Photograph as Icon 2: The Heart & Creative Prayer

The Photograph as Icon II
The Heart & Creative Prayer

The ICON, the Heart Creative Prayer
The Icon is traditionally an object of prayer and contemplation; it is certainly not a representation of physical reality.  Unfortunately, over time the Icon has turned into something else, something less sacred: a means of depicting a story that can be "understood" in a discursive sense, and thus serving the dogmas of the Church.  In this way the icon has lost it's power to function as a symbol--"the threshold between the human and the divine, a gateway leading towards that mode of being which is most present, most personal, most God-like."  Tom Cheetham, After Prophecy.

The true, living Icon shines with its own light, say Corbin and Cheetham, a light not of this world, but the light that comes from Heaven, from within the Heart of a person.  It is a light, says Cheetham, "that is in each thing's immanent individuality.  It is always here and now, swelling creation with life."

For Henry Corbin the Icon is a theophany, a visual epiphanic manifestation of grace, a revelation of the Hidden Treasure which yearned to be known, an appearance of God to Man in a form unique to the individual perceiver appropriate to his or her capacity and situation.  Corbin said all the world is an iconostasis, for all of creation is a creation of the Imaginative power of God know as himma.  It is the duty, the highest calling of the artists of the world to unveil the world as iconostasis.  This requires of artists nothing less than the vision of the heart, seeing with the creative, divine power of himma.

One of Corbin's most important books, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn' Arabi looks deeply into the writings of the 12th century Sufi mystic  Ibn' Arabi, who had written extensively about the mysterious, imaginative power of the heart.

Icon 2, #1  (source photograph: Vermont river, snow and ice)

Himma : Creative Power of the Heart 
Corbin writes:  Himma [is a] word whose content is perhaps best suggested by the Greek word enthymesis, which signifies the act of meditating, conceiving, imagining, projecting, ardently desiring--in other words of having (something) present in the thymos which is vital force, soul, heart, intention, thought, desire. . . .  The force of intention so powerful as to project and realize ("essentiate") a being external to the being who conceives the intention, a being which corresponds perfectly to the character of the mysterious power . . .  

Accordingly, himma is creative. . . . There is no incoherence in Ibn 'Arabi's explanations of himma if only we recall that the human Imagination is enveloped in the unconditioned Imagination, which is the universe as Divine Epiphany.

In the case of the gnostic, the Active Imagination serves the himma which, by its concentration, is capable of creating objects, of producing changes in the outside world.  In other words: thanks to the Active Imagination, the gnostic's heart projects what is reflected in it (that which it mirrors); and the object on which he thus concentrates his creative power, his imaginative meditation, become the apparition of an outward, extra-psychic reality.

God's "Eye"  
Corbin continues:  If the heart is the mirror in which the Divine Being manifests His form according to the capacity of the heart, the Image which the heart projects is in turn the outward form, the "objectivization" of this Image.  Here indeed we find confirmation of the idea that the gnostic's heart is the "eye" by which God reveals Himself to Himself.  

We can easily conceive of an application of this idea to material iconography, to the images created by art.  When in contemplation of an image, an Icon, others recognize and perceive as a divine image the vision beheld by the artist who created the image, it is because of the spiritual creativity, the himma, which the artist put into his work.

Icon 2, #2  (source photograph: spray paint traces on pavement)

Five Planes of Being  Mirrors and Reflections   
There are, according to Ibn 'Arabi five planes of creation known as Hadarat or "Presences." All are descended forms of God's Names:  

The first Hadra or plane is Divine Essence, the world of Absolute Mystery.  
The second plane is the world of the Angels. 
The third is the world of the Souls. 
The fourth is the world of Idea-Images, typical Forms, individuations having figure and 
body, but in the immaterial state of "subtile matter."  
The fifth is the world of the sensible and visible, the world of dense material bodies.  

Corbin writes: The relations between these planes of being are determined by their structure.  On each plane the same Creator-Creature relation is repeated, dualizing and polarizing, a unitotality, a bi-unity whose two terms stand to one another in a relation of action and passion (corresponding to hidden and manifest).  Consequently each of these Descents is also designated as a "marriage" whose fruit is the Presence or plane which follows it in the descending hierarchy.  For this reason each lower Presence is the image and correspondence, the reflection and mirror of the next higher plane.  Thus everything that exists in the sensible world is a reflection, a typification, of what exists in the world of Spirits, and so on, up to the things which are the first reflections of the Divine Essence itself.  

Everything that is manifested to the senses is therefore the form of an ideal reality of the world of Mystery, a face among the faces of God, that is to say, of the Divine Names.  To know this is to have the intuitive vision of mystic meanings.

Then we may say not only that the mystic "creates" in the same sense as God Himself creates (that is to say, causes something which already existed in the world of Mystery to be manifested in the sensible world), but in addition, that God creates this effect through him . . .  The mystic is then the medium, the intermediary, through whom the divine creative power is expressed and manifested.

And since Creation means essentially theophany, the relation between the creativity of the heart and . . . Creation can again be defined by the idea that the gnostic's heart is the "eye" by which the Divine Being sees Himself, that is, reveals Himself to Himself. 

Now, if I may attempt to summarize all that has been presented above:  everything we create as humans, as artists, pre-exists in some other plane of being since nothing begins to be that was not before; and it is through the function of himma that our hearts become the organ by which it is possible to make things appear, to give things being, so that we can achieve the true Divine knowledge of things, of Creation,  "a knowledge," says Corbin, which is "inaccessible to the intellect."  And it is the symbol, the Icon, by which being is given a visual form, a form by which, through the Eye of the Heart, or "God's Eye" the Divine Being sees Himself, reveals Himself to Himself.   In other words, we are co-creators of our existence with the Creator.  We as artists are the intermediary through whom the divine creative power is expressed and manifested.  

I have come to the conclusion from all this--and my own experience--that the true artist learns to get out of the way in order to best serve the Creative Process. 

Icon 2, #3  (source photograph: automobile dashboard)

Creative Prayer : Man's and God's 
Corbin quotes Ibn 'Arabi: "If God has given us life and existence by His being, I also give Him life by knowing Him in my heart."  In other words, we co-create existence, our being, with the Creator.  This sharing in the manifestation of being, this correspondence presupposes for Corbin an intimate dialogue with God within the heart.  And that, writes Corbin, is what prayer is:

Prayer is not a request for something: it is the expression of a mode of being, a means of existing and of causing to exist, that is, a means of causing the God who reveals Himself to appear, of "seeing" Him, not to be sure in His essence, but in the form which precisely He reveals by revealing Himself by and to that form. 

Corbin continues: For it is precisely because He is a creation of the imagination that we pray to him, and that He exists.  Prayer is the highest form, the supreme act of the Creative Imagination.   By virtue of the sharing of roles, the divine Compassion, as theophany  . . . is the Prayer of God aspiring to issue forth from His unknownness and to be known, whereas the Prayer of Man accomplishes this theophany because in it and through it the "Form of God" becomes visible to the heart, to the Active Imagination which projects before it, in its Qiblathe image, whose receptacle, (epiphanic form) is the worshiper's being in the measure of its capacity.  

God epiphanizes Himself insofar as He is the God whom and for whom we pray . . .  We do not pray to the Divine Essence in its hiddenness; each faithful prays to his Lord . . . in the form of his faith.

The Organ of Prayer is the Heart
The organ of prayer is the heart, the psychospiritual organ, with its concentration of energy, its himma.  The role of prayer is shared between God and man, because Creation like theophany is shared between Him who shows Himself and him to whom it is shown; prayer itself is a moment in . . . Creation.

Prayer is  a "creator" of vision . . .  it is simultaneously Prayer of God and Prayer of man.


The Icon is a visual form of prayer, an image of the Heart, a co-creation of Man and God.  Tom Cheetham writes: Every creative act is a prayer born of love and longing . . .  Henry Corbin teaches us that "prayer is not a request for something: it is the expression of a mode of being, a means of existing and of causing to exist." "Prayer is the highest form, the supreme act of the Creative Imagination."  Cheetham: All the World an Icon  

Icon 2, #4   (source photograph: garage curtain light and shadow projections)

When He shows Himself to me,
my whole being is vision:
when He speaks to me in secret,
my whole being is hearing.

Sufi poem

Prayer, Solitude & Remembrance
We have "forgotten" that which we truly are, that which lives in the center of our own heart.  To remember implies a return, ta'wil, a re-cognition.  The making of an Icon, and the contemplation of that Icon, brings me face to face, in solitary, silent, intimate dialogue with the hidden, invisible but nonetheless heart-felt presence that is the essence of my own Self, my Divine Origin.  To see deeply into the things of the world, and to see deeply into that intuitively manifested image--the Icon--through the eyes of the heart, is a form of prayer that is at the same time an experience of revelation, an experience of re-union with my own Self.  Such experiences help me remain in the heart in a sustained awareness of my higher level of being which transcends my ego personality, my role-identity in my family, my culture, and all the dogmas associated with these sensory aspects of being.  

The process of sustaining that awareness requires concentrated effort . . . to see through the veil of  illusion that separates me from the divinity within my own heart, and in all the things of the world.  All the World An Icon is a huge challenge; it requires not only my effort, but also grace.  For an Icon is a visual image that holds in its pictorial form the alignment of my own inner divinity with the Creator's created forms.  Truly speaking, it is God who is looking at God in the mirror of the symbol, the Icon.  The Face of God is everywhere, in everything, including my own heart, and the making and contemplation of Icons is a way of becoming conscious of this truth, and eventually living in the constant remembrance of this truth.  The making of Icons is a ritual, a meditative process, a form of prayer that takes place in the stillness and solitude of the heart.  In this state one is alone with the alone: at one with the one.  


Corbin says the most important element in Prayer, the intimate dialogue between Lover and Beloved, Worshiper and Worshiped, is remembrance, a word which could be taken as meaning "to make remain in the heart, to have in mind, to meditate."  Prayer must necessarily include, then, an intuitive vision or visualization in which God is imagined in the subtile center of one's being, the heart.  The image must necessarily take a form which corresponds to one's capacity, one's present measure of being. "When He shows Himself to me, my whole being is vision."  

Here, within the heart, prayer then takes the form of silent listening, listening for the divine voice, the divine creative sound or vibration.  In this secret, intimate dialogue--which is a creative act, a conjunction of Man and God, an experience of being Alone with the Alone in the divine solitude of the Heart--the Lover hears God's voice in all manifest things; he can hear nothing else . . .  "When He speaks to me my whole being is hearing."  

Corbin writes: "Divine solitude and human solitude: each delivers the other by joining itself to the other.  This solitude constitutes a return to the faithful's Paradise, a return to one's self, to the divine Name, to yourself as you are known by your Lord.  'For God is known only by you, just as you exist only by me.'" 

"In this sense," writes Corbin, "the faithful's prayer is his very being, his very capacity for being . . . and this prayer implies its fulfillment since it is nothing other than the desire expressed by the Godhead still hidden in the solitude of His unknownness: 'I was a Hidden Treasure, I yearned to be known.'"  

'I was a Hidden Treasure, 
I yearned to be known.'"


The artist thus finds his fulfillment in his creation and contemplation of a symbol--an Icon--which is his prayer, his longing given a pictorial form and a revelation of the Self, the divinity of his very being.  The image an artist creates, if it is a living Icon, is unique to her capacity, her present situation, and yet the himma--the creative energy within the work--speaks to others if they give themselves to the image in silent contemplation.  Images enlivened, imbued with himma, is sacred artand it is in our dialogue, our union with the Icon, which takes place within our hearts, that we find the Hidden Treasure we knowingly or unknowing have been longing for.  (It had always been inside us, in the Heart.)  

"I was a Hidden Treasure and I yearned to be known, so I Created the Creation so that I may be known."   Hadith

Icon 2, #5  (source photograph: tree limbs over shadowed river)


This second  part of my project regarding the Icon, the Heart & Prayer 
 was first posted ithe"Latest Addition" section of my Website's 
"Welcome Page"  0n January 25,  2015

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.