A Most Amicable Teacher – The Insights of Artist Robert Henri

One of the great pleasures of life is discovering and becoming friends with people who have a similar philosophy of life – especially when it comes to understanding truth, goodness, and beauty.

Some of us may have been fortunate to have had the experience of great teachers in our lives. In my junior year of high school I experienced  teachers of English and history who opened up for me the nature of those two subjects and introduced me to the idea of inquisitive scholarship. On an undergraduate level I remember three teachers in particular – one in comparative literature, the second in physical and cultural anthropology, and the third in the philosophy of education that definitely influenced my own desire to someday walk into a classroom and teach my own class.

I spent thirty years in the field of education. Two of those years were in an administrative role, and twenty-eight were in the classroom. During that time I had the opportunity to study not only the philosophy of education but implement it as well.

In the process of the great adventure of being a classroom teacher, you come across individuals and books that have a marvelous impact on your own style and understanding of the art and craft of becoming a quality teacher.  For example, Gilbert Highet, first introduced me to viewing teaching as an art, and the truth that all who desired to be great teachers must become artists of their craft. Another who molded my teaching behavior (literally like a potter molding a vase) was Haim Ginott. Listen to this beautiful and critical phrase which discusses the power that a teacher has over the lives of their students (from his book Teacher and Child):

“I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

Another teacher that influenced me was Robert Henri. As artists we may all benefit from the wisdom of Henri. He was an influential artist, art teacher, and critical force in the American art community during the early 20th century. Henri died before I was born, yet, in reading his wonderful book The Art Spirit, published in 1923, I find a kindred spirit, a brother in arms, our weapons: our brushes, our helmets: our words that inspire others to see themselves as artists.

Allow these paragraphs from his The Art Spirit  to roll around inside your mind and touch your heart:

“Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his [or her] kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he [or she] opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he [or she] opens it, shows there are still more pages possible. Art tends towards balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living – very good things for anyone to be interested in.”

So, Henri implores us to see ourselves as artists; to see ourselves as people who desire to create beauty, express truth as we understand it, and to always keep the book open – in a spirit of charity and goodness. Robert Henri can teach us a great deal. He continues to teach and prod me to create everyday. Maybe he will touch your mind and heart, too.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Photo of Robert Henri courtesy of the Parrish Art Museum:http://www.parrishart.org/.

The Demons Say “We Are Legion.” Jesus says “Trust Me.”

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain the story of the demoniac from the territory in northern Israel called the land of the Gerasenes. They describe the fact that the demons had united within this man for a specific purpose – to torment this poor sinner and to terrorize the countryside with demonic power so concentrated – that the evil was unable to be controlled.

Unclean spirits fueled the demoniac’s actions; and as Jesus steps out of the boat onto the shore the demoniac immediately confronts Jesus and the demons within him beg to be left alone.

Jesus enters into dialogue with the possessed man. He asks him his name, and the demons respond, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” The disciples, hearing this response would have been horrified because a legion, at that time, was no small force – in the Roman army a legion encompassed  6,000 soldiers.

What’s left of the possessed man’s free will had run toward the Lord – and the psalmist tells us to do the same because they both realize who God is, the magnitude of His power and mercy, and that true healing, security, and protection from evil can only be found under His protection.


Psalm 91 alludes to this, and uses military language to express its message as it says: “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but [evil] will not come near you Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation.”

At times, our technologically driven society has desensitized us to the wonder of Jesus’ mercy, or, like the people in the city – upon hearing of the demoniac’s healing – recoil from Mercy’s power. Like them we may be satisfied with our own circumstances, we may feel that we do not need to be healed or evangelized, that we don’t need the grace of God’s mercy in the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Recon-ciliation,  what an extraordinary mistake – what a rejection of God’s grace that would be for us.

Perhaps we are afraid to pay the price of liberation from the power of evil in our lives. Yet, what is the cost to us? Is it the cost of being healed of our sins? The true cost was paid by Jesus Christ in His suffering and death upon the Cross.

The cost, having been paid by the Son, provides the opportunity for the Father and the Holy Spirit to freely give us the grace that Christ has merited for us. The only thing that Jesus requests of the healed demoniac is that he go home and give witness. Jesus says,  “Go home to your friends, and [and in thanks] tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.”

The only price that needs to be paid is the price of thankful witness – the price of unselfconsciously showing others that we have turned away from evil – and that God has changed our lives through the power of His grace and mercy.

The freed and healed demoniac was asked to evangelize his friends, and we, are asked to do the same. Interestingly, the territory of the Ten Cities – the Decapolis – which were primarily Greek and pagan territories was an extraordinarily difficult missionary area. The now healed man was asked to go into that territory – to those Ten Cities –and preach to them of his healing and deliverance. He was, in no uncertain terms, a missionary – a missionary to the Gentile people of the Decapolis. It appears that he was successful, because, Mark (in his Gospel’s 7th  chapter, vs. 31ff) speaks of the hopeful crowds from the Ten Cities bringing Jesus another man to be healed.

So what is the final message of this Gospel for us today? It may be that even though, thank God, we may not be possessed by one or thousands of demons, we are still tempted, we fall, and we do sin.

So we are always in need of God’s mercy – and after repenting of our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness, mercy, and healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation we need to give thanks to the Lord; and like the healed demoniac, share the story of our spiritual journey, healing,  and God’s love for us with all those who will listen.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved