“The simplest way I can put into words is to affirm that an icon, for me, is an open window to God. An icon is something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God and God’s demands on us, [His] mortal children, than I would otherwise.”
“On the night stand in my cabin I placed a small travel copy of the famous icon of Abraham’s three angelic guests, three beautiful, winged angels, who are also, understood iconically, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is what we think of as a classic icon, saying something that cannot be said in words, that cannot even be said in a painting. It transcends our experience and points us to something larger and greater and more wonderful. Yes, it is an open window to God.”
Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places, Madeleine L’Engle
Saint Thomas Aquinas greets me every time I walk into our apartment. This beautiful icon hangs above my husband’s desk, which sits right inside our front door. Aquinas is Travis’ model in his studies and one of his favorite theologians. When I see St. Thomas with his manuscript that reads “The bread of angels becomes the bread of heaven,” I remember to pray for my husband in his studies. I remember St. Thomas and the host of other saints in heaven who are the “so great a cloud of witnesses” cheering us on in this earthly race. (Hebrews 12:1) I remember the Lord’s supper and thank God that the bread of angels is given to me.
Travis and I have three icons in our home, and we are excited to continue building our collection.
I am not writing this post to discuss the theology of icons or to defend our choice to place them in our home. While I think discussions and discernment in this area are important, for now I will simply say that icons help me to see and love God more.
Madeleine L’Engle says it best: icons serve as “open windows to God.” In her lovely book Penguins and Golden Calves, L’Engle discusses how things in this world such as penguins, family, mothers, and stars serve as icons because they help her to see God more. This little book is not explicitly a defense of what she calls “classic icons,” but it provides helpful structure all the same in thinking about the objects that hang on the walls in my home.
Icons are physical, earthly pictures of eternal truths and heavenly realities. They show me God and remind me to seek Him in gratitude and contemplation. We have an icon of the Last Supper above our dining room table. Day in and day out as we sit at our table and engage in a very physical reality, we can look up and remember that Christ gave us physical, earthly things by which we may know Him. The icon teaches and reminds me that the incarnate God gave dignity and meaning to matter and that this meal that I eat with my husband beside me provides a chance to receive God’s grace as it is given through food, through His image in another human’s face, and through every inch of this world.
Icons also give me models, reminders of my need for holiness and sanctification. The icon in our room of the holy family presents an image of a family that serves as a model for all families. It reminds me of Mary, who found favor in the eyes of God. I wonder what she was like, and why God chose her. I pray and ask that I might find favor in the eyes of God and that He would equip me to say with Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1) The icon tells the story of Joseph, who tenderly and humbly loved this woman who was not yet his wife. The baby Jesus recalls to mind the magic in the birth of Christ and the stories of angels and shepherds and wise men from the East.
It is amazing the thoughts that just a 3 x 5 mounted icon can bring to mind.
I love walking into our little apartment and being greeted by St. Thomas. “Hello again, friend. You point me to God through your work and even through your face which reflects the magnificence, the truth, and the beauty in the Savior that we both share. I am very glad to see you.”
(For a few more Lacy thoughts on icons, see my husband’s post here.)