Daily Devotion for Saturday 13th April 2024

Saturday 13th April 2024 Navajo Compassionate Christ Christ by Fr John Giuliani

image used with kind permission of Marion Najamy 


Father John B. Giuliani was born Greenwich, Connecticut in 1932, to Italian immigrants to America.  After studying art for three years he studied for the Catholic priesthood and was ordained in 1960.  After some years teaching Fr Giuliani was given permission to establish a small monastic community of brothers who lived and worshipped together and ministered to a growing number of lay people who were attracted to a more contemplative style of worship and the call to missionary works of social justice.  Returning to the gift of his youth, in 1990 Fr Giuliani began painting icons of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the saints in a new and innovative way. The starting point was no longer across the ocean in Europe, but in the Americas. His icons are contextualized in the rich and varied cultural traditions of Native Americans throughout North, Central and South America.   As the USA prepared to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus stories of the violence and oppression suffered by the indigenous peoples of the Americas at the hands of the colonialists deeply affected Giuliani and profoundly changed his work. As an artist, priest, and person of Italian descent, he wanted to make his own personal reparation for the atrocities of the past. He began creating paintings of religious themes celebrating the lives and cultures of the indigenous peoples around him, resulting in a startling series of images.  In today’s painting know Christ by his halo and by the marks in his hands. But he is not dressed nor does he look as we expect.   https://jbgicon.com/


Gazing on this portrait, both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, makes me ponder on God’s wonderful gift to us of creativity.

I have been struck, when I preach, that people are happy when they can say, “I see why that reading or this discussion is relevant to my life”. This icon offers a way of doing that too. Clearly the man pictured exudes compassion, his hands outstretched towards us, even if he doesn’t look as we expect. Of course, we don’t really know what Jesus looked like – but we do know he is interested in us, whoever and wherever we are.

I was interested to read that in Fr Giuliani’s case, this creativity sprang from a contemplative style of worship as this is a way I express my own faith. At a recent retreat I was involved in, we spoke with a nun who is also an icon painter. One of her icons depicted the disciples after the crucifixion in an upper room with Mary at the head of the table. According to the laws of iconography this space is traditionally left empty or occupied by Christ’s mother. This sister had chosen to put her there, imagining her as the mother figure galvanising the downcast disciples into action and urging them to take on the Commission that Jesus had left them. It seemed to me a female artist had restored the female voice in the story of God’s people. In the icon, we are praying with today, Fr. Giuliani depicts Jesus amidst those who suffered oppression, also making this beautiful icon an act of reparation and restoration of a people’s story.
Perhaps that is the reason for our creativity, to take what we know and add our own piece of the story. Perhaps then our creative witness will show why scripture is both ancient wisdom and living word because it helps to answer the question,  why is this relevant to me, where am I in this story?

God of all Creation, you saw what you made and saw it was very good
We thank you that you created us in your image
And that you imbued us with the gift of creativity
Help us to use it to praise you
And to act in witness to you
That all may know your wonder and your love for them
We ask this in Jesus name

Today’s writer

The Rev’d Lisa Moore Wilson, Minister, Cumbria Missional Partnership


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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