Since 2015, making prayer icons has been a way for me to do art as a spiritual practice. Then praying with the finished icons helps me learn to “see” spiritual truths. The description for each icon includes a prayer that connects the visual symbolism in the icon to how we can then act and pray. The prayer can be prayed individually or responsively. Click on any image to open a full-resolution PDF in a new tab.

“Let the Little Children Come Unto Me”

This is my first icon that is a completely original design. It's a way to pray about America's ongoing war (and to remember how the Obama administration was not faultless). In the image, it is Christ that we kill when we are at war. And it is his sacred blood that covers the casualties. This challenges our tendency to think that we are at the center of God's will just because America has a lot of political power. Christ in the image reminds us that he has a preferential option for the poor. Like the war scene, the prayer is composed of fragments, of quotes from existing sources. The prayer is also designed to be ecumenical. People can direct the refrain of “hear us” to God, where it's a prayer of mourning and lament. Or if that's not comfortable for anyone, they can direct it to the government, where it functions as a protest.

We are all children of God. And God is the God of peace. There is no god of war. He who makes war is evil; it is the devil who wants to kill everyone. In this,
        Hear us
To embrace and love Jesus, the executed God, is to be in resistance to empire. In this,
        Hear us
When children hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they're always fearful that the drone is going to attack them. In this,
        Hear us
The buzz is the sound of death. There is no escape, nowhere is private. In this,
        Hear us
First responders must delay their response - sometimes for hours - because the US has a practice of striking the same location more than once in quick succession, a “double tap.” In this,
        Hear us
Known militant leaders have constituted only 2 percent of all drone-related fatalities. These sources run counter to the Obama administration's claim that “nearly for the past year there hasn't been a single collateral death.” In this,         Hear us
Does America even have the capacity to be honest about itself and come to terms with its self-destructive addiction to money-worship and cowardly xenophobia? In this,
        Hear us
With vehicles named “Predator,” “Reaper,” and “Phantom,” never before has war offered up such a completely asymmetric idea of the pampered and far-removed targeter being completely invisible to, and immune from, those upon whom he or she unleashes their violence. In this,
        Hear us
There are even some reports of drone pilots struggling with post traumatic stress disorder after they have killed civilians, especially children. In this,
        Hear us
When the centurion, who carried out the crucifixion, heard Jesus' cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this was a righteous man!” In this,
        Hear us
Just as in the deployment of lethal drones abroad, the use of police drones will rely on the internal prejudices of policing cultures in stipulating what or who is an ’enemy’ in a world where such prejudices are used to simplify the radical complexity and opaqueness of the world viewed below. In this,
        Hear us
The challenges facing those who oppose the robot imperium are large indeed. In this,
        Hear us
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

“Daniel in the Lions Den”

In this icon I saturated the colors to give it a vibrant, almost comic-book feel. The prayer that accompanies it is very intense; I've found that this icon is most useful in times of distress.

On one hand, the top arch and the dark background show that the lions’ den fully encompasses Daniel.
        For us, too, Sovereign God, our situation of ______ feels scary, like it will swallow us all up. Have you put us in this place to be crushed? We are here because we followed you! We faintly hear King Darius: “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you.”
On the other hand, Daniel rises above the caves, and the lions only go to his knees.
        This is a second perspective for us: triumph while waiting; glory in the midst of darkness. We worship you in faith, affirming from the caves: your kingdom shall never be destroyed, and your dominion shall have no end.
According to one tradition, an angel interrupted the prophet Habakkuk, carried him to Daniel, and made him give Daniel his dinner.
        Holy Spirit, provide for us now in part through bountiful community. May we also look for ways to be inconvenienced ourselves to provide for others in their time of distress.
Take courage! The lions are submissive, and Daniel has no kind of harm found on him, because he has trusted in his God.
        Amen! Lord have mercy, Christ has mercy upon us.

“The Annunciation”

O, Triune God:
Father – reigning above all, unseen, unable to be pinned down;
Holy Spirit – wind, fire, and yet dove;
And Jesus Christ – born of a virgin to be Emmanuel, God-with-us;
        We praise and worship you.
Gabriel’s wings and posture show his speed.
        Truly you are swift to fulfil your promise when the time is arrived. Let us await your deliverance with patience and hope.
Mary has been approached without warning, even while spinning thread, yet her hands are receptive and trusting.
        We confess that we are often not open to your word. Teach us to be like Mary.
We see a new sight – “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
        May we also bear this Christ into the world. May we treasure those whom we find to be in our care. For we are the servants of the Lord, let it be to us according to your word. Amen.

“Christ Pantokrator (Teacher)”

This was my first icon. The prayer draws out and responds to the symbolism of Jesus' gesture, the combined blue and red colors of his robe, the sash, the halo, and the Scripture passage that he holds.

Jesus Christ, your hand blesses us with your presence, and motions to teach us.
        We are silent, listening to you.
Your blue robe indicates your heavenly essence. You are fully God, the great I AM, the Teacher.
        Glory to you, our God! Who can sketch out your understanding or your power?
And your red robe declares that you are also fully man, who bled and died for us, a man of sorrows, rejected.
        Surely you can sympathize with our troubles. We bring to you the troubles we see, of ____, and the temptations we feel, to ____.
You wear the sash of a priest, able to intervene for us before God's wrath.
        Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.
Your cross in the halo reminds us that you were obedient even to the point of death out of your love for us.
        Give us strength to die to ourselves today, that we may be like you, and give a fitting response to your lavish generosity.
You are the light-giver. Once we walked in darkness, but now, we who follow you have the light of life.
        Amen.

My Process

I compose each icon on my iPad using a vector-drawing app called Graphic. Traditionally, iconographers began with the background and moved forward. They saw this symbolically as xx. I began by digitally tracing existing icons. I've gradually begun composing my own designs.

Prints

The PDFs linked here are available for anyone to use. I've also sold prints of the icons and mounted them on wood, with the prayer pasted to the back. Email me at hi@willpenman.com if that interests you or if you have more questions.