Tuesday, June 05, 2007



I can hear my mother's voice now. She was never shy about expressing herself.

Icons? What's next, a plastic light-up Virgin Mary for the front lawn? A little grotto back by the birdbath?

Mom was fiercely protestant (maybe, in her case, Protestant -- and Episcopal "low church"). Communion should be once a month, whether you needed it or not. I never saw her cross herself. Confession? We do that all together on Sunday. Who needs to do that in a dark, little booth?

And icons? Forget it!

Maybe she would be relieved by my very sparing and judicious use of icons (I would be more lavish, but my study is a very small room). Mother Julian, Jesus, Mary, and assorted saints line one bookshelf. I have several wall crosses of varying styles, from stained glass to ceramic to wood. And then, above my desk, there's Big Jesus.

Big Jesus is not really that big -- he's about 8" x 10". I picked this particular icon because, to my mind, its depiction of Jesus is somewhat "normal." He actually looks like some of the long-haired guys I knew back in the seventies (except He's better-groomed). What I like best about Him is His expression, which is neither judgmental (a feature I have noticed on some icons) nor maudlin (as in the pictures of Jesus, illuminated by sunbeams and patiently gazing up to Heaven, or tenderly embracing little children). His gaze is level and calm, His expression is serene but focused. The icon depicts him with His right hand raised in blessing, and in His left an open book, the pages of which bear the words: "I am the light of the world ..." and the look on His face says, "Here's the message. It's for you. Get it?"

Next to my computer sits Little Jesus. This icon is similar to the one on the wall, except that only Jesus's head and shoulders are depicted. Jesus seems to be wearing a waffle-weave long-underwear shirt, yet more evidence of His fondness for the seventies. But His expression is that one I love -- the calm regard that I find so inspiring.

In her book about her conversion to Orthodoxy, Facing East, Frederica Mathewes-Green notes that icons are "windows into Heaven," and that the icons displayed in Orthodox churches are simply visible representations of holy people who are really present with us always, but cannot be seen (I'm sure I'm not saying this quite correctly). So it's not the icon itself that we worship, but the living reality it represents, just as I have a pictures of my family I take with me when I travel -- it's not the pictures I love, it's the people.

Maybe this explanation would satisfy Mom. And she would be happy that I have (at least for now) no plans to build a grotto.


Anonymous said...

Neat post that had me laughing out loud in that "I resemble that remark!" sort of way.

Sitting next to me at my desk is an unopened package I just picked up from my mailbox on my way home. In that package there are two icons - one of Mary Magdalene, and one of the BVM depicted as the wisdom seat of Christ. I have never purchased an icon before; the only one I have is a tiny magnet given to me at St. Martin's.

Icons??? I never thought I'd have one either...

-stephanie the tired chaplain intern

Gabrielle said...

Judy, we're talking about icons at my place too. C'mon over!

But really, you always make me laugh. Jesus in His waffle-weave, long-underwear shirt. Big Jesus, little Jesus. I always enjoy coming here.

Hope said...

I'm really enjoying your blog. No grotto here either but I do long to have one whole wall covered with crosses.