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.