Our lives are filled with images. TV, billboards, magazines, internet, books, and street signage are just a few of the things we see every day. Many times we don’t even think about them. You know the hexagonal sign means stop so you don’t really LOOK at it. That billboard on that corner advertises a law office and has for years, so we don’t see it, really. We pass the same house day after day, but when we suddenly notice it’s a different color, we wonder “How long has it been like that?” It’s easy to get so lost in the same routine that we don’t really pay attention to what we see.
If on our daily course our mind
be set to hallow all we find,
new treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
When our mind is willing to “hallow all we find,” each and every thing we see can become an icon showing us God.
Madeline L’Engle explains, “an icon is a symbol, rather than a sign…[it] contains within it some quality of what it represents…an icon of the Annunciation…contains, for us, some of Mary’s acceptance and obedience, and so affects our own ability to accept, to obey.” An icon is a representation of a piece of the Holy, something that opens our hearts and souls to see a bit more of God.
A traditional icon is a piece of wood painted with a holy image, but there are icons of God all around us, if we are just open to them. Stories, music, ‘secular’ art, a sunset can each be an icon. “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred,” says L’Engle, “and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”
Both L’Engle and Barbara Brown Taylor infer that the Incarnation is in fact the most holy of all icons. God in flesh is a very real symbol of the Divine, who loves our human-ness. Brown remarks, “I came late to the understanding that God loved all of me—not just my spirit but also my flesh…[and] God loved all bodies everywhere.”
Brown suggests taking on a “daily practice of incarnation—of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of the flesh.” Jesus was God become Man, so he does know our fleshly needs. In the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen named humanity as an icon—a symbol of divine work and love. She wrote, “God be praised in his handiwork: humankind. And so, humankind full of all creative possibilities, is God’s work. Humankind alone, is called to assist God, humankind is called to co-create.”
L’Engle notes that we are co-creators with God and with one another. Authors, artists, and musicians create, but as she notes, “The reader, viewer, listener, usually grossly underestimates his importance. If a reader cannot create a book along with the writer, the book will never come to life.”
Are there icons around you—symbols of the Holy One—that you haven’t paused long enough recently to notice? What if, for just one day, we tried to be aware of each thing we pass on our daily journey? We might just encounter God with “new treasures still, of countless price” as Keble says.
Next week, we will explore further what it means to be awake and aware of God in our routines.
* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.