image by Rebekah Choat
Turn toward the holocaust, it approaches
on every side, there is no other place
to turn. Dawning in your veins
is the light of the blast
that will print your shadow on stone
in a last antic of despair
to survive you in the dark
Man has put his history to sleep
in the engine of doom. It flies
over his dreams in the night,
a blazing cocoon. O gaze into the fire
and be consumed with man’s despair,
and be still, and wait. And then see
the world go on with the patient work
of seasons, embroidering birdsong
upon itself as for a wedding, and feel
your heart set out in the morning
like a young traveler, arguing the world
from the kiss of a pretty girl.
It is the time’s discipline to think
of the death of all living, and yet live.
~ Wendell Berry
icon: a painting of Jesus Christ or another holy figure, typically in a traditional style on wood, venerated and used as an aid to devotion; or
a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something
Icons are a fairly new concept to me. If they were mentioned at all in the anti-liturgical faith tradition in which I was raised, they were cast in a negative light. My working definition of the word prior to this present decade, had I thought about it, might have been “a thing made to represent God – maybe not quite synonymous with ‘idol,’ but dangerously, wickedly close.”
It was one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, who piqued my interest in liturgy and ritual and orthodoxy and iconography a few years ago, first through her fiction, most notably An Acceptable Time, and later in her excellent study of icons and idols, Penguins and Golden Calves, in which she says, “An icon is something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God…saying something that cannot be said in words…It transcends our experience and points us to something larger and greater and more wonderful.”
The understanding of an icon as something that affords me a ‘wider glimpse of God’ is predominant in my awareness now in the early days of Lent.
characterized by close personal acquaintance or familiarity
belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature
intrinsic, essential; innermost
marked by warm friendship developing through long association
suggesting informal warmth or privacy
of a very personal or private nature
of or involved in a sexual relationship
It’s yet another word that has been eroded by popular usage until all that it suggests to many people’s minds is a mere shade of its full meaning. In three of the dictionaries I consulted, a sexual connotation appears at or near the end of the list of definitions offered; in the fourth, not at all. Yet sadly, those of us who are blessed to have experienced the true intimacy of deep friendship and/or consecrated marriage must now be cautious in our use of the word, for fear of being misunderstood.
I find it pathetically ironic that what is glamorously marketed as ‘intimacy’ in our society pointedly disregards or even disdains the very qualities – personal closeness; consideration of one another’s essential selfhood; warm, time-proven friendship – that so many lonely souls are so desperately seeking.
Why do we call it falling in love?
Because it’s unexpected, unplanned, unpredictable, unintentional, unavoidable, irreversible, uncontrollable, disorienting, not particularly graceful, downright awkward. Because it takes us deep down, ready or not, makes us vulnerable, leaves us breathless and disheveled and maybe bruised, shakes our sense of direction, scatters our belongings, shatters our composure, scrambles our words, rearranges our schedules. Because it brings us to a level where we see things from a different angle, puts us in a position of reaching for a hand up, insists that we take a minute.
Sometimes, it sends us sprawling and no one even notices, and we dust ourselves off and move on quietly with what shreds of our dignity remain. On occasion, it lands us at the feet of some kind soul who will help us to both laugh at ourselves and pick ourselves up. And once in a miraculous lifetime, it throws us into the arms of that one person on earth who is for us, only for us, for right that very moment, for all time.
image by Rebekah Choat
After day is done,
before night has begun,
a somber-sweet hour —
a deep breath, regathering,
returning to the center
~ Rebekah Choat