McFarland

Wednesday Meditation by Pastor Tim

Light a candle

Read Colossians 1:15-17

Prayer Practice: Images/Icons

Today I’m going to talk about “icons”—but not the kind of your computer or phone!

The practice of praying with icons comes out of the Eastern branch of the Christian Church, the orthodox communities of Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, and some parts of the Middle East. In the last 30-40 years, icons have become more widely used in the Western branch of the church.

A good friend of mine serves a Lutheran congregation in Chicago, where icons are displayed prominently throughout the worship space. Not just Jesus or people in the biblical narratives, but the whole communion of saints, including witnesses such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s a beautiful visual reminder that when we worship, we are not alone, but surrounded by a vast cloud of witnesses in the body of Christ!

The use of icons and other images for prayer comes from the Incarnation. The Word has become flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory (John 1:14). Jesus is fully human, so that means God reveals God’s self through humankind and creation in all our diversity. As our reading from Colossians puts it, Christ is the “image (in Greek, icon) of the invisible God.” (1:15)

We don’t worship the image or the icon, or the wood or screen they are on. We worship the One glimpsed through the image. Icons are like windows—we look through the window to receive a glimpse of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Icons are sometimes called “windows to eternity.”

I have two icons to show you today: 1) Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity (https://www.trinitystores.com/artwork/holy-trinity-0 ) and 2) A modern icon of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the communion of saints (https://www.trinitystores.com/artwork/martin-luther-king-georgia). I’d love for someone to design an icon of civil rights activist John Lewis, who died recently.

If you don’t have any icons, that’s okay. There are other images we can use for praying: a painting of Jesus, a household cross, a picture of a sacred place in nature. Images and icons are merely tools to help facilitate the goal: gazing into the windows of eternity.

How do I pray with images and icons? First, I find a comfortable place to sit with the icon before me. I often light a candle, and sometimes hold a sacred word in mind to return to when my mind wanders! I imagine that I am gazing through a window. Yet more than me trying to see God, I often realize that God is gazing at me on the other “side” of the window.

I imagine that God sees me with all my weaknesses, gifts, and challenges. God gazes upon my whole self in love, and that fills me with the strength to pray for others with this kind of love. I spend several minutes simply receiving the grace-filled, loving gaze of the God who has become one of us.

As we pray with images and icons, may we be drawn to the God who has become visible in Christ, and who holds us and all things together with a strong and gentle love.

Study Questions

1) What images, icons or pictures do you have in your home that help you to pray?

2) What pictures of the Holy Trinity (Creator, Jesus, Spirit) have formed your faith in the past? Have you seen any new images that have expanded your faith (new feminine/masculine images, or diverse non-white images of God)?

3) The paradox is that Jesus is the image of an invisible God (Colossians 1:15). How is seeing an important sense for experiencing God? How does sight limit or block our experiences of God? What about other senses for prayer and worship (hearing, touching, smelling, tasting)?

Prayer

Gracious God, we thank you that you became fully human so that this creation may know the fullness of your love. We thank you for the diverse ways we can gaze into windows of eternity through prayer. Thank you for meeting us with your loving gaze, so that we may behold other humans and this world from your perspective. Shower the well-spring of your compassion on the dry and lonely places in our world. In the name of the icon you have chosen to show yourself, Jesus Christ, the first-born of the new creation. Amen.

Extinguish the candle