by Angela Furlong
St. John of the Cross wrote of mystical ascent—a self-communion that in quietude leads the individual from the inharmonious distractions of the world to the sublime peace of reunion between the soul and God. He believed that God illuminates the individual—who, because of that illumination, then has the desire and power to shed the illusions of this world.
Just as an icon is a sacred image filled with the Holy Spirit; a window into heaven that can portray a person (Theotokos), an event (The Washing of the Feet), or a doctrine (Rublev’s Trinity), we too are sacred images filled with the Holy Spirit. We were created in God’s beautiful image. And as Christians following Christ’s Way of Love, we are the face of not only The Church, but also of God.
When we pray with icons, we look beyond the veil in an effort to dwell in the divine presence of the triune God. When we live Christ’s Way of Love, we encourage others to look beyond that veil as well.
Embracing oneself as a religious icon should not intimate perfection. Only Jesus was perfect. We are sinners, beloved with our flaws and our brokenness. Our wholeness is in God, through Christ. Just as material icons are written with many layers of paint and prayers, our selves as icons also contain many layers; layers of pain, joy, prayer, blessing, suffering, love, reconciliation, and humility… humanity in all of its myriad possibilities.
The beauty is in the possibility. We are all beloved, unconditionally. We have been gifted with the free will to share God’s love, to know belovedness and to make it known. We are icons of God’s love. And a Godly community of love is possible.
In his poem Dark Night, St. John of the Cross refers to a light that is only of God:
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.
This light, the light of Christ, can not only guide us as we contemplate Christ and navigate the ideological cacophony of present-day, but it can also guide others through us. We can share the light of Christ through prayer, through action, and through love, The Way of Love. This light is our illumination and we are icons, sacred symbols of God’s word and God’s love.
As we prepare to center ourselves in Christ’s Love, let us affirm our belovedness through this poem:
God’s beloved creation
Broken… flawed… beautiful
To God’s Word… God’s Sacraments… God’s Grace
Written in Agape
Illuminated by the Holy Spirit
A conduit for Christ
A temple for God
God who made us in God’s own divine image, may this world be transformed over and over again through your love, and may it begin with us looking ourselves in the mirror. Amen. (Prayer from Sojourners.com)
Create an icon of the Self using a mirror and a veil. Lift the veil to reveal God’s incredible creation – you. Recite the poem to yourself and remember who you are and whose you are.