while, with the eyes of my soul, at the very woman in whom Christ our God was conceived. I can't describe how amazed and delighted I was, though my thoughts were mostly about her kindness and my unworthiness to see her, and about the help I wanted to gain for myself and my family through her prayers. But the next day, I suddenly realised that it would be foolish not to sketch what I had seen. So I made six or seven drawings of different moments of our hour-long meeting. Then, two years later, I was reminiscing about how much her visit had helped me. She had told me, "Elizabeth, do not worry!" - about possible difficulties connected with my new task; and I had been tremendously helped; yet I suddenly realised that I had never done a painting of the beautiful face I had seen.
AN OIL PAINTING OF MARY
That very week, I began an oil portrait of Our Blessed Lady, from memory, the one now entitled 'Our Lady of Harpenden'. It is reproduced in some of my books, and on our Radiant Light Web-site. It is not as beautiful as she is; but it is a real likeness; and this was due, I believe, to the practice I'd had, all those years earlier, when I was painting oil portraits for friends and acquaintances.
The Lord eventually asked me to show the painting to my then Parish Priest, and to give him a message. The Lord asked me to explain about the significance of Our Lady for my own life, and for Harpenden. He also asked me to say how powerfully she can give help to distressed children, especially, and the sick, and souls in Purgatory, when we address our prayers to her using that title. I've written about all that elsewhere. What I want to add now, is that on one occasion, only, I've also had a very detailed vision of Our Blessed Lord, Mary's Divine son.
BY THE LADY CHAPEL
Year after year, since the 1980's, I have been privileged to see Christ in prayer, either in private visions at home, or in visions of Him in the sanctuary when I'm at Mass, or of Him with His Holy Mother as they stand together by the Lady Chapel, where I pray after Mass. I pray there just to be a bit less exposed, when people are busy in church with flowers or cleaning, not because I think Our Lady and her chapel are more important than Christ and the sanctuary and tabernacle - though they are very pleased when anyone pauses to pray by the Lady Chapel, regularly. And Christ is usually radiant with Heaven's glory, as is Our Lady, when she is with Him; and this is why I was very surprised one day in the 1990's, to have a special vision. I still saw Christ with the eyes of my soul, not by bodily sight; yet this time I saw Him as He was in His earthly life, in His joyful nature and His loveability, there before me.
CHRIST, JOYFUL AND HOLY
Christ was lively, joyful, smiling at me. He was wearing - for the first time, for me - rough woven garments, and a huge cloak flung round His shoulders. He was well-built, like any normal working man; and His long black curly hair tumbled round His shoulders. I believe He wanted to show me why people had loved to be near Him, because I myself was 'bowled over' by His lovely yet homely appearance. He was very strong and manly, but not overbearing, but rather, very gentle when He spoke to me; and I saw what I had previously known in an intellectual way: that Christ is an attractive and cheerful Person, Whom most people loved to see.
They followed Him around the lakeside in Galilee not just in the hope of being cured, or seeing miracles, but because He is one of those wonderful people that almost everyone loves, admires, and loves to be near. So it was from that time that I began to picture Christ in more detail in my paintings, now that I knew what He looks like. I still haven't done a full-colour painting of what I saw on that day; but some of my full-colour pictures of Christ in other situations give me a glimpse of what I once saw of Him in His cheerfulness, youth, purity and beauty.
To go back to the original question: perhaps I should add that there is another reason why there is little detail in many of the faces and figures. I have often received an image, in prayer, of myself climbing a ladder, for example - to illustrate an aspect of the spiritual journey; or I 'see' myself pictured as being 'carried' up to Heaven by Christ as I pray - as an illustration of the power of prayer. And I know that such images are for everyone. They are to illustrate spiritual laws and principles, not to provide a visual diary of my personal prayer life; so I have done such figures in a few simple lines, without trying to emphasise hairstyles or one sort of clothing. The Lord has produced, through me, a sort of 'everyman's journey', or a Pilgrim's Progress of modern times. So there has been no need for elaboration.
55. "What is the text that goes with each prayer painting?"
THE REAL MEANING
Each text consists of an excerpt from an original teaching, or a paraphrase of what I have learned from the Lord in prayer, at the time when He has given me that particular image. Every painting that we reproduce today, in 'Radiant Light', therefore has a long title, or a text, with it, as well as a number. Now we can be sure that whoever uses the paintings will not be misled about the subject matter. Some of the images seem quite strange, until the title is given, when a new light seems to dawn on some aspect of the spiritual life or the sacramental system, for example. Furthermore, it's the Lord Who wants to use these images to give instruction as well as joy; so it would be foolish not to help people to see that the figure in one picture is St. Anne, not Our Blessed Lady, and that another image is of Jesus in His earthly life, not of Abraham in the desert; or, to give other examples, there has been a picture given to me of a space-man clad in a cumbersome suit, with oxygen, which no-one would understand if the title did not indicate that just as astronauts must prepare for a journey on high, so Christians must prepare for 'ascension' to union with God in Heaven. And an image of a man being lowered on a rope into an old mineshaft to rescue someone stranded far below on a broken ladder is an illustration of the powerful help we bring to others by our intercessory prayers. Plainly, some titles are essential.
56. "Does every prayer-painting have a title?"
Every prayer-painting now has a title: that is, every picture has had, from its reception, in prayer, an accompanying 'teaching'. And once these are written in my notebooks, I have a text from which I can compose a title by which people will be helped to understand what I've painted. I have chosen a title for every painting so far scanned or photographed and stored on our Web-site, or in a digital file for future use; or my children have done so, from my notes, if I have been ill or busy. I paint further water-colours almost every day; so there's a little pile of newly-painted pictures not yet scanned, each with a temporary title scribbled on the side. The final title is fixed after discussion with my children. I'm the one who knows exactly what the image is meant to be about; but they sometimes help me to clarify my titles by suggesting a more up-to-date vocabulary, or a phrase that will strike chords in a greater number of people, now that we are involved in a much wider distribution of the images.
57. "Each of the prayer paintings has a number. What is this number?"
IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
Some people looking at lists of my paintings will wonder why I've adopted a peculiar sort of numbering system; in fact, it's all very logical. You might recall an earlier paragraph when I was explaining how I put down all my initial prayer-images in ink on paper. It was then that I realised I should number them, and not only them, but also the 'teachings' given in prayer, to which they were the illustrations. I began writing in a small black notebook, listing all the 'teachings' that the Lord had given to me in prayer since that day He first taught me in 1956 when I was about fourteen - and when I had not realised Who was teaching me. I suppose that, on average, about two out of every seven 'teachings' has been illustrated.
Very few of those early 'teachings' were accompanied by an image. Many were what the Church would call, I believe, 'intellectual visions', which is a felt encounter in prayer with God or a Saint or Angel, but without any image. But today, I have notebooks full of 'teachings' which are numbered one by one as far as 7000 (in June this year, 2006); and I have files full of illustrations of about 2000 of those same 'teachings'; and each illustration bears the corresponding 'teaching' number.
A USEFUL NUMBERING SYSTEM
I am glad I started that system when I did. It's not perfect, and I've sometimes made mistakes. But if anyone were to question me today about two particular 'teachings', for example, I could say "This teaching was accompanied by no image. It's number is T:7060. This later teaching, T:7063, was accompanied by an illustration, which is therefore listed as W.C. (Water-colour) 7063. There is going to be a coloured water-colour of it too, which will be listed as CWC 7063; and if I make an oil painting of it, it will be listed as M (medium) OIL 7063." Whoever wants to find those various manuscript teachings, with typed versions too, and original sketches, water-colours and oils, will be able to do so.
The importance of the numbering system became much plainer, first, when the Lord told me much more about how widely the pictures would be spread, to help to renew the Church, and build up the faith of individuals. The second time was when my children generously decided to help with the work, which led to greater use of the Internet, and to the design and setting-up of our own Web-site. Through this, many Church members and agencies have been able to order and download pictures; and so we are fortunate to have a numbering system already in place.
58. "Why do some of the numbers of the paintings have 'a, b or c' after them?"
Some the paintings' numbers are followed by the letter 'a or b or c' - or even 'd, e', and so on. This occurs when a teaching which is labelled with an 'a or b' etc, is illustrated. The illustration necessarily bears the same code. Such teachings were either given to me as two parts of a huge teaching; or for another reason. From time to time, I forget to write down a 'teaching' immediately after my prayer, whether at home or in church. I have to date it and 'insert' it a few days later in my notebook. But since the teachings are written in chronological order, I 'find' another teaching given on the same day as the one I've forgotten, add an 'a' to it; and then I use its code number, and the letter 'b', for the now-remembered teaching that I'm putting in my notebook a little further on. When they are typed, they are typed in the correct dates; and I have done this so that I haven't messed up my whole numbering system.
The handful of other occasions on which a painting has a letter after it is when I have done several versions of the same image, in the same medium, and have not wanted to discard any of those versions, even though it might be quite plain that one version is better than the others. Some are quite high quality works, whereas others are rather messy initial drafts.
59. "Do you think anyone can really paint God or the Saints and Angels?"
CHRIST: GOD MADE VISIBLE
It's true that many of my pictures are about God, not just about our spiritual journey; so these have been especially difficult, though perhaps not for obvious reasons. Scripture tells us that no-one has seen God. This means the Godhead, in Heaven, not Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus was born of Mary; and as the Son of God He had a human nature and a visible, real body. So people have seen Jesus, in His life-time; and some people have seen Him in visions, in prayer - including myself, I have to say, to be simple and truthful. I have seen Our Blessed Lord, with the eyes of my soul, in the various ways in which He has presented Himself; and these ways have been many, because of His plan to give other people reminders about Himself through my prayer experiences and images, and my paintings.
I mean that Christ sometimes reveals Himself to me in a vision, in all His Heavenly, risen glory. I am awestruck, but I know it is He; and I remember the sight, and reproduce it later on as well as I can. At other times He 'reveals' Himself as being beside me, conversing with me, but unseen. There is no image. At other times, He teaches me in prayer; and as He does so He 'plants' in my soul an image of Himself, for me to use to instruct other people. And in those sorts of images He has 'portrayed' Himself in a number of ways. He is usually clothed in a long white robe, though He is occasionally pictured as wearing a chasuble such as a priest wears at Mass. Sometimes I have seen Him thus as He sits on a throne, or else presides at Mass, or sits beside the Father and the Holy Spirit - pictured as men - in a 'Holy Trinity' image. I am aware that these are 'pictures' given to me of the Lord, not God Himself. But I know He wants me to share them. That is why I record them later in the day in a swift pencil sketch; then a few weeks later I make a monochrome water-colour, and then perhaps, if I have time, a full-colour water-colour.
THE INVISIBLE FATHER
I have never seen God the Father, though He has given me pictorial impressions of His Fatherhood, His glory, His relationship with Jesus His Son and with the Holy Spirit. I have also been given pictorial impressions of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, a bird of prey, a sheet of lightening, a blazing fire, and so on. The Lord has also shown, to the eyes of my soul, the reality of the 'Light' of the Holy Spirit: the fiery light of charity which the Spirit is, Who is the bond of love between Father and Son; and I believe that that Light is not a pictorial impression but some sort of a glimpse of His real glory, which I am not worthy to see, but which I cannot deny I have been privileged to have experienced.
ANGELS AND SAINTS
The Lord has also shown me images of the Saints and Angels from time to time, partly to give me joy at seeing my companions, and partly to help me to remind other people that there is a spiritual realm beyond what we see with our bodily eyes. Christians do belong to the 'Communion of Saints', of earth, Heaven and Purgatory; and it's Christ's wish that we remember this and remember to ask for the prayers of the Heavenly friends who urge us on to holiness; and we must also remember to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory whom we also hope we shall meet one day in Heaven's glory, when we have all finished our work on earth, and have been made fit for Heaven's purity and beauty.
THE SOULS IN PURGATORY
When the Lord 'pictures' Purgatory for me, the souls there are always seen in shadow, which represents their imperfection; but the images of Saints usually consist of brief glimpses of far-off, glorious figures seen against the radiant light of the Godhead. Occasionally, they have been pictured as individuals, close to me, in response to a particular prayer of mine, and to a particular desire of the Lord to teach me something about a special Saint. I have remembered and recorded these glimpses, just like all the other pictures. That is all I do, whatever the subject matter that the Lord gives me. I simply record what I have 'seen' in front of me, in my prayer to God.
60. "In some of your paintings of the Holy Trinity, God's face could seem to appear androgynous or almost feminine. Is this intentional? Are you trying to make a point?"
OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN
The Lord has given me many images of the Holy Trinity, for the sake of teaching an important point; and in one or two of my paintings the face of God might seem to be feminine rather than masculine. This is entirely unintentional. Perhaps it has come about as I have thought about the Lord's gentleness and kindness towards us. But Christ in my pictures is plainly a man; and we know that Christ has asked us to address God the Father as "Father"; so I would not dream of painting God as a woman, or under any other form except as fire, or light, which the Lord has shown me, or as a child, which Christ once was, in His earthly life.
What I have learned from the Church about the Catholic Faith, and what Christ teaches me, are the same; and I have no quarrel with any of it, simply a daily struggle to live out the Gospel, in imitation of Jesus, and in union with Him.