Being raised “sporadically” as a Presbyterian, I had what one might call a “deprived” childhood when it comes to religious art. The only picture I remember seeing at church was hung behind the choir. It was the classic portrait of the Western European/American version of Christ painted by Walter Sallman:
We are taught to take our prayers directly to the Triune God. Intermediaries don’t play a significant role in our life of faith.
However, when you grow up in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic neighborhood (Brighton Park in Chicago) where rosary beads, scapulars, communion dresses and missals are the essential tools of ones’ faith, it is easy to become captivated by these “exotic” accoutrements.
While I found these instruments of faith to be interesting, my curiosity was particularly heightened whenever I caught a glimpse of an icon of some saint or another. (One of the great feats for a Protestant was to pass by the front of a Roman Catholic Church on a “Holy Day of Obligation” and sneak a peek inside as a door was about to close.)
Through the many doors that God has placed before me, I’ve been blessed in my adult life with a broadly ecumenical point of view. I’ve learned about and participated in a wide variety of religious observances and come to respect them deeply. Just this past spring, I was permitted to join an Icon Writing (yes, writing, not painting) workshop. You can read about that experience and see my result at: Icon Workshop - 2010.
Over a long span of my life, icons have intrigued me. A few years ago, during one of many trips to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was fortunate enough to accidentally arrive during Spanish Market – a festival of art and music.
One of the aspects of Santa Fe that I adore so much is that the people of the city wear their faith like another layer of clothes. Their faith is ever present. And so, it was no surprise that much of the artwork on display and for sale carried a spiritual theme.
(In an amazing bit of synchronicity, as I was putting this piece together in my head, I received an email that pointed me in the direction of book on Russian iconography. It is titled: Hidden and Triumphant – The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography by Irina Yazykova and translated by Paul Grenier.)
In the foreword to this book, written by Wendy R. Salmond, I found some words that explain part of my fascination with icons:
between two worlds, awakening the viewer’s spiritual
vision through the workings of the physical eye. All
icons are canonical when outer form and inner content
harmonize, bringing the viewer face to face with the world
of spirit in a state of prayerfulness. Like a heartbeat,
eternal time flows through such icons, undisturbed by the
restlessness of human time reflected in the history of continual