Blending creativity and spirituality, The Reverend Les Jackson will share his years of experience as an iconographer at a Lenten Prayer and Icon Retreat, in which individuals will create their own icons.


The retreat will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. March 23 and 24 and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 25 at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 2001 Windsor Drive in Newton.


"It's a very odd thing to do in the middle of America," Jackson said. "This is an Eastern Orthodox tradition... we don't think of doing it a lot."


Icons and their use in individual and corporate worship will be discussed at the retreat.


"They're not worshipped. In this tradition, that's not the point," Jackson noted. "They're venerated, because they connect us beyond the image. They always point us to something — that something, of course, is God or to the story, the narrative of our faith."


Participants are encouraged to take the time to breathe, pray and clear their minds.


"People coming to the workshop should anticipate times of prayer and silence," Jackson said. "This is about prayer, and not the art. The art is kind of a byproduct of prayer."


The time spent in prayer, sometimes accompanied by Eastern Orthodox liturgical music, serves as a way for individuals to contemplate and focus on God.


"You let things that come to mind fall away and learn to be present in the moment as you're working and painting," Jackson said.


The retreat is open to all, with no prior art experience required.


"We'll take a pattern and we'll create that icon prayerfully," Jackson said. "Interestingly enough, they all come out pretty well."


Jackson will also focus on the concept of God working through an individual as the icons are created.


"I caution people at the beginning of the class that this is not about perfection, this is about wholeness," Jackson said. "That's a crazy, scary thing for us — to let go enough to let God indwell what we're doing — but that's what iconographers would tell you they're doing."


As the retreats falls on a weekend when churches traditionally celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, marking the appearance of an angel to Mary, participants will produce an image of Mary and Jesus.


"It's one of my favorites to do, actually," Jackson said. "I enjoy the faces that this icon presents to us. There's a tenderness, I think, about Mary, who is looking down at Jesus, and Jesus is looking up at her affectionately. I like that relationship, that combination of kindness and tenderness."


The colors that are used in the icon have significance as well.


"In the Orthodox tradition, color means things," Jackson said. "They use colors and shades to tell a story."


Green is a color equated with life, hope and wisdom, while black is used to signify sin, death or solitude.


"Icons are referred to a lot as 'windows of the heavens,' simply because it's that connection — we're peering into that storyline about God and God's love for us," Jackson said.


Representing that narrative through iconography can bring a greater understanding of the divine to both the artist and the viewer.


"It's interesting that the first thing God did is create, and yet we have problems with that," Jackson said. "We're always creating, whether we know it or not. Our actions, what we do in the world is a creative act."


A fee of $75 covers all supplies for the Lenten Prayer and Icon Retreat. Registrations must be received by March 10.


For more information or to register, email or call 316-283-3310.