I have to say, this online school thing is no joke. Last semester was a relatively smooth transition from in-person to online instruction in terms of schoolwork, so I went into this semester feeling very confident! I had a feeling I would get right back into that groove I had last semester and was honestly very ready to be back on some form of a routine again. But boy is this semester a whole other animal!! I have been discouraged to say the least in both the fact that I’ve yet to find the balance of how much work I have to do for each of my classes to stay on top of everything and the fact that I need to leave myself room for rest but it seems like that time would be used so much better if I were working on one of the many many assignments I need to get done.
I’ve developed some habits to keep me sane that I’ve lovingly referred to as my “grandma tendencies” because frankly, when I tell others about them, I recognize that I sound approximately 75 years old (haha!). These “grandma tendencies” would actually be better explained as my quiet times with God, and they include sitting on my front porch in the morning to enjoy a cup of coffee in silence and a mid-afternoon walk from my house to the stop sign at the end of my road and back. I am so defensive of this time I get to spend completely alone because I get to stop looking at a screen and spend some time in nature just resting in prayer! This time is so precious to me and fills me up to be able to work for the other long hours of the day without (too much) burnout.
But after this past week, these moments just didn’t feel like enough for me. My prayers and quiet time were just as peaceful and just as filling, but I kept leaving all of that peace outside!! I consistently would forget once I returned to my desk that peace was just as accessible to me as when I was outside. This soon grew quite old! I was sick of my schoolwork being a part of my day where I was just completely stressed out for hours, leaving me completely spent and needing to go on a walk just to be able to get through the rest of my day. I wanted both my rest and my work to be deeply filling! I realized just how to do this *ahem* this morning, but I wanted to share a work of art that reminded me just how much work and study can be a prayer!
Antonello da Messina’s Saint Jerome in His Study depicts just as the title says! Thanks to the artist’s removal of a few walls, we can see Saint Jerome sitting in a modest wooden study in the middle of vast Gothic halls that are lit by open windows. The deep perspective here allows us to see simultaneously both things close and far away, which parallels that of the deep reflective thought that this saint is engaging in. Saint Jerome is in his study, seated in profile and robed as a cardinal, and though there are a plethora of other objects in this painting ( such as books, majolica vases, multiple animals, the saint’s shoes – which could represent Moses’ removal of his shoes before the burning bush – and little plants in pots), Antonello masterfully pulls our gaze to the saint reading his book. The only other main players here in this scene are the space and light – both of which can be seen as metaphors for spiritual values! The light which illuminates Saint Jerome’s study alludes to Christ himself, who is the “true light that enlightens all men” (John 1:9) and the spatial growth alludes to the theological growth that the saint is experiencing while pouring over his books.
In the beautiful book my parents gave me for my birthday, called Art & Prayer, The Beauty of Turning to God by Timothy Verdon, this painting is described as a “sapiential image in which the act of study is shown as prayer.” Woah. The second I looked at this painting, I related to every element of it except for that key part. I showed it to my mom, laughing as I compared Saint Jerome’s baggy clothing, retreat indoors on what looks like a beautiful day to pay attention to the words on a page, and even accompaniment by a cat to what my days of online school look like! I definitely didn’t stop to think, “Wow, Saint Jerome pours over these words to grow closer to God. That’s exactly how I use my time of study, too!” Nope.
Even though he most likely was reading religious texts and I’m reading textbooks, I can learn a thing or two from Antonello’s depiction of Saint Jerome. Well, I know what I’ll be working on in these upcoming days! I hope you have a great week!!