Today I heard a Blackbird sing

Regan O'Callaghan Blackbird, I heard a blackbird sing, egg tempera, religious icon, haloToday I heard a Blackbird sing.

I often sit in my studio painting in silence.  I can be down here for hours and not see or speak with anyone.  But it is never truly silent. The inner conversations that go on in my head remind me of many things, jobs that need to be done and memories of friends I miss.  In the very still moments emerges the subtle feelings of aloneness which speak from deep within my being, a part of my being I call the sacred space. This voice I need to listen to.

There is a Blackbird that regularly sings outside my studio it also digs up the moss in the roof gutters of the Church Hall looking for worms and leaving the moss flung onto the pavement below.   I think it is probably doing the church a favour as it is unblocking the gutters ready for the next downpour!   I love it when the Blackbird sings as its song pierces the silence of the studio drowning out the tick of the clock and this mad priests ravings.

The Blackbird is naturally a forest dweller but with the forests being cut down it has learnt to adapt to suburban and city living.  This ability to adapt has meant that it has thrived while other birds have disappeared. In New Zealand where it was introduced it has prospered so well that many New Zealanders think it is a native!  Its darting through gardens and prancing on lawns while shrilly declaring its territory is now truly etched into the psyche of the nation.

This ability to adapt doesn't come naturally to all species and certainly not to all humans!  A general observation of western society might suggest it is the voices with the loudest shrill demands that gain ownership and domination of territories while the quieter types flitter about in the background!   However this is not to taint the Blackbird with our own quirks of nature.

For me the Blackbird is a symbol of strength and adaptability in an ever changing world. Its vibrant black plumage, yellow beak and ringed eye speaks of a bold character who perseveres come what may.  Walking home I often see it darting under and between parked cars on tarmac roads.  A harsh and unforgiving environment surely so foreign to it that I feel sad and yet I am thankful that this remarkable little bird is there.

Photo a detail taken from a work in progress.The Almighty and the Blackbird2011.

Melkite Church, Israel.

Regan O'Callaghan Ibilin, Israel, Elias Chacour, Sermon on the Mount church

British Association of IconographersVoluntary project for the Melkite Church of the Sermon on the Mount‚ Ibillin, Israel.

In 2004/5 a dozen people from the British Association of Iconographers under the direction of Sister Bernadette Crook worked on an Iconostasis for a newly built Church in Ibillin, Israel.  The Iconostasis contains over 40 icons of various sizes. The BAI was approached by Elias Chacour a Palestinian Melkite Priest who has lived and worked in Ibillin for many years and is now the ArchBishop of Galilee.

Elias is the author of Blood Brothers - an account of his life.  From an early age Elias had a strong call to serve the Church and after years of study was ordained becoming the first Palestinian to earn a degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Elijah detail 1

Today Elias ministry is one of reconciliation and peace between Christians, Muslims, Druze and Jews.  The newly built Church in Ibillin is a Chapel of Peace with the Iconostasis reflecting the positive relationships between people of different faiths and cultures.

For example the icon of Elijah (written by Sister Bernadette) which traditionally shows a raven sent by God bringing sustenance to Elijah in the desert instead shows Bedouin bringing food. This is based on a translation of scripture which suggests the word raven has been mis-translated and should read Arab.

I worked mainly on the icon of Saint Andrew and Saint Peter and was privileged to be in attendance for the dedication of the Church and Iconostasis in 2005.